What are Mountaintop Projects?
Mountaintop projects are interdisciplinary deep dives where faculty, students, and external partners come together and take new intellectual, creative, and/or artistic pathways that lead to transformative new innovations, new expressions, and new questions. We expect students to take radical ownership in their projects, and envision faculty mentors as partners and co-creators striving to propel their projects forward on the journey towards tangible, sustainable impact: impact which builds the skillsets, mindsets, and portfolios of pioneers and change-makers in a rapidly changing world.
Program Info / Proposal Format and Submission Process
The Mountaintop Summer Experience (MTSE) runs for approximately 10 weeks (2022 program dates are May 31st - August 5th). At this time, the program is in-person for all students – no virtual component will be part of the summer. Some Associates may be able to work remotely if program leaders and faculty project mentors agree. All project teams will have a work space in Building C, although we understand that some teams will have to conduct some or most of their work at other locations (on campus or in the surrounding community).
All Mountaintop Fellows (funded with summer stipends) are expected to continue working on their projects in the Fall 2022 semester through the CINQ 389 course. Enrollment information will be provided to these students at a later time. CINQ 389 is a variable-credit course, but we have a strong preference for 2 or 3 credits of enrollment.
Students selected as Mountaintop Fellows are paid a stipend of $5,000 for undergraduates, or $6,000 for graduate students, for the summer. These stipends are paid in five biweekly installments beginning mid-June and ending mid-August. Projects typically have two, or at most three, Fellows. Fellows make a full-time commitment to their projects for the 10 weeks of the program, and are not allowed to take summer courses or have jobs, internships, or vacations that would substantially take them away from their project work. Fellows are also expected to continue working on their projects through the Fall 2022 semester (and possibly beyond) by enrolling in the CINQ 389 course. Fellows receive lunch in Building C each weekday that Mountaintop is in operation, and are expected to be in attendance at all relevant presentations, workshops, meetings with Innovators in Residence, and other program opportunities, throughout the summer.
Mountaintop Associates are not paid a stipend, and make a part-time commitment (typically 10 hours per week) to their project. Associates receive lunch in Building C each weekly that Mountaintop is in operation, and are invited and strongly encouraged to attend all relevant presentations, workshops, meetings with Innovators in Residence, and other program opportunities, throughout the summer. Associates are strongly encouraged to continue working on their project through the CINQ 389 course in the Fall 2022 semester and beyond. Associates who have high financial need may inquire about financial assistance which may be available.
Lead faculty project mentors can utilize up to $500 in project expenses. These funds are not tracked by the Office of Creative Inquiry, and faculty may use them as they choose as long as they are relevant to the project. However, the intention of these funds is to help disseminate the work of the project (through conference registration fees and the like) and/or to supplement (or in some cases support) project expense budgets. If students incur project expenses during the summer, there is a system for providing reimbursement from project accounts, which will be handled by program leadership. **NOTE: These funds are subject to adjustment or change if unexpected budgetary constraints arise**
Additional project expense budgets beyond the allocated $500 (for needed equipment, supplies, reagents, resources, etc.) will be considered as requested.
Mountaintop 2022 applications are open until April 10th and can be accessed here:
The application form includes a list of available projects, and students will be asked to rank their 1st and 2nd choices of projects. After the application period closes, faculty mentors will be given applications for those students who indicated an interest in their project and will typically contact those students for a brief interview. The Office of Creative Inquiry does not assign students to specific projects; those decisions are entirely at the discretion of the faculty lead mentor(s). Demonstrating a high work ethic, dedication to and support for the goals of the project, and strong collaboration skills are usually more important selection criteria than specific technical knowledge or skill sets, although those should be noted on applications as well. Fellows usually need a broader set of skills and mindsets, whereas Associates may be assigned to specific parts of the project, so technical skills may become important in those cases.
Faculty mentors will inform the Office of Creative Inquiry of their selections within two weeks after applications close, and students will be informed by the end of April 2022.
Faculty mentors are welcomed and encouraged to recruit students to their own projects. Those students will need to fill out an application form to the program, but can be automatically accepted based on faculty recommendation / request.
While the primary focus of the summer will be making progress on projects and taking a deep dive of exploration and achieving deliverables, MTSE offers ongoing developmental, informational, and practical opportunities to students. In addition, we will invite an array of subject matter experts, working professionals, and potential partners as “Innovators in Residence,” many of whom will offer broad-topic master classes, all of whom will meet with selected individual project teams who might benefit from their expertise. Fellows are required to attend sessions with Innovators in Residence if invited; Associates are expected to attend unless they have a compelling conflict.
At regular intervals, student teams will present their work to one another and/or to public audiences. Toward the end of the summer, we will likely be hosting a Summer Expo in Building C, where projects will be presented in poster format (unless other formats are negotiated) alongside projects from the STEM-SI summer program and various REUs.
