The following is a letter distributed to the Lehigh community regarding the Mountaintop initiative:

Ever since Asa Packer chose the setting for the University he endowed, Lehigh has shown that great spaces inspire great learning. As we stepped back to develop a master plan, we realized that we have tremendous assets worthy of stewardship, renovation and rejuvenation. We were also reminded that spaces serve to bring together people in ways that cause us to explore, innovate, inquire, discuss, debate, discover and learn. It is, foremost, the people who make a great university and we look at our campus in terms of the way it serves our people and their mission.

Great spaces can also serve as catalysts for progress. There are rare moments in the history of a university when an absolutely unique and transformative opportunity arises. One such example is Lehigh’s 1986 decision to move the football stadium to Goodman Campus making way for the Zoellner Arts Center and the Rauch Business Center. That pivotal change revolutionized the arts at Lehigh and allowed us to recruit creative students who would benefit from the many opportunities to pursue and appreciate the arts. It also provided the opportunity to introduce a new paradigm in business education.

Another such unique opportunity is before us. We never use the word “unique” lightly. This week we have acquired the last two buildings on the Mountaintop Campus, an absolutely amazing asset that is rare for a university and one that nobody would build today. The approximately 120,000 net square feet of large-scale spaces available in Buildings B and C inspire great ideas, great learning and great creativity.

This is also a historic period in higher education where the demand for quality and the focus on formative experience are paramount. Students, families and employers are all looking for great value from higher education. Society is looking for innovative problem solvers and students and employers seek an educational experience that produces them. The world needs leaders who can think  critically and contribute fully to our society.

Mountaintop view (click for larger image)

We need new ideas and new leaders to carry them out.

As we seize the opportunity afforded by the confluence of our great strengths and this remarkable facility, we realize the critical importance of residential education alongside the revolution in open and online teaching. Technology is fundamentally changing the way we exchange and share information and the 19th and 20th century models of higher education will change too. As we embrace this change, we reflect on what we do well and why students should be compelled to come to a campus and spend valuable time and resources learning and living together as a cohort.

We know that the world needs people who have expertise and depth along with the ability to think critically and creatively. It goes deeper than that; ultimately the leaders we seek are those who can synthesize information, that is, those who can absorb complex ideas to create something new and then influence others to follow their lead. We look for innovative and persuasive leaders. These are the graduates that great universities must produce. Lehigh is the place to lead this transformation because our faculty already know how to bring integration and synthesis into our research and educational experience.

We aim to encourage students to take intellectual risks while they are at Lehigh. We want to promote the risk takers while the mainstream of higher education favors the risk averse. These goals and attitudes pervade all of Lehigh and the Mountaintop provides an opportunity to experiment with new modes of teaching and discovery, loosening the constraints of the class schedule and calendar.

An Inspiring, Exciting Space on the Top of South Mountain

This is about creating a place where people are attracted, at the center of our collective campuses, at the peak of a mountain and at the hub of innovation.

aerial view (click for larger image)

We have some preliminary ideas about what might happen inside some of these buildings and have given sections of the buildings nicknames. Much more will come as we realize this dream over the years to come.

  • The Design Bay – this is Steve Jobs’ “intersection of humanities and technology” where students and faculty conceive, design and build new things. They can develop new living or learning spaces, inspiring artistic creations, new ways to bring technology to bear on spaces to enhance the quality of life for the aged or disabled…. New designs are unveiled, new ways of thinking are born…
  • The Garage – this is like the garage used by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of HP. Students and faculty make new ideas a reality – they test concepts, explore possibilities, and synthesize tangible solutions to everyday problems. They build on creative inspiration to invent. Entrepreneurship and creativity fill the air…
  • The Challenge Bay – here we wrestle with tough problems, big and small. Student teams have resources available – faculty, outside experts, the world of information. They grapple with unsolvable problems. They have time limits and deadlines. They make progress, they learn to integrate information and synthesize it to produce a path forward. They share their work with others – new teams take up the mantle – new challenges enter the space…
  • The Atelier – here students and faculty design the optimal living and learning space. They take the “campus” beyond the dormitory. Lifestyles are changed; living near their studio space allows them to work when they are feeling creative. Life is not luxurious, it is rather spartan, but it inspires great thinking and new ideas. Dreams can become reality when students can roll out of bed and work on them at any hour…
  • The Research Engine – formerly Building B of the Homer Research Laboratories, Lehigh’s Research Engine is the heart and energy of Mountaintop. Here fundamental research in state-of-the-art spaces generates new knowledge and drives new projects on campus and across the country. In space that was developed for heavy machinery, the latest in imaging technology, microscopy and precision molecular analysis shift the Lehigh research engine into overdrive. Faculty, students and staff thrive in the open and shared facility where new ideas come through intense experimentation or over a cup of coffee. The 21st century research facility is a village of collaboration…
  • The Village Green – every community thrives on interpersonal interaction and the innovation centers of the world foster relationships. Coffee, food, gathering places, inspiring vistas make the Mountaintop Campus a destination and a place for sharing ideas, challenging the status quo and taking risks. These common spaces make the whole a remarkable amplification of the exciting elements throughout the campus.

People Come First

This opportunity will only be as exciting and transformative as the people who inhabit it. Lehigh will augment its current faculty with additional endowed chairs, visiting artists, scholars and leaders, and talented undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students who are ready to take on a challenge, take an intellectual risk and push themselves to learn. The support for people is the first priority in seizing this opportunity.

Already, groups of imaginative Lehigh faculty and students have launched summer projects bringing these ideas to life. One group of students is producing a documentary film about the first five women on the faculty of Lehigh’s English department. They will illuminate those women and their experiences in a particular time in Lehigh’s and America’s history. Another group is exploring the intersection of pervasive computing and architecture: what happens when physical spaces become responsive to the people within them?

Others are designing for the needs of people in the developing world, with one group exploring low-cost, reliable shelter and another building a 3D printer and developing a curriculum for its use by students with fewer resources at their disposal. A group of students will use microbiology to search for treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis, while also navigating the social, political and infrastructure challenges in disseminating such treatments. Another group of students is designing flexible, modular workspaces for entrepreneurs to prototype ideas in “the Garage.”

Several students have come to us with their own “Garage” ideas. One is exploring the use of textiles that respond to light, heat and other signals as design elements in clothing. Another group is undertaking a novel design for a future automobile. In each case, students are starting with their own ideas, passion and a mentor. We are confident that people will be inspired to discover, learn and create by the nature of the environment we provide.

Transformation Requires Investment

This opportunity requires significant investment by benefactors and philanthropists and will move forward only as we secure commitments from donors. The financial support for this initiative is to be directed equally toward people and facilities. Roughly half of the investment will be used for endowed chairs and support for faculty activities, and the other half will go toward teaching and research spaces that inspire the high level of accomplishment we expect.

There are rare moments in the history of a university when an absolutely unique and transformative opportunity comes around. This is such a moment for Lehigh. I look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress and in hearing your ideas for further development.


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