Multidisciplinary teams with students, faculty, and external partners pursue creative and innovative answers to societal challenges and open-ended questions. These multi-semester projects span the journey from creative inquiry to sustainable impact with one team handing the baton to another team in the following semester. Students develop their competencies for independent inquiry and discovery, multidisciplinary teamwork, design thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, systems thinking, and getting stuff done. The resulting skillsets, mindsets, and portfolios prepare students for emergent careers in a rapidly-changing world.

Credits: 1-6
Prerequisites: Students will be interviewed by the faculty/staff mentors to check for academic preparation and emotional maturity before being admitted to a team.

Now in its sixth year, Summer Mountaintop projects have enabled student and faculty teams to define their own goals and determine how to pursue them, to configure and keep their workspaces and to substantially focus on their projects for a period of time. Students have been surprised by the changes they have seen in themselves when taking full ownership of their work and operating outside familiar classroom structures. Mentors have been impressed by how, when intellectual and creative freedom is conferred consistently and sincerely, students become accountable to each other and to the work. Mentors have also valued the experience of facilitating a process rather than seeking to cover particular content. Despite students’ notable independence – declining to give students a script to follow and expecting them to make critical judgments about their own work are key elements of the experience – the mentor’s role has been critically important and highly rewarding. 

Since their inception, Mountaintop administrators have emphasized continuing lines of inquiry begun or prepared for in Spring semester courses, or continuing their work for academic credit during the Fall semester. Despite substantial student and faculty interest, the lack of interdisciplinary academic vehicles (courses) has limited the expansion of Mountaintop projects into the Fall/Spring semesters. Moreover, the current model of paying students in the Summer session poses a number of challenges. This model is neither sustainable nor scalable, and ten weeks is barely enough time to get the ball rolling. Most importantly, the ethos of Mountaintop (Creative Inquiry, Value Creation, and Inquiry to Impact) needs to be woven into the fabric of academics, research, and student life at Lehigh University.

The proposed set of courses aims to fill this gap and move the ethos of Mountaintop projects into the academic year. Student learning outcomes will focus not on the disciplinary outcomes (of becoming a better historian, educator, accountant, or engineer) but on the horizontals of open-ended inquiry, critical thinking and doing, design thinking, systems thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, working independently and in teams, communicating with a wide array of stakeholders, ethical decision-making and the art and science of execution (getting stuff done).

Projects offered through this course may include aspects of basic or applied research, (social) entrepreneurship, sustainable development, community engagement, public humanities, arts, or engaging with the K-12 system. Some projects might engage local community partners while others might work with communities and partners around the world. Multidisciplinary teams of 3-8 students will work with faculty mentors, external partners and subject matter experts to ask open-ended questions and strive to find answers. In alignment with Lehigh values, the projects will be extremely real, externally calibrated, and emergent. Teams will advance praxis and/or knowledge and share it with relevant communities of practice through scholarly and popular channels.