With past Mountaintop projects focusing on topics such as vertical ocean farming in Louisiana, exploring the Moravians’ lost literature and producing a film about the first women hired at Lehigh, the program has continued to gain popularity.
The Mountaintop project is a way for students and mentors to answer questions in creative and innovative ways. Students working on projects have complete freedom in how to approach their chosen topic.
“There’s an incredible amount of potential in Mountaintop,” said Khanjan Mehta, the director of the Mountaintop project. “We are trying to have students take a deep dive into a question, a new idea and take a new intellectual path that can potentially change the history of the world.”
The projects are carried out in teams consisting of three to seven students and a faculty mentor. Teams can include both graduate and undergraduate students.
Mehta and his team of 25 to 30 judges received 47 proposals this year, the most Mountaintop has ever received. All of the judges are experts in the subjects students are proposing, with two-thirds of the judges being from Lehigh.
The judges go through each project in groups of five to seven people, discussing the page-long description of what a team wants to accomplish during its project. The judges give the teams suggestions, eliminate them or send them a set of supplementary questions to dig deeper into their goals and future plans.
“It is very difficult to eliminate people,” said Bill Whitney, the administrative director and vice provost for creative inquiry. “There are so many good, compelling ideas that our students have.”
When the judges reach the final contestants, Mehta said they want one question answered: “How will you get your project into the big, good world?”
If a team gets eliminated, its members still have options to find support for their project.
“There’s no way we can fund every single idea we love,” Mehta said. “If we like an idea well enough, and are very enthusiastic about it, we try to look for and refer the students to outside sponsors to help them carry out their idea and see it come to life.”
For the fall 2017 semester, Lehigh is creating a new Mountaintop program. Mehta said the university is trying to transition the program to a year-round experience.
“We are looking for our initial cohort of about 60 or so students who would work on all kinds of really compelling, creative, meaningful projects in the fall semester, and work on it year round,” Mehta said.
Mehta and Whitney think 10 weeks is not enough time to fail once and still get something out of a project. They said they think a year-round project will help students enhance their ideas even more.
Whitney and Mehta said they do not have a favorite project but have loved a lot of them.
“Across the board I see a lot of great potential in projects and think the mindset behind them is truly admirable,” Mehta said. “The compelling projects and work the students were doing here brought me and (Whitney) here in the first place.”
Mehta, Whitney and the other reviewers will be publishing final project proposals by mid-March.