Audree Chase is the associate dean of community education at Northampton Community College. She graduated from Lehigh’s College of Education in 2011.
In the heart of South Bethlehem lies the Northampton Community College Fowler Family Southside Campus. You may not have known it was there, but don’t be fooled by the nondescript Third Street side of the former plant headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. Because what happens inside is nothing short of spectacular.
Benefactors Linny and Beall Fowler, for whom the campus is named, conceptualized the building to be of service to the immediate South Bethlehem community. Not only does the Fowler Center house the college’s workforce development and community education programs but also a community health and dental clinic on its second floor.
While most of the people who visit the center are from the South Bethlehem community, students from as far away as New Jersey enroll in the specialized programs offered here. This is especially true of the unique 8,000 square foot state-of-the-art Fabrication Laboratory (the Fab Lab), which houses the Martin Guitar Foundation Luthier Lab and welcomes students from across the nation, and even some from other countries.
The Luthier Lab is one of the only of its kind in the nation where students can build acoustic or electric guitars, mandolins, ukuleles or banjos. The Fab Lab offers classes in 3D printing, woodworking, metalworking, resin casting, laser engraving, welding and guitar building.
In addition to offering more than 300 classes per year, the Fab Lab is open to the public and offers community memberships to students and business owners. It serves as a resource for local businesses in South Bethlehem to design and create prototypes, signs and promotional materials that contribute to their success. Free tours and team building events are available for students and community organizations.
As associate dean of community education, I manage many of the personal enrichment continuing education programs. These include arts, crafts, photography, cooking, health, fitness, dancing, conversational languages and youth programs, such as the Horizons For Youth summer program, which attracts approximately 600 kindergarten through ninth grade students per year. Cooking classes ranging from sushi to French pastries are held on the fifth floor in the Fowler Kitchen, which has six professionally equipped cooking stations. I also work with local businesses to offer customized team building activities in the kitchen.
As a graduate of Lehigh University’s College of Education, I forged a connection with Lehigh’s Centennial School, which provides students the opportunity to visit both the Fab Lab and kitchen to learn basic shop trades and cooking skills. We have also provided customized programs for the Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School, teaching eighth grade students how to design, laser cut and build tiny homes.
Overseeing community education programs is critical to the Fowler Center’s work. I serve on the Southside Arts District committee and provide a meeting space for monthly gatherings. The campus shares its dance studios with Touchstone Theater and its kitchen with organizations such as the Nazareth Widow/Widowers Group and the Five Ten Flats Apartment community. We work with local and regional senior centers to offer personal enrichment programs on site.
Having a strong connection to the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley in South Bethlehem, we received a Two Rivers Health and Wellness Grant to provide classes once a week for six months. The classes covered topics like healthy microwave cooking, emergency preparedness in the home and basic first aid skills, and they were taught by local South Bethlehem experts, including a Lehigh University police officer.
Most of the instructors at the Fowler Center are experts in their fields, many of whom have a master’s degree or higher, and are from the South Bethlehem area. Taking classes with them provides a unique perspective into the practical applications of their fields.
The fourth floor houses the nationally recognized “Cops ‘N Kids” program and the Center for Adult Literacy, which offers English as a Second Language (ESL) and Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED) courses. The Cops ‘N Kids program allows local and surrounding community members to bring their children to a college campus to create craft projects, meet police officers and leave with donated books.
Serving students from kindergarten through high school in the South Bethlehem community and beyond, the Fowler Center provides many resources. Lehigh students are welcome to take classes at affordable costs and use the facility for their studies or personal enrichment. To learn more about the Fowler Center and its class offerings, you can stop by and visit us at 511 E. Third Street, browse our website or contact us at ncccommunityed.edu.