A group of students in an environmental studies senior seminar class decided to create a coalition with the mission of making the Lehigh Valley a desirable place to live post-graduation.
The group, called the Coalition of Concerned Students, hopes to make government candidates in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary elections more aware of environmental issues that are important to students in the Lehigh Valley.
“Our main goal is to find ways to combat ‘brain drain’, and to make the Lehigh Valley a place where young professionals and college grads want to live, as opposed to leaving the state and finding opportunities elsewhere,” said Layla Gonzalez, ’15, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Students.
Each student in the group researched an issue and looked into ways other cities solved the problem. The issues included air pollution, waste and composting, transportation, food, community engagement and green business.
“The real world applications and lessons that I learned through my project and the foundation of the (coalition) was immense and very exciting,” said Samuel Horstmann, ’15, a member of the coalition. “I was able to see how the political world functions and better yet, get experience interacting with it.”
Horstmann also said seeing his local government operate gave him a new respect for politicians and made him realize how important community participation is.
The coalition aspires to give their cause more weight and increase the interest of more candidates. One way they are going about doing this is by branching out to other schools in the Lehigh Valley. Northampton Community College is the only school that is currently involved, but the coalition has reached out to Moravian College, Lafayette College, Muhlenberg College, and Lehigh Carbon Community College.
“I think it’s really important for us to focus on things that have long-term results,” said Heather Doll, ’15, a member of the coalition. “There is no big sweeping solution to everything. It’s about incrementally changing our community in ways that are significant to our daily well-being.”
Doll also referenced local community issues currently happening in the Lehigh Valley.
“Too many of the children in our community have asthma that is furthered by pollution,” she said. “Too many of our small businesses are being shouldered out by big chain stores that come in and are favored by our local governments. If we don’t continue to build our community one block at a time it will never grow and flourish.”
The coalition sent a survey out to candidates in lower Bethlehem Township, the cities of Bethlehem and Allentown, lower Macungie Township, and Lehigh and Northampton counties. They have received responses from several candidates, but are still waiting on more responses.
Mathew Moschella, ’15, a member of the coalition, said lack of communication is a detrimental factor for the coalition. He said he personally struggled to get in contact with most of the politicians and colleges he attempted to reach out to.
The survey has closed and the results will be released once the coalition can analyze the results. They hope to show newly elected candidates that these environmental issues are still important to Lehigh Valley students and to ultimately ask how the candidates are willing to make a difference.
“For Lehigh students, it is important to show that we care because politicians think that since we are only here for four years, our interests are fleeting and we cannot help in the long term,” Gonzalez said. “This is not the case, and we feel it is important to be involved because this is our home for the next for years.”