Erica Hoelscher, a professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Sciences, was recently appointed as associate dean for faculty and staff in the College of Health. In an interview with The Brown and White, Hoelscher discussed her new role, future plans and goals for her new work.
Q: What are your goals as associate Dean for faculty and staff in the College of Health ?
Erica Hoelscher: My goals as associate dean of faculty and staff are to support the faculty and staff in creating the newest college at Lehigh University. Although a lot of preliminary work was done and drafts of things, like policy and procedures, and the vision and mission statement were written, we still have yet to really formalize things and agree as a college on a flexible format that we want to use to move forward into this post-pandemic world. It’s amazing because you couldn’t have planned this at all, to have a College of Health that is beginning in a period where all of us have been impacted. It’s all about health, the virus and the terrible impact that it has had around the world has made everyone very keenly aware of how important health and health outcomes are. So, it’s an amazing opportunity for all of Lehigh University and for me personally and professionally, and so my goal is just to add all of my energy, experience and ideas into the mix to help support the college.
Q: Who will you work most closely with to meet these goals?
EH: It will be the entire faculty and staff. We already have a very accomplished faculty in place and staff as well, and we’re planning a slew of hires once we get past this moment in time.
Q: What type of faculty will you look for in the college?
EH: We are looking for stellar faculty. It doesn’t really matter what rank they’re at, whether they’re just obtaining their Ph.D. and this is their first initial appointment as a faculty member, or whether they’re a very well-established full professor, or someone who has a lot of credentials already, or even someone who’s been working in the public sector or in the political sphere or corporate sphere who is deciding to shift gears in and come to Lehigh. There are a lot of different people out there who could fill these ranks, so on a fundamental level, we’re looking for the most accomplished and stellar people who exemplify excellence to come to Lehigh.
Q: What is the transition like from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Health?
EH: It is one that is a great honor and also very humbling because, while I bring 25 years of experience of being at Lehigh, I am a designer so I see part of my role as helping to design certain things that will be structural and helpful to the College of Health. My expertise and my research is not in any health-related area, so I think that the transition is about me being open to learning and being open to what the college aspirations and goals are, and then putting all the power of what I can contribute to that to work.
Q: What do you see as the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the College of Health?
EH: The biggest weakness is the weakness that we are all sharing right now. When we do everything by Zoom, we have a lot of uncertainty in the world and that’s hard for people to deal with. There’s a lot of anxiety over what the future holds and what it will look like. At the same time, there’s a lot of positivity and a huge opportunity for all of us to re-imagine, re-envision, and re-create a world that’s better for everyone. It’s not just about COVID-19, but also about social justice — real, true inclusion — and not just respectful but almost reverential of the diversity that all of us carry. Those are component parts of a College of Health, but even Lehigh didn’t invent those inherent cards of health. We all have bodies, we all want to enjoy strong bodies and a strong mind. It is a basic common human desire to be healthy and, to me, that’s the greatest strength (of the) College of Health. It is fundamentally inclusive and interdisciplinary and diverse. I really like those things about the college and we’re all going to overcome that weakness. Five years from now we’ll all be looking back and seeing what we’ve overcome.
Q: The College of Health was created to have an impact on the community. What will you do to ensure that impact?
EH: That is to support faculty and to support staff, and by doing that we will empower and enable our faculty to teach classes so that those classes are going to be open to every student at Lehigh. Most particularly, the students who will enroll in the College of Health and obtain degrees through the various major programs that they’ll be offering. I think that there are some questions about “Well what do I do with this?” but I’m familiar with that question because a lot of people ask that about a theatre degree. It’s amazing because a theatre degree and a degree in the College of Health can be so applicable to the things you want to do. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the College of Health to reach out and do very collaborative coursework, research and presentations, and just be a very active member of the University.
Q: What are you most excited about in your new role?
EH: What I’m most excited about is to see the growth and the potential for growth and the college to shine. The already well-established rapport of the current faculty being extended to new faculty that get brought in the attention will get paid by both alumni and current students, members of the university community, and members of the Lehigh Valley. Then even further afield, the entire world is going to be looking at this college because it’s so unique and it’s just the perfect time for it to really blossom.