Story and photos by Stephen Wilson

What you see may vary as you walk along the shoulder of Bushkill Drive where it traces the creek near Cemetery Curve. Some will see an auto mechanic garage followed by some dilapidated buildings, a series of fenced-off industrial properties, and then a few single-family homes. Others will look past what is there and only see what could be.

Students who participated in the recent Technology Clinic saw both.

In its 30th year, the Tech Clinic is a two-semester course in which an interdisciplinary team of students work together on imaginative solutions to real-world problems for clients.

Dressed in business attire, seven students stand in front of a packed lecture hall. All look eager to present how to best develop/redevelop the Bushkill Drive corridor from 13th Street to the backside of the College’s campus.

In the room are the primary clients: City of Easton officials and Lafayette College administrators—both past and present.

Two screens are lit behind the students: One shows a map of Bushkill Drive while the other illuminates the first slide of a PowerPoint presentation. The document is nearly 60 pages and represents a year of collaborative work.

The Team

Weeks earlier in the basement of Pardee Hall, the same students are gathered around a table. It’s noon so a few are picking at lunches before them.

The table is covered with laptops, phones, notebooks, papers, old coffee mugs, and past reports.

Kayla Zola ’18 and Lexi Kelley ’19 are talking QR codes while Alexander Homsi ’19 and Francesca Blood ’18 are refining a park on a digital map. Andrew Chuma ’19 is talking about parking, and Laura Strang ’18 assigns sections of the final report. Sydney Edelson ’19 had a conflict that afternoon but has promised to send details on her environmental center.

At the head of the table sit the faculty leads: Jim Toia, director of community-based teaching in art, and Dave Brandes, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-chair of  programs in environmental science and studies.

Talking in pockets about specific details, it’s clear the team is well-oiled.

“It took us a few weeks to get comfortable with each other and learn each other’s styles, but we work well together,” says Homsi. “We have met every Wednesday at lunch with our faculty advisers and every Monday night for two hours. We talk as a team, and no one is ever hurt, upset, or offended if we disagree.”

There could be lots to disagree on. This project is not like past ones. Those have often tackled problems that require single solutions: removing trash from a river, building a drunk-driving simulator, developing a model for large-scale vaccination clinics, and eliminating a food desert in Easton’s West Ward.

This project balances many needs.

Faculty advisers Dave Brandes and Jim Toia

Faculty advisers Dave Brandes and Jim Toia

The Project

The city has little land left for development. The Bushkill Corridor offers opportunities to attract light manufacturing.

Residents in the area need more usable green space.

The College, following a recent purchase of the former Hummel Lumberyard, has an interest in expanding the campus.

And, personally, some invested in the planning have specific hopes in mind, nee pet projects.

The entire first semester of the project was dedicated to gathering information around these needs and goals. Students interviewed many stakeholders, surveyed students and community members, conducted site visits, researched history, and met with clients.

Tech Clinic Director Lawrence Malinconico says the project was incredibly complex in scope, so much so that he often joined the team at its Monday evening meetings.

“It was overwhelming,” says Blood. “We identified many problems that needed solutions and had to find ways to narrow down all that we gathered.”

“It took a while last semester for the group to compile the information and input,” says Toia.

“Which is not unusual,” says Brandes. “A project of this size needs clear scope and definitions, and there was a lot to narrow down.”

Students used meetings with clients as ways to confirm they were on the right track.

“They had very different perspectives but the same needs,” says Blood.

Despite that complexity, the team rose to the challenge. Each member tapped into his or her passion and took on specific aspects of the corridor.

This is part of the beauty of Tech Clinic. The interdisciplinary nature of it means diverse ideas and thinking.

“The academic background of each member on the team was a real asset,” says Homsi. “As an engineering student, it helped me realize the tremendous value of an outside perspective.”

From engineering to psychology, from international affairs to economics, from English to environmental studies, the team was hand-selected based on nominations by professors and former Tech Clinic students.

After interviews, the team came together.

