Lehigh 360

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What is Lehigh 360?

Scroll down for the original concept paper from 2018...


High Impact Learning Practices (HILPs) such as internships, research, global learning, entrepreneurial experiences, and community-based learning and engagement are proven to contribute to academic success, enhance personal development, strengthen interactions with faculty, and cultivate life-long career success. They positively influence civic responsibility, integrative and ethical thinking, and other key learning outcomes. Lehigh University offers a wide array of out-of-classroom experiences that complement in-class learning, spanning the spectrum from short-term student engagement to rigorous engaged scholarship. Such experiences help students develop important mindsets, skillsets, and portfolios for emergent careers in a rapidly changing world. The lines between academic and non-academic activities are quickly blurring, with active pedagogies taking students’ minds and bodies outside of classrooms and credit-bearing experiential activities making the entire world a classroom.

There is clear consensus amongst faculty, as well as non-academic researchers, on the importance of such activities for student personal and professional development. In the 2015 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE), Lehigh faculty placed high value on High-Impact Practices, rating the following categories as either “Very Important” or “Important” for students: Learning Community (26%), Service-Learning (24%), Research with Faculty (61%), Internship or Field Experience (75%), Study Abroad (47%), and Culminating Senior Experience (79%). There is ample evidence to suggest that students who have engaged in HILPs during their undergraduate years have more well-rounded educational experiences and are better prepared for the next rung in their careers, whether it is joining the workforce, pursuing advanced degrees, aspiring for prestigious fellowships, or chasing their entrepreneurial dreams.

The global workplace is changing at a rapid pace, and with it is coming unprecedented turbulence in the nature of careers, career trajectories, skillsets and mindsets for success, and expectations from the higher education system. Transactional approaches to career preparation and professional development that are explicitly focused on finding a job are being complemented by holistic frameworks for lifelong learning and change-making. The fundamental questions that should be asked of all students are shifting. Instead of asking, “what organization do you want to work for?” we should be asking them “who are you?” “what are your values, your talents, your passions?” “what problems do you want to solve?” and “how do you want to change the world?” The sociology student who is struggling to figure out his career plan, and the accounting student who thinks she knows exactly what the next 40 years of her career will look like, both need to be aware of the smorgasbord of opportunities available to them at Lehigh University. This awareness can yield an intentional, strategic, and reflective mapping out of their educational journeys. In the quest to prepare the next generation of pioneers, leaders, and change-makers, there needs to be a seamless integration of academic and non-academic, personal and professional development opportunities. The onus is on us, as a world-class university, to raise the floor and raise the ceiling and deliver a world-class education tailored to the needs and aspirations of every student.

The Engagement Gap

Multiple conversations with a wide array of stakeholders, including faculty, senior administrators, staff, and students (see Appendices 1 and 2), have yielded a plethora of differing perspectives and estimates on how, and to what degree, our students are currently engaged. Some have stated that approximately 20% of Lehigh’s students are fully engaged, taking advantage of multiple different High Impact Learning Practices, that another set of students (approx. 30%) are moderately engaged, experiencing one or two HILPs during their college careers (typically internships and learning communities /student clubs), and that the remainder of our students are simply laser-focused on obtaining the credits and GPA necessary to graduate in four years and aren’t maximizing their Lehigh experience.

The 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) found that among Lehigh’s first-year students, 8% reported that they had engaged in two or more High-Impact Practices,[1] and 20% had engaged in one HIP, compared to 15% and 37%, respectively, at Lehigh’s peer institutions. Among seniors, that number leapt to 82% who had engaged in two or more HIPs,[2] and 11% who had engaged in one, compared to 74% and 17% at peer institutions. Clearly these numbers show that Lehigh is doing very well at getting upper class students to engage, but far less well at showing first- and second-year students how to become involved with outside-the-classroom experiences that can build up their mindsets and skillsets. The NSSE also found that among Lehigh’s peer institutions, our first-year students scored lowest relative to their peer group in their responses to the questions of “participating in a learning community” and “courses includ(ing) a community-based project” (11% and 20% lower than our peers, respectively). Our seniors likewise scored lowest relative to our peer institutions on the question of whether their “courses have included a community-based project” (25% lower than our peers). Clearly, HILP opportunities exist at Lehigh, but we still have much work to do in showing our students the full array of engagement opportunities and most importantly, integrating them into the classroom.

