When planning their Global Citizenship capstone project, Sydney O’Tapi, ’18, and Angie Rizzo, ’19, wanted their idea to stand out. They decided to host a political talk show, with the ultimate goal of engaging members from the Lehigh and local communities.
Their series, “Finding Our Common Thread: Tackling Political Apathy,” includes three on-camera political discussions in PBS39 Studios. The first discussion on April 4 focused on economic globalization and industry. Three expert panelists shared their perspectives on the subjects.
This capstone is partly an extension of “Party Responsibly,” a former Global Citizenship project that intended to engage and inform voters in the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities during election season. Because there isn’t a presidential election in the near future, O’Tapi and Rizzo decided to instead provide a platform for political dialogue.
Although the first discussion’s audience was smaller than than O’Tapi and Rizzo had hoped, they said it went well because the the discussion ran smoothly with the help of the panelists they invited. The series’ panelists are a combination of experts from Lehigh and community organizers who have an expertise in the topic at hand.
Sarah Stanlick, the project adviser and director of the Center for Community Engagement, agreed the first discussion was a success.
“I think the process went really well — we had some deep discussion,” Stanlick said. “It was nice to be able to connect with people across borders.”
Rizzo said Stanlick can be credited for their partnership with PBS. She had a previous connection with the national television program distributor and said they could be a potential partner for the students. Rizzo said PBS expressed interest in hosting and filming the series, and the students jumped on the opportunity.
Tracy Yatsko is the PBS39 Studios reporter who facilitates the discussions alongside O’Tapi and Rizzo and helps them write the script prior to airing.
“The PBS crew is so amazing, they’re really supportive of you and help you through everything,” O’Tapi said. “They’re a great team and everyone on the team was so excited for the project.”
Rizzo said when she and O’Tapi came up with discussion topics, they were deciding between 10 options. They wanted to choose issues that are relevant both nationally and locally in the Lehigh Valley.
“Having this ability to talk across different political lenses or different social, economic and racial backgrounds, I think it’s a really nice opportunity to sit down and talk deeply in ways we don’t normally get to,” Stanlick said.
The next discussion on April 18 will focus on the refugee crisis and migration, and the final discussion on April 25 will cover LGBTQ rights and gender equity.
The first discussion aired on April 11, which allowed Rizzo and O’Tapi to see what they can improve on for the next two discussions.
“It felt like a really calm, intimate community conversation and we had people really relevant to the topic that were there,” O’Tapi said. “The vibe was really good, it was in the studio so there were bright lights everywhere.”
The discussions take place in a studio that can hold 60 people, and O’Tapi said they take 30 from Lehigh and 30 from the surrounding communities. Though they didn’t have a full house the first time, O’Tapi is confident they will get more people to come for the next two discussions because they plan on marketing more on campus and throughout the neighboring communities.
The studio caters food for the audience members as they discuss the topics at hand and present questions to the panelists.
Rizzo said the partnership with PBS was intimidating at first, but once they met in person, it was a relief to work with professionals who really push them toward success.
“This is so much bigger than us, this is so much bigger than Lehigh,” Rizzo said. “It’s amazing to be a part of it, I (feel) very privileged and honored to be at a school that connects people to those resources and really wants students to have that experiential learning.”