Participants at TESSI Philippines in March

Participants at TESSI Philippines in March

Creative Inquiry Launches TESSI Institute for Academic Innovators and Social Entrepreneurs

New global initiative inspires interdisciplinary programs that build sustainable futures.

It started as a simple request: Lead a half-day workshop to equip faculty at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur with the knowledge, tools and strategies to initiate academic programs similar to the Impact Fellowships offered by the Office of Creative Inquiry at Lehigh.

That suggestion has now grown into the Transformative Education for Sustainable Social Impact (TESSI) Institute, a series of faculty development programs that are empowering educators around the world to design academic programs that foster systemic societal change through the integration of learning, research and entrepreneurial engagement.

The brainchild of Khanjan Mehta, Lehigh’s vice provost for creative inquiry, TESSI now benefits from the enthusiastic partnership and engagement of academics, nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs from India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia, Colombia, Fiji and other countries.

Bhaskar Bhowmick, associate professor in the Rajendra Mishra School of Engineering Entrepreneurship at IIT Kharagpur, worked closely with Mehta to design and lead the first TESSI Institute on his campus. Bhowmick and Mehta were able to secure partnerships with the Scholar Lab Foundation, Cisco for Startups, Switch on Foundation and ASME-India to cover the participants’ program fees as well as boarding and lodging expenses.

“We were blown away by the tremendous response we received from educators across the country,” Bhowmick said. “There is an urgent need to re-envision and redesign programs and curricula to make them more transformative for our students and impactful for our country.”

For the first TESSI Institute in January 2024, Mehta invited three Lehigh University collaborators to join him in leading the week-long workshop: Bill Gaudelli, dean of the College of Education and vice provost for innovation in education; Willy Das, research scientist for the Lehigh@Nasdaq Center; and Saif Mir, assistant professor of decision and technology analytics. They were eager to craft a transformative faculty development program that would help spread the successes, failures and lessons learned from unique Lehigh initiatives such as Creative Inquiry, the Lehigh@Nasdaq Center, and Lehigh Universal Design for Inquiry (LUDI).

Sixty-five faculty members, administrators and nonprofit leaders from across India, the Philippines and Hong Kong participated in the institute.

“The participants enjoyed gaining insights from their peers while making plans to reset their teaching and developing new programs upon return to the spring semester,” Gaudelli said.

Hands-on, hearts-on workshops on the theory and praxis of creative inquiry, humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship provided a strong foundation for designing student-centered programs that incorporate universal design for inquiry. Participants worked in teams to design new academic programs that engage students in authentic, real-world projects that address global grand challenges.

“The depth and breadth of programs that the participants designed was truly exemplary,” Mehta said. “In just a few days, these faculty teams had identified opportunities, developed detailed curricula and marketing strategies, identified extramural partners, and even gained approvals from their administration.”

Bhowmick said that he has already integrated the knowledge gained from the workshop into his classes on Technology Entrepreneurship.

"This semester, I've applied what I learned from workshop sessions such as ‘Asking the Right Questions’ and ‘Evaluating Groups with Peer Reviews’ directly into my classes. These sessions have not only inspired me but also provided me with valuable insights, enriching my approach to teaching," he said.

TESSI India in January.

Participants in TESSI India in January

Prakash Hegade, an assistant professor at KLE Technological University in India, shared that after attending the TESSI Institute, he is developing a new graduate program focused on heritage tourism and sustainable development.

"Grasping market needs and knowing how to interpret them is crucial," he said. "I reviewed the materials I received at the workshop and explored Lehigh’s Creative Inquiry website to design my program. I'm looking forward to applying this knowledge and building the new program this year.”

Das praised the TESSI Institute for its commitment to interdisciplinary, real-world impact.

"The emphasis TESSI places on engaging with real-world challenges closely mirrors my understanding of education's true purpose: to equip students with the tools they need to navigate the world responsibly and purposefully," he said.

In March 2024, TESSI’s second iteration took place at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. It was led by Mehta in partnership with Elmer Soriano, the founder of the Planetary Regeneration Lab. This version focused on the climate crisis and brought together over 30 professors and administrators from universities around the Philippines. It was supported by the PhilDev Foundation, Quezon City University, Design Thinkers Academy-Singapore and other partners.

Jill Manapat, founder of the Humanitarian Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Design (HEED) program at UP Diliman and a participant in the January TESSI institute, said she returned home motivated to expand the HEED program by incorporating it into the mandatory National Service Training Program [NSTP] for all Filipino students.

“[TESSI] was such an inspiring learning and networking opportunity for me,” she said. “As an island archipelago, the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries from a climate change perspective. There is an urgency to transform our entire education system to help students understand the world we live in, the challenges our communities face, and co-create sustainable solutions.”

Manapat successfully engaged the College of Engineering to host a week-long TESSI Institute for approximately 50 faculty members in July 2024, in close collaboration with colleagues from the University of the Philippines system and the NSTP office. This institute will coincide with fieldwork for Lehigh’s Global Social Impact Fellowship (GSIF) program, which will include 24 Lehigh students and faculty advancing five GSIF projects. These students will have an opportunity to share their work as examples of how faculty and students can partner to develop and commercialize new innovations to address the climate crisis.

The Indo Universal Collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE) sent 10 participants to the inaugural TESSI Institute at IIT Kharagpur. Now, four similar faculty development programs are in development across India. One of these will be co-led by Lehigh faculty and students on the rural campus of the Agastya International Foundation during GSIF India fieldwork in June 2024.

“TESSI program is of immense value to IUCEE; it helps faculty from our 52 Consortium Colleges develop curriculum modules on sustainability goals These will be shared for implementation among the colleges,” Krishna Vedula, executive director of the IUCEE, said.

In November 2024, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellin will host the Transformación de la Educación de Ingeniería a través del Impacto Social Sostenible (TEISS) Institute for faculty and administrators from across Latin America. The following month, Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, under the leadership of Professor Jason Sargent, who participated in TESSI Philippines, will be hosting a TESSI Institute that will bring together participants from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands.

The rapid growth of the TESSI movement resonates ever more strongly as its integrative and systemic approach to transforming academic cultures aligns with Lehigh’s strategic vision.

Mehta articulated this synergy: “At Lehigh, we nurture the development of future makers armed with the cognitive flexibility and collaborative prowess necessary to navigate complex global challenges, fostering pragmatic solutions through collective effort. TESSI is a platform to extend our passion, knowledge and insights to entrepreneurial faculty worldwide. The potential for mutual learning within this collaborative endeavor is boundless.”

Gaudelli summarized the direct benefits of taking such a global approach.

“In the College of Education, we have already seen applications to our graduate programs from students who were nudged in our direction by TESSI participants,” he said. “Expanding TESSI across various countries serves not only as a means for Lehigh University to showcase our strengths globally, but also to attract distinguished and exceptional students for our graduate programs. It’s a win-win—part of what being a global university is all about.”

Read more stories on the Lehigh News Center.

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