|Lehigh CORPS Homepage
The authors gratefully acknowledge that this evaluation was supported by the Ford Foundation via a grant from Campus Compact, Brown University.
2. Calls for Reform in Undergraduate Education
3. Overview of the Lehigh CORPS
5. Broader Organizational Framework and Support
6. Lessons Learned
7. Appendix: Lehigh CORPS Project Descriptions and Client Organizations
Where else would John Dewey, philosophic icon of pragmatist educational reforms in the early 1900s, and Tom “Click” Magliozzi, appear, without irony, in the same opening sentence? But they can. Educators, business executives and even philosophers as diverse and historically separated as Dewey and Magliotzzi, with the American Association of Higher Education and the National Alliance of Business thrown in for institutional credibility, for many decades have been calling for significant reform in American educational philosophy and approach. In particular, these and many other reformists argue strongly for the superiority of active, inquiry-based, collaborative, integrative approaches to teaching and learning. Dewey in particular saw participatory, cooperative learning in the community as fundamental to the development of effective members of democratic societies. His writings underpin much of the community-based learning curricula in place today.
Yet for the most part, American universities remain wedded to methods Dewey  lamented as far back as 1916: “Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.” Magliotzzi  rants more recently: “education has not progressed much beyond the Little Red Schoolhouse theory of learning. We put an expert in a roomful of people and the expert proceeds to tell them everything he knows…. This so-called ‘teaching’ doesn’t result in much learning. It results in, maybe, someone remembering enough to pass a test.”
This paper discusses our attempts at Lehigh University to put active, inquiry-based, collaborative, multidisciplinary experiences at the center of undergraduate education. It outlines the goals, history, structure, and our evaluation of the Lehigh Community and Policy Service (Lehigh CORPS), a community-based learning program with its emphasis on regional economic development, as well as our efforts to expand the approach into other corners of our institution. The two authors have been the primary faculty responsible for program design and implementation. We evaluate the program based on four related sources of qualitative and quantitative assessment information: 1) our review of the quality and value of resulting project reports; 2) survey questionnaires and oral feedback from participating students; 3) survey questionnaires and written and oral feedback from the client organizations with which our student teams worked; and 4) the interest shown by the broader community and media. The paper concludes by exploring the major issues and lessons learned in program implementation, and the extent to which the educational philosophy behind the Lehigh CORPS has become institutionalized at the university. This included a comprehensive set of interviews with faculty and administrators across campus, including every department chair.
Lehigh is a Carnegie Research II institution with approximately 4500 undergraduates, 1900 graduate students and 400 full-time faculty. It is located in Bethlehem Pennsylvania in eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a re-industrializing region with a population of 575,000, about 80 miles west of New York City and 50 miles north-northwest of Philadelphia. More than 75 percent of the population lives in urbanized areas.
The main goal of the Lehigh CORPS is to enable graduates to move more rapidly along their chosen career paths, graduating both competent in their functional disciplines—whether economics, political science, architecture, or engineering—and better prepared for long-term success. By working in interdisciplinary teams on authentic economic development projects for community-based client organizations, students not only become more committed to civic citizenship, but also develop skills to become more multi-functional, self-directed and team-oriented. The program emphasizes higher-order skill development, including problem and task identification in ill defined problems, and decision making under uncertainty and lack of information, integrating, connecting and reflecting on diverse areas of knowledge, and written and oral communication.
The Lehigh CORPS was designed to squarely address the major issues identified by a seemingly endless series of both academic studies and blue-ribbon panels on education. The common theme throughout is the efficacy, compared with traditional classrooms, of collaborative, active, inquiry-based, experiential learning in developing skills such as critical problems solving, problem formulation, defensible judgement and facility in making connections among divergent bodies of knowledge and their application outside of class.
For example, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) joined with the American College Personnel Association and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in issuing a major 1998 report  on student learning. Drawing from pedagogic research and practice, the joint report lays out major principles about learning and how to strengthen it. It concludes that rich learning environments require students to, among other things:
The AAHE is far from alone in this chorus. Another recent high-profile report on the shortcomings of undergraduate education comes from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In what has become known as the Boyer Commission report  in 1998, it was strongly critical of the nation’s 125 research universities for the deep barriers between undergraduate teaching and the inquiry-based activities of the faculty. The commission comprised faculty and administrators from research universities and non-profit institutions. Most research universities, they conclude, fail their undergraduates, giving them “too little that will be of real value beyond a credential that will help them get their first jobs.” The report calls for “ a complete transformation in the nature of the education offered.” Into what? Rich environments for inquiry-based, collaborative, interdisciplinary education: “The ecology of the university depends on a deep and abiding understanding that inquiry, investigation, and discovery are the heart of the enterprise…. Everyone at a university should be a discoverer, a learner. That shared mission binds together all that happens on a campus. The teaching responsibility of the university is to make all its students participants in the mission.”
Business leaders also believe American universities fail to deliver. A 1995 study  of the corporate view of the readiness of today’s college graduates, done by the Business-Higher Education Forum, a group of business and academic CEO’s from major US firms and universities, found that: “Corporate leaders agree that [college] graduates are deficient in a number of areas, including leadership and communication skills; quantification skills, interpersonal relations, and the ability to work in teams... In the face of global competition, higher education is behind the curve—unable to respond quickly and trapped in a discipline-bound view of knowledge.” Similarly, in 1994 the American Society for Engineering Education convened a blue ribbon group of industry leaders and engineering deans who identified twelve key areas for reform . Among them: leadership, communication, integration of knowledge across the curriculum, a multidisciplinary perspective, teamwork, active learning and collaboration.
Remarkably consistent calls for improvements in interdisciplinary synthesis, critical thinking, interpersonal and team skills, and hands-on problem solving were identified since 1993 by, among others, the Association for the Study of Higher Education , the Synthesis Coalition , the Education Commission of the States  and the Foundation for Critical Thinking .