One of Lehigh’s biggest challenges—and also our greatest opportunity—is to engage those students who are at the base of the engagement pyramid, whose collegiate careers do not include more than one HILP experience, if even that. These students, like all our students, have immense talent and potential; helping them find their passions and optimize their Lehigh experience can be truly transformative not only for these students but also for experiential programs across campus and the university itself. The following section provides a review of some of the major barriers to student engagement, as reported by multiple stakeholders.

Barriers to Engagement:

Identifying many barriers to engagement, we have aggregated them into five semi-overlapping categories:

  1. Lack of Knowledge. Students not knowing what opportunities are available to them at Lehigh. Either students are not properly informed, or they don’t internalize and prioritize the information. Some students find out about opportunities, but too late in their college careers when they no longer have time to participate in them.
  1. Lack of Understanding/Context. Students don’t understanding why they should engage…and how to go about finding opportunities, applying for them, and participating. There is a lack of understanding of how specific experiences help students develop specific competencies and prepare for a rapidly changing work environment and ever-more complex world. Finally, there is the institutional incentive structure which encourages a “quest for the grade” by students, often involving rote memorization of test material. We need to change that structure to weave engagement into the curriculum.
  1. Lack of Cultural Capital. Particularly among first-generation and low-income students (17% of Lehigh’s most recent incoming class), both students and their parents/families do not have direct experience and knowledge of out-of-classroom learning experiences, and often treat them as extraneous, expendable, or unnecessary. Such students (and others) often carry a pre-supposition that certain experiences are not for them, that they cannot afford certain experiences, or that “students like them” don’t do XYZ. As Lehigh’s student demographics evolve with more first-generation, low-income, and non-traditional students each year, we need to pro-actively address this problem.
  1. Lack of Diversified/Scaffolded Experiences. Programs often work hard to recruit students…but students often can get stuck in a single experience as a consequence. Both sides are responsible here, as programs often (and understandably) want to keep their “best” students once they are in the pipeline, making it more difficult for those students to diversify their portfolios of engagement. Also, recruitment of students is time-consuming and can be onerous, and is often done on an ad-hoc basis as a result, particularly among overburdened faculty who lack the proper support structures, in some cases, to boost their programming and areas of research/study.
  1. Lack of Available Time. We hear this from students all the time – they do not have time. This is an issue of time management as well as curricular innovation and transformation focused on integrating active pedagogies in the classroom. Another complex issue is Greek life, arguably a large part of Lehigh culture. Interestingly, some programs (e.g. study abroad) complain about how Greeks are not as engaged in their programs, while others (e.g. community service) insist that the Greeks are the most engaged students. How do we message and socialize the value of various kinds of opportunities to encourage students to participate in as many activities while building scaffolding for deeper activities?

How do we overcome these barriers? How do we optimize students’ time at Lehigh? Here are some questions, thoughts, and suggested solutions.

