Opening Doors, Changing Lives

As Lehigh expands its efforts to help students from all backgrounds find a place on South Mountain, four Mountain Hawks share in their own words why those efforts matter—to them, to their families and to their future.

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AS TOLD TO
Kelly Hochbein
Mary Ellen Alu


PHOTOGRAPHY BY
Ryan Hulvat
Alicia Nacenta
Christa Neu

Who should have access to a high-quality experience in higher education?

At Lehigh, the answer to that question has become abundantly clear: Any young person who is good enough, smart enough, and resilient enough to succeed here.

Since making a commitment in 2015 to meet 100 percent of the calculated financial need for students accepted for admission, the university has set out to establish and implement new programs, partnerships and procedures to ensure that the Lehigh experience is open and accessible to more students, from more varied financial and societal backgrounds, than ever before.

In Fiscal 2017-18 alone, Lehigh will support its students with $84 million in grants and scholarships; as it does so, it will cap loans to a maximum of $5,000 per student per year, greatly reducing the financial burden for those students after they graduate. At the same time, Lehigh has signed on to join the American Talent Initiative, a nationwide effort to help financially challenged students succeed at top universities, and in August announced a new partnership with the Posse Foundation that will see the university each year recruit and enroll a cohort of high-achieving, lower-income students from the San Francisco Bay area.

This enduring commitment to expanding access doesn’t come without its costs—but President John D. Simon and the university leadership believe strongly that the effort is noble, worthwhile and entirely aligned with the university’s core mission.

“We have made these decisions because we truly believe that the Lehigh experience can change lives,” Simon says. “We also believe the lives Lehigh changes can change the world for the better.”

The Bulletin recently spoke with four exceptional students whose paths to Lehigh were in large part made possible because of the university’s commitment to student financial aid and support. Here, in the pages the follow, they share in their own words their Lehigh journeys so far—and how the university community is helping them achieve their dreams.

 

Phillip Hernandez ’19 Vice President, ALPFA
club, Past Tutor, America
Reads, America Counts Work
Study, Office of Economic
Engagement
Recipient of the Richard E.
Disbrow Scholarship.

Vice President, ALPFA club: College of Business and Economics Junior Board; Past Tutor, America Reads, America Counts; Work Study, Office of Economic Engagement

Recipient of the Richard E. Disbrow Scholarship

Phillip Hernandez ’19

Finance Major, Spanish Minor
First-Generation Student

I COME FROM READING (PA.) HIGH SCHOOL, a very diverse high school. When I was looking for colleges to apply to, I was looking for one of the more elite colleges in Pennsylvania. I wanted to stay close to home. ... Lehigh provided substantial financial aid for me and my family. Also, Lehigh has a high return on investment. So as a business major, I had to look at that. That swayed me in coming here.

I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO COME TO LEHIGH IF IT WASN’T FOR THE FINANCIAL AID. … When I first applied, my parents were very skeptical. Are you sure you’re going to be able to go to this $60,000-plus school? And you’re not going to put us in a [financial bind], where there’s no way out of it?

MY MOM IS A LUNCH AIDE AT THE HIGH SCHOOL I WENT TO. My father worked about 20 years for a railroad company in Kutztown that ended up laying off its employees and closing down its doors. My father had to kind of reinvent himself and apply [for jobs]. He had some odd jobs here and there. But my father—a very active person, a lot of people depend on him—is a handy man as well. Now he has a more steady job [at a cold storage facility]. ... My dad gets up to go to work at 2 in the morning, comes back at 2 p.m. I see my dad getting up very early and that kind of motivates me to work harder. My dad’s always been the one to say, “Get your education, get your education, and worry about work later.”

MY MOM FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL. My dad had to drop out in eighth grade because his father wanted him to work in the fields in Puerto Rico. My dad has a big family. … All his brothers and sisters worked in the fields, mostly dealing with kidney beans and plantains, things of that nature. He [later] acquired his GED.

I FEEL MY MOM HUMBLES ME—A LOT. … I’d say I’m a little braggadocious (grins)… confident in my abilities. [My mom] doesn’t give me too much praise. My cousin told me one time, “In the Hispanic culture, the parents really don’t want to praise their children too much because they feel they’ll get too complacent; they’re very proud, but they won’t tell you that until you’re established, until you’re older.”

“I see my dad getting up very early and that kind of motivates me to work harder.”

- Phillip Hernandez ’19

I like my culture. I chose to be a Spanish minor, because although I speak Spanish, read it and write it, I didn’t write it as well as I do now, after having taken the Spanish classes here. So I’d also like to travel more. I did the study abroad in Costa Rica last winter. I’ve only ever been to Puerto Rico outside of the United States. So going to a different country where I actually required a passport was exciting.