In addition to these general calls for reform in undergraduate programs, educators have stressed similar curricular deficiencies in targeted fields. For example in engineering, in 1989 the National Advisory Group of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, identified a number of typical features of undergraduate curricula that inhibit learning and drive away potential engineering and science students . Among these negative features are large class sizes and impersonal relationships with faculty, failure to stimulate and engage students in the learning process, pedagogic emphasis on memorization rather than analysis, synthesis and critical reasoning, segregated disciplinary course offerings without emphasis on why they are relevant or how they are related to each other, and no introductory offerings about what professional problem-solving entails or its constraints. The importance of an active, project-based, collaborative experience and interdisciplinary teaming is a constant theme in many reports specifically on design education [8-15], including from the National Research Council  and National Science Foundation . So too, the Accounting Education Change Commission  calls for students who are active rather than passive participants in the learning process and an emphasis on unstructured problem solving and incomplete or unstructured data. In business and management there has been a parallel flood with remarkably similar emphases [16-22]. Indeed, the literature on the value of multidisciplinary collaborative project-based curricula date back at least 30 years .
Though change in the American university system has been slow, significant steps are being taken. Perhaps most importantly, national professional organizations and academic accrediting bodies such ABET (e.g. ABET 2000)  in engineering and AACSB  in business now actively encourage more integrated, team-based and cross-disciplinary curricula. Similarly, the American Accounting Association  suggests that students be “active participants in the learning process, not passive recipients of information… identify and solve unstructured problems that require use of multiple information sources”, work in groups and emphasize learning by doing. In part because of recent emphasis on integrative design education by ASME , active, cross-disciplinary design education is increasingly well ensconced, particularly across disciplines in engineering schools. As overviewed in [27-30], collaborative team-based product design courses of various flavors are also offered at dozens of universities. Here at Lehigh, the disciplinary integration in design is particularly diverse: the Integrated Product Development program combines students and faculty from engineering, business and design arts in product development teams .
Community-based learning curricula have also appeared in a diverse array of fields because of their effectiveness in helping students develop higher-order skills and become more engaged citizens. The American Political Science Association has for many years emphasized experiential, service-learning opportunities within curricula . Service learning approaches have also been used with success in Nursing , English , Sociology [44, 45], Health Education , Environmental Science , Economics  and a host of other disciplines. Indeed as of late 1999, the AAHE Series on Service Learning in the Disciplines covers 18 volumes from different disciplines, from Philosophy to Biology, with more to come. At Lehigh alone, as discussed in more detail below, community-based-learning courses now exist in Theatre, Mechanical Engineering, Art, Architecture, History, Sociology, Political Science, Industrial Engineering, Journalism, Management, Civil Engineering, Environmental Science, Chemical Engineering, Sociology, Education, Chemistry, Marketing, Business Information Systems, Materials Science, and Economics.
Not only are such active, interdisciplinary, experiential, collaborative offerings increasingly popular, educational research evidence [31-47, 49-52] strongly suggests that they are more effective than traditional curricula from the perspective of developing higher-level cognitive skills such as critical thinking, communication and teamwork. William Weis  of the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University summarizes his experience: "The results of the experiment were far more positive than I could have imagined. …. [S]tudents who had opted for the service-learning opportunities learned more from those experiences than they would have learned by doing the make-believe projects...in the end the students felt they had learned more from dealing with real clients in service situations than they had learned in other courses where opportunities for practical application were not offered."
While individual reports may be criticized as anecdotal, the literature is overwhelmingly consistent with Professor Weis’ findings. As one major literature review  of more than 600 studies over the past 90 years put it:
“These studies have been conducted by a wide variety of researchers in different decades with subjects of different ages, in different subject areas, and in different settings. More is known about the efficacy of cooperative learning than about lecturing, departmentalization, the use of instructional technology, or almost any other aspect of education. The more one works in cooperative learning groups, the more that person learns, the better he understands what he is learning, the easier it is to remember what he learns, and the better he feels about himself, the class, and his classmates.… Through working together to learn complex conceptual information and master knowledge and skills, students learn more, have more fun, and develop many other skills, such as learning how to work with one another. Faculty, meanwhile, must provide the foundation and learning structures to guide their students in this new learning experience.”
Hence, the inquiry-based, multidisciplinary, team-oriented, experiential, community-based learning Lehigh CORPS.
Lehigh University's College of Business and Economics has since 1997 been developing and piloting a new multi-disciplinary, experiential, team-based program in regional and urban economic development. The Lehigh Community Research and Policy Service (Lehigh CORPS) is run principally by multi-disciplinary teams of undergraduate students from across all three of Lehigh’s undergraduate colleges (College of Business and Economics; P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science; College of Arts and Sciences).
Lehigh CORPS teams tackle real problems of economic development, planning and policy formulation. Teams work directly on projects in partnership with external client organizations. Because public policy and economic development are inherently multi-disciplinary, Lehigh CORPS teams consist of students from multiple disciplines across the social sciences, business, engineering, arts and sciences, integrating their expertise to respond to the needs of the partner organizations. By nature, economic development planning projects can include students and faculty across a wide range: e.g. economics, finance, marketing, law, urban studies, political science, public administration, history, sociology, environmental science, geology, architecture and engineering. For example, one team working on a site redevelopment strategy included students in architecture, economics, political science and mechanical engineering.
Students enroll in a 3-credit, one-semester (spring) course intended for juniors and seniors, although exceptional underclassmen can enroll with instructor permission. We team-teach this course with two faculty members. About 15-20 students have enrolled in the course the most recent two years and 12 in the first year pilot. In two cases in the first two years, students followed up their one-semester team project with more in-depth independent study work. In steady state, we anticipate undertaking approximately 6-8 projects each year with three to four students working on each project.
The Lehigh CORPS has four main goals:
In its first three years, Lehigh CORPS teams have worked with 16 client organizations. In our experience so far, we have found that student teams can usefully and professionally contribute to client needs and at the same time learn significantly on three broadly different types of projects.
1) Quantitative analysis of public data sources.
Our project mix has been roughly equally split among them, not by design but as a consequence of client and student interests.
