Mayor elect J. William Reynolds discussed the relationship he hopes to cultivate between Lehigh and the city during the mayoral debate on Oct. 28 that predated the Northampton County Municipal Election on Nov 2.
Ashley Sciora, assistant director of programming and outreach at Lehigh said the relationship between the university and mayor has been historically strong, but there is always room for growth.
“I think there’s always opportunities for us to continue to communicate and empathize with each other as neighbors,” Sciora said.
Reynolds said a positive relationship with the university is a priority, and that relationship can be broken down into several different levels.
He said different groups of people at Lehigh are looking for different things from the city of Bethlehem and vice versa.
On the student level, Reynolds discussed finding ways to connect Lehigh students to the community while they are enrolled in school, such as through interacting with small businesses and the cultural scene.
He said it is important for students to connect with the community in ways they are passionate about or in areas that may be related to their future employment.
“I’m hopeful that it will strengthen those bonds both when they’re at Lehigh, but also, maybe some of those bonds will lead to the Lehigh students taking another look (and asking), ‘Is this a place that I want to stay in after I graduate?’” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said Lehigh does well connecting its students with potential employers, but he is interested in increasing that within the Bethlehem community in a nontraditional way. He said he hopes more students will remain in the city after graduation, specifically in sectors such as the arts.
In the past, Lehigh has worked with community partners and the city to get students involved and create beneficial programs for the surrounding area.
Adrienne McNiel, assistant vice president for community and public affairs, said Lehigh has kickstarted initiatives to connect the university and Bethlehem communities.
This includes SouthSide Ambassadors, educational partnerships with the Bethlehem Area School District, economic support for the SouthSide Arts District and community service opportunities for students through the Community Service Office (CSO).
McNiel said for Lehigh students, being a good neighbor means being respectful of your surroundings and getting engaged.
“I think the other big part is just participating in the activities and the things that are happening in South Bethlehem: Faux Fridays, the different festivals, supporting the businesses,” McNiel said.
Scoria said she encourages students to explore the community as soon as they get to campus, rather than waiting until their last year or two at Lehigh.
“I think really taking the time to internalize that you’re part of both communities and then acting on that is probably the step forward I would encourage for folks,” Scoria said.
She said conversation and communication must continue to ensure that being good neighbors goes both directions.