Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship

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Program Overview
Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellows are a highly self-selected cohort of undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines across Lehigh University, focused on addressing social and economic development challenges in south Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley region. LVSIFs advance multi-year Inquiry to Impact (I2I) projects with local partners through Creative Inquiry (CINQ) courses for a total of six credits (three each semester). 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 partners around the region. A select number of LVSIFs will have the opportunity to participate in the Mountaintop Summer Experience to accelerate their project.

Through engaging in such meaningful, authentic, and incredibly alive projects, Fellows develop skillsets, mindsets, and portfolios to address complex societal challenges. Fellows build sustainable enterprises, publish their works in peer-reviewed journals, integrate their insights into local and national policies, and champion social movements that influence lives and livelihoods in Lehigh Valley. 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.

Program Benefits: What’s In It for Me?

  1. An opportunity to work collaboratively with the most driven students from across the university on ambitious multi-year projects striving to deliver social impact.
  2. Work across disciplines, cultures, language and time barriers to develop practical, innovative, and sustainable solutions with committed local partners.
  3. Engage in fieldwork with faculty mentors with decades of experience conducting research, designing solutions, and building systems in low-resource communities.
  4. 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.
  5. Develop your life skills and build life-long friendships with peers at Lehigh and with some amazing people in our community.
  6. Distinguish yourself and become more competitive for prestigious fellowships and awards, graduate / professional schools, or that dream job.
  7. Impact! Conducting research, developing and effecting policy solutions, and jumpstarting social enterprises is incredibly difficult but also deeply rewarding.

Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Logistics:

***Unless marked as optional, LVSIFs are expected to participate in all courses, seminars, and workshops. No exceptions.

  1. CINQ 388: Inquiry to Impact Workshop Series [1 Credit]: Weekly hands-on workshops and interactive seminars for all Fellows across all the LVSIF projects.
  2. 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.
  3. All full-day workshops will be held on weekends or holidays; meals will be provided.
  4. 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.

Application Process

  • 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.

2022 Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Projects

Beyond Bars (PI: Bill Whitney, Creative Inquiry; Co-PI: Lyam Gabel, Theatre)

The issue of mass incarceration is one that touches lives locally, regionally, and globally. The Beyond Bars project aims to examine all of the individual and community-wide consequences that stem from mass incarceration, focused on consequences here in the Lehigh Valley, and use innovative forms of theatre and other art and cultural forms to educate, inspire, and move audiences to action on behalf of the cause of prison abolition. In its first three years, student teams have written and performed live and virtual pieces of theatre based on stories and interviews conducted in the Northampton County Prison system and elsewhere. Currently, Beyond Bars is developing multiple performances and is looking to expand our partnerships and our reach throughout the Valley. We are looking for students with strong interests in theatre, social change, policy reform, and the uses of art and culture to create real, positive, sustainable, change for individuals and communities affected by the problem of mass incarceration and prisons for profit.

Immersive Virtual Reality Gaming at the Lehigh River Watershed (PI: Al Bodzin, Instructional Technology, College of Education; Co-PIs: David Anastasio, Earth and Environmental Sciences; Tom Hammond, Instructional Technology, College of Education; Zilong Pan, Teaching, Learning & Technology, College of Education)

This project is designing, developing, testing, and implementing an immersive virtual reality (iVR) project for STEM education to promote engagement and learning about spatial watershed features and environmental issues in the Lehigh River watershed. This project seeks to advance a novel approach using iVR learning with game design principles to broaden access to STEM learning experiences for adolescents and adults with a collaboration of informal STEM centers in the Lehigh Valley. Team members will learn Unity programming skills and develop immersive games for learning. All majors are welcome, particularly those with an interest in VR and developing games for learning. 

Mental Health Resources for Communities of Color (PI: TBD)

The evidence suggests that communities of color across the United States have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, exacerbating existing problems of identifying resources for improving mental health and addressing crises of addiction, mental health, and economic despair. This project will build upon work started in summer 2021 where the student team has mapped mental health resources (focusing on the urban centers of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton). The next year will involve refining that map as well as embarking on autoethnographic research throughout the Lehigh Valley to determine what communities are most in need, and how resources can be funnelled to those communities to have the greatest impact. All majors are welcome, but we are particularly in need of students with computer science skills to help make the map usable for the general public, and students with sociological interests who have experience in qualitative research and storytelling. 

Peer Networked Safety on Lehigh University Campus (PI: Jennifer Swann, Biological Sciences; Co-PI: Jason Schiffer, Chief of Police, Lehigh University)

This project team will work closely with the Lehigh University Police Department and the City of Bethlehem Police Department, as well as other local stakeholders, to design and implement a positive, peer-networked system aimed to increase safety on Lehigh's campus and the surrounding south Bethlehem neighborhoods. Students will work in tandem with the LUPD to assist them in providing a safe environment for Lehigh’s students and the Bethlehem community as they live, work, and play on Lehigh's campus and south Bethlehem.

Southside Permaculture Park (PIs: David Casagrande, Environmental Initiative; Al Wurth, Political Science)

Located next to the former Lehigh University Ecohouse on Summit Street, the Southside Permaculture Park has been in development since 2018 and is now ready to take a giant leap forward. Students will have the opportunity to contribute to the design and building of elements in the park, which utilizes a zero-waste philosophy that mimics ecological processes to provide food as well as ecological benefits like urban storm-water runoff reduction, carbon sequestration, and increased biodiversity. The SSPP team will expand community partnerships to make the park a site of education and improved community relations. All majors are welcome, particularly students with an interest in sustainability policy, community engagement, and permaculture principles.