In the first type, students identify, collect, organize and analyze statistical information from one or many sources to address questions of interest to the client. For example, one client, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, was interested in better understanding the dynamics of high growth regions like Raleigh-Durham, and how our area compared. So the student team benchmarked and did statistical and econometric analysis on patterns and sources of economic growth and changes in industry mix over the past 25 years in the Lehigh Valley with ten comparable cities nationally. This study used data from the Commerce Department, Bureau of Economic Analysis’ Regional Economic Information System. The team found that while the limited diversity of this area’s industries in previous decades was similar to patterns in other low growth cities such as Rochester, the relative decline of manufacturing and expansion of several other sectors made the Lehigh Valley’s industrial diversity much more similar to high growth areas. While growth in the early 1990s remained lower than national trends, the current diverse mix, they conjectured, was perhaps a good sign for the area’s future. The team did such outstanding work that their research report was released in the University’s Kalmbach Institute research working paper series, later published in a peer reviewed journal of undergraduate research , and was national runner-up for the Bernard J. McCarney Award for undergraduate research in economics.
Another project of this first type involved work with the Lehigh Valley Partnership Strategic Planning Committee. The Partnership is a collective of business and political leaders that has for several years advocated increased cooperation and joint operations across the region’s 62 municipalities and 17 school districts. They were interested in the extent to which the three major urban centers (Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton) bear a disproportional share of the burden of tax-exempt properties while simultaneously providing considerable services to the surrounding municipalities. The student team collected (a major chore in this case) and analyzed public tax assessment data from both counties in our area in order to compile estimates and comparisons, by municipality, of the total assessed value and foregone tax revenue of properties exempt from property taxes in the region. The study also broadly compared non-urban, suburban and urban centers in the region. The findings were striking, yet consistent with similar studies elsewhere in the country. The urban centers accounted for only 23 percent of the region’s taxable land value, but almost 50 percent of the tax-exempt assessed value, and because of higher tax rates 55 percent of the forgone taxes, more than twice that of the non-urban or suburban municipalities. The client was very pleased with the quality and professionalism of the team’s analysis, enough to formally release the report to the public and hold a news conference to present the student’s findings. Stories ran in several newspapers in the region.
As for the second type, though we were initially unsure, undergraduate teams with guidance are fully capable of designing and implementing useful original surveys within the semester timeframe. One big caveat here is that this requires the faculty to communicate the importance of nearly immediate progress by the team in the first couple weeks of the term. A second is that we believe a mentoring advisor with professional experience in survey research is important for increasing survey design and statistical validity.
Our poster-child example survey was done in conjunction with the Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau. This team developed, conducted and statistically analyzed a (randomized) mail survey of people who have received tourist information from the bureau. The survey and analysis addressed questions related to: 1) the perceptions of the Lehigh Valley as a tourist destination; 2) the effectiveness of the bureau’s promotional literature; 3) demographic profiles of those who actually visit the area and those who requested information but didn't visit the area, and 4) the spending levels and patterns of visitors. From a random sample of 1000 from the Bureau’s database, 248 people responded to the survey, an enviable 25 percent response rate to a single mailing. The team found the bureau’s literature to be effective and appreciated by recipients: About 98 percent had favorable views of the Lehigh Valley after receiving the survey, compared to 60 percent beforehand. Roughly 60 percent of recipients of the guide visited within one year, and the length of stay and average spending per visit was well above national tourism norms. The happy client formally released the report to the public and held a news conference in which the students presented their findings. Stories ran in all the regional news media, including TV, radio, newspapers and business press.
The third project type mixes qualitative and quantitative analysis and may use a variety of methods to make policy recommendations. An example is a study conducted for Good Shepherd Work Services (affiliated with Allentown’s Good Shepherd Hospital) which was considering opening a Reuse and Regeneration Center in Allentown. The Center’s multiple goals included reducing the waste disposal volumes and costs for the County and providing work training for people with disabilities and (in conjunction with Lehigh County vo-tech) for young people from area juvenile detention programs. Significant volumes of re-usable building materials and large furnishings and appliances are disposed of each year in municipal waste collection programs. A growing number of cities nationwide are opening refurbishment operations that entail retrieving these materials from the waste stream, refurbishing them and selling them through thrift-like retail establishments. Good Shephard was interested in how the Lehigh Valley’s potential would compare to the experience in those other areas. The student study projected the costs and revenues and disposal savings of the Center for Good Shepherd and for the County, based on detailed comparisons to results at similar centers throughout the country. The team also interviewed possible local sources of used materials, such as remodelers, home supply stores, and trash haulers in order to gauge interest and possible volumes. The team found that the center could be very marginally profitable within 3 to 5 years, without even including the broader savings to the County and the benefits of the work training. They recommended moving forward with planning, which the client has since done. Good Shepherd now hopes to open the ReUse Center by spring 2000.
We conclude this section with a brief list of projects undertaken in order give a broader sense of the scope and types of issues outside organizations have found useful and that undergraduate teams can successfully tackle. Appendix A includes more detailed description of all the projects and client organizations from the three years of the course. It may be worth mentioning that our expectations continue to rise as we discover what the students are capable of when challenged with compelling projects and an external client that is counting on them.
Other projects have involved:
Grades are based entirely on the project work; there are no other homework or exams. Student teams are responsible for managing themselves and developing their own work plans, constrained only by four due dates. They meet regularly with their client organizations, provide weekly oral and written progress briefings to (and get weekly feedback from) the faculty, give three formal oral and written reports on their current findings, methodologies and future plans and receive both written and oral feedback from the faculty and their peers. Teams conclude with final oral briefings at the offices of their project sponsors and deliver written reports on their project findings and recommendations together with supporting research workbooks. Again teams receive written and oral feedback. Each student also turns in a peer-evaluation form covering several dimensions of contributions by team members. Because the projects can differ significantly, and because we have no exams, after the pilot year we dropped the idea of having required textbooks as background. We recommend references, but now prefer to direct teams individually to materials relevant to their particular problem and skills.
The timeline of the course really begins a few months before with the process, discussed a bit more in section 6, of lining up client projects for the students to work on. It is worth stating here that this is far less time consuming than we originally thought, at most 10-20 hours between the two of us each year. By a week or two before classes begin we then compile a set of brief one-paragraph descriptions of potential projects.
We ask that a project manager from the sponsoring organization be available for student contact an hour or two per week, usually via e-mail and phone, and, if possible, to review the reports and to host periodic meetings and the final oral briefings.