I’VE HAD TWO INTERNSHIPS AT BIG FOUR ACCOUNTING FIRMS. My last internship was this past summer at PwC [in New York], in their tax practice. … After speaking with a lot of professionals, I figured out that what I want to do is more finance and more banking. Equity research is probably what I want to do.

I FIND MYSELF TO BE A GO-GETTER. I started working at the end of 10th grade, in retail. I worked my way through 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade. [At Lehigh] I had a couple of mentors my freshman year. One was named Mayra Juarez-Gutierrez, who worked at admissions and now works at KPMG in New York City. She recruited me for a club called ALPFA on campus, which is the Association of Latino Professionals for America. And so I went to a couple of meetings with her in Philadelphia with the chapter, which had a lot of professionals. And I felt like I could do bigger things. Later, I was able to acquire my first internship at PwC, which led to my second internship.

ONE OF THE THINGS I ENJOY IS REACHING OUT TO PROFESSORS. I like to schedule meetings and get to know people at the university. I have a good relationship with [Associate Dean Katrina] Zalatan in the business school. I have a relationship with Dr. [Henry] Odi, one of the officers of diversity. I love meeting with my academic advisor, Twana Walker, as well. ... She’s always telling me, she’s proud of me. I feel like Lehigh, not only academically, but me seeking out the support and the mentorship, has allowed me to flourish.

I WAS RECRUITED BY MY ADVISOR TWANA WALKER to be on the CBE [College of Business and Economics] Sophomore Council, which is comprised of 17 sophomores. That was last year. We would brainstorm ideas to better the experience for the incoming class. This year we are continuing the conversation to establish a mentoring program for upperclassmen to mentor younger students coming in.

I ALSO HAVE A WORK-STUDY WITH THE OFFICE OF ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT. ... I research companies—mostly telecommunications companies, tech companies, Fortune 500 companies—and I write reports on these companies. I also research what Lehigh professors’ research interests are, and I try to match those interests with those of the companies to see if a University-Business partnership can be established.

I FEEL LIKE I’VE BEEN ABLE TO DISTINGUISH MYSELF as a top-tier business student at this school. My grades are good. I have a 3.5 GPA. When I tell people that, they say it’s good, but I feel like it could be higher. ... I’m trying to get over 3.6 by the time I graduate.

I’M A FIRM BELIEVER THAT anything’s possible—if I put my mind to it.

 

Farren Leung ’18 Iacocca International
Internship, Executive Board
of the International Business
Club, Business Information
Systems Club, Asian Culture
Societ y
Recipient of the Jack Barnett
Scholarship since the fall of
2015

Iacocca International Internship, Executive Board of the International Business Club, Business Information Systems Club, Asian Culture Society

Recipient of the Jack Barnett Scholarship since the fall of 2015

Farren Leung ’18

FINANCE/BUSINESS INFORMATION SYSTEMS MAJOR
CHINESE MINOR, FIRST-GENERATION STUDENT

WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL IN SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY, another student came to class wearing a Lehigh sweatshirt one day, which led me to look into Lehigh. I saw that Lehigh had a renowned business school and that’s what I knew I wanted to go into. So I took my chances and applied.

FINANCIAL AID IS WHY I’M HERE TODAY. Lehigh got back to me with the most amazing, generous financial aid offer. Without it, I would be taking out many, many loans throughout these four years of college, and that would have been a very hard financial burden on me and my parents. No other school offered me a comparable financial aid package, and without this aid, I knew that I could not come here.

I’VE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES, many of them thanks to financial aid. The summer following my sophomore year, I took part in the Iacocca International Internship program as a marketing research assistant at a business school in Croatia. It was my first time abroad by myself, and it was phenomenal. I also studied in Lisbon, Portugal, during the spring semester of my junior year. Studying abroad is an amazing adventure, and I would not have been exposed to so many life lessons without the help of my counselor and financial aid.

WHEN I’M NOT JUGGLING CLASSES AND LEADERSHIP POSITIONS IN STUDENT CLUBS, I try to go to as many on-campus events that I can. I also take drum lessons for an hour each week. I’m crunching numbers in the daytime, and then I just go rock out. It’s really fun.

LEHIGH OFFERS AMAZING OPPORTUNITIES TO BE ABLE TO GET FACE-TO-FACE TIME WITH PROFESSIONALS. The College of Business and Economics brings in so many distinguished companies from many different areas of focus, and they know that Lehigh students can perform. I started networking when I was a sophomore. Being exposed to the business world that early definitely put me on a fast track to finding an internship and getting a full-time job.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD THE THOUGHT IN MY MIND THAT I NEEDED TO MAKE SURE MY PARENTS WERE HAPPY WITH WHAT I WAS DOING. They came to America from Hong Kong for me and my brother, and I’m not going to waste that chance. I’ve always been driven to work as hard as I can to get the best position that I can. I needed to make them proud. And I think that I have done that through my four years here.

