Infographic by Jenna Simon/B&W Staff

Lehigh Launch provides an immersive first semester experience


Incoming first-year students now have the opportunity to participate in the Lehigh Launch Program — an immersive, semester-long experience in either the American West or Ecuador. 

Students applying to Lehigh for the fall 2020 semester have the option to apply for this program, which will allow about 30 students to spend their first fall semester as a Lehigh student while living and learning in either Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, or Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

The idea behind the program is to give students an opportunity for experiential, hands-on learning earlier in their college careers, said Jennifer Jensen, the co-chair of the program’s committee and deputy provost for academic affairs.

The program was initially created by Jensen and her co-chair Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs. Jensen and Matherly both wanted study abroad programs to be available to students prior to their matriculation or within their first academic year, in the American West and an international location.

Jensen and Matherly created a committee of faculty and staff to develop Lehigh Launch.

Each program location will host about 14 to 18 students, who will participate in regular coursework, as well as integrated fieldwork experiences, Jensen said. Regardless of their location, all students will take 16 credit hours and fulfill distribution requirements, including natural science, humanities, social science and a first-year seminar, Jensen said.

The American West program is in Lander, Wyoming, Green River, Utah and Taos, New Mexico. The program will be partnered with NOLS, a nonprofit based out of Lander, Wyoming. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

The semester in the American West, led by committee member and English professor Barry Kroll, gives students access to unique wilderness experiences, Jensen said. She said the semester will include two weeks of backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, three weeks of classroom learning in Lander, Wyoming, eight days of canoeing the Desolation Canyon section of the Green River in Utah and six weeks in Taos, New Mexico. 

Jensen said the American West program will partner with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and use their facilities for the backpacking and canoeing trips, a wilderness first aid course, housing and classrooms.

The semester in Ecuador will be led by anthropology professor David Casagrande. He said they will spend two weeks in Quito, four days in the Amazon Rainforest, two days in the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest and three weeks in the Galápagos Islands, while also including smaller field trips throughout the semester.

Casagrande said students in this program will have the opportunity to learn about environmental issues, as well as indigenous cultures, ecosystems and the Spanish language, all of which are integrated throughout the curriculum, which the American West program does too. 

“Students will be looking at these (environmental) issues from all different perspectives, while at the same time acquiring skills they’ll need to succeed when they come back to Lehigh,” Casagrande said.

The semester in Ecuador is in Quito, Ecuador, the Amazon Rainforest, the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest and the Galápagos Islands. The program will be partnered with IES Abroad. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

The Ecuador program will partner with IESAbroad, a study abroad organization that will provide classroom facilities in Quito and the Galápagos, placing students in homestay families and helping to organize the program, Casagrande said. 

Lauren Furrer, committee member and director of undergraduate recruitment marketing and communications, has been working to develop and market the program to prospective and admitted students. This year, marketing efforts began after students in the incoming class of 2024 had already begun their applications because the program was announced in December, Furrer said.

“We’re excited about this program because it can help bring some more strong students to Lehigh to help our already diverse student body,” Furrer said. “We’re hoping that in the years to come, Lehigh Launch will drive applications for more students who are looking for this kind of experiential learning opportunity.”

She said she has been partnering with admissions to reach out to students.

The application for Lehigh Launch includes written questions and a phone interview, and is separate from the application to the university. Choosing to apply will not affect a student’s chance of admission to Lehigh, Furrer said. 

“We are looking for creative, interested students who have the skill set to be a bit more independent early in their college career,” Jensen said. “We are also looking for people who have a good sense of what they want out of the program.”

Jensen said the program has attracted almost 120 students from all undergraduate colleges, all of whom are very strong applicants.

Following their Lehigh Launch experience, students will return to Lehigh for the spring semester. These students will return to campus two weeks earlier than their peers will for an orientation program that will allow students from each program location to meet and present final projects based on their experiences, as well as get to know the campus and its resources, Jensen said.

Once they arrive on campus, Lehigh Launch students will be clustered in some of the major first-year housing communities, Jensen said. She said students in the program will have the opportunity to request a fellow Lehigh Launch participant as a roommate, though these requests are not always guaranteed.

Jensen said the committee is working to ensure that Lehigh Launch participants will have a smooth transition onto campus for their spring semester and feel a part of the Lehigh community, even while they are away from campus.

“We’ll be doing a lot of programming during the fall semester where we’ll connect virtually,” Casagrande said. “We’ll watch the Lehigh-Lafayette game and those types of things. The idea is for students to feel a part of Lehigh even though they’re in a different place.” 

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