Once the term begins, our calendar looks something like this:
1/13 Introduction, summary of projects
1/15 Sorting of students into project teams
1/22 Due: brief statement of the project after consultation with agency
2/17 & 19 Oral presentation of a complete problem statement and proposed methodology
3/29 & 31 Mid-semester oral briefing on sections II, III, and IV of the report (see Table 2)
3/31 Due: written draft of sections II, III & IV
4/26-30 Dry run of team presentations
5/3 Due: final reports and research workbooks
4/30-5/7 Oral presentation & submission of final report & research workbooks to agency
Based on the slow start our teams got in the pilot year of the course, we now require each to contact and meet with their client within a week after this sorting and then to deliver to us and the client a brief statement of work outlining the project.
Thereafter, instead of class meetings, each team meets one hour per week with one of us, switching between us on alternate weeks. At each meeting they deliver to us a written one page weekly progress report that includes their weekly plans for next steps. We also expect each team to meet once or twice per week outside their meetings with us, and regularly with their client.
About the fifth week of class we ask each team to prepare a 10-15 minute formal oral briefing, given to the rest of the class, with a complete problem statement and a proposed methodology. In the ninth or tenth week we ask for more in-depth oral presentations and a written draft of sections II-IV of the following report outline. By this time we hope that students have an in-depth understanding of and can articulate the problem at hand (II), how others have approached it and their findings (III), and have fully developed (and begun to implement) a defensible, rigorous and appropriate methodology (IV).
I. Executive Summary
II. Introduction & Problem Statement
III. Background Research
V. Findings & Analysis
VI. Conclusions & Recommendations
The final draft report is due after week 14, as is a dry run for the other teams of the final briefing to the client. The faculty and other student teams provide oral feedback for suggested improvements, and the faculty again prepare written evaluations. Finally, to reinforce the professional nature of the experience, we ask each team to present their findings in a formal oral presentation at the offices of the client, at which time the written reports as well as supporting research workbooks are delivered. After these presentations, several clients have arranged public press conferences to release the reports, simultaneously anxiety and thrill creating for the students, and an indication of the high quality and value of research that undergraduates are capable of.
4.1 Brief Summary of Evaluation
4.2 Survey Responses
Though only three years young, the Lehigh CORPS program has already received local and regional recognition for its innovative approach. In 1999 there were two full-blown press conferences on student reports out of 6 projects. This led to considerable media coverage with the tourism study covered on all local media. Two 1998 projects were the subject of news articles in the regional press. In one case, the project was covered in a full front page Sunday business section article in The Morning Call, the area’s leading newspaper, that included a photograph of the students working with their clients at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. The high level of media attention given to several course projects reaffirms the positive evaluations by the client agencies discussed above
Even more important than media attention is the fact that a few of the client agencies have taken policy steps to implement or apply the ideas developed in the student-team reports. As a result of the benchmarking and market analysis undertaken by the Lehigh Students, the board of Good Shepherd Work Services decided to proceed with plans for a Re-Use/Regeneration Center in Allentown. The Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation has decided to develop the Gateway Tract basically along the lines proposed by the student team studying that issue in 1998. On one parcel of land a Perkins restaurant has been built, while a medical office building is planned for the other parcel. This dual development plan was the one suggested in the student report. Finally, the director of the Hispanic-American Organization in Allentown responded to the student report on transportation barriers to successful welfare-to-work transitions by initiating an investigation into new training programs that she might offer. Other agencies have used the reports as background information to help set general policy objectives and a few have followed up the student report with further investigation on their own. As suggested by the survey responses summarized above, the agencies have generally treated the results of the student research as real studies with real implications for specific decisions or for policy stances open to them.
4.4 Our Academic Assessment of Project Reports
As with most undergraduate courses, the final reports prepared by our students have been of mixed quality. We feel that half of the studies have been at a very high level, one that we call ‘professional quality’. These include the study of industry mix and growth, the tax exempt property report, the survey study for the tourism bureau, the examination of the need for a new food market, and the gateway development study. These studies might have been written by paid consultants and those that were not overly specific could well have been published in academic journals. Two reports, on the entrepreneurial climate of the Lehigh Valley and the Good Shepherd Re-Use/Regeneration Center, came close to the professional quality level. Of all the studies done in the past two years, only one project was so weak that one might question giving 3 credit hours to the students involved. In terms of our subjective assessment, the reports produced by the students generally exceeded our expectations of what undergraduate students could accomplish and approached the level one might expect from researchers employed by the agencies or by consultants. And the work effort that went into the best studies also exceeds that shown by A-students in a typical Lehigh class.
During the pilot year of the program, we learned that we needed more structure, particularly in our weekly team meetings. With few firm deadlines from week to week, the weaker teams tended not to be as self-directed as they might have been. Since we hope to give any Lehigh student—not just a chosen few—the opportunity to participate in conceptualizing and undertaking independent research, we needed to provide greater structure and incentives without giving too detailed a roadmap.
That lead to three significant modifications. The first was that teams now have to within the first week meet with their client and construct what amounts to a memorandum of understanding about their project. This gets all the teams off to an immediate start, and we hope encourages early and mutual understanding of expectations. Second, to give more structure to the weekly meetings, each team prepares a weekly written progress report, which serves as the basis for discussion. These include their thoughts on next steps. We do not grade these, yet we’ve found that this simple step, asking the students to write down what they did and plan to do next, encourages increased activity from week to week and more regular introspective thought to project planning. Because the students know they have to write something down, in our experience teams have been less likely to collectively coast between firm due dates. Third, we now ask each team to maintain a professional project research workbook, to be delivered to the client at the end of the project. The research workbooks include copies of briefings, the weekly work records, an annotated bibliography of books, articles, data files, interview notes and other material used in the project, and copies of the final presentation prepared for the sponsoring agency.
