While all colleges and universities recognize students who achieve high GPAs, Lehigh distinguishes itself by providing every student who attains a 3.75 or higher with a fifth year of study tuition free. The Presidential Scholars program, which includes a summer and two academic semesters following degree completion, can be used for any kind of scholarly, artistic, or career project, emphasizing Lehigh’s commitment to student-driven learning. The school explains that “this benefit is intended to give students an opportunity to pursue a second undergraduate degree, pursue a graduate degree, or undertake an advanced project of a scholarly or creative nature (e.g., a thesis, a portfolio of artwork, a design project, a field or laboratory research project) that does not lead to a degree.” With employers increasingly demanding more and more from new hires, the free fifth-year at Lehigh could help a résumé stand out from the crowd. And because the year can include anything from a summer studying self-assembling nanomaterial in the largest electron microscope lab in the United States to immersion in the sculpture studio, the program benefits a diverse group of students and their career interests.
In 2006 Lehigh became the sixth university in the world to be recognized by the United Nations as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). This allows “Lehigh students to attend UN conferences and private briefings, intern with UN NGO offices worldwide and host ambassadors and UN officials on campus,” which, for the last three years, has included campus visits from the UN Secretary General, according to the university. Lehigh students also serve as Youth Representatives working with a wide array of national and international organizations, such as Lawyers without Borders, The Peres Center for Peace in Israel, The Center for Public Health in Nigeria, and the Darfur Rehabilitation Project in Sudan. These students receive unparalleled, hands-on training as they “attend conferences, workshops, and sessions pertaining to the NGO’s cause, and report back critical details or UN action,” and the organizations they serve greatly benefit the Youth Representatives’ support.
An organization as large as the United Nations offers opportunities for every kind of student with every kind of interest. Lehigh explains that students who have served as UN interns have worked as “speech writers, social media marketers, UNESCO researchers, NGO relations staff members, and designers of globally viewed briefings.” Lehigh also offers classes and experiential learning opportunities in a wide variety of fields that leverage this exposure to the United Nations, whose headquarters in New York City is only a two-hour’s drive from campus. Journalism majors have shadowed United Nations correspondents; education students can learn about the roles of NGOs in education policy; while marketing students engage in UN commissioned social media research.
An engineering student told us that “research driven classwork” was one of the key factors that brought her to Lehigh. A chemical engineering and biotechnology student further explained, “Professors usually tend to give out ‘open-ended’ projects instead of homework, which greatly enhances understanding of the material. For example, for my Senior Chemical Engineering design course, I designed a chemical plant on my own—I was free to do it any way I wanted, so there was no clear cut way as to how to do it. Another example involved a picture of cells that my professor took in her lab and we were supposed to figure out what is wrong with them—bringing a new dimension to our learning and understanding the concepts covered in class.” Dr. Michael Spear, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, told us, “The research opportunities at Lehigh are fantastic, the resources are top-notch, and the students (graduate and undergraduate) with whom we research are exceptional. . . . In the lab, Lehigh undergraduates are able to perform at such a high level, and contribute directly to significant published research.”
Lehigh counts Peter D. Feaver, National Security Council member in the Clinton and Bush administrations; Lee Iacocca, former chairman of Chrysler; and numerous members of the United States congress and state governors among its distinguished alumni. And, Catherine Engelbert (an ‘86 grad in accounting), CEO of Deloitte LLP, has the distinction of becoming the first female CEO of a Big Four firm.
Luckily for Lehigh students, Career Services “maintains partnerships with alumni and company partners,” the university told us, “[who] hold events, including Mock Interview Days, Résumé Marathon, etc., where the companies send representatives to campus to support our programs. Alumni support is huge here at Lehigh, and our Lehigh alumni family of over 75,000 is a wonderful resource for our institution to draw upon.” Events like the Conference of Accounting Professionalism draw professionals from each of the “Big Four” firms and other companies to campus for a weekend of panels and workshops. Alumna Lauren Miller, who participated in the event as an undergrad and is now a partner at Ernst &Young, told us: “You would rotate into an employer’s workshop on things like public speaking, the importance of relationships, the importance of teaming, etc. It was a really a day to help you network but also to gain some soft skills and really understand what firms are looking for and how to improve on those skills.”
Alumna Ashley Pritchard credits the Lehigh alumni network with shaping her career trajectory: “[If] you ask me now what I should have paid attention to when I was 17 and applying for college, it would have been Lehigh’s outstanding career services and alumni relations. . . . It was through Lehigh’s alumni networks and Career Services that I received my internships, feedback on résumés and how to present myself in interviews, and ultimately, the stepping point of my career.”
Alumnus Bill Gross, who graduated in 1998 with a degree in mechanical engineering, is now Engineering Program Manager for a multinational technology and engineering firm; he told us, “I liaise with Lehigh’s Career Services Department to recruit, interview, and guide students from campus to corporate opportunities, such as co-ops and internships. . . . Lehigh students are typically known for being particularly sharp, adaptive, technical leaders. [They] have the benefit of diverse and broad campus experiences, in addition to the strong academics, so they are ready for the chaos of a large matrixed organization and can ultimately lead and succeed in such an environment.” Lauren Miller agrees. She said, “Lehigh trains you. We worked hard there, but they also got us ready for day one coming into the real world. . . . Half the reason I’m a partner at Ernst & Young is probably because of my education and the training I got a Lehigh.” Now as a campus recruiter for her company, she actively seeks Lehigh graduates as new hires. “I recruit them off campus, and they go right on my team. Everyone at the firm knows that those are the people I want to work for me.”
Housed within an old, industrial facility on top of a mountain, The Mountaintop Project certainly looks unlike any other university classroom. Inside a factory relic of industrial-age titan Bethlehem Steel, old distillery vats have been repurposed for aquaponics, where tillabia swim among the roots of crops; 3D printers build exoskeletons aimed to help children relearn movement after illnesses like stroke; and outside students compost some 450 pounds of the school’s food waste for fertilizer. Here, students across disciplines are offered near complete academic freedom without the constraints of assignments, grades, or a pre-set curriculum, to investigate problems and come up with their own, innovative solutions— an invaluable skill in any industry—and this work is already making an impact. The group working on the pediatric exoskeleton has consulted with Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, and the group developing fertilizer has expanded their efforts to other initiatives across campus, including sustainability internships. The Mountaintop program has seen great success since its inception two years ago, and already the administration is working on ways to scale it up so more students and faculty can take part.