Lehigh's Mountaintop Program Gives Students a Unique Summer Experience

No credit, no grades, and no textbooks: how students in Lehigh University's Mountaintop program are shaking things up this summer.

This summer, more than 100 Lehigh University students are taking a no-credit course that has no set curriculum or penalty for failure. If you think that sounds like a blow-off class, think again. Known as “Mountaintop,” the program fosters independent learning and allows for the development of student-driven projects rooted in areas such as business, engineering, and the humanities without the strictures of a rigid course schedule or final exam.

Students in the Mountaintop program are working hard and doing incredibly innovative things, taking the knowledge they've learned in the classroom and putting it to use—not exactly a bad way to spend the summer. To give you a better idea of what exactly the program entails, here are just a few of the impressive projects students are currently working on:

  • Innovation in Ventilation: A Combined Research Experience on Indoor Air Pollution
  • Integrating Molecular and Bioengineering Approaches to Address Challenges in Microbial Pathogenesis
  • Preventative Healthcare for Children: Early Head Start in the Lehigh Valley
  • Personalized 3D-Printed Prosthetics for Children
  • If Walls Could Talk: Exploiting Individual and Group Knowledge in a Smart Space

The program was launched last summer after Lehigh acquired two former Bethlehem Steel research facilities with the goal of transforming them into integrated learning environments—places where students can learn and contribute to society through hands-on research. Without the pressure of earning credit or a certain grade, students are free to explore and experiment.

According to its website, the Mountaintop program seeks to increase participating students’ “capacities for independent discovery, for taking intellectual risks and learning from failures, for collaboration, for recognizing important problems and opportunities, and for effecting constructive and sustainable change.”

Many colleges and universities offer graduate students the opportunity to participate in hands-on research, which often takes the form of helping with professors’ projects. But Lehigh’s Mountaintop program is unique in that it allows both undergraduate and graduate students not only to conduct research, but to come up with their very own projects. Faculty mentors are on hand to help guide them, but only if the students seek them out.

In an interview with The New York Times, Alan J. Snyder, a vice president and associate provost at Lehigh, said that the school hopes to eventually offer the program year-round.

“The lines between the classroom and the lab, the workshop, need to blur,” said Snyder. “Especially in an era where the textbook is old before the ink is dry, students need to be independent thinkers, discoverers.”

Interested in a more hands-on approach to college course work? Check out this great list of Colleges for the Independent Learner.

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie Darlet and CollegeXpress. Stephanie holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


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