Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has announced a $20 million gift from alumnus Scott Belair in support of a $60 million initiative to repurpose two former Bethlehem Steel research facilities on its Mountaintop campus.
The two buildings, which together encompass approximately 120,000 square feet, were acquired by the university in May and over the summer were the setting for a number of pilot programs in which students, guided by faculty mentors, worked to determine their goals and the details of their work. According to the university, the program is designed to challenge students to develop their capacities for "creativity, inquiry, discovery, synthesis, and teamwork."
For example, as part of a national effort to identify viruses that can be used against tuberculosis, one team of students isolated viruses that attack bacteria and are readily found in soil. Other teams developed a prototype for durable housing for refugees, designed an integrated system for both crop production and water filtration, and produced a documentary film about the first four women faculty members in Lehigh's English department. Ideas for additional projects will be sought in the months to come.
"I think experiences like this bring a tremendous amount to the table," said Rick Weisman, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who served as faculty advisor over the summer. "Being guided through some open-ended problems before you graduate, I think, is an essential part of what we consider a university education."