Faculty project mentors are not expected to “teach” in the usual sense. Students drive the work and learn what they need in a just-in-time manner. Faculty mentors, along with program leadership, will help connect students with the resources that they need to get up to speed in order to make appropriate progress on their project. In Creative Inquiry, students take “radical ownership” of their projects and are expected to make substantive intellectual contributions that could lead to co-authorship on publishable research articles, presentations at professional conferences, patent applications, etc.
The most successful MTSE and D4I students are those who demonstrate self-efficacy, an execution-focused mindset, strong teamwork skills, openness to learning new skill sets and mindsets, and a comfort level with open-ended questions and problems. The primary roles of the faculty mentor are to provide advice, resources, and guidance syncing up with the team on a regular basis (at least weekly) to monitor progress.
2022 Mountaintop Summer Experience Projects
Autonomous Driving for Underwater Drones (Prof. Rosa Zheng, Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Implementing autonomous (tether-less/wireless) navigation of underwater drones for more effective environmental monitoring and other important research uses. The team is currently preparing to compete in the 2022 RoboSub competition in July.
Creative Solutions to Improving Quality of Life through the Clean and Safe Neighborhoods Initiative (Prof. Jennifer Swann, Biological Sciences)
Working with several Lehigh Valley partner organizations to develop both technical and social solutions that reduce litter and improve neighborhood conditions in Allentown and Bethlehem.
Design of Lehigh-Based Interface with Web3 lifestyle and Gamify elements to reward students for performing certain tasks (homework, etc.) (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance)
This project is about getting Lehigh students (users) to participate in activities and get "rewarded" for it, for the greater good (doing homework, walking etc.). Web3 is an idea that is generating a lot of excitement at the moment in business technology communities. This team will design a decentralized app with economic incentives, generally “tokens” given as rewards for performing game-related tasks such as winning battles, mining precious resources or growing digital crops. Students will gain exposure to blockchain technology, project design, and network building.
Engaging Community Audiences with Regional LGBTQ Archives through Public Programming, Social Media, and Exhibition (Prof. Mary Foltz, English)
Gathering, curating, and creating an archive and exhibit that tells the story of LGBTQ+ history in the Lehigh Valley. Will serve as a model for similar such histories in regions of the U.S. where this story has not been visible.
Factor Models and Portfolio Management (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance) – Associates ONLY
Factor models are widely used in the industry that look to diversify portfolios but they are correct in that the traditional Fama French factors are not as popular. Useful for the job market, as focus will be on optimizing a portfolio with set constraints to limit exposures to certain factors (this is extremely popular). The team will work toward publishing their research findings.
Financial Equation and Machine Learning (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance) - Associates ONLY
There are many kinds of numeric financial data where we have the inputs and the outputs and we don’t understand the exact behavior, dynamics or equation that connects the input and output. This project team will work to come up with the equation for some of the financial phenomena using the data and see their deviation from the closed form solution. The team will work toward publishing their research findings in a disciplinary journal. Students will engage with cutting-edge machine learning techniques, Python coding, and data analytics.
Flying Swarms: Designing, Constructing, and Programming Autonomous Robotic Blimps (Prof. David Saldaña, Computer Science and 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 turbulent environments?
Interpretability of a supervised learning-based trading strategy (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance) - Associates ONLY
This project will work to develop an interpretability of the supervised learning-based trading strategy using different approaches and get insight into what signals are driving a trading strategy. Students will publish their research findings in a disciplinary journal, as well as learning cutting-edge machine learning techniques, Python coding, and data analytics.
Machine Learning for Advanced Micro-Fabrication and Cell Manipulation (Prof. Yaling Liu, Bioengineering / Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics)
Design, fabrication, and testing of various microfluidic devices based on high-content image formulation and machine learning. This critical technology needs to be designed and fabricated more quickly and reliably to keep up with biotech and medical needs.
NeuroSalon (Prof. Julie Miwa, Biological Sciences)
Building a bridge between brain science and the arts, working to understand the connection between creative thought and empathy and scientific reasoning. Will develop a performance/exhibition to showcase the work.
PA Index of Companies (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance)
This project team will managing an active managing index that fits industry standard (S&P), and design an user interface that tracks all of Pennsylvania’s publicly traded companies to showcase economic trends. Along with creating the interface, we will construct the methodology summary, fact sheet, index marketing sheet, and documentation of all the work for future improvement and modification. We will also look to improve the interface by switching to a different coding language as well as getting our documentation and methodology approved from our sponsor (a former S&P Dow Jones Indices CEO, currently on the CBOE board of directors) and start to market it to others via Lehigh infrastructure.
