Engaging External Stakeholders at Lehigh University

Students at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, get the best of both worlds: a student-centered residential college with liberal arts at the core, and a premier research university with renowned programs in engineering, business, and education. That distinctive combination is the heart of Lehigh, an institution that "aspires to be an environment where the academic and living experiences merge into an integrated learning experience."

Blending challenging academics with opportunities to thoughtfully encounter new perspectives produces students equipped to tackle society’s most pressing problems and improve lives across the world: that is Lehigh’s mission. Students at Lehigh are encouraged to challenge themselves, embrace their passions, take risks, and approach issues from a variety of perspectives. On campus, Lehigh’s 6,900 students and its faculty instinctively understand this mission, and the uniqueness of the integrated learning experience, but the university needed a way to share compelling proof points of its value with external stakeholders-including prospective students and their families. Lehigh needed to bring the integrated learning experience to life.

Creating a “bLUeprint” for Student Success

Alongside rigorous academics, Lehigh’s student life curriculum, called “bLUeprint,” encourages each student to pursue Lehigh’s five foundations for student success: Creative Curiosity, Identity Development, Collaborative Connections, Inclusive Leadership, and Professional Growth & Success. The foundations are based on core competencies identified in Lehigh’s strategic plan, and align with the institution’s academic, co-curricular, and personal development offerings.

Students create their own personalized bLUeprint for success at Lehigh as part of the first year experience. Each student is asked to identify a personal vision of success and note the core values and guiding questions that will help them define their own unique Lehigh journey. How will they spend their 92 hours per week outside the classroom? What opportunities will they pursue? How will they seek to positively impact the world around them?

When designing their personal bLUeprints, Lehigh students are asked to consider these questions, and more. As students progress through their Lehigh experience and participate in programs like LeaderShape, the Mountaintop Project, PreLUsion Leadership, ROTC, and other programs that align with the bLUeprint curriculum, students’ learning and living experiences coalesce into Lehigh’s distinctive, integrated experience.

Beyond the Campus Learning Experience

Development of personal bLUeprints and the subsequent real-time experiences students at Lehigh encounter are only half of the equation. While Lehigh’s internal community knows and understands the value of this experience, the institution sought to ensure that external stakeholders, including prospective students and their families in local communities beyond Lehigh, fully understand and can see examples of what it means to have an integrated learning experience at Lehigh. They needed a way for the university to connect the individual stories of every Lehigh student to audiences familiar with each student.

“There are many Lehigh students who do incredible things while they are here, and we are eager to showcase the contributions and accomplishments of all students,” said Sharon Basso, associate vice provost and dean of students. Lehigh partnered with a New-York based company to take its bLUeprint curriculum – and other distinctive programs – to external audiences. Lehigh created a page for each one of its students, and then updated those pages with personalized accomplishments showcasing student participation in its unique programs and student achievement in and beyond the classroom.

Each student’s page not only became a hub for demonstrating their outcomes and their unique journey at Lehigh, but the updates published to those pages by the university were also connected directly to a network of stakeholders. Lehigh was able to reach every student’s high school principal or guidance counselor with stories of that student’s success in college. The university delivered success stories to each student’s hometown newspaper and state government representatives, showing communities near and far what the integrated learning experience was like for the students from that particular area. And when students connected their pages to popular social networks, their stories of involvement and success reached an even broader network of friends and family through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Personalization was key to Lehigh’s strategy to take its bLUeprint curriculum to a broader audience – by connecting those audiences to specific stories of Lehigh students they were likely to know, the institution was able to expose its distinctive integrated learning experience to people beyond its campus. In one year, Lehigh connected more than 7,500 unique stories of the student experience to stakeholders in more than 2,700 local communities.

Recognizing and Promoting Success

Students who had thoughtfully developed their own bLUeprints were also able to see, via their personal pages created for them by Lehigh, how their journeys were taking shape. Savannah Boylan, a member of the class of 2015, shared: “It is hard when you are in college to think about all the important things you are achieving and engaged with. All of my accomplishments and activities were in one place, and that is a great resource to have as a college student.”

Lehigh students were not engaged only by recognizing them for their participation and involvement in the institution’s integrated learning experience, but also for promoting those personal experiences to a network of stakeholders that care deeply about each student. bLUeprint is no longer an initiative confined to Lehigh’s campus, but a public point of distinction that connects the student experience to audiences all over the world.

Important institutional initiatives, like bLUeprint, can be transformative on a campus but can also be a critical way to show to prospective students and their families what it really means to attend a college. A carefully thought-out plan integrating carefully chosen technological tools allows institutions to document and promote the success, from everyday accomplishments to milestone outcomes, of every student on campus, and show people the paths that others like them have taken. By shining a light on the unique experiences of its students, the people and institution, like Lehigh and 250 other colleges, make the path through college clearer for others to follow.

About the Author
Colin Mathews is founder and president of Merit, a technology company that helps hundreds of colleges connect personalized stories of student outcomes to high schools, communities, legislators, families, and employers.