Signs displaying the Strategic Plan motto can be found on Mountaintop Campus. Plans to add a graduate and postdoctoral “village” on the Mountaintop Campus are in the works as part of Lehigh’s Strategic Plan. (Maeve Kelly/ B&W Staff)

Graduate student village to expand housing options


Those involved with the Lehigh Strategic Plan are exploring the possibility of adding a graduate and postdoctoral “village” on the Mountaintop Campus, creating more housing options and a sense of community for graduate students.

The Strategic Plan, announced in June, is built on the foundation of building a better future at Lehigh through the combination of technology and human work in an interdisciplinary way. One of the key initiatives of the Strategic Plan is transforming parts of the 740-acre Mountaintop Campus, which is heavily dedicated to graduate study. 

Nancy Trainer, the associate vice president for facilities and campus planning, joined the Lehigh community in May and will be leading the implementation of making changes to the Mountaintop Campus.

Trainer said the Mountaintop Campus transformation is included in the larger cross-campus planning, which will begin this winter and extend over the following 18 months. 

As they are in the very early stages of planning, she emphasized the graduate village — as outlined in the strategic plan — is a long-term vision. Since the details aren’t known yet, it’s difficult to give a timeline for its implementation, she said.

The university is exploring the demand for housing for Lehigh students in general, Trainer said, and research and input from the Lehigh community will help guide the physical planning.

She said making sure Lehigh’s physical campus mirrors the strategic plan’s core values is a large piece of the planning process. 

“I’d like to see the campus plan reinforce and enable the strategic plan initiatives,” Trainer said. “For example, there’s the foundational initiative of ‘a Lehigh for Everyone.’ Understanding how the Lehigh community sees and experiences our campus is key to making sure that it is a welcoming environment for everyone.”  

Kathleen Hutnik, the associate deputy provost for graduate education, works to strengthen graduate students’ educational experiences. 

Hutnik said the intensity of higher education creates a demand for community among graduate students. She and her team work to eliminate the different stressors in the lives of graduate students so they can focus on their studies and research.

“If you’re going for doctoral degrees, you’re going narrow and deep. It can take between four and eight years, and it is like a marathon,” Hutnik said. “If you aren’t taking care of yourself in every dimension of your humanity, it will be harder to make it to completion. You need to take care of your health in all of its dimensions.”

Stressors at this level include living expenses, taking care of family and finding adequate housing. She said the housing struggle for some graduate students in Bethlehem is part of this stress as living expenses continue to rise.

Feeling connected to others is important across all demographics, Hutnik said, and Lehigh graduate students are no exception, especially considering the large international student population. 

Hutnik said half of full-time graduate students are international, and living away from home and adjusting to a new environment can be stressful.

José Luis De Piero, an international graduate student in his first year studying instructional technology, arrived in Bethlehem in August and was able to find housing two blocks off campus. 

Despite finding housing, he said it can still be difficult to form communities as a graduate student with few in-person classes.

He also said he has witnessed other graduate students struggle to find housing.

“It’s really a huge problem finding housing here in Lehigh,” De Piero said. “I got super lucky when I arrived, but I’ve seen many of my fellow international students struggling to find somewhere to live or places to go. I think it’s super important that (Lehigh) develop something more.” 

Further information about the possible graduate and postdoctoral village will be available after more planning and community input.

“I think the Lehigh campus is a really amazing place,” Trainer said. “We want to make it even more useful, more welcoming than it is now.”

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