Students, faculty and professors participate in the Inaugural Lehigh University Community-Engaged Learning and Research Symposium on Monday, April 25, 2016. The event discussed Lehigh's community engagement. (Ashley Strysko/B&W Staff)

Symposium addresses Lehigh’s community engagement

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George White, a professor in the educational leadership program, shared a story of how a young Lehigh student who was part of the tutoring program in South Bethlehem, walked out of a tutoring session and had changed her mind from wanting to be a news editor for a magazine to wanting to become a teacher.

White said working with the community allows students to not only help others, but to learn about themselves. The panel at which he spoke was part of the Inaugural Community-Engaged Learning and Research Symposium held at Williams Hall on Monday. The panel’s main goal was to explain what ethical and reciprocal engagement in the community should look like.

Sarah Stanlick, the director of the Center for Community Engagement, said the center held the symposium to show what Lehigh has been doing this year with the community in Bethlehem, in the world, and within Lehigh now that the year is coming to an end. She said preparations for the event took about four to five months, but she was excited that it brought all different departments and people together because it shows there are different ways to help the community instead of one single action.

“I’m thrilled to have this showcase,” Stanlick said. “It think it says that we prize this work. We want it to be meaningful.”

The symposium included breakout sessions where students, faculty and professors talked about their research and involvement at Lehigh and in the community.

“I really wanted to have a mix in the breakout sessions that really represent student, staff and community,” Stanlick said. “I really wanted to show that it is really everyone so we can be part of democratic partnership.”

In addition to the breakout sessions, poster talks were held throughout the day. During a lunch panel, speakers talked about what ethical and reciprocal involvement in the community looks like.

Stanlick said this was the first time this event was held, as the Center for Community Engagement was established at Lehigh last semester.

“I think the main purpose of the symposium is to highlight what strong community partnerships look like,” Stanlick said.

She said these partnerships must be formed in a logical and ethical way. The event addressed involvement locally, such as in South Bethlehem, and globally, such as in Cambodia.

“It’s supposed to be beyond Lehigh borders but also close to Lehigh and for those who do research and learning abroad,” Stanlick said.

Alan Snyder, the vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies, said people need to think of universities not just as places for learning, but also places to practice in the community.

Snyder said when Lehigh and the outer community partner together, both groups can learn from each other because people have different perspectives.

“There’s a need outside the university, and there’s knowledge and expertise at the university that can contribute to addressing that need,” Snyder said.

The panelists talked about the importance of “transformative” relationships between the community and Lehigh. White, who runs the center for developing urban educational leadership in the College of Education, said when his organization started seven years ago, the organization members were narrowly focused on believing schools could be improved by having good school principals. They changed their mission to school-community movement in small to mid-sized urban communities.

“Our partnerships actually help us broaden and expand our mission,” White said.

Kim Carrell-Smith, the director of the Community Fellows program, said people in general need to think realistically about how much we can do, because there is not enough time to do everything people want. She said people need to know what the community needs so the community engagement is more democratic and beneficial.

She said people at Lehigh sometimes forget that there are differences between South Bethlehem and other places. She said Lehigh is pretty privileged and sometimes the Lehigh community forgets that Lehigh is a “different world” compared to the surrounding community. She said working with different people in the community will help change our perspective on how we think we can solve a problem. Working together with others brings on different ideas which opens up our views.

“We have to be sensitive for preparing behavior things as little as etiquette,” Carrell-Smith said. “We tend to forget about us-them dynamic in the heat of things.”

Not only did panelists express the need for transformative action, but Carolina Hernandez, the director of the Community Service Office, said the transformation is particularly important in students. She said it is exciting to see it happen in students’ action through the community voice.

“It’s changing the footprint forever for students and the community in many ways,” Hernandez said.

Students have been implementing these actions in their work.

Hayley Goodman, ‘18, works with English for Speakers of Other Languages students. One of the ways she helps students improve to grade level standard is identify the alphabet and count to 30.

“If we want to do this project, we have to find out what the community needs,” Goodman said.

Anastasia Barros, a fifth-year student, works as a heart link at the H.E.A.R.T.S. clinic in South Bethlehem to help those who are uninsured or under-insured get the resources they need. She said it is easy for Lehigh students to engage with the community if it is in something they have an interest in. She said her work at the clinic has transformed her.

“Because of this,” Barros said, “I want to work with places that face barriers to health care.”

Stanlick said she hopes after the event people will want to continue these actions and efforts.

“We are hoping for long-term, sustainable community building,” she said.

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