Lehigh University campus to become 'invention incubator'

Lauren Williams's picture

Imagine that rather than going to Walmart, you could get that new cellphone case by hitting a button on your 3D printer. Or that earthquake victims in underdeveloped countries could build themselves new homes out of mud. Or that your car was so light that it could get twice the gas mileage on half the engine.

Those are the kind of futuristic concepts Scott Belair is convinced soon will be developed by the brightest student minds at Lehigh University.

Belair, a 1969 graduate and co-founder of Urban Outfitters, has donated $20 million to Lehigh to help transform a series of cavernous former Bethlehem Steel buildings on the Mountaintop Campus into a classroom of the future. He envisions the kind of classroom — with 40-foot ceilings and no dividing walls — where there would be few limits on students' ideas or on the space to develop them.

"There will be no lecture halls and no lectures," said Belair, who three years after graduating from Lehigh founded the now $5.3 billion apparel company that has more than 450 retail stores worldwide. "And it's not just new ideas and new products. It's a new way to educate people. It's limitless."

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