Lehigh students are getting to know their way around the U.N.
Lehigh University enjoys the rare distinction of being one of only six universities in the world to be recognized as a non-governmental organization (NGO) by the United Nations department of public information.
The honor, which came in August 2004, has opened the door to a host of distinctive educational opportunities for students, faculty, and administrators.
Prior to earning the official designation, Lehigh students, professors, and administrators met with the Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri on the eve of the Iraq war to gain a perspective not generally publicized at the time. Since then, they've met with new Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumadaie after the start of the war, and recently met privately with Iranian Ambassador J. Javad Zarif at his U.N. offices to engage in a free-form, 90-minute discussion on international politics and the current strained relations between his country and the U.S.
More recently, the head of Lehigh's Environmental Initiative (E.I.) and a group of nearly 20 Lehigh students were afforded the opportunity to attend a U.N. conference on the potential for an avian flu pandemic.
At the session, Dork Sahagian, director of the E.I. and professor of earth and environmental sciences, and the students from several disciplines at Lehigh heard representatives from the World Health Organization, the U.N.'s economic and social council, and humanitarian relief organizations discuss the history of avian influenza and the factors that place the world at risk for a future pandemic.
Over the course of the academic year, Lehigh sends several representatives to U.N. briefings every other Thursday to gain international perspectives on such topics as nuclear proliferation, human trafficking, and communicable diseases.
Lehigh also plays host to a series of international experts who visit the Lehigh campus regularly. This past fall, World Health Organization official Dr. Joxel Garcia kicked off Lehigh's annual International Week with a keynote address titled, "From Bioterrorism to Bird Flu: Current Biological Threats Facing Our Society."
Sahagian also teamed with the LU/U.N. partnership to bring Nina Djajaprawira, the U.N. first secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia, to campus to speak on the impact of the 2004 tsunami and the response in her country.
Opportunities extend beyond diplomatic communications as well.
This past September, the Lehigh Philharmonic Orchestra performed at a gathering organized around the 58th Annual DPI/NGO U.N. Conference. The students performed for a large audience that included government officers and representatives from 124 countries, including U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan and Wahu Kaara, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Kenya.
"An opportunity to play on international territory, where global decision-making elites from around the globe gather for cocktails, is an experience that cannot be missed," says Takeshi Yamaguchi, a member of the orchestra's viola section.
The LU/UN Partnership offers students the rare opportunity to attend briefings, conferences and other events.
Several students attended the conference, which focused on the role of non-governmental organizations in promoting corporate social responsibility to improve health, nutrition, education, and environmental standards of living around the world.
The vitality of the partnership between Lehigh and the U.N. has not gone unnoticed.
When Bill Hunter, Lehigh representative to the U.N. and director of International Students and Scholars, visited the U.N. early in 2005, Lehigh was publicly recognized as one of the most positive and active additions among more than 1,000 NGOs.
"Because of our NGO status, most doors are now open for Lehigh students, faculty, and staff at the U.N.," he says. "We've taken nearly a dozen student groups there just this past fall, and have gained access to high-level meetings where issues impacting all of us are discussed. Students can now hear directly from global decision makers. It's a wonderful co-curricular opportunity."
The development of the strong relationship between Lehigh and the U.N. has been one of Hunter's goals from the outset of his time at Lehigh. He's been supported in the process by Henri Barkey, a former U.S. State Department official and now professor and chair of the international relations department, and Barkey's colleague, Raj Menon, the Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of International Relations.
Over the course of the past five years, Hunter has been successful in securing funding through the Fred and Ester Kucklinsky Foundation and in further developing the LU/U.N. partnership.
"We've really only scratched the surface," says Hunter. "In the future, we hope to create a U.N. center on campus to study the U.N.'s activities and impact on society, enable our faculty and staff to become a resource for the U.N., conduct joint research on U.N. projects, and further support the U.N. millennium goals."
For more on Lehigh's Global Citizenship program and other international initiatives, read Provoking a new world view.
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2006