Just after move-in day, 750 undergraduate first-year students at Lehigh University ventured off-campus en masse and spread through South Bethlehem restaurants and shops for a “Faux Friday” night out. It was the social culmination of their four-day orientation weekend, and a mini-boost to the local economy.
While about 450 first-years opted to stay on campus that night, local merchants pulled in about $7,700 as more than half of the incoming class used their GoldPLUS cards to simply swipe, sit and eat.
“The merchants loved it,” said Will Hlay, the university ID manager. About 5,000-card holders strong by the end of the 2012-13 academic year, GoldPLUS integrates Lehigh University into the surrounding economy, infusing South Bethlehem with the energy – and commerce -- new students bring. The card can be used by students, staff and faculty.
About 80 businesses within about a 5-mile radius of campus are signed up to accept GoldPLUS, Hlay said. They businesses have gotten into the spirit of the partnership with Lehigh, holding random drawings for patrons who use their GoldPLUS cards, for instance. Merchants pay a rate similar to credit card rates to open their doors to GoldPLUS card-holders.
“Since going off-campus in 2002, GoldPLUS sales are averaging around $2 million annually, accounting for both on and off campus transactions,” Hlay said.
Introducing students to South Side
The Faux Friday event was one of several activities planned for the Class of 2017 in an effort to acquaint the students with the cultural richness of the South Side, their home for the next four years.
Additional events included a Lehigh After Dark “night of entertainment” kick-off program at SteelStacks that featured a mentalist, live music, improv comedy and a midnight breakfast. The event drew nearly 1,000 first year students to the off-campus arts and culture venue on the former Bethlehem Steel property that regularly hosts performances and festivals.
Several first year students also opted for a community service-themed Prelusion event that preceded the orientation program all new students participate in. Volunteer options included work with the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, the Hispanic Center, New Bethany Ministries, the Bethlehem Public Library and Jacobsburg State Park.
The South Side events were added to the already full orientation schedule to encourage students to explore the city that surrounds South Mountain campus and to consider the contributions they can make.
“We want students to know that they are not only a part of the Lehigh community, but the South Bethlehem community as well,” said Allison Ragon, assistant dean of students and director of Lehigh’s first-year experience. “We want to make sure they understand the vast history of this area and how they can influence the future of this city.”
Photos by Christa Neu