In another modification after the pilot year, we provide more specific information up front about each project. The first time we identified several possible projects per client, assuming that flexibility had value, and that the students would then work with the client to identify their preferred topic. However, during a feedback discussion at the end of the term, there was significant sentiment among the students that they wanted to pick specific projects rather than simply client organizations. Importantly, students preferred more up-front clarity about what skill sets might be required (such as number crunching vs. interviewing vs. architecture). Several felt they ended up in projects somewhat different than what they’d initially thought, largely because two clients had presented projects the students liked, but then ended up encouraging them to tackle different ones. Though this early uncertainty is typical of real-world problem definition, the students, new to client consulting, were hesitant to push in alternate directions early on with the clients or with the faculty. Since then we have worked with each client organizations to pre-select single projects. We remain committed, however, to not over-defining each project, providing only a 50-100-word paragraph, in order to engage the students in the struggle of problem formulation. We try, in addition, to be clearer with the students up front that this struggle is part of the intended learning experience.
Our assessment of the course is substantially different now that we have increased the degree of structure in the course. It is worthwhile noting that five of the seven studies that met our “near-professional-quality” rating or better were produced by students in the second year after these changes were implemented.
There are two other ways in which this course more than passes muster as an academic exercise. First, the course allows students to extend their knowledge by applying what they’ve learned in other classes to a real project. This is perhaps most noticeable in the case of projects involving survey research. The students in these projects have come away with a greater appreciation of the difficulty of constructing good surveys and of the limited inferences one can make from survey responses. Second, in recent years business education has placed increased emphasis on communication skills and team problem solving. This course allows students to practice both skills in the context of a real project, thus extending the effect of classroom activities in other courses.
We are satisfied that the course meets its objectives. It provides a meaningful educational experience that adds value to a student’s program of study. And it meets the needs of community/economics development agencies for high-quality research on important issues. Our subjective assessment seems to be consistent with the feedback we have obtained from the attitude surveys discussed above.
4.5 Is Lehigh CORPS Institutionalized?
Moreover, to regularize the process of identifying community organizations and appropriate projects, Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which has well-established contacts with related organizations regionally, has volunteered its services. SBDC also now coordinates a similar procedure for IPD and for the Lehigh University Management Assistance Counseling (LUMAC) course and the Marketing Practicum course, similar courses in which student teams assist small businesses and non-profits in the community. The state evaluates SBDC, in part, based on its interaction with and support of University activities, so there is fruitful synergy here.
4.6 Areas for Improvement
A second improvement we have not fully pursued would be to aggressively recruit students from particular disciplinary areas, depending on the projects identified for a particular term. In particular, given the project mixes we have been getting, we hope to attract more students from architecture and more with some exposure to econometrics or geographic information systems (GIS). A wider set of students with these backgrounds would facilitate more in depth urban renewal and economic/geographic data analysis projects. At Lehigh, students pre-register for spring classes in mid-November, so we would need to move forward the date by which we try to nail down the potential projects. Another possibility would be to have students fill out an interest and background sheet during pre-registration when they come to get the required department permission to take the course. While we envision allowing any upper-level student to enroll, we could then select appropriate projects for the incoming skill mix.
A third weakness concerns the whole learning cycle of students as they progress from freshman level introductory courses through their upper-level coursework. Lehigh CORPS is targeted as an upper-level capstone experience for juniors and seniors, and as implemented is not appropriate for (most) lower-level students. However, we lack similar pedagogical approaches in our lower-level courses. Nonetheless, much of the pedagogic literature discussed above, for example both the AAHE and the Boyer Commission, recommends integrating active, inquiry-based, collaborative approaches into all levels of the curriculum. We have not yet moved strongly in that direction, either within Economics or more generally across the University. We undoubtedly should, and perhaps will as the new broader organizational framework and support structure discussed next matures.
In addition to evaluating the Lehigh CORPS itself, we also undertook a broader assessment of the institution’s commitment and capacity for such programs. This included a comprehensive set of interviews with faculty and administrators across campus, including every department chair. The short version of our conclusions is that within the past five years the integration into Lehigh’s curriculum of inquiry-based, collaborative, experiential opportunities such as community-based-learning has increased rapidly and continues to accelerate. Moreover, with recent organizational changes directly related to the positive experience of the Lehigh CORPS and related programs, support appears healthy and well institutionalized. We hope and believe it has moved well beyond the ad-hoc character of the energetic but mostly short-lived courses faculty have occasionally offered in the past. In words, deeds and resources the institutional leadership and a significant fraction of the faculty have demonstrated sincere commitment to making such curricular opportunities a hallmark of a Lehigh education. However, these opportunities, while better than they have been, still need to be increased by a factor of two if we are to include all Lehigh undergraduates, and could be far better integrated with lower-level curriculum and non-curricular aspects of student-life.
5.1 History of Integrated Learning Experiences at Lehigh
First Catalyst: IPD and Curricular Reform Driven by Changing Engineering
The first year the process was traditional chalk and talk, with no real integration across disciplines outside the guest lectures, which the students largely found boring and too disjointed. More importantly, it left untapped the community potential of about 75 smart, energetic, potentially creative ME students a year, creating little or no value beyond the course participants. At the time, teams of 3-4 ME students in the course did design and prototyping projects dreamed up by faculty advisors (better widgets) or very occasionally by the students themselves. Nearly uniformly the projects and any potential external value died at the end of the course.
Fortunately, the ME course faculty lead was hugely energetic, and he and the Business and Economics lead began looking for ways to massage this existing course. We did in simple stages over the next several years. In 1994, we first eliminated the parade of talking head guest lecturers and jointly planned and co-taught the course between the two of us, while other faculty also serve as individual project advisors. We integrated the business material fully throughout the course, rather than as an afterthought on an existing course. At the same we time advertised a pilot for business students to join the course and be part of product development teams with the engineers. Eight business students enrolled. We also found four external organizations in the community with product ideas, and assigned the four engineering-business integrated student teams to those projects. The external organizations were: the local children’s science museum; a PA-based charity group of retired engineers who design for applications in less-developed nations; and two local small businesses. By 1996 the integrated course moved from pilot to fully on the books, cross-listed in both business and engineering. Over the next several years, we continued to expand to have all the projects have outside sponsors, most in the local community. We also brought in art and information systems students and faculty to expand the multi-disciplinary design experience.
