Global Social Impact Fellows are a highly self-selected cohort of undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines across Lehigh University focused on addressing sustainable development challenges in low-income countries. GSIFs advance Global Inquiry to Impact (GI2I) projects in the Spring and Fall semester (total six credits) and engage in faculty-guided fieldwork with diverse local partners in the Summer session. The courses, workshops, retreats, and immersive experiences of this program integrate experiential learning, research, and entrepreneurial engagement with students leading original and ambitious projects with in-country partners in diverse countries. A select number of GSIFs have the opportunity to participate in the Mountaintop Summer Experience to advance their project.
Through engaging in such meaningful, authentic, and incredibly alive projects, Fellows develop skillsets, mindsets, and portfolios to solve complex societal challenges. Fellows build sustainable enterprises, publish their works in peer-reviewed journals, integrate their insights into national policies, and champion social movements that influence the lives of millions of people. The quest for sustainable impact drives the philosophy, pedagogy, and operations of this program with the objective of preparing students to lead lives of impact.
**Fieldwork for summer 2022 is subject to change due to ongoing pandemic-related restrictions on travel. At this point, we anticipate fieldwork in the Philippines and Kazakhstan will occur during the latter half of July 2022, with fieldwork in Sierra Leone occurring in the first three weeks of August 2022**
Program Benefits: What’s In It for Me?
- An opportunity to work collaboratively with the most driven students from across the university on ambitious multi-year projects striving to deliver social impact.
- Work across disciplines, cultures, language and time barriers to develop practical, innovative, and sustainable solutions with in-country partners - through virtual teaming in the Spring and Fall semester and on-the-ground fieldwork in the Summer session.
- Engage in fieldwork (in Sierra Leone, Philippines, or Kazakhstan) with faculty mentors with decades of experience conducting research, designing solutions, and building systems in developing countries.
- Conduct original research and get your work published in journals and conference proceedings. Travel to conferences to present your work and build your professional network.
- Develop your life skills and build life-long friendships with peers at Lehigh and with some amazing people in the countries we work in.
- Distinguish yourself and become more competitive for prestigious fellowships and awards, graduate / professional schools, or that dream job.
- Impact! Conducting research and jumpstarting social enterprises is incredibly difficult but also deeply rewarding.
Global Social Impact Fellowship Logistics:
- CINQ 388: Inquiry to Impact Workshop Series [1 Credit]: Weekly hands-on workshops and interactive seminars for all Fellows across all the GSIF projects.
- CINQ 389: Inquiry to Impact Projects [2-6 Credits]: Separate sections for each project team. The team typically meets with the faculty mentor once a week; all project work is done outside of regular class times.
- All full-day workshops will be held on weekends or holidays; meals will be provided.
- Each team has the option of having a two-person team take a deep dive into the project for the Mountaintop Summer Experience. Additional students might be funded depending on project needs and availability of funds.
GSIF project teams are eligible to apply for the Langer Grant for International Creative Inquiry Projects, with funding
generously provided by Michael Langer '17, to help support their fieldwork activities.
Unless marked as optional, GSIFs are expected to participate in all courses, seminars, and workshops. No exceptions.
- We don’t expect applicants to know how to do these things. Just come prepared to learn.
- Certain skills matter and are needed, but what we are looking for is passion, deep commitment, and work ethic. GPAs don’t matter...much.
- You should have the time in your academic and personal schedule for this commitment - don't overload just to do it.
2023 Global Social Impact Fellowship Projects
Global Inquiry to Impact projects are multi-year projects with interdisciplinary cross-functional teams engaging in the research, design, field-testing, and implementation of projects and social enterprises in low-resource and middle-income communities and markets. These ventures aim to deliver practical, sustainable, and scalable solutions to complex challenges including those related to food, energy, water, and health. Sustainability, in this context, refers to the notion that real solutions must be technologically appropriate, socially acceptable, environmentally benign, and economically sustainable. There is a recognition that ideas, presentations, and prototypes do not solve problems; the real challenge is in the implementation, assessment, and fast-paced pivoting to reach a higher sustainable equilibrium. The challenge is in the execution - getting the job done in partnership with diverse actors in an ethical, harmonious, and self-determined manner. As of Fall 2021, Global I2I projects are being championed in Sierra Leone, the Philippines, and Kazakhstan, in collaboration with local university and non-profit partners.