  1. How do we optimize the time of undergraduates at Lehigh? The need is to capture students early in their Lehigh careers, not just offering awareness of HILPs but providing active assistance in the process of applying for and obtaining these opportunities. Alongside the many email announcements that flood student inboxes, we need to have a centralized, active, accessible space that will grab students whether or not they know to seek out experiences. Having assistance available, in the form of student mentors/ambassadors with direct experience who can provide peer mentoring, inspiration, and connections, will help students use their time on engaging, rather than on the process of seeking to engage.
  1. How best to connect with students? Recently, Dr. George White led a SprintX event on the challenges and problems facing first-generation and low-income students at Lehigh. One of the most urgent issues raised in that session was the lack of comfort many students have in asking for “help” or even merely knowing where to go to safely and effectively reflect on their passions, dreams, and goals, and how to turn those into tangible reality. The best solution is peer ambassadors or peer mentors – other students who have been through the process and can help their peers navigate it.
  1. How do we diversify students’ experiences? This is a somewhat more complex question with less-clear answers. Short of somehow mandating a variety of experiences (which is not practical or desirable), the best method is to diversify the engagement space to allow for efficient and wide-ranging browsing, and utilizing the peer-to-peer ambassador network as well as an online engagement space to concierge students’ interests. Particular pro-active attention needs to be paid to graduate students, international students, and students actively involved in Greek life.
  1. How do we strengthen cultural capital and build pipelines? It is important that all programs be expected to articulate their raison d’etre and the specific mindsets, skillsets, and portfolio elements students might develop through the experience. With that kind of clarity, we can build scaffolding and methods to help steer students toward alternatives to repeating a previous HILP, and instead help them consider a different kind of experience with complementary or deeper outcomes. For example, students who have participated in the Lehigh in Ghana program as first-years and the LaunchBayC program as sophomores would be extremely well prepared to be a part of an Inquiry to Impact/Mountaintop project focused on a social venture related to low-cost diagnostic devices in Western Africa.

At Lehigh, there are multiple stakeholders for each of these HILP spaces, with healthy overlap between them. Appendix 1 of this concept paper is a table presenting a (somewhat incomplete) list of the major stakeholders in different areas. There are many intersections not yet fully mapped out. For instance, the Office of Economic Engagement which is involved with student entrepreneurial endeavors as well as internships, co-ops, and industry sponsorships; Athletics, which provides personal and even professional development skills while engaging students with the competition process; and the Center for Community Engagement, which emphasizes community both locally and globally, all need further conversation and collaboration. There are dozens of faculty and staff members who oversee areas around student engagement opportunities. The purpose of Lehigh 360 is not to reassign ownership over even one of these existing programs, but rather, to synthesize and cohere their activities around a central hub that is physical, virtual, and connective. The hub can be a place where students know to look for opportunities, and where peer-to-peer networks are leveraged to ensure that those who seek opportunities can be guided toward those that best match their talents, passions, needs, and aspirations.

Lehigh 360: Connecting Students to Experiences

We envision Lehigh 360 to consist of three core elements: a physical space, a virtual space, and an inspiration space. Taken together, they will allow for different points of entry and access into the engagement process.

Physical Space: The ideal physical space will be a central hub, a room or concourse that may already exist on Lehigh’s campus, or may need to be planned in new construction. It must not be tucked away in a building that receives low foot traffic, but must be a place where students can easily find it (if they are looking) or stumble upon it (if they are not). The physical space should be open and accessible 24/7/365, or as close to that as possible to achieve given the limitations of our campus and building hours. There can be walk-in hours for professional/advisory staff, a centralized space for holding information sessions and relevant student programming, and space for connecting with peers. There could be 8-10 thematic areas with high-quality visuals, screens with video clips, flyer boxes, etc. along the walls so that a student can get a 360-degree view of all the opportunities that are available to them at Lehigh. As of this writing, the OVPCI plans to utilize “The Pit” on the 1st floor of EWFM Library as a pilot space, with the hope that best practices could be transferred to a more easily accessible space. No formal offices, closed rooms, or designated staff are involved in the physical space. Bruce Taggart has agreed to let us work with this space and Brent Stringfellow’s office is developing mock-ups.

Virtual Space: The virtual space is for online access to all of the resources offered in the physical space, and more. All information on high impact learning practices is collected and aggregated on a single website, which will be maintained by the OVPCI (which does not imply ownership over any of the opportunities, only management of their aggregation and distribution). This website offers one-stop shopping with extreme clarity on how to engage, what the possible outcomes of opportunities are, how to get funding, and contact information for program leaders. A detailed study of the Lehigh website, with a particular emphasis on how students find engagement opportunities, has been conducted by OEE. This study revealed that many of Lehigh’s web pages contain outdated, incomplete, or misleading information. The virtual space will be nimble and easily updated than the physical space, although the video screens and interactive kiosks in the physical space can certainly be linked. The OVPCI has compiled and is in the process of updating several databases which have captured all of the award, grant, and funding opportunities available at Lehigh, as well as sources of funding information. These databases will become part of the initial build of the virtual space.

