Urban Outfitters Founder Wants Lehigh University Students Inventing Instead Of Taking Exams

Sean Levinson

The co-founder of Urban Outfitters is donating $20 million to Lehigh University to turn two steel research labs on its Mountaintop campus in Pennsylvania into “invention incubators,” where the college’s most innovative minds can bring their world-changing ideas to reality.

But to achieve the freedom these minds need to flourish, the students won’t be subjected to the same “restrictions” caused by typical college classes, such as tests, homework, teachers, and the need to actually attend class.

According to the Allentown Morning Call, students enrolled in Scott Belair‘s “Mountaintop Project” will spend an entire semester creating solutions to the world’s most urgent problems.

The program will put the kids inside two gigantic buildings with no walls so they can use the space to just go crazy on whatever projects they’ve been thinking about and feed off each other’s ideas at the same time.

“There will be no lecture halls and no lectures,” Belair, who graduated from Lehigh in 1969, told the newspaper. “And it’s not just new ideas and new products. It’s a new way to educate people. It’s limitless,” he added.

Selected students were placed in the buildings this summer with the necessary materials to see how productive one day in the incubators would be, and the experiment was a success.

Some of the projects included disaster-relief houses being built out of mud, rice bags and barbed wire and a new system for crop production and water filtration, the Morning Call reports.

The two 12,000 square-foot buildings were previously owned by Bethlehem Steel, the world’s second largest steelmaker.

“I envision a 24-hour campus with hundreds of students,” Belair told the Morning Call. “A place where the ideas never stop coming. This is just the beginning. This is the future.”

The program will act as a study abroad program where students can receive similar school credit. Most of Belair’s money will go towards architects and designers who will decide how the buildings need to be renovated to maximize student production.

Over the summer, another team of students produced a documentary about the first days of the program.

Ivy Ochieng, a senior who is studying humanitarian engineering and architecture, said the program was chaotic but inspiring.

“When I first heard of it I was really nervous, because I wasn’t sure about the expectations. But at the same time it was exciting because the options are limitless,” she said. “You are the master of your own fate you make the rules.”

In a statement, Lehigh University President Alice Gast called the Mountaintop Project a historically significant venture and said she is “enormously grateful to Scott for his vision.”

Via: Morning Call, Top Photo Credit: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Sean Levinson

Staff Writer

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