Speaking to alumni, students, faculty and staff on the occasion of Lehigh’s 135th Founder’s Day celebration, President Alice P. Gast said that Lehigh remains as committed as ever to Asa Packer’s vision of a university that could change the world by helping promising young minds develop into great leaders.
“At Lehigh our goal is to turn good students into exceptional thinkers and people who take action,” said Gast, who addressed a standing-room only crowd in Packer Memorial Church on Thursday afternoon. “We want Lehigh students to succeed at things that we have not even yet imagined. This involves far more than absorption of textbook content. It involves cultivating habits of continuous inquiry and immersion in an environment of vibrant, creative exchange.”
Founder’s Day has been an annual Lehigh tradition since it was first celebrated in 1879 after the death of founder Asa Packer. The October event celebrates Packer’s legacy and honors the leaders of the Lehigh community, including newly promoted faculty, and this year recognized Lucy Gans, who was recently named Lehigh’s first Louis and Jane Weinstock ’36 Chair of Art and Architecture.
During her remarks, Gast addressed the debate regarding the value of a college education. Gast, who acknowledged that rising costs present a challenge for many people, said that the experiences one receives in the academic environment have a profound and transformative effect on students. Meanwhile, she said that universities must continue to work to manage the cost of education, and thanked the benefactors who make attending college a more realistic goal for all.
“A college education should not be a luxury affordable only by the few. For many students, about half of the undergraduates at Lehigh, financial aid makes higher education more affordable,” said Gast. “This aid is often provided by benefactors like those we honor today, generous people whose value for their own education motivates them to provide opportunities for others.”
The value of a Lehigh education, she says, is evidenced by the successes students achieve while on campus and as they transition into their professional lives. Gast cited the fact that 97 percent of last year’s graduates found career-related opportunities within six months of graduation, a figure she believes would make Asa Packer proud.
Student Speaker Challenges Lehigh
In her student keynote address, junior Brenda Martinez, an English and journalism dual major with minors in Latin American and Africana studies, said the university community should take a proactive stand against discrimination and inequality on campus and become more welcoming for students of all backgrounds.
“As a community, Lehigh needs to take care of its condition as much as it does its reputation,” said Martinez. “We take great pride and efforts when speaking on multiculturalism, but multiculturalism by itself does not mark the defeat of racism, sexism, homophobia and so on.”
Martinez says that leadership opportunities at Lehigh have empowered her to take on an active role in seeking change for her community. She also credited several faculty and staff members who have inspired her and challenged her to think critically about the world around her, which she says has prompted her to take action and push for more dialogue regarding diversity and inclusion.
“I had one worldview as a Latina from South Central [Los Angeles] and Lehigh challenged every part of my identity,” said Martinez. “Everything I learn in the classroom inspires my work outside of it.”
A first-generation college student whose parents immigrated to the United States from El Salvador, Martinez opened her speech by recalling the challenging socioeconomic conditions she and others faced growing up in her neighborhood.
“I was raised within the walls of my home or the library because it was not and is not safe for a young woman to walk in gang-infested streets,” said Martinez. “I remember my dad waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to go to work while my mom stayed up to prepare her three children for school.”
Through a combination of opportunity and perseverance, Martinez says that she and others in her community are able to take steps to achieve their own American dreams; her dream is to attend graduate school and pursue a career in political leadership.
Martinez is an active participant in multiple organizations, including the Latino Student Alliance, the Muslim Student Association, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Incorporated and The Brown and White. She is also the founder of Dream and Act LU, an organization whose mission is to shed light on the challenges faced by migrant populations in the United States and elsewhere.
Continuing a Legacy of Redefining Leadership
The Lehigh University Choir, led by conductor and Robert J. Ulrich professor of music Steven Sametz, offered musical accompaniment for the event, performing “O Clap Your Hands” and a rendition of the Alma Mater. In addition, the ceremony featured a video that highlighted Lehigh’s legacy of molding generations of transformative leaders, who lead “from the classroom to the boardroom and beyond.”
The ceremony also recognized Gans, who was recently named Lehigh’s first Louis and Jane Weinstock ’36 Chair of Art and Architecture. A professor who teaches sculpture and drawing and who is also an affiliated faculty member in the women, gender, and sexuality studies program, Gans has been a leader in the art and architecture department since she joined the faculty in 1981. The position is endowed by the Weinstocks, who supported the university for over 60 years in a myriad of ways, including an endowed scholarship fund, an artist-in-residence endowment for the music department and other generous contributions.
During the program, Gast recognized the five new members who joined the Lehigh Board of Trustees this year. They are: Frank L. Douglas ’66, Gregory J. Kuklinski ’98, Karen S. Schaufeld, ’83, Deborah E. Zajac ’97 and Deborah Wince-Smith.
Also honored were newly promoted and tenured faculty:
Awarded Tenure at the Rank of Full Professor
Panayiotis Diplas, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Awarded Tenure at the Rank of Associate Professor
David Kramp, English; Katya Scheinberg, Industrial and Systems Engineering
Promoted to Full Professor
Erica Hoelscher, Theatre; Arpana Inman, Education and Human Services; Alsparslan Oztekin, Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics; Zicheng Yu, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Awarded Tenure and Promoted to Full Professor
David Vicic, Chemistry
Awarded Tenure and Promoted to Associate Professor
Kerney Glover, Chemistry; Xiaolei Huang, Computer Science and Engineering; Yaling Liu, Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics; Steven McIntosh, Chemical Engineering; Mary V.McSwain, Physics; Corinne Post, Management; Ping-ShiWu, Mathematics; Zach Zacharia, Management
Also recognized were new $1 million donors for Leadership Plaza:
Nancy M. Berman ’97 and Alan J. Bloch
Marjorie N. Nemes ‘51
Nan and Charles Strauch ‘57
Bonnie and Frank T. Pratt ‘65
Photos by Christa Neu and Theo Anderson