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.
2021 Mountaintop Summer Projects
*Projects are listed in alphabetical order.
Faculty Mentor: Dinissa Duvanova (International Relations)
Description: Students with interests in environmental issues will research approaches to assessing the environmental and social impacts of air pollution. This team needs students with diverse academic backgrounds, such as majors in environmental studies, health medicine and society, earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, sociology, economics, and chemical and environmental engineering. Students will work with local stakeholders in and around Almaty, Kazakhstan to collect data and design and implement a locally sustainable system for monitoring air quality. They will evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative approaches to monitoring air quality, test and assess the proposed solution, and produce the technical and public reports detailing the results of their research. They will also write policy briefs for the Department of Green Economics and local environmental NGOs.
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: Bill Whitney (Creative Inquiry/Theatre)
Description: 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.
Faculty Mentor: Kristi Morin (College of Education, Special Education)
Description: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is considered a global health concern; however, nearly everything we know about autism comes from research in high-income countries. The dearth of research on ASD is particularly problematic in countries across Africa. A recent review revealed that Africa had the least amount of autism research conducted in the world, likely due to the lack of a culturally appropriate screening and diagnostic tool to identify individuals with ASD. Through this project, we will evaluate tools commonly used in the United States to diagnose autism in order to assess their feasibility and cultural appropriateness. We will also collect qualitative data during a trip to Sierra Leone to inform the development of a freely available, culturally appropriate screening and diagnostic tool for use in West Africa.
Faculty Mentor: Luis Brunstein (Global Studies)
Description: 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.
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: Khanjan Mehta (Creative Inquiry)
Description: Mushrooms grow fast! Commercial production of mushrooms can improve local food security, reduce malnutrition, and augment livelihoods. After tremendous success in Cambodia, this team is designing a commercial mushroom production ecosystem in Sierra Leone. After three years of work, the team has successfully jumpstarted oyster mushroom production with a local project manager now running operations. It’s time to figure out how to stabilize and grow operations from 10 kgs/month to 1,000 kgs/month. Further work includes 1) problem-solving on mushroom growth issues as they arise in Sierra Leone, 2) (re)designing facilities for larger production volumes, 3) developing business / operational models for larger production volumes, 4) developing the market and marketing strategies for mushrooms, and 5) writing grant proposals and finding partners to scale operations.
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 Mentors: Al Bodzin (College of Education, Instructional Technology); David Anastasio (Earth and Environmental Sciences); Tom Hammond (College of Education – Instructional Technology)
Description: 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.
Faculty Mentors: Jennifer Swann (Biological Sciences); Holona Ochs (Political Science)
Description: 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.
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 Mentors: Ganesh Balasubramanian (Mechanical Engineering); Brian Slocum (Wilbur Powerhouse Design Labs); Don Morris (Environmental Sciences)
Description: 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 three of the project, some opportunities have been identified and but a good amount of work is needed to develop the equipment needed to make this practical. Moving forward we need to further assess the market opportunities, continue development on equipment, and develop a path for technology transfer and training. 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.
Faculty Mentors: Ganesh Balasubramanian (Mechanical Engineering); Brian Slocum (Wilbur Powerhouse Design Labs)
Description: This project aims to transform Lehigh’s plastic recycling on campus by building a micro-recycling facility. The inputs at this on campus facility would be plastic water, soda, and juice bottles and the output would be a useful end-product such as a landscape brick. This end-product could be used by BrightView throughout campus in order to make Lehigh’s landscaping more local and sustainable. Students will develop marketing signage to promote the locally sourced bricks throughout campus. This project mirrors the Global Social Impact Fellowship project of the same name which works in the Philippines.
Faculty Mentors: Nicholas Sawicki (Art, Architecture & Design); Brian Slocum (Wilbur Powerhouse Design Labs, and AAD faculty)
Description: This project aims to design a prototype for a campus “living wall” that could be scaled for use in future buildings, e.g. the University Center renovation. A “living wall” is a way for industrialized, urban centers to bring back their connection with the natural world and create environments for people to live, work and learn. By consciously including nature in interior or architectural design, we are unconsciously reconnecting; bringing the great outdoors into our constructed world. Through this project, students will design a prototype - different designs can be tailored to have different effects, determine the ideal plants for the “living wall”, consider the possibility of a productive “living wall,” evaluate the environmental benefits, and determine the impacts on social and emotional well-being.
