With a $5 million gift to fund a chair for Lehigh’s new College of Health, Ellen and Vincent Forlenza ’75 are investing in that college’s future and seeking solutions for health care issues that affect populations around the country and the world. The Ellen and Vincent Forlenza ’75 Chair in Health Innovation and Technology Endowed Fund will enable the college to recruit the very best talent in a fiercely competitive market.
“Now is the right time for Lehigh to launch the College of Health. Having spent 40 years seeing health care systems around the globe — and their challenges with access, sustainability, clinical care, chronic disease, and patient satisfaction — I think there are tremendous opportunities to solve problems and start something new,” said Vince, executive chair of the board of Becton Dickinson (BD), an American multinational medical technology company.
The Ellen and Vincent Forlenza ’75 Chair was created to launch the College of Health’s department of health innovation and technology, where innovators will develop health applications for artificial intelligence, advance analytics and data science, and design cutting-edge devices and technologies to address urgent needs in population health.
“With this chair, we’re hoping to find a leader who is a thoughtful risk-taker and a great facilitator of academic-industry partnerships,” Vince said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be someone who has a real passion for improving health care around the globe.”
“Vince and Ellen’s commitment to creating and guiding the College of Health is foundational,” said President John D. Simon ’19P. “We appreciate their generous gift, as well as the time and invaluable insight Vince put into planning to make the college a reality and to searching for its inaugural dean, Whitney Witt.”
It was Vince’s involvement in the work to create and launch a college of health that provided the impetus for the Forlenzas’ gift and Vince’s return to a position on Lehigh University’s Board of Trustees after a three-year hiatus.
“It was a pleasure working with John Simon, (former Provost) Pat Farrell, and others on the vision for a college of health and the search for its dean. I felt that, if I was one of the small number of people recommending this strategy to the Board, I should be willing to step up and support it, both financially and as a Board member,” Vince said.
The Forlenzas believe in the mission of the College of Health to educate population health leaders who will have an impact on the community, nation, and world. “The challenges of health care are not going to be solved on a patient-by-patient basis,” Ellen said. “They’re going to be addressed by looking at the whole system as a big picture. All these big needs touch individual lives.”
Opened on August 21, 2020, Lehigh’s College of Health is the first institution in the world to offer undergraduate, graduate, and executive degrees and certificates in population health with a focus on health innovation and technology.
“Health innovation and technology is the cornerstone of the College of Health. On behalf of the entire college, we are deeply honored that Vince and Ellen have so generously committed to this strategic recruitment,” said Whitney P. Witt, inaugural dean of the College of Health. “This Endowed Chair will be the catalyst to launch the Department of Health Innovation and Technology, the first of its kind in the world. This leader will create an intellectual home for faculty and students to develop new health applications for artificial intelligence, advance analytics and data science, and design cutting-edge devices and interventions to address pressing problems in population health.”
“The Forlenzas’ gift will fund one of the highest academic awards that a university can bestow on a faculty member: a named, endowed chair,” said Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “It is an important recruiting tool that recognizes and honors the holder of the appointment.”
The challenges of global health care have been Vince’s focus for most of his career. He graduated from Lehigh in 1975 with a bachelor of science in chemical engineering and worked for a few years in the chemical industry while earning his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He began in BD’s industrial group in 1980, working for three years before moving over to the health care side of the business. He celebrated 40 years with the company in June 2020, retiring in January 2020 as CEO and becoming executive chair of the board.
Vince thinks the integrated learning approach that he experienced as a student at Lehigh will give College of Health graduates “great flexibility and the ability to be broad thinkers. Ultimately, we want leaders who are passionate about health coming out of this school,” he said. “It takes a very integrated approach to solve the problems in health care. At Lehigh, there’s an openness to try new ways of learning. It has people who want to work together to get their arms around a problem.”
The Forlenzas are committed to problem-solving. In addition to their work with the Quest Foundation, a program that helps teach job skills and find jobs for young adults with autism, Vince has been working with Lehigh to create a COVID-19 testing strategy that ensured testing needs were fulfilled to bring students to campus and keep them safe.
Story by Cynthia Tintorri