- Sierra Leone: Innovations in Maternal Health and Cervical Cancer Prevention (PI: Khanjan Mehta, Creative Inquiry)
Sierra Leone has the third-highest maternal mortality rate in the world. This team is working on inexpensive (2-cent) test strips to screen women for Urinary Tract Infections and Preeclampsia in Sierra Leone. After receiving regulatory approval for the device from the Pharmacy Control Board in 2020, this team mobilized communities, trained health workers, and distributed test strips to reach a population of ~500,000 people. Over the next year, the goal is to strengthen and expand field operations in the capital city of Freetown. Alongside writing grant proposals and building new partnerships, this team is assisting World Hope International and the Sierra Leonean Health Ministry on a new initiative to vaccinate adolescent girls against cervical cancer. The team will build on prior qualitative research in understanding women’s perceptions of cervical cancer screening, treatment, and vaccination to develop effective messaging and mobilization strategies. All majors are welcome. We specifically need students with 1) marketing / graphic design skills, 2) journalism / theatre / public speaking skills, 3) data management and analysis skills, and 4) qualitative research and data analysis skills.
- Sierra Leone: AI Strengthening Healthcare Access (AISHA) (PI: Khanjan Mehta, Creative Inquiry)
The Sierra Leonean healthcare system is chronically underfunded, with an insufficient number of skilled health workers striving to address a growing double-disease burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Rural clinics are typically staffed by nurses or clinical officers with minimal training. While there are clearly-established triaging, diagnosis, and treatment protocols for the most common illnesses reported at these primary clinics, there is often a gap in adhering to these standardized processes. How might a $20 Alexa-enabled device enable primary healthcare workers to serve their communities better? Can Alexa facilitate better decision making? Remind healthcare workers to check for underlying conditions? Nudge healthcare workers to report unusual cases to district authorities? This team will explore the complexities of the primary healthcare system in Sierra Leone and collaborate with local partners to develop a suite of practical solutions to empower frontline workers and bolster access to healthcare. All majors are welcome to apply.
- Sierra Leone: Sickle Cell Anemia Diagnostic Device (PI: Xuanhong Cheng, Bioengineering)
Sickle cell disease is prevalent in Sierra Leone and contributes significantly to the high mortality rate of children. Currently, diagnosis of sickle cell in Sierra Leone is mostly symptom-based since standard diagnostic equipment requires too much training and infrastructure to be implemented in resource-limited settings. To tackle this problem, students will develop point-of-care test strips for sickle cell disease and study the impact of diagnosis on patients’ outcomes. The end goal of this project is to make the tests widely available in Sierra Leone as part of a program to identify and manage sickle cell patients. All majors welcome, but specific skills needed include: 1) wet bench experience to work with biological samples such as proteins, DNA, and blood; 2) mechanical and electrical engineering backgrounds to design and construct benchtop instruments for device automation; 3) experience and interest in prototyping imagers and processing images from the test strips; 4) experience and interest in health surveys and studying the socio-economic impact of diseases; and 5) solid writing skills to prepare proposals and research papers.
- Sierra Leone: Mothers of Sierra Leone – Documenting Stories of Healthcare Innovation and Community Resilience (Co-PIs: Michael Kramp, English/Film/WGSS; Fathima Wakeel, Community and Population Health)
Mothers of Sierra Leone is a social-impact film campaign designed to showcase both the resiliency of women and healthcare professionals in Sierra Leone and the specific accomplishments of the Sierra Leonean people to improve maternal health. Our three-year filming plan highlights innovations in antenatal care, perinatal and clinical treatment, including midwifery, hospital delivery services, and emergency surgery, and postpartum care, including neonatal health. We have released early iterations of this project as a video series for distribution in Sierra Leone and make our work available to our collaborators. Our films: 1) demonstrate the effectiveness of Sierra Leonean health innovations and 2) help to recruit additional individuals to participate in the maternal healthcare industry. As a team of interdisciplinary filmmakers and scholars, we also publish qualitative research on the efficacy of our films, study the efficiency of different distribution methods, and exhibit our films at film festivals.
- Sierra Leone: Food Product to Fight Malnutrition and Stunting (PI: Lori Herz, Bioengineering)
Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are common in Sierra Leone, especially among children under five years of age. This often results in stunting, wasting, developmental delays, and mortality. Over the past three years, we have developed several nutrient-dense foods at Lehigh, which were prepared and tested in Sierra Leone in 2022. The next phase of the work includes improvement of the recipes, investigating methods of preservation and packaging, analysis of the products for nutrient levels, shelf-life testing, designing a clinical study, and creating and executing a business plan. Students on this project should have a passion for global health and experiential learning.