Parent-Adolescent Discussions about Race and Racism (Prof. Debbie Laible, Psychology)
Research has been extremely limited thus far on how White families discuss and socialize concepts of race and racism with their (White) children. Will decode this literature and design appropriate studies to discover the answers to this critical societal need.
Pennsylvania Asthma Syndromic Surveillance (Prof. Hyunok Choi, College of Health)
Build a PA-focused research infrastructure based on collection of secondary data, determine area-level burdens from airborne pollutants that have been shown to cause asthma and other diseases, and design a syndromic surveillance tool to mitigate the negative health effects of poor air quality.
Practical Training and Research in Computer-Aided Drug Discovery (Prof. Wonpil Im, Bioengineering) – Associates ONLY
One of the most remarkable features of proteins is their ability of specific, reversible binding to other molecules. Such molecular recognitions are typically associated with almost all biological functions in living systems. Drug compounds bind to proteins, regulating their functions to acquire beneficial effects to treat diseases. Therefore, a better understanding of protein-ligand interactions at the molecular level and accurate quantification or prediction of their binding affinity are at the core of computer-aided drug discovery. Students on this project will aim to study protein-ligand interactions computationally using three families of impactful therapeutic targets for cancers and AIDS. In particular, students will gain practical hands-on research experiences in computer-aided drug discovery. The lectures and tools in CHARMM-GUI (http://www.charmm-gui.org/lecture) will be used for student learning and research.
Promoting Experiential Learning and Creative Inquiry in Science and Engineering via Interactive Online Visualization (Prof. Srinivas Rangarajan, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
Engineering education needs to embrace new paradigms and pedagogies. Will create a set of interactive computational models as pedagogical tools to convey and understand complex concepts in science and engineering education, both in higher ed and K-12.
Reinforcement Learning and Interpretability (Prof. Patrick Zoro, Finance) - Associates ONLY
Take a reinforcement learning based trading strategy (Deep Q-Learning based or based on any other RL-based technique and perform the interpretability of the technique. Additionally, check whether the strategy is already able to replicate well known profitable strategies such as Fama French factor models or successful technical analysis strategies and also if it is able to come up with some new signals/techniques.
Replacing Independent Directors (Prof. Jesus Salas, Finance) - Associates ONLY
One of the most well-known problems plaguing publicly traded corporations is known as the principal-agent problem. Executives (agents) manage the company for the shareholders (principals), who are generally dispersed and so have a difficult time monitoring executives. One “solution” for the principal-agent problem is to have boards of directors that supervise executives. Some of these directors must be “independent,” which means that they are not employees or relatives of any executive in the publicly traded company. While there is a vast literature on directors and the boards they sit on, virtually nothing is known about the process of replacing independent directors. So, in this project, students will attempt to answer some key questions about this process, based on available data which has been collected but not analyzed.
Self-Driving Cars in Urban Environments with Traffic (Prof. Cristian Vasile, Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics)
Creating a hardware testbed to evaluate the safety of controllers for self-driving cars that takes into account traffic and other obstacles. Design an urban environment in which to test miniature race cars in order to collect appropriate data.
*Projects are listed in alphabetical order.
GSIF/LVSIF/CSIF projects can be found on their respective pages; these projects are part of one of the Impact Fellowship programs in addition to participating the mountaintop summer program. For more information see: go.lehigh.edu/gsif | go.lehigh.edu/lvsif | go.lehigh.edu/csif.
D4I projects can be found on the D4I page, although they also partcipate in the Mountaintop Summer Project. For more information see: go.lehigh.edu/d4i
Faculty Mentors: Sean Daley and Christine Daley (College of Health)
Description: The dream of this project is to eliminate American Indian health disparities and health inequities through community-based outreach, engagement, and participatory research programs. Students on this project will employ a community-based participatory research approach where American Indian community members are involved at all stages in addressing a myriad of health and education challenges, including tobacco use; COVID; tribal enrollment laws; and cultural and social issues on tribal lands.
Faculty Mentor: Rosa Zheng (Electrical & Computer Engineering)
Description: Underwater unmanned vehicles are currently used throughout the world for a myriad of research applications: environmental monitoring, biodiversity testing, infrastructure inspections, and more. These drones are typically tethered, but if tether-less operation could be achieved and underwater drones were free to move wherever without fear of obstacles or objects, the research possibilities would open up to an incredible degree. Students on this project will be able to leverage faculty from across multiple departments at Lehigh including those involved with the Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, as well as external partnerships, to test and implement autonomous driving solutions for underwater drones.
Faculty Mentor: Hyunok Choi (College of Health)
Description: Asthma represents a globally pressing chronic disease, which afflicts over 300 million people worldwide. Prior research conducted by the faculty mentor has revealed that early-life exposure to fossil fuel-emitted air pollution independently contributes to doctor-diagnosed asthma. The aims of this project are to build research infrastructure and propose regional and global remediation policies against fossil fuel burning to protect children worldwide. In the short term, we will focus on Pennsylvania-specific data and uncover the areas of greatest pollution burden across Pennsylvania counties and municipalities.
