Mehta Presents On Human Centered Design, Innovation

Khanjan Mehta, vice provost for creative inquiry and director of the mountaintop initiative at Lehigh University, believes a university is bigger than blackboards and textbooks.  

“I’m a non-traditional academic,” Mehta said. “And I believe very deeply that a university is a place where you find your plae in the universe.” 

Mehta talked about creativity and innovation at an in-person lecture, “Human-Centered Design: From Creative Inquiry to Sustainable Impact,” on Oct. 28. At the beginning of the talk, Mehta reflected on technology’s effect on the world. 

“Technology’s acceleration is changing every aspect of how we live, how we learn, how we love, how we travel, how we do everything we do, but it’s also causing discontinuities,” Mehta said. “It’s just fundamentally changing the human experience.” 

COVID-19, too, changed society in irreversible ways, Mehta said. 

“I think we’re gonna see more of this post-COVID great resignation, and people figuring out what they want to do with their life, and having clear preferences and whether they want to work from home or go to office and the kinds of things they want to do, or not want to do, because we’ve all realized that life is short,” Mehta said. “And we want to do the kinds of things that really make us happy.” 

Mehta then described the projects funded through the Mountaintop Initiative, along with the skills that students develop through these projects, Mehta said. The Global Social Impact Fellowship, one of those projects, addresses sustainable development issues in impoverished countries, he said.

The mountaintop initiative projects allow students to develop empathy, creativity, and skills in communication and collaboration, according to Mehta. 

“Creative inquiry [is] about pursuing new intellectual pathways, learning from failure, being more resilient design thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, systems thinking, seeing the forest and the trees pursue data-driven and evidence-based approaches,” Mehta said. 

Through the programs, students get hands-on learning experiences before classroom-style learning, Mehta said.

“But I only wanted to learn something when I could see how that learning could be applied to do the kinds of things that I cared about, right,” Mehta said. “And so my programs now are all about, do first, learn later.” 

Mehta said that many projects fail before one might succeed. Factors like location, affordability, and product reach, all affect the success of the product a project creates, according to Mehta. 

“​​So when we think of sustainable and scalable solutions, … it’s about solutions that are technologically appropriate, environmentally benign, culturally acceptable, and economically sustainable,” stated Mehta. 

At the end of the presentation, Mehta encouraged the event’s attendees to begin their own initiatives. He said BC was on the right path with a strong foundation in community service and reflection. 

“It’s all about that passion and how you funnel it, that’s the big question here,” Mehta said.

Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / Heights Staff

November 2, 2021