Each year more than 1,000 faculty, students and staff travel to the United Nations and bring related programs to Lehigh’s campus. This is a testament to the success of the university’s partnership with the United Nations, which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Bill Hunter, founder of the LU/U.N. partnership, worked in New York City serving as an NGO representative to the United Nations prior to his employment at Lehigh.
“I saw the opportunities the U.N. offered the students in New York City, and when I was hired here, I wanted to bring those opportunities to Lehigh, as well,” he said.
Five years after the partnership began, Lehigh was recognized as an official NGO to the United Nations, only the sixth university in the world to hold this status.
“My goal throughout the whole partnership is to get Lehigh staff, faculty and students as close to global decision makers as possible,” Hunter said. “When they travel to the U.N., they are literally sitting across the table from global decision makers.”
To further push the involvement of students at the United Nations, the LU/U.N. partnership started the Youth Representative Program, which allows Lehigh students to represent various NGOs around the world.
Prior to the Youth Representative Program, Hunter noticed a key element missing at the NGO briefings he would attend on a weekly basis.
“Where’s the youth?” he said. “Where’s the youth voice here?”
Seeing an opportunity, the partnership reached out to a number of NGOs around the world that were passionate but did not have the funding or staff to be physically at the United Nations.
“We told them, ‘We’ve got some amazing students on campus. Would you be willing to give them one of your badges so that they can be your youth voices at the United Nations?'” Hunter said. “Every NGO we wrote out to said yes.”
Lehigh piloted the Youth Representative Program for nearly four years when the United Nations approached Hunter and asked to use Lehigh’s program model globally throughout the NGO system.
Now, 400 young people around the world serve as youth representatives for NGOs on all quarters of the planet. Just three weeks ago, Lehigh was honored at the United Nations for starting the program.
Dan Coviello, a graduate student at Lehigh, started the executive board of the Youth Representatives Program. His role entailed educating, orienting and training the youth representatives, which allowed students to be fully prepared for their trips to the United Nations.
“What the students gain from the United Nations, the university gains,” Coviello said. “The partnership helps to enrich the classroom experience and also the research endeavors of our university and faculty members, as well as granting access to students. It is also a unique selling point for students who want to come to Lehigh.”
Hunter said it is exciting to hear that Lehigh can beat out other schools when high school students are deciding to enroll at Lehigh because of the university’s relationship with the United Nations. He also said Lehigh is one of the most respected universities at the United Nations.
Jennifer Chow, a Lehigh graduate student and youth representative who has been involved with the LU/U.N. partnership since she was a first-year student, said she chose to attend Lehigh because of the partnership. She values the LU/U.N. partnership because of the invaluable global experience she has received throughout her college career.
“You’re not a Lehigh student anymore,” she said. “You’re representing your NGO. You are at a place where 193 countries are represented. You are surrounded by people speaking so many different languages and have completely different backgrounds than you.”
Faculty from Lehigh have been an integral part of the partnership’s visibility on campus, as well. For example, Lehigh students and Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism who specializes in digital media, created the U.N.’s first Twitter site designed to engage young people.
Hunter said the Twitter feed was eventually followed by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and President Barack Obama’s director of social media.
Hunter urges every Lehigh student to visit the United Nations before graduating.
“Because the U.N. is such a comprehensive organization, there’s room at the table for everyone,” he said. “It’s just been 10 years but we feel like there’s so much more ground to cover, so much more that can be achieved.”
A short documentary showcasing the LU/U.N. partnership will be screening on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. in STEPS 280.
Update: The location of the LU/U.N. partnership documentary has been changed to Linderman 200.