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 Fellow Logistics:


Spring 2021 semester

Summer 2021 term

Fall 2021 semester

Academic Coursework

CINQ 388: 1 credit

CINQ 389: 2+ credits


CINQ 388: 1 credit

CINQ 389: 2+ credits

Retreats and Workshops

Full day Kick-off Workshop (early Feb)

Research Writing and Dissemination  Workshop (late April)

Possible placement in Mountaintop Summer Experience program

Fieldwork in local communities

Passing the Baton Workshop and Celebratory Dinner (Early Dec)

Formal Presentations

Lehigh Expo in April

**Only for LVSIFs in the Mountaintop Summer Experience

Professional and Academic Conference presentations


***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.

2021 Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Projects

Beyond Bars (PI: Bill Whitney, Creative Inquiry/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 and use innovative forms of theatre and other artistic and cultural outlets to bring attention to, foster dialogue about, and support advocacy work on behalf of the cause of prison abolition. In its first and second years, students wrote and performed pieces of theatre based on stories and interviews conducted in the Northampton County Prison system and elsewhere. Currently, Beyond Bars is developing a performance of “virtual theatre” which will educate and inspire audiences by presenting previously unheard stories from within the carceral system. We are looking for students with strong interests in theatre and performance, social change, policy reform, and/or using 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 at the Lehigh River Watershed (PI: Al Bodzin, Instructional Technology; Co-PIs: David Anastasio, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Tom Hammond, Instructional Technology)
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 place-based learning and 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 welcome, particularly those with an interest in education and pedagogy, and those with an interest in VR.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Local Communities of Color (PI: Luis Brunstein, Global Studies)
The evidence suggests that communities of color across the United States have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In this project, we will research this claim through the evidence presented by the media, academic research, and in-depth interviews with community organizations serving these communities. Students can focus their research on specific areas of preference, for example: education, health, housing, the environment, or another research interest complementing majors and minors.

Social Justice in the Lehigh Valley (PI: Jennifer Swann, Biological Sciences)
The frequency of and media attention to police use of lethal force in some high profile cases have fueled conflict throughout the U.S. and highlighted patterns of bias in policing that negatively impact the police and the public in a democratic society. Although these incidents are not equally likely in all jurisdictions, they are undermining the legitimacy of the police and making police work more dangerous and contentious irrespective of the performance of any given policing agency. Recent attention to policing practices provides an opportunity for the interdisciplinary study of bias reduction and police legitimacy to make critical contributions to public safety. A team of people with diverse perspectives and skill sets can improve lines of communication between the police and public and can maximize what we can learn from the data. Community involvement has the additional benefit of taking the burden of self-assessment off the police and putting the responsibility for providing useful policy feedback in the hands of the public, including but not limited to the police. This project team will analyze quantitative and qualitative evaluation of criminal justice data research derived from the internet, Lehigh databases, and community resources to aid in the development of collaborative partnerships with the community and the criminal justice system.