It’s not too surprising that Lehigh University, which is known for its science and engineering programs, has several thousand alumni in Silicon Valley.
Until recently, there wasn’t a place for those tech-savvy alumni — many of whom work for one of the many technology companies that call the region home — to connect with the university, each other, or job-hunting Lehigh University grads.
To remedy that, Lehigh late last year launched a new partnership with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a San Francisco nonprofit affiliated with the stock exchange that aims to “educate, innovate, and connect aspiring and current entrepreneurs.”
“Lehigh@NasdaqCenter provides a great opportunity for us as a university to have a presence in the heart of the robust ecosystem of entrepreneurship that is Silicon Valley,” said Lehigh University President John Simon. “Its impact will enable us to offer our students — as well as alumni and faculty — a year-round, permanent academic presence there. That not only means educational opportunities through our programming, but it also represents new possibilities for internships and employment for our students.”
The partnership will give Lehigh a hub on the West Coast to provide programming for students and alumni, a facility to help recruit students, and a base to connect Lehigh grads with Bay Area companies looking for tech workers, said Lisa Getzler-Linn, who is heading up the program for Lehigh.
Getzler-Linn is executive director of Lehigh’s Baker Institute, which leads university-wide entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation initiatives across a variety of academic programs, goals that match up well with the objectives of the Nasdaq Center, which launched in 2015.
The new partnership is an outgrowth of an existing Baker Institute program, LehighSiliconValley, which takes 56 students to the Bay Area each year for a week of problem-solving, entrepreneurship and technology-related activities conducted with tech industry leaders.
In January 2016, Nicola Corzine, executive director of the Nasdaq Center, agreed to give the Lehigh students a tour and was impressed with their entrepreneurial mindset. That led to talks with Simon, and eventually, a partnership.
“It became so synergistic for us to explore how could we do something much deeper together, everything from research to exposing students to virtual internships and engagements for these students who were hungry for more,” she said.
The partnership will greatly expand Lehigh’s presence in the Bay Area, allowing it to accommodate many more students and eventually offer classes and internships that that will give students the opportunity to spend an entire semester in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Getzler-Lynn said.
For now, Lehigh has been rolling out pilot programs for the partnership.
One, called Women in Technology, pairs 19 Lehigh undergrads with women mentors and speakers from the Silicon Valley technology industry via teleconferencing technology, Getzler-Lynn said. Silicon Valley tech executive Tom Gillis helped launch the program.
Gillis said the shortage of women in technology and engineering fields deprives companies like Bracket Computing, which he leads, of new ideas and talent.
“Getting more women into the tech industry will take generational and cultural change,” said Gillis. “But our approach at Lehigh was to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. If we can inspire these bright, young female students, and provide them with mentors who can help them realize their potential in the tech industry, others will follow behind them.”
Kira Gobas is one of those bright young students. She and fellow Lehigh junior Kelsie Strobel won the Baker Institute’s annual EUREKA! contest for inventors with their plan to create programmable jewelry to promote coding skills in middle-school age girls.
Through the Women in Technology class, Gobas has been paired up with Kathleen Egan, an accomplished Silicon Valley tech executive who graduated from Lehigh before heading to Harvard Business School. They’ve already talked about the jewelry project.
“It feels like I’ve found my people,” Gobas said of the class. “We’re all there for the same reason.”
Both Gobas and Strobel said it can sometimes be intimidating being among just a handful of women in a engineering class of 25 students. But they said Lehigh is doing a good job of building confidence by creating community through programs such as the partnership with Nasdaq, and providing great academic advisers.
Another Nasdaq pilot, which Lehigh recently completed, paired teams of Lehigh students as interns with startup companies that the Nasdaq Center is working with in its Milestone Makers program. The program helps aspiring entrepreneurs tackle specific problems that stand in the way of commercializing their ideas.
Partnerships between groups like the Nasdaq Center and Lehigh will be key as colleges try to provide students with an education that is tailored to their needs and interests and goes beyond the lessons contained in textbooks, Corzine said.
“What Lehigh is providing with these pathways for unique exposure creates that unique opportunity to students in any discipline, whatever class they may be in, to be exposed to more opportunities simply by getting them out of the classroom environment,” she said. “Yes the theoretical is critical, but at the end of the day only by doing will you know that the nuances of the field are something you want to expose yourself to.”
•What: Partnership between the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a San Francisco nonprofit designed to educate and connect the entrepreneurial community, and Lehigh University.
• Goal: Connect Lehigh alumni with the university, each other, and job-hunting Lehigh grads. Help recruit students as well connect Lehigh grads with Bay Area companies looking for tech workers.
• Pilot programs: Women in Technology, which pairs Lehigh undergrads with women mentors and speakers from the Silicon Valley technology industry; Milestone Makers, which helps aspiring entrepreneurs tackleproblems that stand in the way of commercializing their ideas.