Provost Patrick Farrell remembers opening up lunch meetings on campus where anyone could come to answer the question: “If Lehigh were willing and interested to make a big and dramatic move in some direction, what would it be?”
“Some of the ideas were crazy, and some weren’t crazy enough,” Farrell said. “But it was a fun conversation because not very often do you get invited to think really big. In the moment, we weren’t worried about cost or space, just to find a way to make a difference in the world.”
Among the different ideas, the common theme was Lehigh’s potential to do something big in the world of health, Farrell said.
Under the Path to Prominence plan, Lehigh’s investment into health will come to life. The university announced the opening of a health college in fall 2016.
While the idea of the college has been in the works for years, finding a dean for the school was a major step in bringing this concept to life.
Farrell said the hiring process for a college dean normally consists of a panel of staff and faculty from that specific college. However, this particular process was unusual, given that the College of Health did not yet have administrators. Faculty and staff with a background in health from across all four colleges were given the opportunity to be a part of the interview process, ultimately leading to the hiring of Whitney Witt.
Farrell said Witt’s combined background in academia and the health industry makes her the ideal candidate for the job.
“I’m excited because there are not too many opportunities where you are given a blank canvas to design an innovative educational and research program,” Witt said.
Witt plans to design a program that will educate undergraduate students in population health, which will prepare them for the workforce. She said the college will focus on using technology such as artificial intelligence and data visualization platforms as key components of learning.
Lehigh’s pre-health students major in the applied sciences, which are housed within the College of Arts and Sciences.
Taylor Kurz, ‘21, is a biology major with a minor in health, medicine and society. Kurz is on a pre-physician assistant track.
“I’m jealous of incoming Lehigh students who will have the opportunity to enroll in the College of Health their freshman year,” Kurz said. “Arts and sciences is so broad. I’d rather be in a college specifically for health studies.”
While Kurz has enjoyed taking non-health related classes as part of the arts and sciences distribution requirement, she said she cannot help but wonder about the professional possibilities that would accompany an undergraduate degree from a health college.
While she does not know much about what the college of health would look like, Kurz said she is excited to see what Lehigh creates.
“What does it take to get something like this started?” Farrell said. “It tends to be a little entrepreneurial in the sense that we know what colleges look like, but we don’t create new ones very often.”
Classes under the College of Health are on schedule to begin in the fall 2020, with a facility on campus to open by fall 2021.
“One of our goals for Lehigh is to develop a higher profile with more visibility,” Farrell said. “That’s not just public relations. We need to be doing things that impact the world outside of Lehigh. And yes, it does matter that people actually notice that.”