Leaving footprints

The motivation for everyone enrolled in Lehigh’s Community Fellows program was obviously to make a difference in the community.

None of them realized how quickly they would see the results of the work.

“I feel I have been an asset as the Political Liaison for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the Lehigh Valley. In fact, I have become so active in the community and influenced by this opportunity, that I have been accepted into Lehigh’s Business School for next year to further my involvement and pursue my interests,” says Thomas Denning, who shared his experiences at a recent luncheon in Iacocca Hall honoring this year’s Community Fellows.

The program was co-founded seven years ago by professors Judith Lasker and Hannah Stewart-Gambino as a way to provide students the opportunity to obtain their master’s degree in one year while gaining both classroom and real world experience.

“One of the things I love about this program is the variety,” says Lasker, a sociology and anthropology professor, and co-founder of the Community Fellows Program. The 12 students in the program this year had fellowships in a vast spectrum of community organizations, ranging from working with state representatives to developing community care for complex illnesses.

Adds Stewart-Gambino: “Since its onset, the program is increasing its draw of exceptional students, enabling even more selectivity in the applicant pool. This increased interest in the program by students of exceptional caliber is a “substantial indicator of the success and growth of the program.”

A “win-win” situation

Lasker says the program is “a terrific opportunity for Lehigh to demonstrate its contributions to the community, and an opportunity for the university’s students to apply what they are learning in the classroom.”

The students give to the community and, in return, the sponsoring agencies aid the student with tuition and provide them with hands-on application of their knowledge. This represents what Stewart-Gambino, who was named the Dean of the College at Lafayette (a position she will begin full-time in August), describes as a “win-win” situation.

Since the establishment of the Community Fellows Program, the quality of the students has been outstanding and many continue to stay in close contact with the agency they worked with and the program.

Ellen Larmer '03G was one of the first students enrolled in the Community Fellows program and now has a position in the community working at Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADCB). Larmer was seeking a career change when she saw a newspaper ad for the Community Fellows Program.

She quickly applied and, within months, was working for Alan Jennings in the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. She describes it as an “incredible and atypical experience.”

Bringing technology to local businesses

Now Larmer is sponsoring Shana Tuttle, a political science Community Fellow who works to promote social and economic change through a technology based project. She worked with businesses on E. Fourth Street between Fillmore Street and Hayes Street, teaching the owners how contemporary technology, such as online filing programs and adding Gold Plus capabilities, can make their businesses more lucrative.

“This has definitely inspired me to do work in this type of field,” says Tuttle. “Teaching business owners who still were keeping their records in notebooks and filing cabinets to use more modern technologies is so inspiring. Bringing them up-to-date technologically and subsequently enabling their businesses to be more efficient is so exciting.”

Larmer says that Tuttle has already made a significant “difference in the community by introducing many business owners to new technology.”

Tuttle’s experience was not unique among the Community Fellows.

Jessica Rider, who earned her undergraduate degree in sociology at University of Delaware and then pursued three years of social work with the mentally retarded, was interested in furthering her education.

“I chose Lehigh’s Community Fellow’s program because I could get my Masters degree in one year, I get to work with a community agency and financially it makes so much sense,” says Rider.

Rider worked at the Community Exchange, a time-banking organization run through Lehigh Valley Hospital, and concentrated on transportation. She developed a new program that was modeled after Ride Partners in Severna Park, Md., called Wheel Time.

“The service helps people with rapidly reoccurring transportation needs like dialysis and chemotherapy,” explains Anne Rogers, Rider’s supervisor at the Community Exchange, who acknowledges the substantial impact Rider’s Wheel Time initiative will have on the community.

Rider said she was challenged by the funding constraints of the program.

“I’m the only one trained to drive right now, but the people are so appreciative it is worth the effort,” says Rider. “Wheel Time helps to increase the access to care and reaches out to the community at the same time.”

State Representative Jennifer Mann, a Pennsylvania state legislator representing the 132nd Legislative District, described the program as “the best bargain in the Lehigh Valley and the state.”

She described Community Fellow John Young, who worked for as a liaison between constituents and governmental departments as not only a valuable asset, but “a perfect example of why the program is so outstanding.”

Adds Stewart-Gambino of her and Lasker’s shared efforts: “Of all the things we’ve done in our professions and careers, we look at this program as one of our biggest successes.”

--Lauren Hoffman