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STEPS: Reaching a 5-Year Milestone While Providing for a Better World

Through the many efforts of alumni, faculty, parents, friends, and community partners, the STEPS building continues to be a seedbed where new ideas, cutting-edge research, and future scientists and professionals are formed through interdisciplinary cooperation. Together, they will help to shape a healthier, more vibrant world.

Since its dedication in 2011, STEPS has been integral in building collaboration among science, technology, the environment, policy, and society to address major environmental issues. In the past five years, many developments have taken place and many new faculty are working with the growing number of students enrolling in the sciences who are interested in helping to solve environmental challenges.

“We are extremely pleased with STEPS ⎯ it’s exceeded our expectations, providing superb space for interdisciplinary research and learning and beautiful public space for the larger Lehigh community to gather, meet, and study,” said Anne Meltzer, Francis J. Trembley Chair in Earth and Environmental Sciences. “On any given day, it’s wonderful to see a significant number of students, faculty, and staff making use of the wonderful spaces in the building.”

The LEED-certified facility was designed to enable collaborative learning and eliminate boundaries between the classroom and the lab. Departments who have a presence or are housed in STEPS include earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, biological sciences, and civil and environmental engineering. Faculty members associated with STEPS represent education, international relations, history, journalism and communication, political science, sociology, and anthropology. The close proximity of cross-discipline experts in these fields allows them to work together on issues such as water quality, climate change, alternative energies, and resource development. The seminar rooms and auditorium host renowned scientists and researchers who lecture on the important work they are doing throughout the world.

Sam Niedbala ’83G ’86G, professor of practice and an alumnus of the department of chemistry, was fundraising chair for the building campaign for STEPS. He remarked that students quickly adopted the spaces in STEPS, sharing that some of the first things they heavily utilized were the study and common areas.

“The students even take advantage of how to receive food deliveries late at night,” said Niedbala.

Undergraduate Research

STEPS provides the stimulating environment needed to foster teaching opportunities and breakthroughs in environmental research. To enhance the student experience, many of the 50 labs have transitioned from “canned” laboratory experiments to problem-based research that better prepares students to think creatively and to experience the joy of discovery.

Undergraduate research symposia for engineering, chemistry, and biological sciences are held each spring in the STEPS lobby. More and more students present their work which is a testament to the tremendous appetite Lehigh students and faculty have for exploration and the outstanding facilities available to them.

Among the displays of student and faculty research activities, rock formations, and ecosystems that line the sunlit halls of STEPS, there are plaques recognizing the generosity of Lehigh alumni, parents, friends, foundations, and corporate partners who made the construction and dedication of this state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary facility possible.

Environmental Initiatives Galore in STEPS

STEPS is also home to the Energy Systems Engineering Institute (ESEI) and the Environmental Initiative (EI). ESEI, a ten-month, professional master’s of engineering program, prepares graduates of engineering and related disciplines to assume technical leadership roles in this evolving field. It is a novel partnership that promotes research, education, and technology transfer in energy systems.

EI is an interdisciplinary program whose mission is to advance understanding and awareness of humanity’s role in and interaction with our natural environment through research, teaching, and outreach. Affiliated faculty, students, and staff conduct research in areas including communications, earth science, economics, policy, and geo-environmental engineering.

Through the Lehigh Earth Observatory (LEO) and affiliated departments and scholars, EI works with community organizations to provide scholarly information and data about local and national environmental problems. Through LEO, students participate in internships in which they conduct environmental fieldwork and data collection, and link the scientific data with societal and political effects. LEO maintains a database of collected environmental data which is used across the university and beyond to illustrate and understand environmental processes.

Through the STEPS and EI Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships, funding is provided to encourage students from all majors and colleges to engage in six- or 10-week creative, independent research under faculty supervision. Research focuses derive from the intersection of energy, environment, policy, economics, and sustainability. Topics have included studies of food security and environmental sustainability in the Lehigh community, the improvement of indoor air quality locally, forest enrichment and water quality testing in Costa Rica, and the impact of shale gas extraction on political participation in northeastern Pennsylvania. The programs in Costa Rica are available to students with financial need through internships funded by the Lee Iacocca International Internship Program.

By Patrick Hockenberry