Inspiration-Connection Space: The inspiration (or connection) space is really about peer-to-peer learning networks that converge at the physical space but pervade the entire campus. Lehigh does P2P learning very well, with stellar examples of programs like the TRAC Fellows and Peer Health Advisers, among many others. An optimal system would use a cohort of student ambassadors, each with direct personal experience with different types (or, ideally, multiple types) of engagement, who can help students navigate all of the opportunities available and help them through the application processes inherent to each. We know that students are apt to learn from and engage with other students as much as from professors or staff members, whose guidance and wisdom are critical but who often lack the direct student-centric experience that can lead reluctant students to participate in activities that push them out of their comfort zones. The ambassadors’ role is to inspire and encourage students, connect them with program leads, and encourage them to discuss how they may partake in these experiences with their formal faculty and staff advisors in the colleges. Lehigh 360 will have an onboarding system in place which prepares ambassadors by familiarizing them with the space, training them on the available opportunities, and helping them become effective P2P mentors so that they can effectively guide and triage the needs of students. Most importantly, peer ambassadors will have direct experience with HILPs themselves. Mentoring systems currently launching from the Offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and International Affairs will be excellent partners with the Lehigh 360 ambassadors.

Changing the Narrative

Lehigh 360 will change the narrative of students who believe that opportunities for engagement are either not available, not necessary, not a priority, or not useful. The space will provide opportunities for students to strategically reflect and engage with the questions of what they are passionate about, what they dream about, and how those passions and dreams can lead them towards the development of skillsets and mindsets that will allow them to pursue compelling careers. We want our students to move from a transactional model of education to becoming life-long learners, through the development of experiences that broaden their horizons beyond the textbook. We want our students to think outside the box of careers that their friends are pursuing, jobs at companies that they take merely because they have an ‘in’ or they offer the highest salaries, and pursuits that do not allow them to fully blossom and change the world.

To this end, there are several areas already active at Lehigh that will synergize with Lehigh 360. We see CCPD, OIA, Baker Institute, CCE, and other program leaders as core partners. The Division of Student Affairs’ Student Life Curriculum, bLUeprint. bLUeprint is a framework to help students think meaningfully about their learning and involvement, and make intentional choices for their success. Students are introduced to bLUeprint and its Five Foundations for Student Success during Orientation. They spend their early weeks developing personal narratives and engaging in strategic reflection on what they really want out of their college experience, beginning to think about the steps needed to do so. Students are also exposed to bLUeprint through their residential experience, involvement and interaction with different offices and leadership opportunities through Student Affairs. Lehigh 360 builds on and extends this ethos from the first semester to the entire undergraduate experience by helping students see how their experiences in and out of the classroom are interconnected and enhance their learning and success.

The aforementioned mentorship programs being piloted by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Office of the International Affairs to better serve those cohorts of students will provide excellent collaborators for Lehigh 360’s team of ambassadors, who will need to learn how to serve those student constituencies and others. Other existing P2P learning groups such as the TRAC Writing Fellows and the Peer Health Advisers are excellent models for how Lehigh 360’s ambassadors will operate to the maximum benefit of students. Also, conceptually, we see other P2P learning groups as part of the Lehigh 360 ethos and can be our ambassadors with their respective titles and core duties. Part of the inspiration/connection process will be to offer students a series of worksheets that can help them work through initial questions, to provide guidance for where they want to go, be, and do.

