Faith Rayches has studied in Bethlehem for three years, but her biggest realization about the city came on the streets of Amsterdam.
While she was studying abroad there, the Lehigh senior took a course in public mapping. As she focused on some of the less-traveled places in Amsterdam, Rayches was excited to return and map the hidden highlights of South Bethlehem.
Corina Fitzgerald, ’17, Alejandra Silguero, ’17, and Julia Patterson, ’17, also had similar interests with mapping South Bethlehem’s less-frequented shops and restaurants, as well as the city’s art exhibits.
Today, these four women are collaborating on “Be Bethlehem Be Here,” a senior capstone project with the Lehigh Global Citizenship program. The capstone project is their final graduation requirement for the program and encourages students to focus on spotlighting an aspect of the greater Lehigh community.
“We are hoping our project is one step toward bridging the gap (between Lehigh and South Bethlehem community members),” Rayches said. “If more students are following this map and are more encouraged to walk two blocks off campus, there will be more interaction between Lehigh students and the community.”
With over 5,000 Lehigh students and over 20,000 South Bethlehem residents, the group’s goal is to encourage students to explore the South Side’s different locations such as restaurants, stores and art installations.
“We focused on providing information to Lehigh students, faculty, staff and anyone part of the South Side community that can promote community engagement and take away the negative connotations associated with South Bethlehem,” Patterson said.
Rayches said their goal for the map is to increase appreciation for what the South Side community has available to explore.
“It’s not the type of map like Google Maps,” Rayches said. “Everyone has their phone and can plug in an address. There is no map available right now if you want to take a walk around the area.”
The group received a $500 bLUeprint Grant through the university that went toward printing the maps and promoting the project.
The group worked closely with Sarah Stanlick, their adviser and the director of the Global Citizenship program, and with Dzidzor Essien, a visiting assistant professor in the Global Citizenship program.
Essien said she hopes the map will improve Lehigh’s relationship with the South Side community.
“Knowing that students have experienced those places will make other students more likely to check it out,” Essien said. “It also gives a chance for the community members to interact with the Lehigh students.”
After creating an interest survey with about 100 responses, Rayches said the group determined which restaurants and locations should be included on the map.
“One of the reasons there isn’t as much community engagement as there could be is because of a lack of information,” Patterson said. “There hasn’t been an adequate source to tell Lehigh students where they could go in South Bethlehem. This is an easy way for a first-year student to feel more comfortable exploring in the South Bethlehem community but already having the information you need in the palm of your hand.”
Patterson created a PDF version of the map that highlighted restaurants students could try out off campus.
“Our motto, ‘Be Bethlehem Be Here,’ is about being present and being in Bethlehem,” Rayches said. “As much as we are Lehigh students, Bethlehem is our home. (The goal is to know) we can step more than a block off campus and understand there is still a lot more to explore.”
Be Bethlehem Be Here is hosting two events before the release of the public map.
On Wednesday, English professor Charles French spoke about community engagement in Bethlehem at Café the Lodge. On Thursday, the group partnered with the Banana Factory and students from Broughal Middle School to plant seeds and hand paint a planter. On Friday, students will explore the South Side community using the map during a guided tour with group members.
The map is still in its final stages, so the walk, called the South Side Stroll, is part of their practice run to observe the effectiveness of the map in featuring a few key places.
Students who participate in the walk will provide the group feedback to enhance the final map.
Rayches said the final product will have the map on the front and include quotes from students and local business owners on the back.
“The best way to create more engagement is to give people more information about the area they are trying to engage with,” Patterson said.
Rayches said she hopes the Lehigh Admissions Office will use the map to give prospective students an idea of the South Side community in the future.
“There is a lot to love in South Bethlehem, and I think people will start to see it through our map,” Rayches said.