Mountaintop 2014 moves ahead

Tuesday was move-in day for the teams of Lehigh students who will spend their summer on the top of South Mountain, in a cavernous former Bethlehem Steel research facility that is now home to Lehigh’s innovative Mountaintop project.

The students began arriving in the morning, with laptops and coffee cups, choosing the spaces where they will brainstorm and collaborate on a host of projects that include: 

  • Creating videos to help Lehigh students better grasp economic principles
  • Building a prosthetic arm with native materials to help farmers and others in developing countries in their labor.
  • Designing ways to ventilate sheds in places like Uganda, where people cook indoors over wood or coal fires, to improve health and reduce indoor air pollution
  • Developing a composting center for all of Lehigh’s food waste, with an aim of using the compost elsewhere on campus to close the food loop

“This is an effective way to learn,” said Danielle Taitt ’16, who is part of the team that is looking to increase the performance of a prosthetic arm. ”You can be as creative as you want to be.”

This is the second summer for the Mountaintop project, a groundbreaking Lehigh initiative that pushes the boundaries of higher education. With a $20 million gift from Scott Belair ’69, Lehigh has been transforming the former Bethlehem research bays into unique learning environments, where students can discover, learn and collaborate.

Above the din, as crews continued to transform the facilities, students and their mentors pulled up chairs and got to work on their projects.  

Anna D’Ginto ’16, Raven Atkins ’15, Kerry Mallett ’15, Sydney Maltinski-Wilson ’15 and graduate student Nesreen Haddush intend to create videos that will help Lehigh students taking the Principles of Economics course in mastering the principles. Their work could be put to use as early as this Fall. The students brainstormed ways to incorporate pop culture—for example, concepts from the “Survivor” reality show—and real-life college experiences into the videos to help improve student understanding.

The five students are bringing a variety of perspectives to the project—two are journalism students, two are economics majors and another is a graduate student in instructional technology.

“None of us can do this by ourselves,” Mallett said.

Clustered nearby around a conference table, another group students got to work on their project—the creation of ventilation systems that can work in small, thatched kitchens in developing countries. The student team, working with Assistant Sociology Professor Kelly Austin and Associate Political Science Professor Breena Holland, plan to build a cooking shed on site this summer as part of their research.

Considering cultural norms and costs, students will explore such matters as window placements and the raising of fire pits, as a means to reduce pollution.

“We’ll get as far as we can,” Holland said.

Also as part of the project, students will write public health articles to try to bring wider attention to the problem of indoor air pollution from the burning of coal, wood and crop residues—a problem that affects half of the world’s population and is associated with multiple health problems.

For more information about the Mountaintop initiative, visit

Photos by Christa Neu 

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