During International Education Week, OIA recognized members of the Lehigh community for supporting international students

For Kwame Essien, education certainly isn’t limited to the classroom.

Essien, associate professor of history and Africana studies at Lehigh University’s College of Arts and Sciences, has taken his students on trips to his home country of Ghana, supports the Lehigh Africa Students Association and Africa Business Club, regularly provides guidance to students outside of classes, and even plays soccer with students on some weekend afternoons.

“Kwame is like a father to me in terms of his support and guidance to international students,” said Stephen Mensah, a third-year PhD student of biology. “He is a fantastic professor and mentor who uses his life’s story to encourage me in my academic pursuits, and passionately helps both international and non-international students to settle in their course and life in Lehigh University.”

Mensah was one of four students who nominated Essien for recognition at the Together We Climb luncheon during International Education Week on Nov. 17. Organized by Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), the event seeks to recognize faculty and staff who have made a difference in the experiences of international students.

“I wasn’t expecting this honor, because I don’t support my students to get anything back, but I appreciate it,” Essien said at the luncheon. “We all have a responsibility to support the international community here at Lehigh; no one person can do it alone. As an immigrant myself, I understand what it’s like coming to a new community, so I want to help in any way I can.”

Sixteen faculty and staff members were recognized during the Together We Climb event, with all the honorees having been nominated directly by students, who expressed how they made a difference in each of their lives. The nominations were submitted to OIA and Lehigh’s Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).

“We recognize that our international students are a long way from home, and so to have a faculty or staff member who is there for them – as a mentor, advisor, and support system – really makes a difference in terms of academic success,” said Cheryl Matherly, Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh.

In addition to Essien, the 2023 Together We Climb honorees included:

  • Julie DeMotte – Graduate Coordinator, Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Brooke Desipio – Director, Office of Survivor Support and Intimacy Education
  • Andrea Goff – Academic Advisor, Computer Science and Business
  • Terri Hamlin – Graduate Coordinator, Department of Political Science 
  • Yvonee Lee – Director, Writing Across the Curriculum
  • Kashi Johnson – Chairperson and Professor, Department of Theatre
  • Janet Laible – Associate Professor of Political Science
  • Christopher Liang – Professor and Chair, Department of Education & Human Services
  • Esther Lindstrom – Assistant Professor, Special Education Program
  • Gabriela Quinteros – international student
  • Thomas Rees – Professor of Practice, Accounting
  • Sidney Reph – Transportation Office
  • Gabrielle String – Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Tamas Terlaky – George N. and Soteria Kledaras '87 Endowed Chair Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering & Healthcare Systems Engineering
  • Patrick Zoro – Teaching Assistant Professor, Perella Department of Finance

International student enrollment nationwide has returned to almost pre-pandemic levels, with more than 1 million enrolled in U.S. institutions, according to reports. International student enrollment at Lehigh has returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, with a total of 1,003 students from 82 countries enrolled during the 2023-24 academic year, according to OISS.

“With a six-person staff at OISS, we certainly can’t do everything it takes to support our international student community by ourselves,” Amanda Connolly, Director of International Students and Scholars at Lehigh, said at the luncheon. “All of you honored here today show that the entire Lehigh community provide the support, resources, and help needed to make our international students’ journeys successful.”

Liang was nominated by Chen Shi, a third-year special education doctoral student. Shi said she nominated him based upon his support of international students, as well as his dedication to inclusivity and cross-cultural understanding at Lehigh’s College of Education.

“He actively encourages students from diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives, fostering awareness of cultural differences and building connections among students,” Shi said. “It’s my hope that I can continue to help students in the future, in the same way he has helped me. He’s passed that passion along to me.”