“We look for students who bring the best from their disciplines, drawing on humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering,” says Malinconico.

“I had never heard of Tech Clinic prior to my nomination,” says Blood. “But I am glad I did it.”

Homsi agrees. “This…brings engineering and liberal arts together and gives students a real-world problem to solve without a syllabus—just a timeline, a team, and some guidance,” he says. “It is possible for students to propose and potentially implement a major and lasting change. It’s the perfect résumé builder and conversation starter in interviews.”

“The team has been great,” says Toia.

Brandes adds, “They are a motivated group of students who have taken ownership of a project and demonstrated real maturity and talent to produce such a quality proposal.”

As the team breaks from the lunchtime meeting, students disperse with specific assignments in order to be ready for the big reveal.

Andrew Chuma '19 at a Technology Clinic team meeting

Andrew Chuma ’19 at a Technology Clinic team meeting

The Presentation

Each student is responsible for sharing the project from thematic problems to specific solutions.

They start with roadway realignments and improvements. They imagine parks with historical play structures and an amphitheater. They repair an old trestle bridge to help connect the Karl Stirner Arts Trail. They propose a nature trail that links the College to the park. They protect residential properties, buffering homes with more space.

Then come bigger ideas:

Converting the historic Rinek Cordage Company into The Rope Walk, a mixed-use structure that blends commercial and residential units.

Edelson passionately proposes an environmental community center where students at the College along with pupils in the local district can develop environmental literacy through a faculty-driven curriculum.

Next comes a center for entrepreneurship, a space to develop and connect with forward-thinking, self-learning individuals through a technology incubator, innovation lab, and maker space.

Finally an information center, a place to get details on surrounding amenities and to access the various trailheads–the perfect starting point to begin learning about the area by scanning QR codes that unlock historical photos, videos, and information.

Three students at a Technology Clinic meeting sit at a table to plan.

These ideas are not those of pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Students have listened to their clients and pored over best practices and tangible possibilities.

Will the ideas happen?

That is not the goal.

“Of course, I hope the clients adopt the ideas,” says Brandes. “More so I hope we plant a kernel from which more ideas can grow.”

“The students are tackling big questions,” says Toia. “This project requires a long view, not just a problem that needs an immediate solution.”

Immediate can’t be the goal. Walking past the former junkyard or the old Iron and Metal yard, there is no such thing as immediate. Words like brown field, remediation, permits, testing, and red tape all pop into mind.

But if you propel forward in time, there may be something new there—a building, a soccer field, a stage—something that will make folks wonder how it came to be.

It started with an ability to see possibilities. In other words, the Technology Clinic.

3 Comments

  1. Phil Crudden says:

    “…….an interdisciplinary team of students work together on imaginative solutions to real-world problems for clients…….

    Would an upcoming Tech Clinic team consider tackling the “real-world problem” of protecting our K-12 school children?

    This is a complex problem that lends itself to technology, psychology, healthcare, safety practices, law enforcement, and various other disciplines that would have to be brought together in a comprehensive solution. This represents a ‘green field’ opportunity as there is clearly no accepted and/or effective solution today in Pennsylvania (or any state).

  2. Antonia Mitman says:

    As co-founder of Historic Easton, Inc., Easton’s non-profit historic preservation initiatives in 1978, I am extremely encouraged by and interested in Lafayette’s Tech Clinic proposals for the Bushkill corridor. From the Power Point and related articles, it appears that the Rinek Cordage Company complex will be retained and adapted as a mixed-use commercial and residential complex. Other components including much needed open space will significantly contribute to Easton’s quality of life. This is truly visionary and good news for Easton, Lafayette and this historic American city’s cultural legacy far into the future.

  3. Jim Flowers '69 says:

    Having been born in Easton in 1947 and lived in the West Ward on Washington and Lehigh Streets and in Palmer Township until 1981, when I moved to Omaha NE, I have many memories of the older businesses and the few homes that were in the area. I am looking forward to what Bushkill Drive looks like when I come back for the 50th reunion of my class of 1969.

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