Building C with students

After a brief overview of publication types and peer review processes during the Impact Fellowship research writing retreat at Building C in September 2023, students collaborated with their project teams to frame manuscripts and draft outlines. Impact Fellowship is a Creative Inquiry program, which is one of Lehigh 360’s nine high-impact program categories.

Lehigh 360: A New, Searchable Database Helps Students Discover High-Impact Programs

A future partnership will integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence to recommend programs based on students’ interests and past experiences.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Haidan Hu

Most everyone has been there—settled in front of the TV on a Friday night with the remote in hand and faced with the conundrum of what to watch.

Many streaming services today make it a little easier to come to a decision by offering recommendations based on a person’s viewing habits. Now, Lehigh’s Office of Creative Inquiry is trying to lead the creation of a similar experience for students who want to find high-impact, beyond-the-classroom, interdisciplinary learning opportunities at the university.

Lehigh 360, an initiative for democratizing access to high-impact opportunities at Lehigh, launched a searchable database in October that helps students explore available high-impact programs. The larger initiative aims to help students find their passions and purpose, be intentional with how they spend their time at Lehigh and share the outcomes of their high-impact experiences, both on campus and out in the world.

The Lehigh 360 High-Impact Programs Database, which currently includes nine categories of nearly 50 programs across all colleges and disciplines, is designed to help make the university’s signature programs visible and accessible to all Lehigh students. It includes a feature that allows sorting by upcoming application deadlines, program period (semester, summer, etc.) and class eligibility. Other searchable features include sorting by GPA requirements, whether programs offer academic credit, financial aid or work study opportunities, and topic keywords, such as health, climate change or gender equity.

“We wanted to create an online repository of information that would not only provide information for students of what exists on our campus, but help them understand and make intentional choices about which of those programs are right for them in terms of the skills they want to build, kinds of experiences they want to have, changes they want to make in the world and what aligns with their passions,” Bill Whitney, assistant vice provost for experiential learning programs, says.

“And how do they take all those mechanical engineering lectures and put them into practice while they're here at Lehigh in productive ways for themselves, for the world, and for the university?”

Students working together in Building C classroom

Students inside Building C in September 2023 effectively sharing and disseminating their research findings and project accomplishments during the Impact Fellowship research writing retreat.

Lehigh 360 asked each high-impact program to nominate two students for an initial pilot cohort. Nikki Pasterczyk ’25 was one of 50 students nominated as a Lehigh 360 Scholar for exemplary achievement in high-impact programs. She likes the database, but says she would have likely joined other programs in her first year at Lehigh had it existed earlier.

“It's a great tool to plan out programs you want to be involved in during the semester and summers throughout your undergraduate experience,” she says.

The next step in improving the database will be a partnership with a software company to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence to offer students recommendations to deepen, diversify and highlight their high-impact experiences based on their interests, past experiences and desired skill development. That technology platform is expected to launch during the Spring 2024 semester.

“After completing a high-impact program, the Lehigh 360 platform will point students in the direction of awards, scholarships, conferences, competitions, pitches, whatever it may be that will allow students to highlight the incredible outcomes of their experiences,” Michelle Spada, program manager in the Office of Creative Inquiry, says. “It would be a Netflix-type recommendation platform but for high-impact opportunities at the university.”

Despite just officially launching last semester, students have already found success through the Lehigh 360 Database.

“This is my go-to place to look up something on campus,” says Thaksheel Alleck ’24, also a Lehigh 360 Scholar.

Alleck has been working on a project using Amazon’s Alexa to access campus program information more efficiently since he has found it time consuming to find programs that align with personal interests and skills. While he’s looking forward to some of the planned improvements, he believes the current form of the Lehigh 360 Database is a great first step.

Lehigh 360 Scholar and PreLUsion leader Sam Jahrmarkt ’24 recently was accepted into the Silicon Valley Innovation Internship and says without Lehigh 360, she wouldn’t have had the information needed to apply.

Sterling Salmini ’24, a member in the Mentor Collective, says he’s excited to share Lehigh 360 with all the first-year students he mentors and has already encouraged all Student Senators, particularly first- and second-year Senators, to explore the database and join a program.

The idea for Lehigh 360 hatched seven years ago. Staff in the Office of Creative Inquiry knew high-engagement opportunities for students existed across the university but they weren’t sure how students were interacting with those opportunities, or if they were finding them, Whitney says.

“What we found was, a lot of students were graduating from Lehigh, getting their degrees and walking across the stage, without having knowledge that these opportunities even existed, much less how and why they could have participated in them while they were students,” he says.

The plan wasn’t just to drive students to programs; it was to also help build their mindsets and skill sets and differentiate them when they entered the job market or applied for graduate school. A large advisory group of 40 to 50 people, who were running various programs at the university, was formed to take inventory of what was being provided to students. Campus partners, including the Center for Career and Professional Development, Office of International Affairs, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity and Office of Student Affairs, also helped identify three main gaps: access to information, advising regarding high-impact programs and following student journeys, which includes highlighting students successes and outcomes.

“We initially built a rudimentary website to try and capture all of these programs because the real goal was information, and access to information, and access to these programs for all students,” Whitney says.

Jahrmarkt created a similar initiative, LehighIPE, in her entrepreneurship class during her sophomore year, and shared it with the Office of Creative Inquiry, helping to aid the growth of Lehigh 360. She believes there is still room to grow and is hoping to expand awareness among students of all Lehigh 360 has to offer.

In January 2023, Spada, who was Lehigh’s assistant director of international internships, working with the Iacocca International Internship Program, joined the Creative Inquiry team to help launch Lehigh 360 and the Database. Spada worked closely with high-impact programs across campus and LTS Web and Mobile Services to design the Lehigh 360 Database. “We gave LTS a vision for how we wanted students to be able to access and interact with the information and they designed the technology that made that vision a reality.”

Lehigh 360 connects with Lehigh’s new Strategic Plan, which outlines a bold vision for the university that is centered around breaking boundaries to address societal challenges, innovating in academics and research, and cultivating collaborations and partnerships to build community and amplify Lehigh’s global, national and regional impact.

“The goals of Lehigh 360 just naturally aligned with the goals of the Strategic Plan,” Spada says.

Among the initiatives that Lehigh 360 amplifies, Whitney says, are “A Lehigh for Everyone,” which includes a commitment to cultural diversity as an essential part of the learning environment, and “A Lifelong Lehigh,” which aims to provide educational opportunities to empower individuals to excel.

“This is about, what are our graduates’ outcomes?” Whitney says. “What is their level of happiness and fulfillment in life and in their careers? How much of that was started here and built here? And how much of that can they circulate forward by engaging with the students that are here?”

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Haidan Hu

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