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Students attend private briefing at U.N.

Driving down New York City’s 42nd St. in Manhattan on April 13, a busload of Lehigh students gazed at Times Square and pointed to various sites. But once these students got to their destination—the United Nations—and set foot on the grounds, the mood changed; they were on international territory. Because of Lehigh’s non-governmental organization (NGO) status, these students, predominantly from Lehigh’s Global Citizenship program, had the opportunity to see what they’ve been learning in the classroom firsthand by touring the U.N. and attending a private briefing.

In its first year, the Global Citizenship program has created a buzz around campus and has been one of the most visible aspects of the international initiative, according to Bill Hunter, director of the office of international students and scholars and Lehigh’s representative to the U.N.

“Many incoming first-year students are inquiring about application requirements and how they can guarantee their spot in the program, said Magdalena Grudinski-Hall, the program development officer. “The program only accepts 30 first-year students annually, hence based on the number of inquiries that I am receiving I can almost guarantee that it will be a very competitive process.”

The official purpose of the four-year program is to prepare tomorrow's leaders for engaged and responsible living in a culturally diverse, inter-related world of possibility and conflict. The content of their studies focuses on value questions related to cross-cultural negotiation and global interdependence, cultural otherness and human universality.

For example, the Global Citizenship students (split into two groups) took trips to Hong Kong and Chile over winter break to experience these cultures first-hand. During their 12-day trips, the students studied the effects of globalization.

Hillary Halpern, ’08, says the Global Citizenship Program was a huge factor in her decision to come to Lehigh. She is undecided as to her major in the College of Arts and Sciences, but she knows that she wants to pursue a career in international work.

“Global Citizenship is a backpack to my other coursework,” Halpern said. “I can take the things I learn with me and apply them to other aspects.”

Halpern said she feels it is important to be able to come to the U.N. and see things firsthand. “It is exciting to see what goes on,” Halpern said. “It adds meaning to what Lehigh’s NGO status can do for the university.”

Her opinion was echoed.

“We are one of the only universities that could do a trip like this and our Global Citizenship program helps to access and apply that opportunity,” said Ashley Dwyer, ’08.

Grudinski- Hall was pleased with the trip and noted that the trip opened the doors of the U.N. to the Global Citizenship students, with the hope that in their senior year a few will be interested in pursuing an internship there. The trip also gave the students the chance to focus on a specific global issue, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and allowed them to meet with a U.N. Official who could lead them in a dialogue.

Global citizens in training

In addition to the Global Citizenship students, there were also a few biomedical majors who were invited to attend the U.N. trip because the topic fell in line with their coursework. The NGO status, Hunter hopes, can provide such an opportunity where all Lehigh students can come to the U.N. at some point to link issues to their courses of study.

As part of the visit, Diane Bailey, a representative from the United Nations Radio, led the briefing and outlined the many problems resulting from the proliferation of AIDS in African nations.

The students had extensively discussed the briefing topic and were well prepared for a discussion.

“We choose the AIDS topic because as a group we all think it’s an important issue,” said Nicole Nigro,’08. “We want to be involved and discuss how we can do that.”

“The students did a wonderful job preparing for their dialogue with the UN official. They were quite impressive with their questions,” said Grudinski-Hall. “Through their actions they showed that they are on their way to becoming Global Citizens.”

Dwyer questioned the efforts that are being to done to help AIDS orphans, while Nigro posed a question regarding the contribution that poverty has had in afflicted nations.

Michael Ratajczyk, ’08, asked a more controversial question regarding possible intentions of governments and drug companies that may be profiting from AIDS research. Having visited the U.N. in the fourth grade, he remembered some aspects, yet was now able to understand a great deal more.

“It is a good feeling to come to a place with so many positive intentions,” Ratajczyk said. “Being here I feel that there is a lot more that can be done.”

The tour of the complex allowed the group to access various key aspects of the building. Visits to the Security Counsel room and the General Assembly provided a chance to see where the resolutions and policies that are enacted take shape and information about the current work that is being done was explained by tour guides.

Outside the General Assembly is a Norman Rockwell fresco, a gift from the United States, commissioned by the Reagans. The quote on the art reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is truly such a message that embodies the spirit of the U.N. and this desire is embodied in the goals that the Global Citizenship programs sets out to achieve. Lehigh, as an NGO, is in ideal positioning to achieve these ideals.

--Blair Tapper

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2005

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