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 Mentors: Michael Kramp (English); Fathima Wakeel (College of Health)
Description: Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and the nation has responded with recent health care innovations that attempt to address this crisis. This team has focused on specific challenges and responsive innovations to confront the maternal health crisis. Our long-term goal is to produce a festival-ready documentary film. At this point, we are focused on relating three shorter stories that highlight both the extent of the problem and some of the innovations: (1) the impact of midwifery training, (2) the education of local surgeons, and (3) the operations of the weekly pre-natal care days. In 2020, we will return to Sierra Leone to conduct additional field work, engage the local health care system, produce additional shorter videos, and work toward the full-length documentary film. We will distribute these shorter videos in online formats to garner publicity and financial support for our project.
Faculty Mentor: Khanjan Mehta (Creative Inquiry)
Description: 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.
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 Mentor: Xuanhong Cheng (Bioengineering)
Description: Sickle cell disease is prevalent in Sierra Leone and contributes significantly to the high mortality rate of children. Current 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.
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 Mentor: Ethan Yang (Civil & Environmental Engineering)
Description: Climate change is one of the largest challenges of our lifetime and it will have far reaching impacts if left unaddressed. Projections from the 2020 April Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update show that average rainfall and extreme precipitation will increase 8% to 12% in the region. How do we mitigate against the threat of floods? Flooding can cause economic and structural damage that takes years to recover from. Green Infrastructure (GI) elements like rain barrels and green roofs can reduce this damage significantly. This project will work to upgrade GI on Lehigh’s campus, ultimately becoming a model for GI upgrades city- and nation-wide.
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.
Faculty Mentor: Carlos Romero (Energy Research Center)
Description: This project aims to have students think more efficiently and sustainably about energy management within Lehigh’s academic, administration, and residential buildings. Students will explore various efficiency options including developing smart sensors for lights, HVAC system, and window shades. Students will explore and test out various options that could be implemented in future campus construction projects and building renovations. In addition, students will explore additional renewable energy sources on campus, including a study of solar on parking canopies, and will put a proposal together to move the recommendations forward.
Faculty Mentors: Don Morris (Environmental Studies); Katharine Targett Gross (Sustainability Officer); Lauren Sleeger (Lehigh Dining)
Description: Have you ever thought about the carbon and water footprint of the foods you eat at Lehigh? In this project, students will continue to develop a food carbon footprint and water footprint calculator that suits Lehigh Dining’s needs to determine which menu items are the most and least carbon and water intensive. This will allow Lehigh Dining to provide a carbon and water footprint (red - high, yellow - medium, green - low) for key menu items at dining locations across campus. This will encourage students, faculty, and staff to choose to alter their food choices based on the impact of the menu item. The students will determine how to expand the calculator to make it more sophisticated, how to add a food’s water footprint, and how to transition away from national averages. The ultimate goal is to make this a national, open source model for other colleges/universities to use.
Faculty Mentor: Khanjan Mehta (Creative Inquiry)
Description: Sierra Leone has the 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, the team hired their first employee in Jan 2020 to mobilize communities, train health workers, and distribute test strips. Over the next year, the goal is to strengthen and expand field operations, design and implement effective messaging strategies, develop stronger data collection systems, and demonstrate the ability of the test strips to save lives with the goal of convincing the public health system (and donors) to integrate the test strips into the national healthcare system. The team will also explore how these test strips can be introduced in Liberia, Madagascar, and other countries with similar challenges.
Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Swann (Biological Sciences)
Description: One of the major problems facing our society is how to dispose of the waste we create. Allowing organic waste to degrade in anerobic environments such as landfills creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and can be an explosion hazard if the landfill is not properly managed. A promising approach is to capture the gas and use it as fuel. Contraptions that do this – biodigesters - are simple to build and easy to use. The goal of this project is to generate a biodigester for dog waste and to prototype it on Lehigh’s campus, for future implementation around Lehigh Valley parks. We propose that a biodigester is an alternative solution that allows the waste to degrade and, by capturing the methane produced and burning it to generate electricity, helps to reduce energy use.
