Putting His Eggs in Different Baskets
Peter Scott ’87 ’88 Pursued an Interdisciplinary Education That Is Still Paying Dividends
Many high school students who are college shopping do not have a rock-solid idea of what they want to major in. Peter Scott ’87 ’88 was one of them until he learned about the interdisciplinary programs offered at Lehigh.
“Even in high school, I always wanted a career in business and knew I would pursue an MBA degree, so, quite frankly, I didn’t want an undergraduate degree in business as it seemed redundant,” said the managing director and global head of steel and metals investment banking at Jefferies, LLC. “I wanted to pursue a liberal arts degree for the broad skills it offers, but I didn’t want to put aside my interest in science.”
When Scott was evaluating colleges, he was looking at both engineering schools and liberal arts colleges and couldn’t make up his mind which way to go. Then he saw Lehigh’s Arts and Engineering program.
“I was drawn to it immediately. It allowed me to have both the broad liberal arts education I wanted and at the same time continue to have the more narrow, technical background of engineering,” he says.
Scott’s choices have served him well. The successful investment banker advises CEOs and CFOs of steel and metals companies on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures and helps them raise capital in the debt and equity markets to support their businesses.
“When I look back, I can’t believe I made those choices as a 17-year-old kid. I remember my parents being excited about the Arts and Engineering program, too—except, of course, for the fifth year of tuition,” he says with a laugh.
Through the five-year A & E program, Scott earned a B.A. degree in English in 1987 and then a B.S. degree in industrial engineering a year later. He explains the combination by saying he enjoys literature and writing and thought that industrial engineering would be the most applicable engineering discipline to a career in business. In 1993, he earned an MBA degree in finance from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
“With my education, I could have pursued just about any career in business I wanted,” he says. “The breadth of my Lehigh education gave me the base from which I was free to choose my path.”
Scott keeps the idea of interdisciplinary education in the forefront when providing input as a member of Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council (DAC). A member since 2006, he says, as a businessman, it is fascinating to have the ability to, in a small way, shape the direction of the College of Arts and Sciences to meet the needs of what employers are looking for in graduates.
“Lehigh has always been incredibly flexible and open to students establishing their own interdisciplinary way,” he says, adding that the academic direction that students can take at Lehigh is largely up to their own making. “I charted my own course, and that opportunity still exists for today’s Lehigh students.”
Lehigh’s approach to providing students with the opportunity to pursue a diverse education dates back to founder Asa Packer’s original vision. The Arts and Engineering program began more than 60 years ago at a time when other institutions of higher education offered students only one academic path to follow.
Lehigh offers many opportunities for students to tailor their education through programs such as the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences; Computer Science and Business; the Integrated Business and Engineering program; and pairing an MBA degree with either Engineering or Educational Leadership.
The opening of the STEPS building in 2011 has furthered cross-disciplinary learning. With DAC, Scott was involved in guiding the decisions of the facility’s priorities and who should be included in STEPS.
“Prior to STEPS, each discipline in the college was off in its own building, doing its own thing,” he says. “One of the major goals for STEPS was to get faculty and students from different disciplines together under the same roof so they could collaborate to find much more creative solutions to the complex problems they were each working on.”
“Peter exemplifies everything great about Lehigh and our College of Arts and Sciences,” says Donald Hall, Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel dean of the college. “He is a humanist at heart with deep interests in the sciences, in technical fields and in business. His advocacy for the college has been powerful and crucial for our recent growth and successes.”
Because Scott looks back on his Lehigh undergraduate days so favorably, he wants others to have the opportunity to pursue a similar experience. He has established the Peter J. Scott ’87 Endowed Scholarship Fund to support CAS students who are planning to study abroad. During his junior year, Scott studied for a semester at Westfield College, a branch of the University of London, and knows the importance of receiving international experience.
“Every day in my work as a banker, cultural issues come into play, even if I don’t leave my office in Manhattan. If a student graduates with international experience, they are far better prepared to address these issues as they arise.”
Scott has been helping Lehigh students in other ways, too. He actively recruits for full-time positions at Jefferies, working with Career Services to post openings and internships on LUCIE (Lehigh University’s Career Information Exchange).
He welcomes rÃ©sumÃ©s from all majors, explaining, “The issues we work on are not solved by just one approach. While spreadsheets are an important part of what young investment banking analysts do, the employee who is most skilled at spreadsheet analysis doesn’t necessarily come up with the best ideas.
That’s why we like to have employees from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and disciplines at Jefferies.”
Working in the financial sector, Scott was influential as a founding board member of the Wall Street Council, Lehigh’s affinity group of alumni who work in the industry. He hosted the first event in 2002 that drew about 150 alumni.
On building the council, he says, “The founders of the Wall Street Council recognized that the connections between Lehigh and Wall Street were not as strong as they could have been. We believed that Wall Street professionals and Lehigh students with an interest in finance could both benefit from creating stronger connections in both directions.
“We, as finance professionals, were willing to volunteer our time on campus to benefit the students, and we each also wanted our respective firms to benefit by getting the incredibly well-prepared Lehigh students to come work for us,” he says.
Scott values his Lehigh education but equally values the opportunities that the university gave him outside of the classroom. Reflecting on his time as president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and playing on Lehigh’s varsity ice hockey team, Scott says, “Everything that Lehigh has to offer helps to create well-rounded graduates. For me it was ice hockey and my fraternity, but for others it might have been the performing arts, volunteer work or the Brown & White.
“The opportunity I had to pursue an interdisciplinary major, play intercollegiate athletics and take on a leadership role in my fraternity brought me skills and experiences that I carry with me and benefit from to this day, and for that I am forever indebted to Lehigh.”