Lehigh University President John D. Simon is halfway through a cross-country tour to meet alumni and inspire them to continue contributing to the university.
“There are 70,000 alums out there, and they are fiercely passionate about the institution,” Simon said.
By introducing alumni to the current leadership at Lehigh, the tour helps bridge the gap between alumni’s own experiences at Lehigh and the institution today.
According to Janet Norwood, the senior director of advancement communications at Lehigh, the tour is traveling to eight cities around the country. Simon said the cities were chosen for their high concentration of Lehigh graduates and their active alumni clubs.
In September, Simon went to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia. At the end of October, he will make another round to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
Simon said that arranging these trips into a tour allows him to interact with as many alumni as possible in his first year at Lehigh. He said that the quick succession of the tour “builds excitement and momentum for all that is great about Lehigh.”
“The whirlwind of events speaks to the priority that President Simon puts on getting to know people at Lehigh,” Noorwood said. “He wants to get out there early and meet them.”
The tour also focuses on continued alumni involvement with the university, and part of Simon’s role is discovering all of the capacities in which that’s possible.
One of these ways, Simon mentioned, had to do with alumni in positions to offer real internships to Lehigh students.
“If you step back, it’s not about fundraising the alumni fund for the next 12 months,” Simon said. “It’s about a sustained relationship between alumni and the university.”
Kelly Wallace, the president of the Lehigh Board in Boston, said that the tour event she attended gave her a chance to reconnect with her Lehigh friends and listen to the university’s president talk about Lehigh today.
“The way he was speaking made me feel like I was a freshman at Lehigh again,” she said. “That night I came home and e-mailed a bunch of my friends to ask if we can go back to Lehigh for the 150th celebration.”
Stephanie Veto, Lehigh’s videographer, has attended several of the tour events to film for Lehigh’s website. She described the first tour event in New York, where people arrived at the venue by the busload. Veto said the welcoming alumni, good food and exciting environment made her proud to be part of the Lehigh community even though she isn’t a Lehigh alumna.
“President Simon’s speech was great,” Veto said. “It was optimistic, really forward-thinking and forward-looking. He’s all about taking chances, for sure.”
Lehigh’s No. 47 ranking from US News and World Report came out the day before the tour started in September, but Simon said the tour remained upbeat.
Simon prefers to focus on developing the best education and experience possible for Lehigh students instead of dwelling on rankings. He said that the report was an input ranking and Lehigh has fared much better on output rankings for student success after graduating.
“I describe myself as a rankings-aware and not rankings-driven person,” he said.
Simon said that he is taking everything he has learned at Lehigh and sharing it with the audiences on his tour. He wants to let the community know Lehigh cares about undergraduates, graduates and professionals — and “excellence across all of (those groups).”
Simon also aimed to encourage the leadership in many positions at Lehigh today.
“That’s having trust and confidence in the institution, that yes, there are a lot of challenges in higher education, but we have the right team to navigate that for the university,” he said.