I RECENTLY ACCEPTED A FULL-TIME POSITION AT PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS (PWC) AS A TECHNOLOGY CONSULTANT. I had an internship there this past summer. Through Lehigh and the opportunities that I’ve gotten through networking and shadowing various professionals, I’ve sculpted my future, I’ve found the position that I wanted, I went after it, and I was very fortunate to get it.

“After I graduate, as an alumna, I would love to give back to the university, to be able to fund a future Lehigh student’s future...”

- Farren Leung ’18

AFTER I GRADUATE, AS AN ALUMNA, I WOULD LOVE TO GIVE BACK TO THE UNIVERSITY, TO BE ABLE TO FUND A FUTURE LEHIGH STUDENT’S FUTURE, BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT LEHIGH GAVE TO ME. Without this experience, without the financial aid that I’ve received, I would not have been able to get to the position that I am in today. With this position I hope that I will be successful one day and I will give back to the place that started it all. And hopefully someday another great Lehigh student will come through these campus doors and have an even better experience than I had.

 

Josh Plummer ’19 Men of Color Alliance,
National Society for
Black Engineers, Programming
Club, intramural basketball
Recipient of the Donald
B. and Dorothy Stabler
Scholarship

Men of Color Alliance, National Society for Black Engineers, Programming Club, intramural basketball

Recipient of the Donald B. and Dorothy Stabler Scholarship

Josh Plummer ’20

COMPUTER SCIENCE MAJOR
First-Generation Student

I’M FROM THE BRONX, NEW YORK, BUT I WENT TO LOWER MERION HIGH SCHOOL IN ARDMORE, PA. I went there because of a program called A Better Chance (ABC). It’s an academic not-for-profit program that allows diverse students or people from underrepresented backgrounds to go to great schools. I stayed in the house sponsored by the program. It was really good, and I basically had the college experience of moving away from home in high school. I heard about Lehigh through the program itself because they focus on getting us into good colleges.

MY MOM LIKED TO GET ME INTO ACADEMIC PROGRAMS. The Bronx isn’t that great in terms of opportunities. It’s definitely a rough place to grow up. So my mom wanted the best for me, especially because I’m the youngest. I’m the baby to her. It was hard for her to send me away, but I wanted to go. I liked the independence.

I’M STUDYING COMPUTER SCIENCE, AND I’VE ALWAYS BEEN KIND OF A TECH GUY. The summer of my sophomore year in high school I did a summer program called All Star Code. It’s a six-week intensive that brings together African American and Latino males and introduces the tech world to them. We learned the basics and fundamentals of web development and different programming languages like Java among others. We also visited a lot of tech companies throughout the summer like Spotify and LinkedIn. The year after that I worked as a teaching fellow there. It was cool knowing that I was right in their places the year before, and I was still learning on top of that. The summer before I arrived at Lehigh, I participated in the Google Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), which is three-weeks long and hosted at Google. We learned things in the first two weeks, and in the last week, we had to go all out and make an app or a website. I think the coolest part about that was presenting in front of the people that work there.

“The Bronx isn’t that great in terms of opportunities. It’s definitely a rough place growing up.”

- Josh Plummer ’20

ONCE I GOT ACCEPTED TO LEHIGH, I VISITED CAMPUS ON DIVERSITY LIFE WEEKEND. It was pretty fun, especially since it was geared toward African Americans and Latinos, so you get to just be with your own diverse group of people for the whole weekend and maybe get a friend group early before you come. But either way, within just the two or three days I was here, it felt good. So I chose to come here.

FINANCIAL AID IS ONE OF THE TOP REASONS WHY I CHOSE LEHIGH. Compared to the other schools I got accepted to, Lehigh gave me the most. Coming from where I’m coming from in the Bronx and living with a single mother, it’s hard to come out-of-pocket for anything like tuition and any other expenses.

LAST YEAR WAS THE ROUGHEST YEAR OF MY LIFE. My mom had a brain aneurysm and she had to have multiple emergency surgeries. I honestly almost lost her. But she’s probably the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and if you see her today, you’d think she never went through all of that. I just love her so much. She’s back working full-time, but at the same time it's been a rough time financially and emotionally for everybody. So financial aid is just amazing to me because there’s no way I would have been able to pay the thousands of dollars to come here, especially this year.

