With Lehigh embracing its 150th year on Old South Mountain, the University is entering a stage of evolution geared towards cross-disciplinary education in the arts, sciences, business, and engineering. Perhaps, for some, this may sound like a hackneyed mantra all colleges are touting. For Lehigh’s Young Alumni Council, they had a firsthand opportunity to speak candidly with Joe Kender, a Lehigh alum (Class of 1987) and current Vice President for Advancement, regarding this endeavor.
Kender opened the discussion by providing an overview of the Class of 2018 Student Body Demographics. The current freshman class is nearly an even gender split, with males comprising 55% of the campus (we alumni may remember when the male population was well above 60%). Of the 1,299 freshman, 10% are international, 25% are of color, 35% of the students are in the Greek system, and most importantly, financial aid covers 50% of the students. Of those students on financial aid, the average aid package is 50% of the tuition. I can personally attest to Lehigh’s commitment to financial aid as the university covered more than 50% of my tuition as a student.
The vision, as noted by Kender,
“…is to build the Lehigh brand around the country and the geographic diversity of the student population.”
This goal is aggressive as we battle LU’s lack of a big name sports team (although we did BEAT DUKE) or academic programs. On a personal note, I was impressed to learn that there is a shift in admissions to create a more diverse learning experience. Kender believes that creating such an academic experience will better prepare students for the real world when they graduate.
Kender went out to focus on Lehigh’s value proposition. Or in other words …
“What makes Lehigh an attractive university?”…
With 97% placement after graduation (66% in the workforce), Kender feels that Lehigh attracts people looking to go to work. This is supported by the university’s consistently high ranking (such as on payscale.com) in the mid-career income learning potential (this will be us one day, don’t worry Young Alumni!). As we all may recall, the university’s undergraduate programs are sectioned into Business and Economics, Arts and Science, and Engineering/ Applied Sciences. Lehigh still holds strong on supporting the growth of these three colleges. However, Kender elaborated on the school’s growing focus on entrepreneurship. The Baker Institute, for example, ranked in the top 20 in the country for entrepreneurship, with a 500% increase in enrollment in entrepreneurship minors.
Kender likened this increase in entrepreneurship to Lehigh’s strength in integrated programs. If we rewind back to the origin of the university, Lehigh was founded as one of the first schools to offer both traditional classical studies with technical trade studies. In other words, students could study English or metallurgy. Lehigh has continued to remain committed to multi-disciplinary studies, with 20% of the student population involved in the Integrated Business & Engineering Honors Program or the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts & Sciences. With the changing face of higher education, Kender emphasized Lehigh’s devotion to value proposition as well as change in demographics and technologies.
With this focus on integrated programs, multi-disciplinary learning, and value proposition (from a mid-career standpoint), Kender emphasized Lehigh’s current commitment to the Mountaintop Initiative. The platform program, from a concept standpoint, is rather clear: A 100%, one semester class-free commitment from students to work on an interdisciplinary program. One may liken this to Senior Design/ Integrated Program Development. However, unlike these aforementioned capstone programs that have structured grading procedures and deadlines, the Mountaintop Initiative has professors serving as coaches, mentors, and guides (grades are not the focus). Currently entering its third pilot year, 2013 and 2014 hosted a total of 130 summer students. For 2015, the program is seeking students interested in engaging in a project all year long. So far, projects have included diverse topics such as 3D printing, hydroponics, robotics, and fashion design. The current challenge is aligning these ambitious programs with Lehigh’s curriculum and faculty.
Kender also briefly mentioned two other core initiatives within the university; development of the Computer Science program and renovation of the University Center. Kender emphasized Lehigh’s push to integrate Computer Science into all aspects of the Lehigh education, citing the Biology department as a specific example. The Computer Science program boasts a prestigious faculty, including one professor who spent a sabbatical year at Facebook and six NSF career award winners. The current drive is to not force computer science on the entire Lehigh population, but rather give any student the option to integrate this necessary skill into their learning. In addition to focusing on computer science, the campus is also undergoing a facelift! The University Center will soon undergo renovations to serve as a hub for students, with office space being moved into Williams Hall (I think I only entered that building once?).
As Lehigh drives forward into 2015, the biggest highlight to look forward to, aside from turning 150 years young, is John Simon’s start as the 14th President of Lehigh. In the words of Kender, Simon is “terrific!” Simon holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and most recently served as the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Virginia. Kender believes that Simon’s passion for Lehigh will help him drive the main initiatives of developing the Mountaintop program, integrating computer science into various academic disciplines, and renovating campus buildings to meet the needs of the students.
Kender did a wonderful job summarizing the next steps for the university. As one member of the Young Alumni Council put it, “I already graduated from Lehigh, but now I want to apply again!” Expect to see some major technological advances within Lehigh as the university tackles entrepreneurship, integrated learning, and shifting leadership. Oh, and apparently there is crepe bar in the dining hall! Why did this not exist when we were students?
– Adam Kohn ’11