Lehigh Launches Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship

The multi-year, interdisciplinary projects focus on advancing Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 goals which align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

Solar panel installation on Goodman Campus

Students construct solar panels on Lehigh's Goodman Campus in 2016. The new Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship is creating new opportunities for experiential learning on campus.

Part of Lehigh’s vision in creating its Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 and in developing a Climate Action Strategy — a detailed framework serving as a comprehensive roadmap for measuring, planning and reducing greenhouse gas emissions — is to use the South Bethlehem campus as a living laboratory to advance campus sustainability.

The Office of Creative Inquiry and the Office of Sustainability have begun to make that a reality. The two offices teamed up in February to launch the Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship, which provides students with hands-on experiential learning through campus sustainability projects.

“Following on the success of the Global Social Impact Fellowship and the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Fellowship programs, the Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship will give students the opportunity to research, design, field-test and integrate social and technological innovations that further transform our campus into a low-carbon circular economy,” Khanjan Mehta, vice provost for Creative Inquiry and director of the Mountaintop Initiative, said.

Campus Sustainable Impact Fellows are undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines across the university who address goals tied to Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on campus. There are 113 goals in the 2030 plan that align with one or more of the 17 UN goals, which serve as a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all." They include quality education, no poverty, renewable energy and gender equality.

“This fellowship program is dedicated to giving students impactful experiential learning opportunities through campus sustainability projects,” Katharine Targett Gross, Lehigh’s sustainability officer, said. “The projects that this dedicated and innovative cohort of students are working on will advance Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 goals by reducing recycling contamination, better understanding and expanding green infrastructure on campus, creating a ‘living space’ prototype, and much more.”

Through Creative Inquiry courses, which integrate experiential learning, research and entrepreneurial engagement with students, Fellows will complete work on multi-year Inquiry to Impact projects with local partners.

End goals vary by the type of project and range from new technology solutions to integrating research findings into Lehigh’s policies and operations. The completed work of each project will be disseminated broadly through peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

"We are proud to partner with the Office of Sustainability, and working with all the different areas of LU Facilities, from transportation to energy to food systems, has been an absolute delight,” Mehta said. “The first CSIF cohort includes 28 students representing 20 different majors, and all of them are making great strides toward bringing their projects to reality."

In 2021, Fellows are working on eight different campus sustainability projects:

  • Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box: Establishing a Food Carbon and Water Footprint — Students will create a carbon and water footprint calculator to fit Lehigh Dining’s needs. (Faculty mentors: Don Morris-EES, Katharine Targett Gross)
  • Mountain Hawk Prints: An Energy and Water Dashboard — Students will create a public-facing energy and water dashboard which includes an interactive campus map showing water and energy usage and submeter data, among other information. (Debra Kreider-CSB, Ed Yeakel-CSB)
  • PlasTech Ventures: Transforming Lehigh’s Plastic Recycling Stream by Producing Usable Products — This project aims to build a micro-recycling facility on campus with students also developing marketing signage to promote the end-products throughout campus landscaping. (Ganesh Balasubramanian-MechE, Brian Slocum-Design Labs, Don Morris-EES)
  • Thinking Holistically About Energy: WATT Can Lehigh Do? — Students will think more efficiently and sustainably about energy management within Lehigh’s academic, administration and residential buildings. (Carlos Romero-Energy Research Center)
  • Rain Harvesting: Exploring Ways to Harness the Resource — The project will work to upgrade green infrastructure on campus, with the hope of becoming a model for city and nationwide upgrades. (Ethan Yang-Civil Engineering)
  • Reconnecting Our Constructed World to Nature: Prototyping Lehigh’s First Ever “Living Wall” — Students will design a prototype for a campus “living wall” – 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. The “living wall” could be scaled for use in future buildings on campus. (Nicholas Sawicki-AAD, Brian Slocum-Design Labs)
  • Waste Not, Want Not: Creating a Biodigester for Lehigh’s Campus — The project aims to generate a biodigester for dog waste and to prototype it on Lehigh’s campus for future implementation in parks around the Lehigh Valley. (Jennifer Swann-Biological Sciences)
  • The Future of Lehigh Transportation: Thinking Innovatively and Creatively — Students will investigate various types of sustainable transportation that would connect and be used across Lehigh’s three campuses. (Frank Pazzaglia-EES)

For more information on the Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship, visit Lehigh’s Creative Inquiry website.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

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