Faculty Mentors: Ganesh Balasubramanian (Mechanical Engineering); Dr. Elmer Soriano (Civika Asian Development Academy); Fatima dela Cruz (Development Academy of the Philippines); Dominic Ligot (Cirrolytix)
Description: This project team will work closely with a team from the Civika Asian Development Academy and the Development Academy of the Philippines, both Philippines-based organizations that through projects develop public and private sector leaders throughout Southeast Asia. The direct focus of this project is the creation of a “Food Highway,” using data-driven and data-centric approaches to alleviate ongoing disruptions to food and medicine supply chains throughout the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mindanao Food Highway, named for the second-largest island in the Philippines archipelago, aims to explore innovative, data-driven, and technology-based solutions to food security challenges during COVID-19 disruptions. Achieving this objective will result in reducing transitory food insecurity and increasing community resilience during this pandemic.
Program Info / Proposal Format and Submission Process
The Mountaintop Summer Experience (MTSE) and Data for Impact Summer Institute (D4I) run for 10 weeks (2021 program dates are June 1st - August 6th). At this time, both programs are scheduled to operate fully virtually, though some in-person work may be able to happen in Building C or elsewhere on campus, safety considerations and protocols depending.
Most projects are part of Mountaintop, which is open to projects from all disciplines, fields, and areas of inquiry. Projects with a specific focus on, or need for, data science, analysis, visualization etc., can be considered as a special subcategory of Data for Impact. Creative Inquiry partners with the Martindale Center and the Institute for Data, Intelligent Systems, and Computation (I-DISC) to design the D4I program and select projects. The D4I program includes some data-focused workshops during the first weeks of the summer, in order to bring students up to speed with core concepts, methodologies, and praxis.
All summer program projects are expected to continue into the Fall 2021 semester (and, preferably, beyond), through the CINQ courses.
Students selected as “Fellows” in Mountaintop or Data for Impact projects are paid a stipend of $4,000 (for undergraduates), or $5,500 (for graduate students), for the summer, paid in five biweekly installments beginning mid-June. Projects typically have two, or at most three, Fellow opportunities. Fellows are expected to make a full-time commitment for the 10 weeks of the program, and are not allowed to take summer courses or have jobs/internships/vacations which would substantially take them away from their project work. Fellows are also expected to continue working on their projects through the Fall semester (and possibly beyond) by enrolling in the CINQ courses for credit.
“Associates” on Mountaintop or Data for Impact projects are not paid a stipend, and make a part-time commitment (approx. 10 hours/week) to their project work. Associates are invited and encouraged to attend all program presentations, workshops, and guest speakers. Associates are also strongly encouraged to continue working through the CINQ courses in the Fall semester and beyond. Students not receiving a stipend who have high financial need may inquire about financial assistance that may be available.
Lead faculty project mentors in both programs can utilize up to $500 in discretionary funds. These funds are not tracked by the Office of Creative Inquiry, and faculty may use them as they choose. 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. **NOTE: These funds are subject to adjustment or change if unexpected budgetary constraints arise**
Project expense budgets (for needed equipment, supplies, reagents, resources, etc.) will be considered as requested.
Applications are open from March 25th through April 5th for both Mountaintop and Data for Impact programs. The same application is used for both MTSE and D4I programs. The application form includes a list of available projects, and students will be asked to rank their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice of projects (one 3rd-choice option will be “any”). After applications close, faculty project mentors will be given a list of student applicants who indicated an interest in their project in the application process, and will contact those students for an interview. The Office of Creative Inquiry will not select students for specific projects; those decisions are entirely at the discretion of the faculty lead mentor(s). Faculty mentors should inform the Office of Creative Inquiry of their student selections no later than Friday, April 23rd and students should be informed by the end of April 2021 of their selection.
Faculty lead mentors are welcome and encouraged to recruit students for their own projects. Those students will need to fill out an application form to the program, but will be automatically accepted based on faculty recommendation / request.
Both MTSE and D4I will offer developmental, informational, and practical workshops and activities, as well as an array of guest “Innovators in Residence,” many of whom will offer guest lectures and/or meet with individual teams who could benefit from their expertise. Fellows are expected to attend these; Associates are strongly encouraged. Students in both programs will be asked to regularly present on their progress in formal and informal settings, to other program participants and external audiences (through a Summer Expo).
The expectations for faculty mentors: faculty are not expected to “teach” as part of these programs. Projects proposed should have direct relevance to the faculty mentor’s research agenda and/or impact agenda. 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.