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Celebrating 25 Years of the Tower Society

Thick fog did not dampen the spirits of alumni and friends who gathered September 19 in Lehigh’s Wood Dining Room to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Tower Society. A highlight of the Breakfast and Annual Meeting was President John D. Simon’s presentation of the James Ward Packard Award to Michael Caruso ’67, chair of the Tower Society, for exemplary volunteer service to Lehigh’s gift planning program. In his remarks, Simon called Caruso a “longtime champion of Lehigh and a roving goodwill ambassador.”

“This is a very meaningful award to me. It is not work that I do for Lehigh. It is love,” said Caruso, who was emotionally moved upon receiving the award. “I may be the captain, but the 4,000 members of the Tower Society are the team. I accept this award today, but it is yours tomorrow.”

Caruso thanked members for all that they do for Lehigh. “You have often heard me say that if you believe in something and if you want something of importance at Lehigh to last forever, you must endow it. Each of us, in our own way, has done this with a confirmed bequest, a life income gift, or an outright gift to the endowment,” he said. “The gifts made by our members have preserved and perpetuated Lehigh’s mission and its distinctive learning environment.”

The Tower Society was created with the vision of former Director of Planned Giving Ferd Thun ’56, former Senior Planned Giving Officer Francis Figlear ’64G ’81P, and emeriti Board of Trustee member James Swenson ’59 ’15GP ’17GP. Swenson recalled how their first meetings were held with folding chairs in the tower of Iacocca Hall, thus inspiring the name “Tower Society.”

Recalling her position as a young staff member in 1990, Lorraine Wiedorn ’84G ’13P ’17P, assistant vice president of Gift Planning, said, “Together, they developed an idea to acknowledge alumni and friends who have provided for the endowment.”

Since the inception of the Tower Society, Lehigh’s endowment has increased from $244 million to $1.2 billion. Among other functions, the endowment provides resources for scholarships that help maintain Lehigh’s accessibility regardless of a student’s ability to pay; funds to establish endowed chair positions that help recruit and retain the most distinguished faculty members; and assets that provide for cutting-edge research and new ways of teaching.

In thanking members for their contributions and commitments, President Simon said, “As Tower Society members, your gifts help sustain Lehigh’s momentum and carry us forward into that future. It is because of your generosity that Lehigh can celebrate its rich history and anticipate even a more remarkable time ahead.”

Riding the Wave of the Data X Ocean

During the Tower Society Breakfast and Annual Meeting, guest speaker Daniel Lopresti, director, Data X Initiative, and chair and professor, department of computer science and engineering, introduced Lehigh’s new strategic Data X program.

Explaining the increasing demand by students for computer science education and the explosive demand by employers for trained professionals in these areas, Lopresti said that Lehigh must make a major investment in computer and data analytics at Lehigh through Data X.

“Students aren’t taking these courses because they are fun, but because they see this as leading to a fulfilling and successful career,” said Lopresti, who went on to recount that of the new jobs being invented, two-thirds of them are in computing.

“There is a vast ocean of data and it is getting bigger every day. The trick is to figure out what to do with it,” said Kathleen Egan ’90, vice president, Services and Analtyics, Quri.

The Data X Initiative focuses on adding faculty so that data science can become part of every student’s Lehigh education. The program will weave data science and data analytics into the areas of bioengineering, marketing analysis, digital media, and other areas as they become identified. 

During the presentation, Lopresti shared a video of alumni professionals in the corporate world, who reflected on Lehigh’s new Data X Initiative and how it will prepare students to successfully navigate the next wave of data and information that flow into today’s modern businesses.

“Forward-looking programs like Data X show that we are not content with what we have been doing in the past, but that we want to move boldly into the future and make sure that we put the type of academic programs together that will best serve our students in the 21st century,” summarized President John Simon.

- Dawn Thren