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Community Fellows gather to celebrate their impact

A group of 13 Community Fellows students shared information about the projects they completed for a host of community agencies in an informal gathering in Maginnes Hall in late May.

The work of the students, who are each assigned to a local agency or non-profit institution while earning a master’s degree in political science or sociology, ranged from conducting and analyzing public opinion surveys to working with clients at a residential drug and alcohol treatment center.

Fellows received academic credit for their agency work, allowing them to earn their master’s degree in one full year of work and classes. The exhibits they created for the event detailed their contribution to the agency and the broader Lehigh Valley community, as well as description of their placement.

Over the course of the past five years, the Community Fellows program has placed more than 60 students in dozens of agencies across the Lehigh Valley to work on a wide range of issues, initiatives and ongoing programs, according to Hannah Stewart-Gambino, professor of political science who co-founded the Community Fellows program at Lehigh along with Judith Lasker, professor of sociology and anthropology.

“We are proud of the enormous impact that Lehigh graduate students, backed by the rich Lehigh resources in faculty expertise and technical capability, have had on our community,” says Stewart-Gambino. “This event, which we plan to repeat annually, is a great way to capture at one time the breadth of impact that such a program can make.”

Juan Rodriguez of Easton, who managed a staff of interns and conducted outreach efforts for the office of Republican State Senator Robert Wonderling, described his Community Fellows experience as “a wonderful opportunity” that has helped him hone his career goals.

Rodriguez said he learned about the program through an Internet search and decided to follow up his master’s in history from East Stroudsburg University with the experience he gained through Lehigh’s program.

“I’ve really learned a lot and made some great connections,” says Rodriguez, who is intent on a career in politics.

Erin Niclaus of Nazareth was similarly motivated by a desire to build on her educational experience through the Community Fellows program, which paired her with Keenan House, an Allentown-based treatment center for addicts.

“I learned so much about research and about how comprehensive the projects can be,” says Niclaus, who plans on a career in the social research field. “It’s really a fantastic program.”

Real world experience is the best educator

Lisa Schulter also expanded her knowledge of public opinion through her work with the Allentown Women’s Center, a local health clinic.

Schulter polled college students and clients of the Center to gauge opinions on abortion, following up on earlier work she’d done with the New York chapter of the reproductive rights organization N.A.R.A.L.

“Community Fellows has been a really great program for someone with my experience,” Schulter says. “It combines my education with real-world experience, which is helping me transition to the work force.”

Community Fellows students interested in the for-profit sector are also given wide latitude to pursue their interests and gain valuable experience, program administrators say.

Frank Colachino says he appreciated the value of his work experience with Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center.

“I had the chance to work on some projects to help create a favorable climate for budding businesses, and the experience has been great for me,” he says. “I got a taste of what it’s like to work in that kind of environment.”

With his sights set on a career in pharmaceutical sales and management, he expects his work with the Community Fellows program to be a great help.

“You can do all the studying and training in the world, but this is hands-on,” he says. “I wouldn’t have had this experience anywhere else.”

Stewart-Gambino expressed her appreciation of both the students and their sponsoring agencies.

“I am really proud of these students and the partnerships we have forged over the years in the Lehigh Valley,” she says. “This is a great example of the university's commitment to be a responsible community leader.”

For more information about the Community Fellows Program, please go online.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2006

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