Faculty Mentor: Debbie Laible (Psychology)
Description: Despite the overwhelming evidence that most White children hold negative stereotypes about members of other races, we know nothing about how White parents teach their children about race. The very limited research so far suggests that they may actively avoid discussions about this sensitive and important issue. Students on this project will deeply examine the existing knowledge of the ways that White parents address race, and contribute new knowledge to the field that could have immense consequences for our understanding of how parenting influences children’s development of racial attitudes in the U.S. and, potentially, worldwide.
Faculty Mentor: Thomas McAndrew (College of Health)
Description: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the modeling and surveillance systems used to forecast and track the spread of a public health threat. What has become clear is that there is a need for a single-coordinated surveillance system that collects data and builds computational forecasts to monitor the trajectory of outbreaks at the state and county level. Students on this project will build an integrated surveillance and forecasting system to support public health decision making for the state of Pennsylvania, integrating a wide array of data from various models and sources. This system would have wide-ranging effects on public health decision making, and could reduce the incidence and impact of COVID-19, and other pandemics to come, on the state of Pennsylvania and hopefully, nation- and world-wide.
Faculty Mentor: Julie Miwa, Biological Sciences
Description: The dream of NeuroSalon is to build a bridge between brain sciences and the arts, and encourage stimulating, thought-provoking, and consistent dialogue between them. NeuroSalon engages cross-sectional nodes of inquiry for many different disciplines, including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, drama, music, arts, etc. One focus of the summer will be to explore the relationship between creative thought and empathy, and the need to create open mental spaces for each of these cognitive domains. Students will workshop ideas for a set of NeuroSalon art (sculpture and murals), a website of ideas, and development of a multimedia performance art piece. We plan for the work to be performed in spring 2022, in conjunction with a panel discussion on creativity.
Faculty Mentor: Steven McIntosh (Chemical Engineering)
Description: Approximately 1.2 Million homes in Ghana lack access to electrical power, and as the country’s electricity infrastructure expands, fossil fuels are leading the way. Students on this project will investigate and begin to develop solutions around the feasibility of implementing renewable energy in Ghana, looking at cost, power requirements, potential impact on communities, possible sites and funding sources, etc. In the short term, the project team will work on designing and developing low-cost solar cells that could feasibly be used in a country with the socioeconomic structure of Ghana.
Faculty Mentor: Valerie Jones Taylor (Psychology)
Description: Can virtual reality (VR) be leveraged to “practice” positive interracial interactions? That is the question being answered by Rewriting the Script, a large-scale project that draws from fields as diverse as psychology, theatre, and computer science. Students on this project will script, design, and build VR simulations for moments where interracial contacts can go badly, allowing for “practicing” those moments from all perspectives in order to improve them when they occur in real life, thereby reducing subtle biases and increasing the comfort level felt by people of all races when moving through a multiracial society.
Faculty Mentor: Cristian Ioan Vasile (Mechanical Engineering)
Description: Building on previous work, students on this project team will be creating a hardware testbed to evaluate the safety of controllers for self-driving cars that takes traffic patterns into account. The testbed will construct a miniature urban environment and utilize robotics software to, ultimately, make recommendations about the use of self-driving cars on Lehigh’s campus and in other urban and campus environments. Students must be able to quickly find creative solutions to design and set up traffic experiments under multiple functional and aesthetic requirements, and will have the opportunity to work in areas like robotics, machine learning, architecture, project management, mechanical and electrical design, and more.
Faculty Mentors: David Casagrande (Earth & Environmental Sciences), Al Wurth (Political Science)
Description: Located next to the Lehigh University Eco-house 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.
Faculty Mentor: Srinivas Rangarajan (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering)
Description: STEM education, particularly engineering education, will become increasingly personal and experiential. This project will design and create interactive visualizations as a means of conveying complex concepts in science and engineering, giving students new ways to understand how these concepts play out in active, real time. Ultimately, these visualizations will be incorporated into Lehigh courses with the possibility of implementation at other institutions as well.
Faculty Mentors: Sharon Friedman (Journalism & Communications), Amanda Greene (Humanities Lab)
Description: With COVID-19 dominating the media and the world’s consciousness over the past year, comparatively little attention has been paid to the other great looming public health crisis: antibiotic resistance. This project will investigate media coverage and mass communication tactics in order to find solutions to this gap in the public’s knowledge. Students will be able to conduct media analysis studies, network with distinguished media analysts and experts in public health, and data synthesis, and will participate in the development of new questions and solutions for this critically important problem.