What emerged was Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) Program, discussed in more detail in . It is the first, and to our knowledge, the only undergraduate program in the nation to fully integrate students and faculty from the three fundamental pillars of successful product design and commercialization: design arts, engineering and business. In the capstone course, teams of engineering, business and design arts students and faculty work together to produce technical and business feasibility studies, mock-ups of design ideas, working prototypes and business plans. At the same time, by emphasizing a working relationship with organizations in the external community, IPD has unleashed—without exaggeration—tens of thousands of hours of student and faculty thinking as a resource to the community. Most of the design projects are done for small and medium-sized entrepreneurial business or non-profits in this rust-belt region. Currently, roughly 120 juniors and seniors and 15-20 faculty from a variety of disciplines participate annually.
In terms of institutionalizing service to the community in the curriculum, IPD is firmly entrenched. The capstone course is a required course in the curriculum of departments in all three of Lehigh’s undergraduate colleges, IPD has percolated up to a top developmental priority of the University, with well over $3 million raised so far in program support. Plans are to double the number of students over the next few years and to complete fundraising for a $5.2 million renovation of an historic powerhouse on campus to serve as a design and prototyping resource for the students and local small businesses.
In addition to this demonstrated potential for generating significant external funding for curriculum and undergraduate research, a second factor that helped sell the program internally was the national exposure it gained. It was national winner in 1996 of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s Curriculum Innovation Award. IPD was also honored the same year by the Newcomen Society of the United States, an organization of business leaders and professionals that promotes pubic and scholarly understanding of the American free enterprise system. IPD was featured in US News Best Colleges Guide, and IPD student designs have been displayed in the innovation wing of the Smithsonian, appeared several times in the New York Times and on national television.
Second Catalyst: Lehigh Earth Observatory
Operated largely by undergraduate students, LEO has a broad charge to monitor and study earth and environmental systems and the ways in which these systems interact with human society. The primary motive is to understand the ways in which ecological, geological, and anthropogenic processes together shape our communities and our modern environment. The observatory is dedicated to active observation of natural phenomena, particularly in our region, to archiving information about the earth and its environmental systems, to analyzing that information, and to communicating effectively the results of its observations and studies to community users whose activities impact the earth. LEO reaches beyond the traditional bounds of science, drawing students from environmental engineering and the broad arena of environmental studies (environmental policy, management, economics, journalism, art, and philosophy) to participate in observatory activities.
Again now firmly entrenched in the institution, LEO has become with IPD a second flagship undergraduate program of the University and a developmental priority, having already raised more than a million dollars. A significant fraction of this supports 30-50 undergraduates per year doing credit-bearing research and multidisciplinary team projects with environmental conservation organizations in our area.
Third Catalyst: AAHE Summer Academy
“Change is overtaking American higher education. Virtually all institutions are finding that they need to address a challenging mix of student needs, economic pressures and technological opportunities. For a number of reasons—the potential for three-college cooperation, a significant core of faculty committed to teaching innovation and a rich technological environment—Lehigh is well positioned at the forefront of this change. However, for Lehigh to become a distinctive leader, requires nothing less than the transformation of our teaching culture from one grounded in traditional instruction to one which encourages, recognizes and rewards learning-centered teaching.”
But how? The Vice Provost was aware of the interests of the IPD faculty and the LEO faculty in moving curriculum towards more active, multidisciplinary, project based experiences. She and the Director of Faculty Development invited the three combined groups, LEO, IPD and the AAHE Summer Academy team to a series of joint brainstorming meetings. We began to discuss how to foster opportunities similar to IPD and LEO in the widest possible variety of fields across campus.
The Final Catalyst: the Integrated Learning Experiences Faculty Working
The ILE group developed a proposal to the University President for a budget to support pilot ILE courses and programs at Lehigh, and to give small grants through a competitive campus-wide call for proposals. The President agreed to fund the first year at $50,000. During Spring 1997, the group funded eight proposals, largely supporting faculty time to develop these new curricula, and in one case a key piece of analytic software for student and faculty use. Seven of the eight had components of community outreach. One of these was a pilot grant of $10,500 for the Lehigh CORPS. Though the new courses vary widely, from industrial history to on-line publishing to environmental monitoring, the common ILE tenets are that these experiences are active, collaborative, multidisciplinary problem-based learning, on authentic projects for organizations in the external community.
5.2 Ventures: the New University-Wide Organizational Umbrella and
So to combat the loss of momentum, during the fall of 1998, the ILE group again convened to devise a strategy for broadening institutional support for making these types of experiences a hallmark of a Lehigh undergraduate education. After some brainstorming, the group drafted recommendations to the Provost. We pushed hard and probably a bit too impatiently. We felt in this arena Lehigh was already outperforming our large competitors by a significant margin, but as a key ingredient in a Lehigh education they lacked visibility and universality. We also felt that the greatest strength of the existing and emerging programs was their grass-roots character. Faculty leadership, not directives from the administration, would be essential if we were going to increase such opportunities for our students.
Thankfully, and finally, the Provost in January, 1999, followed our recommendations and announced the establishment of a new University priority with a $150,000 annual budget and a Faculty Fellow position in the Provost’s office responsible for expanding ILE and other inquiry-based educational experiences across campus. At last, a university-wide organizational umbrella and support structure was born. We call it Ventures. The Provost asked one of the authors (Watkins) to take on the role of Faculty Fellow, and he now serves half time in that capacity, half time teaching, which includes IPD and Lehigh CORPS. A now formal faculty advisory group works with the Faculty Fellow to promote Ventures throughout the university.
At heart, Ventures is a faculty initiative that strives to enable Lehigh to remain at the forefront among research universities in developing and implementing innovative pedagogies. In particular, Ventures emphasizes learning based on inquiry and discovery guided by mentoring. Ventures promotes a Lehigh where inquiry-based learning, community-based-learning, collaborative experiences and close mentoring relationships are fundamental to the educational culture. Ventures aims to make such experiences a Lehigh hallmark. We believe that Lehigh will continue, with substantial but feasible investment, to develop and promote a distinct competency: the opportunity for all Lehigh students, not just a select few, to interact closely with faculty, peers and the community in inquiry-based learning.
