Lehigh University has long embraced interdisciplinary environmental education and research as part of its mission to educate and prepare students for the challenges that face our society. On Tuesday, the community recognized the physical manifestation of this commitment with the formal dedication and celebration of the new Science, Technology, Environment, Policy and Society (STEPS) facility.
STEPS marks an important milestone in the university’s 145-year history. Under an etched window of an oak tree with attendees watching from the balconies lining the five floors of the atrium, President Alice P. Gast, Sam Niedbala ‘84G ‘86G, professor of practice in chemistry, and Frank Pazzaglia, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, recognized the generosity and contributions of the people who helped make the facility a reality.
“As a world-class institution, Lehigh must take the lead on such vital issues of our times,” Gast said. “Bringing diverse faculty and students from a variety of disciplines under one roof will enable us to confront these challenges from multiple perspectives. It will provide the best opportunity to advance our knowledge and spark the discussions needed to generate viable solutions.”
The university broke ground on the 135,000-square-foot facility in the summer of 2008 and completed construction for the fall 2010 semester. Today, STEPS provides a truly interdisciplinary environment where natural and social scientists and engineers work collaboratively. The building features offices for 80 faculty, staff, and graduate students, 50 research and state-of-the-art teaching labs, as well as 10 classrooms, computer labs, seminar rooms, and a 75-seat auditorium.
Addressing important environmental challenges
STEPS represents a true coming together of Lehigh and local community members in an effort to educate the next generation of environmentally aware students. Contributions from local corporate partners, such as Air Products, Alvin H. Butz Company, PPL and Lutron, supported the creation of educational spaces.
"We couldn’t be prouder to support STEPS at Lehigh and we appreciate the chance to be so involved,” said Air Products Chairman and CEO John McGlade '76 '80G. “The opportunity for students to learn and collaborate across disciplines mirrors the way our teams work at Air Products.”
Pazzaglia said that the facility is another important stride in Lehigh’s outreach effort to community, educational and industry partners. “The message is that we are faced with important environmental challenges, but we best address them together, dedicated to understanding, managing, conserving, and enhancing the environment and the ecosystem services it provides.”
The $62.1 million facility also reflects Lehigh’s commitment to environmental principles and was designed to meet the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The “green” facility is complemented by large public art installations created by nationally renowned artist Larry Kirkland, who created pieces that reflect the natural environment.
"We are very pleased with the design of the building and how it fits into the campus. The architects, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, did a truly masterful job,” said Tony Corallo, associate vice president for facility services and campus planning. “We are especially pleased with how it has been received and accepted by the entire Lehigh community.”
The official dedication included a ceremonial tying of ribbons on a young white oak tree by Gast, Pazzaglia, Anne Meltzer, the Herbert and Ann Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and David Wu, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering & Applied Science.
“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 Meltzer. “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.”
Photos by Douglas Benedict