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE I’D OFFER TO OTHER STUDENTS WOULD BE TO NOT LET FAILURES PUSH YOU DOWN. Instead, just use your failures as a chance to learn from them. Everyone has their stumbles. You just have to bounce back and learn from it. That’s how you take it. Because really, failure just makes you stronger.

 

Gili Remen ’19 Gryphon, Brown & White,
TRAC writing fellow, a
cappella group “Off the
Record,” Zumba instructor
(Taylor Gym)
Recipient of the Steven
Gardner ’82 Endowed
Scholarship

Gryphon, Brown & White, TRAC writing fellow, a cappella group “Off the Record,” Zumba instructor (Taylor Gym)

Recipient of the Steven Gardner ’82 Endowed Scholarship

Gili Remen ’19

JOURNALISM AND GLOBAL STUDIES DOUBLE MAJOR
BUSINESS MINOR

I WAS BORN IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, to Israeli parents, and then we moved to Israel. When I was about 3, we moved to Tenafly, N.J., and there’s where I grew up. That’s what I would consider my hometown even though culturally there’s a lot of layers in me.

WHEN I WAS APPLYING FOR COLLEGES, Lehigh grabbed my attention because, first of all, it has really good academics, and I know that Lehigh has a lot of different opportunities for students of all backgrounds, of all races, finances, whatever it may be. When I got in, there was no question [I would attend].

WHEN I WAS A FRESHMAN I MADE A TRANSITION from more of pre-med classes—that’s what I had wanted to do—to more of a journalism career path. It’s something I really appreciate because I don’t know if I would have been able to find my true passion or commit to my true passion without Lehigh’s help.

THE FIRST SEMESTER OF FRESHMAN YEAR, I learned a lot about myself in all aspects, especially academically, and got a lot of confidence [thanks to] my teachers, especially with my communications skills. So I decided to pursue something that I deep down always knew I was more passionate about than anything else. I was in an English class, English 1, and my teacher [Nicole Batchelor] … built up my confidence. [She said] to me during my meetings [with her] that I should go into writing, that I have the talent, something’s there. It’s just something I need to work on, and I’ve been improving it ever since then. Those little sincere comments built up my confidence and are ultimately what led me to fully embrace my communication skills and embrace what I am really passionate about.

LEHIGH HAS HELPED ME IMMENSELY in figuring out who I am and what place I have in the world, and what I want to do in the world and how I can help the world. … I realized if I’m the happiest I can be, it’s more likely that I’ll be able to help others be the happiest they can be.

IT WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE FOR ME TO GO ABROAD without Lehigh’s financial aid, and it wouldn’t have been possible to get a Lehigh education and get a Lehigh network and get everything that comes with Lehigh, which is beyond what it says on paper. And I want to just put an emphasis on the people … all the professors, all the faculty, all the staff, all the students. Lehigh is truly a place I can call home.

I’M IN A PROGRAM IN SPAIN CALLED CIEE SEVILLE COMMUNICATIONS, NEW MEDIA AND JOURNALISM. I’m working with a bunch of journalism students from around the country who are studying abroad as well. We are in classes that were tailored specifically to journalism and communication in Spanish culture. All of them are in Spanish, and I’m also living in a homestay, with a local Spanish family. It’s a very immersive experience.

I WENT ON AN IACOCCA INTERNSHIP LAST SUMMER IN MILAN, ITALY. That was a journalism program with Professor Jack Lule. That was an incredible experience, and it was my first time working abroad, my first time really being abroad for a long period of time in a place I didn’t know. This semester I’m doing a lot of my journalism-centered things, and next semester I’m doing more of my global-centered things [at Tel Aviv University in Israel].

NOTHING’S EVER SET IN STONE, but I really want to be a journalist, specifically a broadcast journalist, whether that be an anchor on a news show or a photographer or a videographer or something with multimedia journalism or data journalism. The Lehigh journalism department got me really passionate about journalism and how important it is. … I consider myself artistic and creative, so if this takes me more into the fictional side of TV or movies or production, I would be very, very happy as well. But, whatever I do I will be a storyteller…

I’M OPEN TO WORKING ABROAD AND WORKING DOMESTICALLY—wherever the opportunities take me, I’ll go. I love traveling, meeting new people and learning about different cultures, and that’s also why I enjoy journalism, because journalism is something that no matter where you are in the world, there’s always an important story to tell.

“Lehigh has provided a space for me to learn about who I am, and a space for me to learn to be open to others and to listen to ... a diverse amount of opinions and people.”

- Gili Remen ’19

LEHIGH HAS PROVIDED A SPACE FOR ME TO LEARN ABOUT WHO I AM, and a space for me to learn to be open to others and to listen to … a diverse amount of opinions and people. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to have that, and all the opportunities that Lehigh continues and will continue to give me.