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Lehigh students get a taste of summer in New York City

Todd Haselton may never look at New York City the same way again.

The junior English major from nearby Easton participated in the Lehigh in New York program last summer to learn more about a city that he rarely had the opportunity to visit. The six-week academic program was initiated and guided by John Pettegrew, director of the American Studies program and associate professor of history, and has been offered through the university’s history department for the past several summers.

What Haselton gained from the class was a much deeper understanding of the way one of the world’s most diverse and exciting cities was settled and developed, and how it has evolved into a center of culture and commerce.

“This experience really opened my eyes to New York City,” he says. “I used to see it as a crowded, busy mess. I only knew it for Times Square. Now I know the Fulton Street Fish Market, Washington Square Park, the histories and stories of the city, the people, the culture the food. This class allowed me to see things you could only experience by living and learning in the city.”

Haselton and his fellow Lehigh students immersed themselves in New York City, taking course work on New York City culture, art and history as well as doing some experiential learning by living in the city itself. Walking tours of distinctive neighborhoods, trips to New York’s art museums and Broadway theatres, and reading texts and watching movies that were based in New York also deepen a student’s understanding of the Big Apple.

“Living in the environment I was learning about was a really unique experience,” says Haselton, who hopes to land a job with a tech magazine when he graduates.

“It’s not all fun.”

History professor Roger Simon, who has been teaching in the program for several years, acknowledges that “it is a different kind of a learning experience,” but cautions that “it’s not all fun.”

“There is definitely a great deal of work that the students have to do,” he says. “But in the end, the students will understand the city in a much different way. The course greatly deepens their understanding of what they’re seeing.”

Each summer, two courses are offered. Simon teaches “The Built Environment of New York: 1624-2001,” which focuses on the city’s physical development, evolution of land use, housing, and changing economy. The city, he adds, “is so much more than tall buildings and traffic and armies of pedestrians. By the time the course is over, they’ll understand why the entertainment district is centered around Times Square, or why Rockefeller Center is where it is, and why Grand Central Station is at 42nd Street. They’ll understand the real reasons for all these developments.”

In 2005 and again this year, Scott Gordon, professor of English, teaches the second course, “Literature and Film of New York.” During the course, which runs from May 23-June 30, students live in a dorm at New York University in Greenwich Village, and learn to navigate the city on their own.

To speed up the learning curve, Simon created “Simon’s Subway Simplified,” a three-part color-coded guide.

“By the second week,” Simon says, “the students are already comfortable riding the subway and finding their way around. I’ve really seen the students gain in confidence and personal growth from learning how to navigate the city.”

They’re also more comfortable dealing with the residents of a city not known for gentility.

“The students often find that if you pierce the veneer of toughness, New Yorkers are extraordinarily willing to be helpful and polite,” says Simon. “It’s not such a tough place. You just have to accept them for what they are. They’re very proud of their city, but they’ve developed well-deserved defense strategies for surviving in a big city.”

Pat Hamer, a senior history major from California, discovered a passion for urban history over the course of his Lehigh career, and felt that the Lehigh in New York course he took during the summer of 2003 allowed him to indulge that passion while earning credits. The experience, he says, will serve him well when he moves to New York after graduation in May.

“I feel I’ll have a different perspective on the city because of the knowledge I gained during the course,” Hamer says.

For Dave Rattner, a junior history major from Morristown, N.J., Simon’s course offered the opportunity to learn more about a city he says he was fascinated with since childhood.

“Going back to the city will never be the same after last summer,” Rattner says. “I’ve been there several times since I took the course, and I’ve grown to really appreciate the chaos, while recognizing the deeper sense of planning and development.”

Haselton concurs.

“Not only would I recommend it, but I’d retake it if I could,” he says. “It was one of the best times of my life.”

Applications for the Lehigh in New York Summer 2006 program will be accepted until April 15, 2006. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required. The program cost of $5,000 includes eight Lehigh University undergraduate credits, dormitory room at New York University, meal plan, and special events. For more information, go online and click on "Lehigh in NY" on the left-hand side of the page.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, March 10, 2006

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