The Ventures mission is fourfold:
1. Promote inquiry-based learning, collaborative experiences and close
Ventures supports innovative instructional initiatives along a continuum from new conceptions of close, one-on-one mentoring relationships to multi-college collaborations among students and faculty. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, broadly overlapping activities such as: community service and outreach, design and artistic creation, undergraduate research, integrated learning experiences and interdisciplinary student projects.
Through competitive calls for funding proposals, the $150,000 annual budget supports faculty time directly and indirectly to launch sustainable Ventures for our undergraduates. Items that can be funded include faculty release time, summer support, teaching assistant support, equipment, materials and software. The Ventures initiative funds a number of proposals each term, but that number is not fixed. Funded proposals are intended to become part of the University’s permanent undergraduate educational opportunities.
The faculty advisory group evaluates proposals in the spirit of, but not limited by, the following criteria:
In the first full year, Ventures funded 14 proposals, the majority community-based-learning oriented, involving 30 faculty members. Grants ranged from $1000 to $21,800, and enabled the community to open the undergraduate resource tap, as the new offerings will engage hundreds of upper-level undergraduates annually. In the future, we hope to foster similar opportunities for lower-level students.
Another early task of the Faculty Fellow was to undertake during summer 1999 a comprehensive inventory of the (as it turned out) dozens of Ventures-like opportunities that now exist on campus, and to begin working with admissions and university communications to more widely recognize and celebrate these unique opportunities for Lehigh undergraduates. By that census, more than 700 students participated in 1998-1999. At this rate, we estimate that more than half of Lehigh’s 4500 undergraduates now engage in at least one such experience before they graduate as an important part of their education. This involves in some way roughly one quarter of the faculty members, and amounts to 2-3 percent of the credit hours awarded to undergraduates.
A sample of new and existing undergraduate opportunities now within the Ventures umbrella might help illustrate our enthusiasm and also how community service related activities are now solidly integrated in upper-level undergraduate curriculum throughout the university. These are in addition to the Lehigh CORPS, LEO and IPD programs discussed above.
Beyond that, one yet unmet challenge would be moving the pedagogic approach into lower-level coursework. Prospects here are more uncertain, as pilot models are just beginning to emerge. As Ventures matures, we hope and fully intend it will move beyond piloting upper-level programs and help integrate similar philosophies into introductory offerings across campus.
A second, more daunting challenge will be to integrate Ventures and other curricular initiatives with the non-curricular aspects of student life. The goal should be truly integrated education that fully leverages what is unique about a residential research university the size of Lehigh. Our review did not attempt to evaluate the community service and other student and residential life programs outside of the curriculum, of which there are many examples. It is fair to say that the faculty as a whole has not seriously considered the wider view of the whole-student experience in designing and implementing curriculum. These two realms of an undergraduate’s learning experiences here are unfortunately overwhelmingly separated both organizationally and more fundamentally in the minds of the students and faculty. Just one illuminating data point: few of the department chairs we interviewed knew who Lehigh’s community service coordinator was, and the majority did not even know we had one. We remain optimistic and proud of our progress, but much work remains.
6. Lessons Learned
6.1 Do Authentic Projects for Real Clients.
Based on six years of working with sponsored projects, both within Lehigh CORPS and in other programs, a critical component to success is the active participation of the outside sponsor both in project selection and in providing the student teams with context, demand and utility for the results and information. The project must be tractable and at the same time not so critical that client would face significant problems should their undergraduate team produce sub-professional results.
That said, as we indicated above we have been pleasantly surprised at the low fraction of teams that do not live up to full expectations. We have as a result considerably raised the bar in terms of our expectations about what student teams can and should accomplish. In large part this is because students and faculty alike see what previous teams have done and aim to do better.
6.2 Provide Multiple Opportunities for Students to Present and Reflect
on Their Ideas.
We have several approaches to encourage students to present and reflect on their ideas. The most informal are the required weekly meetings among each student team. With two or three peers they need from week to week to decide what key issues the team faces and collectively decide how to tackle them. Though we do not monitor these meetings, if the literature on collaborative education is right, this immediate peer feedback can be a valuable learning experience.
The next, only slightly more formal level is the weekly meeting with the faculty advisor. We try to focus these meetings and our feedback on key issues by having each team come prepared with a brief written summary of their accomplishments during the week and plans for the near future. This makes them collectively reflect, ahead of time, on where they have been and where they need to go. Though we meet only one hour per week with each team, we find that we are able to provide far more, more frequently and more targeted feedback to each student than we would in a traditional classroom. We have pushed, for example, a very capable team to develop multivariate econometric models based on concepts from their recent labor economics course, and explored sources of data, data limitations and econometric modeling problems in testing their original hypotheses. At the other end with other students, we re-acquainted them with and exercised notions of medians, statistical variance and basic spreadsheet skills. At either end the students were challenged to and wanted to move beyond their current capacities in order to address their clients’ questions. At either end, there was a sense of accomplishment and reward well beyond grades for the effort.
Another level involves three quasi-formal interim oral briefings that each team gives to the whole class through the semester, at roughly 1/3rd intervals in the semester. This does at least three things. First, the focusing lens of a public presentation in front of their peers requires each team to organize and distill their thoughts and be prepared to defend them. Second, the process of and feedback from preparing, giving, and watching others give presentations exercises and we think clearly improves communication skills. The quality and professionalism of the talks is demonstrably far higher at the end of the term than the first time through.
Third, students see the economic development and research issues that each of the other teams faces. This significantly broadens the context for them, illuminating the breadth and diversity of the types of problems in the field of regional economic development. Admittedly this approach cannot cover the full scope of the field, as a textbook might. However, we believe the fairly ad hoc collection of the topics is more than made up for in the depth of student interest and understanding--and presumably superior long term retention. Because they share with peers going through the same process of inquiry and discovery, the presentations and class discussion personalizes the issues like no textbook can. They share the struggle over the types of questions their peer teams are asking, the methodologies and background materials brought to bear on these other economic development problems, and as a class can collectively brainstorm and reflect on each team’s approach while in progress.
