Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship

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Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship
2023 Applications are now CLOSED - Applications received after this point are not guaranteed full consideration.

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 do it just to do it.

2023 Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship Projects

  • Beyond Bars (PI: Bill Whitney, Creative Inquiry)

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 storytelling to educate, inspire, and move citizens to action on behalf of the cause of prison abolition. In its first three years, student teams wrote and performed live and virtual pieces of theatre based on stories and interviews conducted in the Northampton County Prison system and around the Lehigh Valley. Currently, Beyond Bars is focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, and developing a set of innovative storytelling workshops that will be implemented with schools, youth programs, and community organizations to give youth the ability to process and articulate their experiences. We are looking for students with strong interests in theatre, social change, policy reform, and the social-justice applications of art and culture to create real, positive, sustainable, change for individuals and communities affected by the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline and the U.S. prison/judicial system..

  • Lehigh RiVR: Immersive Virtual Reality Gaming (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. 

  • Mindfull: Bridging the Mental Health Access Gap in Lehigh Valley (PI: Khanjan Mehta, Creative Inquiry)

In the Lehigh Valley area, there are at least 60 organizations dedicated to mental health care, yet currently, there is a 600:1 resident-to-mental health care provider ratio. It takes about 4-8 weeks for individuals to connect with a licensed provider, and in that time, patients’ mental health often deteriorates. Mindfull is an aspiring social enterprise that aims to streamline access to mental health care by helping individuals identify, connect, and follow through with mental health resources such as peer support networks and community spaces in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve created a prototype of, and seek to develop, a website that is grounded in stakeholder collaboration, validated by community leaders, and designed for people from all walks of life. It was founded on three pillars, (1) community engagement, (2) contextual specificity, and (3) cultural sensitivity. As a team, we want to connect individuals to take charge of their own mental health, strengthen their communities, and be their own agents of change. The next year will involve further developing and marketing the website prototype, networking and conducting interviews with various stakeholders, and hosting a one-day conference to facilitate new initiatives. All majors are welcome, but we are particularly in need of students with any of the following skills: web development, marketing, journalism, story-telling, and qualitative research. 

  • Lehigh NightHawks (PI: Jennifer Swann, Biological Sciences; Co-PI: Jason Schiffer, Campus Safety and LUPD)

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.

  • Social Emotional Learning Enhanced 360° Immersive Experiences (Co-PIs: Zilong Pan, Teaching, Learning & Technology, College of Education; Lia Sandilos, School Psychology, College of Education)

Learning can be challenging, especially when we need to study a new knowledge or skill in a given amount of time. The experience that we have when learning, including our social-emotional status during the process and the visual presentation of the knowledge, can largely shape our learning outcomes. To create an enjoyable learning experience, this project intends to incorporate Social Emotional learning (SEL) pedagogies into a 360° immersive environment where learners would be surrounded by the visual presentation of the knowledge in a relaxed and joyful mood. Team members will collaborate with faculties from the College of Education and the immersive learning laboratory at the Centennial School. We will develop a series of core learning modules that cover different areas such as environmental science, biology, and literacy, and adapt these modules to accommodate our future users’ diverse learning preferences and needs to serve a broader population. All majors are welcome, particularly those interested in creating and developing a multimedia-enriched environment.

  • Solar Kilns for Community Projects (PI: Jennifer Swann, Biological Sciences; Co-PIs: Leo Rooney, Promise Neighborhoods Lehigh Valley; Tinku Khanwalkar, City of Allentown Environmental Advisory Council)

Working with several Lehigh Valley partner organizations, including Promise Neighborhood of the Lehigh Valley’s Promise Corps (an AmeriCorps program), this project is piloting the use of solar kiln technology to convert felled urban wood, which would normally be shredded and mulched, into usable and artisanal products like park benches, tables, and bus stops. The Lehigh team is creating the system by which kilns can be appropriately sited, monitored, and used, and lead to products created. Community benefits include new and better gathering places in public spaces, potential income stream for those creating the products, and more involvement in the environmental life cycle of communities in the Lehigh Valley. All majors are welcome to apply.

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

Located next to the former Lehigh University Ecohouse on Summit Street, the student-initiated Southside Permaculture Park has been in development since 2018 and is moving forward with new community partnerships and further design elements being built. Students will have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing 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.

  • Strengthening the Lehigh Valley as a Hub for Creative Entrepreneurs (PI: Antigoni Papadimitriou, Management)

Entrepreneurs are the engines of the future in U.S. cities and towns. The Lehigh Valley, in its economic redevelopment and reinvention since the demise of Bethlehem Steel, has created multiple supportive structures for entrepreneurs and their ventures. The work of organizations and institutions such as LINC, ArtsQuest, and the Fowler Center at Northampton Community College (among many others) has built a foundation for creative entrepreneurship to thrive in the Lehigh Valley, but there is always room to improve and strengthen the infrastructure and resources for creative entrepreneurs (i.e. those in art, theatre, fashion, dance, TV/radio, design, galleries, crafting, antiques, graphic and industrial design, and multimedia fields). This new project, then, will research the ways that the Lehigh Valley currently supports its entrepreneurial creatives across different demographics and sectors, including the development of a database of entrepreneurial supports and activities, as a way to create new and multiple learning pathways. These pathways will involve both formal and informal learning experiences and hands-on training to energize the Lehigh Valley’s entrepreneurs in creative industries, empowering them to put their ideas and needs into successful action. All majors are welcome to apply.

  • Open Doors to the Arts: Creating community-engaged immersive content for students with disabilities (PIs: Julie Fogt and Sara Heintzleman, College of Education)

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders and Autism have limited exposure to the arts and community. Often, their behaviors or ability to focus for extended periods of time create barriers to accessing and navigating the arts and community resources. To provide this vulnerable population of students with access to the arts and community organizations, Centennial School will take a lead role on this project, where Lehigh students will capture 360º and 3D immersive content (e.g., art gallery, theater, grocery store, job sites) related to Lehigh Valley arts and community sites, and develop it into experiential learning modules for the School. The development of this content will allow K-12 students from Centennial School to access and deepen their connection to the arts and prepare them for successful participation in the community. This content would be presented to Centennial School students via their Immersive Learning Center where 360º content wraps around three walls of a room, and ultimately, the experiential learning content from this library can be shared with schools around the world to help expand the offerings of the arts and provide guided exposure to valuable community resources. Lehigh students will be part of a multidisciplinary team composed of individuals from Centennial School, Creative Inquiry and Mountaintop Initiative, College of Education, Zoellner Arts Center, and others.