- Philippines: PlasTech Ventures – Empowering Women by Recycling Plastic to Produce High Value Products (PI: Ganesh Balasubramanian, Mechanical Engineering; Co-PI: Brian Slocum, Director, Design Labs)
This project aims to provide income opportunities for women in a partnering local community (Malabon, Metro Manila, Philippines) by building a community-based, micro-recycling facility. Now in year four of the project, the team has made some real progress in narrowing down an affordable group of technologies and assessing the viability of plastic as a building material. The focus in the upcoming year of the project will be to finalize a design for a construction brick, prototype a method for manufacturing at scale, and further assess the market opportunities in the Philippines. Through this project, women in the community will be manufacturing up-cycled products themselves, thus emphasizing gender equality and empowerment. Aside from finished goods, useful raw materials may also be made and supplied to local manufacturers to turn into high-value products. All majors are welcome. We specifically need students with an understanding of mechanical engineering, materials science, and/or supply chain management. While the primary emphasis of this team will be on the Philippines, a sub-team will collaborate with faculty and students from the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, India. This sub-team may be conducting research in India during Summer 2023.
- Philippines: Zero Hunger College (PI: Ganesh Balasubramanian, Mechanical Engineering; Co-PI: Dr. Elmer Soriano, Civika Asian Development Academy)
Much of the world exists in a state of hunger crisis. In the Philippines, the urban/rural divide, an absence of public infrastructure, economic resources, and occasionally misdirected aid structures combine to keep many in a state of poverty and food insecurity. This project team will work closely with the Civika Asian Development Academy and the Development Academy of the Philippines, Philippines-based organizations that develop public and private sector leaders throughout Southeast Asia through project-based work. The direct focus of this project is the creation of a “Zero Hunger College” using data-driven and data-centric approaches to alleviate hunger and food supply challenges in smaller provinces and villages of the Philippines. The Zero Hunger College will do this by inviting women from small villages to attend a six-month “school” that leverages indigenous knowledge as well as modern agricultural techniques to help them grow more food to supply their villages with nutrition and sustenance. The team is currently in the design phase, developing a curriculum and establishing partnerships, and the goal for the upcoming year is to pilot-test “classes” and refine the model before conducting fieldwork in the Philippines. All majors are welcome, particularly those with strong interests in food systems, systems engineering, global studies, agriculture, and data analysis.
- Philippines: Modular Small-Scale Desalination Plants (PI: Carlos Romero, Energy Research Center)
Four billion people — half of the world's population — experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. Roughly 70% of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture, and by 2030, there will be a 40% reduction in the world’s freshwater resources. Desalination is a technologically-viable approach to bolstering global water security by converting the world’s largest reservoir of water, the ocean, into an alternative water supply. However, traditional large-scale desalination plants require tremendous amounts of energy, and need significant capital investment, physical space, expertise, and operating and maintenance costs to operate properly. This team will explore whether low-temperature Direct Contact Membrane Distillation (DCMD) technology driven by solar energy can be harnessed to build affordable, small-scale, and modular desalination plants for domestic and agricultural purposes in the Philippines. One sub-team will conduct lab research and build prototypes, while the other sub-team will explore how the technology can be field-tested, productized, and ultimately commercialized in collaboration with various partners in the Philippines.
- Philippines: Flying Swarms (PI: David Saldaña, Computer Science & Engineering)
Imagine a hospital in a remote area where road access is limited, and health care providers require medical supplies in the middle of a hurricane that can last days. Traditional drones perform poorly in turbulent environments, but is it possible to develop a swarm of flying blimps that can transport supplies in those turbulent environments? This team will develop novel robot designs and controllers to operate in turbulence, specifically studying applications in the Philippines. All majors are welcome to apply, but in particular, students with interests in computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering are encouraged to apply.
- Philippines: Converting Food Waste into Biodegradable Packaging Products (PI: Vinay Mehta, Materials Science and Engineering)
Roughly 70 million tons of food is wasted each year in the United States alone. In the Philippines, over 650,000 tons goes unused annually. Food waste primarily consists of post-harvesting agro-sources and the remainder of the food ecosystem. Landfills and composting are currently the two most viable routes for food waste disposal; however, these are not environmentally sustainable. We need alternatives that are not only sustainable but economically smart. One such option is converting food waste into packaging - if successful, this would simultaneously reduce the use of petroleum-derived plastics in packaging. Cassava bags made out of starch and vegetable oils is an example of such an endeavor, and Just Goods Inc. uses square containers made from recycled paper and sugarcane for manufacturing plastic bottle caps. Overall, only 8% virgin plastic (polyethylene) and almost 35% of the plastic derived from plant-based sources are used for these containers besides paper and other ingredients. This project team will explore alternatives using food wastes - starch, oil, coffee, sugar, legumes, etc. - using a processing route such as fermentation, and subsequently produce extrudable and/or moldable grades of biodegradable polymers.
