1 in 5,075: Student leader spreads social justice on and off campus


Audrey Schimmel, ‘20, came to Lehigh to pursue her interests in global studies. She is currently working a research project “Mushrooms in Sierra Leone.” (Alexis McGowan/B&W Staff)

Audrey Schimmel, ‘20, has been passionate about global studies since before coming to Lehigh. The partnership between the university and the United Nations is what originally attracted her to the school.

Schimmel knew she wanted to make a difference both on campus and around the world when she came to Lehigh, but she was unsure how she could. When she received an email advertising a research project “Mushrooms in Sierra Leone,” she decided it was a good starting place.

Last semester, Schimmel began working on the research with a team of engineers and business students, as well as students tasked with the technical implementation.

The purpose of the research project is to increase food supply and stimulate the economy in poverty-stricken areas by helping farmers use by-products from rice plants to grow mushrooms. To do so, they use Mushroom Production Systems. The goal is for these systems to become a self-sustainable business model for rural farmers.

“We’re hoping to relieve poverty and provide additional income (for farmers),” Schimmel said.

Schimmel is working on the implementation side of the project. She is trying to raise money by applying for various research grants, so the group’s work can continue. 

Earlier this semester, Schimmel and her team members traveled to California to present their findings at The Global Humanitarian Tech Conference with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The conference consisted of research teams and professors presenting their findings related to social impact.

Allie Gleich, ‘20, has been working closely with Schimmel on the mushroom team for a year. They are both on the non-engineering side of the project.

“(Schimmel is) really passionate about global studies, so it’s great because she really brings her cultural perspective and what she knows about other countries,” Gleich said. “It’s been really fun working with her.”

In addition to her worldly knowledge, Schimmel brings several other skills to the mushroom team. Gleich said she is organized, easy to work with and works well under pressure.

Schimmel has also started two clubs on campus related to social entrepreneurship: Net Impact and a social impact collaborative “which is a centralized hub for all things related to social impact on campus,” Schimmel said. 

“I realized that there were already a lot of organizations related to social impact on campus, but there is no umbrella that all of them fall under,” Schimmel said.

So, Schimmel got to work.

Net Impact is still in the development stages, but its mission is to focus on companies’ social responsibility. Its ultimate goal is to partner with companies to educate them about their own social responsibility to make the world a better place.

“Companies will invest more in things that would be attractive to consumers, like people are willing to pay more for fair trade products,”  said Holly Rubloff, ‘20. Rubloff is the United Nations liaison for Net Impact.

Rubloff and Schimmel are working together with a few other students to develop the club. Right now they are focused on finding companies that are socially responsible and looking at ways other companies can become more socially responsible.

“(Schimmel) is super receptive and welcoming to ideas that we all have and she really is the proactive one in making meetings and events happen,” Rubloff said.

Outside of her global humanitarian and social impact work, Schimmel is a member of Tamid and the Lehigh consulting group. She is also vice president of the French club and a peer scholar for students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Schimmel continues to search for ways to make an impact on campus and around the world. 

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