Many university students arrive on campus with hundreds of hours of community service under their belts. For some, what starts as a high school requirement evolves into a life’s purpose.
Carolina Hernandez, director of the community service office (CSO), meets these students every day.
“As a campus, we have many students who connect to community service right away,” says Hernandez. “And I have the best job on campus. I get to educate them about our community [Bethlehem] and its needs. Then I teach them how to create programs that meet those needs.”
One of Hernandez’ favorite students is sophomore Dan Coviello. An environmental engineering major from New Jersey, he says “The environment and service are my passions.”
As soon as he learned of his acceptance to Lehigh, Coviello reached out to the community service office. He secured a position before he arrived for his first day of classes.
Coviello coordinates Lehigh’s blood donation drives for the Miller-Keystone Blood Center. He has enlisted student groups across campus to sponsor the drives and spread the word to new potential donors.
Doing good while spreading joy
At a recent blood drive, Nikolas Rivera ’12, a psychology major from New York City, donated for the first time and displayed the nonchalance of a veteran donor.
“You sit in the chair,” he explained calmly. “They stick you. The blood comes out. It was fine.”
Rivera was one of a record-setting 210 participants in the last blood drive of the 2010-11 school year. Coviello received an award from Miller-Keystone for the dramatic increase in the number of donors.
Peggy Shupp of Miller Keystone says school-based blood drives are critical to the region’s supply.
“I don’t think people realize it,” she says, “but school blood drives across the Lehigh Valley account for one-third of all the blood donations for Miller-Keystone.
“We’ve been working with Lehigh for many years, and the university is a joy to work with. Students know they’re doing something good. They might not live around here all year around, but they are participating in this community.”
Not about the money
As one of 16 student coordinators, Coviello is part of a team that organizes more than 1,000 student volunteers to carry out programs that help fulfill Lehigh’s commitment to the community.
While they are all employed through the work-study program, Hernandez says of the coordinators, “This is a job, but it’s not about the money.”
Hernandez, now in her tenth year at Lehigh, sees the long-term impact of Lehigh’s commitment to community service. Each year, she says, Lehigh students donate more than 50,000 hours of service to groups in Bethlehem and beyond. At the recent 10th annual Spring Fling community event, CSO alumni were invited back to campus.
“All the students who returned are involved in non-profits and service in their professional and personal lives,” she says.
Coviello agrees that the service experience changes students, but he believes that Lehigh students are making a lasting change in the community as well.
“The alumni [at Spring Fling] told us that they’d noticed a strengthening in the relationship between Lehigh and Bethlehem since their time here,” he said.