Lehigh University’s collaboration with the United Nations gives Lehigh students, faculty and staff the opportunity to attend events and meetings held at the UN Headquarters in New York City, allowing the intergovernmental organization to transcend into the classroom.
Lehigh is the sixth university in the world to become a UN accredited non-governmental organization and one of 25 schools in the world that have the opportunity to interact with the UN in this way.
“We have sort of a virtual seat at the United Nations. Because of the badges we have full access to the UN headquarters,” said Bill Hunter, director of fellowship advising and UN programs.
Hunter said the purpose of the partnership is to expand on the content learned in the classroom, and transforming it into an experiential learning opportunity. Typically, students would interact with UN officials after learning about a current topic and would then speak with the global decision makers involved.
Lehigh has helped in the development of new UN programming that is applicable to students and current events.
“We’ve now helped to sponsor two virtual tours of the United Nations, one on women’s empowerment and the other on Black history,” Hunter said.
The number of students participating in the program has only increased this past year. Hunter said the program is going to have more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff engaged this spring. Since the partnership was forged in 2004, approximately 17,000 students, faculty and staff have taken part.
“I would say this internship is really giving me confidence in my own abilities to research and in my own ideas,” said Sophia Holt, ‘21, Lehigh United Nations intern. “I’m a senior, but I feel more confident that I can actually provide insight into important international issues and conversations.”
Holt, who is an international relations major, has been able to gain experience in the field, talk to world leaders and create her own climate refugee program with the UN. Although she has never physically been to the UN headquarters, she has met with the Swedish and Mexican missions, as well as high diplomats who represent those countries.
Emma Hartmann, ‘23, a youth representative with the program who recently joined, said the experience is a nice shift from normal school work to something that’s connected to NGOs and the real word.
“I think that it makes you feel like it’s a different experience in school because it makes you feel like you’re doing something that’s actually really of value,” she said.
Hartmann was able to attend a virtual tour of the UN and said that she has been able to continue her participation throughout the pandemic.
Students involved this year had the opportunity to engage in the model international labor organization simulation, taking place from April 9 to April 11. This event was the third of its kind to be hosted in the world, and the first in the U.S.
“We have students from Lehigh, of course, but all over the world also, participating in this 15-hour session this weekend,” Hunter said. “They’re representing countries that are representing employers or representing workers from all over the world. And they’ll be presenting these major proposals that amendments to come into what will ultimately be an outcome document delivered to the International Labor Organization.”
Hunter said despite being virtual, UN opportunities were still available this academic year. He said since UN speakers can’t come to campus at this time, all of the programs are conducted using Zoom, allowing a live global audience to attend. For example, the program has been able to meet with the assistant secretary of the United Nations for the environment with other universities in countries like Ecuador, Chile and Zimbabwe.
Hartmann said she was able to attend a virtual tour of the UN and she has been able to continue her participation throughout the pandemic.
Additionally, Holt said being virtual has allowed for more of a global conversation among high level world leaders and the Lehigh audience.
“Every Lehigh student now has the opportunity to get something tangible on their resume in relation to the United Nations,” Hunter said. “No matter what your major is, what your background is, we can make that happen for you.”