- Kazakhstan: Air Quality Initiatives in Almaty (PI: Dinissa Duvanova, International Relations)
Almaty, Kazakhstan experiences extremely poor air quality due to coal-fired power plants and transportation emissions. With the projected population growth and lack of investment in pollution-reducing technology, poor air quality is likely to continue harming public health. In the long term, the Air Quality in Almaty team aims to reduce respiratory illnesses due to air pollution. We study mechanisms for mitigating negative health effects of air pollution through improved air filtration, insulation, and behavioral change. We work to develop effective and affordable methods for implementing our recommendations. This team welcomes students with diverse academic backgrounds, such as majors in environmental studies, engineering, health medicine and society, journalism, earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, sociology, economics, computer science, marketing, political science, and chemical and environmental engineering.
- Kazakhstan: Save Tuba (PI: Khanjan Mehta, Creative Inquiry)
Almaty, the commercial capital of Kazakhstan and a major hub in Central Asia, is facing enormous challenges with sustainable urban development. Uncontrolled migration burdens the housing infrastructure, outdoor air quality, access to clean water and waste-water management systems at the constantly-growing periphery of the city leading to negative environmental consequences which compromise economic growth. For example, despite investing over $500M over the last 15 years in recycling systems, only 11% of municipal solid waste is actually recycled. “Tuba” is a critically-endangered saiga antelope native to the Kazakh Steppes. ‘Save Tuba’ is a sustainability education platform for Almaty’s youngest citizens that connects knowledge, inquiry and action to help students build a healthy future for their communities and the planet. Kazakh students, with guidance from their teachers and families, start recycling, reduce litter, educate their peers, use public transportation, etc. to earn points in a friendly competitive setting. Save Tuba enables K-12 students and their teachers to embark on a series of real, relevant, and meaningful sustainability actions with the goal of long-term behavioral change. The Lehigh team is collaborating with diverse partners to develop and validate the app and pilot-test it with schools in Almaty. We are seeking students from all majors across campus with a deep interest in sustainability education and action. Students with graphic design skills and app design/development skills are particularly welcome.
- Kazakhstan: Research Integrity in Kazakhstan (Co-PIs: Bill Gaudelli, College of Education; Dinissa Duvanova, International Relations; Khanjan Mehta, Creative Inquiry)
IRBs (Institutional Review Boards) are bodies established by governments consisting of multidisciplinary groups of experts, charged with reviewing and monitoring research proposals involving human subjects. IRBs ensure that ethical conduct processes are followed and guard against the exploitation of human subjects in research, whether the field is biomedical, social science, public health, etc, as well as providing the necessary validation for publishing in peer-reviewed and accredited journals. Lehigh, like all U.S. universities that conduct research, has an IRB, and approval is required for any research project that involves working with human subjects. Kazakhstan, a nation with dozens of universities and research institutes, has no IRB process for human subjects research outside of clinical (medical) research. As the country continues its transition to a knowledge economy and more research studies are undertaken by universities, there is a need for better research protections and building a culture of research integrity. In collaboration with faculty and students at Almaty Management University and other Kazakh stakeholders, this project will focus on developing the framework for an IRB-like body in Kazakhstan, building necessary partnerships and executing on this shared vision in order to promote the growth of their research enterprise, expand their research capabilities, and build a system of integrity in that research. All majors are welcome to apply.
- Kazakhstan: Combating Food Insecurity in Migrant Worker Populations (PI: Joseph Menicucci, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
Kazakhstan, the second-largest economy among the former Soviet republics, has been a destination for migrant workers from elsewhere in Central Asia and the world for several years. After a slowdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for migrant workers in Kazakhstan are expected to grow rapidly in the coming years - and challenges of unfair and exploitative labor practices, food and water access, and worker housing will likely grow as well. This new project will begin with the goal of developing solutions to food and water insecurity amongst migrant workers in and around the fast-growing cultural capital of Almaty, Kazakhstan. All majors are welcome to apply - we specifically need students with experience or interest in: urban agriculture, micro-farming, composting, rainwater collection, and water purification; migrant (often undocumented) workers; solving complex problems; and the languages and cultures of Russia and Central Asia.