One more formal level of presentation and reflection entails the draft written reports and research workbooks. The value of the process of completing and getting feedback on written report drafts will be familiar to most reading this. The only point we might add here is that we find it very useful to ask for a brief written memorandum of understanding within the first week after the teams meet their client. This engages early-stage collective reflection and decision making on problem definition and planning, and involving the client provides context and ensures that their efforts will have authentic value. The research workbooks may not be as familiar. We ask that teams present these at project’s end to their client. Teams must organize their raw data, interview notes, background papers and weekly meeting notes. In the process we hope they develop habits of documentation potentially useful later in their professional lives while at the same regularly distilling the raw materials and reflecting on what materials might be relevant to their client
Finally, the most formal level involves the final oral and written reports to the client, generally at the client’s offices. Here the anxiety factor has its strongest incentive, and we’ve found it a significant magnitude greater than for traditional final in-class presentations. The payoff is far higher as well, in the form of the students’ often-palpable internal rewards for presentations well done, recommendations seriously considered and kudos from professionals. Grading schemes simply cannot match the incentive and reward effects.
While it is possible that our experience is unusual, it does seem to match closely the pedagogic recommendations of others. The National Society for Experiential Education's Principles of Good Practice in Student Community Service-Learning, for example, suggests that: "The service experience alone does not ensure that either good service or good learning will occur. Both are improved by frequent opportunities for conscious reflection on the experience and critical analysis of the issues involved. This interplay of action and reflection on experience is central to service-learning. Seminars, carefully planned journals, discussions among service learners, conversations with those being served, faculty conferences with students, debriefing sessions, analysis papers, public presentations, and creative artistic expressions are examples of reflective practice which can help the experience become much more than a one-time service opportunity.” Based on the Lehigh CORPS we wholeheartedly concur. Lectures, textbooks, problem sets and tests have fundamental utility in curricula, but should not constitute the entirety.
6.3 Resource Needs Are Manageable.
This plus less than $75 for one mailing is all the resources required to operate the Lehigh CORPS. We consider the minimal non-teaching resources required a very positive factor in our success in institutionalizing Lehigh CORPS. Very little is needed outside of the faculty teaching commitment (approximately a $25,000 annual cost to the university including standard fringes and overhead) and the (largely informal conversational) time spent lining up projects. If we assume that the faculty resources involved would be employed anyway, the real opportunity cost of the course is simply the loss of one section of something else—in our case probably a traditional lecture-based course. If we could add anything we do not now have, a small budget might be useful to cover costs of bigger surveys or occasional data purchases. This would allow some of the teams to expand the depth of their research. Though this would be nice, it is not critical to the fundamental learning experience. So too, client organizations have been largely satisfied with the results to date.
Moreover, there are benefits to us as well as the time costs. We are learning along side our students as they tackle problems that we have never struggled with ourselves, sometimes stimulating thinking about our research agendas. We also get more psychic reward in teaching this way since the students are considerably more engaged, and their time and our time might actually have real value to the community. And for a bit of fun, the projects sometimes have resulted in the students’ and our names in the media. We conclude, then, that the resource costs are equivalent or lower than traditional courses while the benefits are higher.
6.4 Consider Team Teaching
6.5 Time Finding and Screening Projects is Well Spent.
An additional screening criteria should be the level of interest of the client, their willingness to commit time (an hour or two a week commitment is what we ask) to dealing with student inquiries, and their level of understanding of and willingness to accommodate the pedagogic goals. Regular communication and coordination along these lines between the students, faculty and client has proven indispensable.
We would also recommend establishing as early as possible standard processes for finding and dealing with clients. An ad hoc, catch-client-as-catch-can process of finding projects could dissipate scarce faculty energy. Throughout the year we informally discuss possible projects with our personal contacts in economic development groups in the region. More formally, roughly two months before the course begins, we distribute a letter seeking expressions of interest to our mailing list of members of the Lehigh Valley Economics Club, close to 200 business and political leaders, economic development professionals and academics that meets twice a year to discuss economic development issues of common interest. Conveniently, the Club has been administered under auspices of the University by one of the authors (Hyclak). Based on our informal discussions and also on the responses to the letter, we then generally have several discussions with potential clients in order to ensure appropriate scope and focus for the projects.
6.6 Consider a Mentoring Program Using Former Students as Advisors.
We learned this tip from two Lehigh faculty members who, as only 1/5 of their teaching load, direct 75-100 students annually doing real-client team projects in small business management consulting in the Lehigh Management Assistance Counseling program (LUMAC). This was also then adopted successfully in IPD, discussed above, involving about 120 students annually on 20-25 integrated product design teams. Student mentors in both LUMAC and IPD have turned out to be surprisingly good at dealing with many of the day-to-day project team management and student coordination issues. And the mentors learn some teaching, communication and leadership skills at the same time.
6.7 Just do it.
The relative (by university standards) speed of implementation of Lehigh
CORPS and the institutionalizing of the approach throughout the university
in Ventures were fundamentally helped by the existing campus experience
with similar programs in management consulting (LUMAC), product design
(IPD) and environmental research (LEO). However, colleges and universities
can be highly political and idiosyncratic places, so there is likely to
be no substitute for local experimentation about what works for each institution.
Our approach has been to move forward, learning as we go.
1. How Important is Broadband Communications Access in Business Location
2. Attracting and Retaining a Technology Workforce.
3. Assessing the E-Readiness of Local Manufacturers.
4. What Factors Influence Student and Faculty Attendance at Arts Center
5. Community Quality of Life Indicators.
1. Fresh Food Market Impact Project.
2. Profile of Tourists and Potential Tourists to the Lehigh Valley.
3. The Impact of Tax-Exempt Properties on Lehigh Valley Cities.
4. Transportation Barriers to Successful Welfare to Work Transitions.
5. The Vitality of the Local Entrepreneurial Environment.
6. Lehigh County Reuse and Regeneration Center.
1998 Projects (first pilot as stand-alone course)
1. Comparing Economic Growth Patterns and Industry Mix.
2. Redevelopment Strategies for the Gateway Tract.
3. Benchmarking Wages by Industry and Skill Level.
4. Slum Landlords in South Bethlehem.
1997 Projects (first pilot, minor projects as part of Urban Economics course)
1. - 3. Municipal Finances and Government Consolidation.
4. Attracting Businesses to Downtown Macungie.
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