Lehigh 360 will serve domestic and international graduate students as well as undergraduate students – of course, graduate students have unique needs and sets of circumstances that inform what they need to do, but graduate studies can be marked by high impact learning practices just as much as undergraduate experiences. In particular, global, research, and club/organization experiences, in addition to national and international award, fellowship, and grant opportunities, are of critical importance to many graduate programs of study. To this end, Lehigh 360 will include graduate student ambassadors as well, working closely with the Office of Graduate Student Life to define their roles and how best to serve their peers.

Ancillary Benefits of Lehigh 360

There are many potential benefits to Lehigh 360, aside from those already mentioned, that will positively affect student academic and professional careers:

  • From an Admissions perspective – a great space to show off on a campus tour. This will also shift the recruitment paradigm towards a more creative and collaborative student. Lehigh 360 will allow prospective students (and their parents) to understand the full extent of experiential learning opportunities and their benefits for their collegiate careers;
  • Opportunities to engage alumni who want to participate in students’ academic lives but don’t always know how to do so, who may be able to serve as advisors and mentors to students;
  • Creating an alternate hang-out space with more gravitas than a dining hall or coffee shop;
  • Potential opportunities like the creation of an “Engagement Honors Society” or other such recognition/awards mechanism for students who participate with distinction.

Role of the OVPCI

Why are we doing this? What stake does OVPCI have in the Lehigh 360 idea? First, it is important to clarify that we take no credit whatsoever for the work done by various programs. Rather, we are here to help students reach the right programs at the right time in an intentional and intelligent manner.

  1. One of our key priorities is to harmonize and systematize opportunities that enable students to develop their mindsets, skillsets, and portfolios. This includes academic as well as non-academic opportunities.
  2. Another key priority is to optimize and strengthen the Lehigh Experience, end to end – from the time students decide to come to Lehigh to the time they graduate…and beyond.
  3. We are interested in democratizing access to opportunities for all students and enhance support for all programs across campus. To strengthen programs, we need to “raise the tide” and have many more students engaged and making the most of their Lehigh experience.
  4. The viability and success of impact-focused programs is contingent on building pipelines and scaffolding for students to traverse the journey from capacity building to complex problem-solving; from learning to doing; from being a student to being a professional; from learning how to engage, empathize and inquire to building innovative sustainable solutions that improve the human condition. We want to build and support more impact-focused programs.

Execution Strategy

The OVPCI and OEE have conducted a benchmarking exercise and reviewed approaches at several other institutions. This document captures the collective wisdom and interest of all the major stakeholders in this project. After receiving approval from the Provost and the President, the OVPCI will assemble a small (6-8 person) Working Group and a larger (30-40 person) Consultative Group, consisting of representatives from all of these stakeholders and more, to begin planning, discussing resources (those available and those needed), and implementing the steps towards opening Lehigh 360 on a pilot basis. Together, these groups will be responsible for the strategizing, implementation, maintenance, and ultimate success of Lehigh 360. Design of the physical space is not a large capital project but a lean effort that can be launched as early as Fall 2018. Several possibilities for the physical space have been identified and one is being actively considered and test fits being drawn. We envision six sub-teams in the consultative group, focused on the following areas: 1) design of the physical space, 2) design of the virtual website, 3) design of the ambassador / peer mentor system, 4) working with programs to clarify outcomes, 5) developing uniform student messaging and programming strategy (extending bLUeprint) and 6) systemic strategy.

Resources Needed

The primary resource needed for Lehigh 360 to come to life is faculty and staff time. This concept has excellent support and buy-in across campus because all the little tasks that lead up to a coordinated, systemic, and emergent reality are valuable in and of themselves. For example, having a one-stop-shop website is valuable by itself, and so is accessible articulation and messaging about the objectives and outcomes of various programs, or leveraging P2P mentoring programs to inspire students to make the most of their Lehigh experience. The physical space clean-up and design needs some resources and we peg that in the $20k-$30k range to get a basic yet elegant space up and running.

[1] Defined by the NSSE for first-year students as Learning Community; Service-Learning; and Research with Faculty.

[2] Including the three HIPs for first-year students and adding three additional: Internship; Study Abroad; and Culminating Senior Experience.