Community Fellows program celebrates five years of progress

In celebrating the fifth year of Lehigh’s Community Fellows program, university president Gregory C. Farrington lauded the program’s founders and participants for strengthening ties with the community and providing graduate students with hands-on practical field experience.
“This program helps local agencies realize that there is gold in Lehigh’s hills, and this program allows Lehigh to share the wealth,” said Farrington, referring to the top-caliber students who serve as fellows for a one-year period.
“By having ties with the community, both of us—the university and the community—are more effective and both entities become stronger,” said Farrington. “And in return, we train more successful students.”
Students in the Community Fellows program are able to complete a graduate degree in a year while working 15 hours a week with a local agency or company on projects that are designed to impact the local community. In return, the agencies and the university provide a significant portion of the student’s tuition.
“It’s a win, win, win program for the agency, the students and the community,” said Hannah Stewart-Gambino, professor of political science and co-founder, with sociology professor Judith Lasker, of the Community Fellows program.
Both Stewart-Gambino and Lasker agree that the program has come a long way since it was launched in the living room of the President’s House five years ago. In addition to the scope of the program, it has succeeded in attracting a larger and more qualified applicant pool, the founders said.
“That means that agencies have access to the best of the best students,” said Stewart-Gambino.
At the luncheon, the Fellows and their sponsoring organizations described their year-long projects, emphasizing the unique skills and perspective the Community Fellows program bring to agency goals.
Organizations hosting Community Fellows in 2005-2006 include: Casa Guadalupe, the Allentown Women’s Center, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Center, the Keystone Innovation Zone, the Small Business Development Center, Community Services for Children, the American Red Cross, the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges, Treatment Trends, Inc., and the offices of State Rep. Jennifer Mann and State Sen. Robert Wonderling.
Supervisors offered glowing reviews of the Community Fellows’ contributions to their organizations.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” American Red Cross of the Lehigh Valley’s Director of Volunteer and Community Services Robert Duld said of political science grad student Sam Houshman’s work in planning a Neighborhood Initiative series. “We never thought we’d achieve the success that we did. We just don’t have enough time to brag about his success and great efforts.”
John Dillensyder of Treatment Trends, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of crime, sexual abuse, violence and addition; complimented both the work of his agency’s Fellow, sociology major Erin Niclaus, and the caliber of students Lehigh provides.
“This is our third year with the Community Fellows program, and every year, the students are better and better,” Dillensnyder said.
Cori Rolon, who graduated from the Community Fellows program in 2003 and now serves as a director of Casa Guadalupe in Allentown, said: “It’s great to have Lehigh University behind the students.
“Our volunteers often can’t do high-level activities like Community Fellows can,” continues Rolon. “And, when a student does not have a strategic planning skill or background for a project, she can go to a professor for help. Sometimes a Community Fellow can achieve a level of results that I didn’t even have.”
For more information about the Community Fellows Program, please go online.
--Liz Danzig