By Kristen Vincent ’26

In April, the Landis Center for Community Engagement hosted three separate groups from Easton Area School District—third graders from Cheston Elementary who met their Lafayette student pen pals; Easton Area Middle School students interested in engineering and architecture; and 22 high school juniors from the Generation Next program who toured the College and learned about resources available to students.

Chelsea Morrese, executive director of community engagement and director of Landis Center, says the earlier students get interested in going to college, the more likely they are to attend.

“We have programs from elementary to high school so that from about third grade through graduation, students can continue to come back to Lafayette College and just get an idea of what college is,” Morrese says.

Making a connection as pen pals

Zoe Gelber ’24, co-coordinator of the Landis Center pen pals program, explains the yearlong program involves 60 Lafayette students, each assigned to a third grade pen pal from Cheston.

Gelber explains the program “helps the kids with their literacy skills, their writing skills, as well as their typing skills.”

After a year of sending letters to each other, pen pals finally met for the first time on April 12. The elementary students took a tour around campus and did a scavenger hunt with their pen pals.

In addition to improving literacy skills, the program gives students a chance to connect with college-level students and inspires them to think about their future path.

“Through this specific program, a lot of the students who come to campus have this new inclination of, ‘Oh my gosh, this makes me want to go to college,’” Gelber says.

Stacee Benko, community school coordinator for Communities in Schools, says the third graders enjoy getting the chance to meet their pen pal in person. 

“When they get to meet that person who they’ve had that impact with, they love it,” Benko says. “So it’s very nice for them to have that experience.”

Intro to engineering through LEEM

The same day the pen pals were on campus, the Lafayette Engineering Easton Mentorship (LEEM) program welcomed 34 Easton Area Middle School (EAMS) students to campus. 

LEEM members Grace Brokenshire ’24, Kyra Ragland ’24, Ritika Tadla ’24, and Matt Doane ’24 introduced the middle schoolers to the ins and outs of engineering, and collaborated with Aegis Property Group and Turner Construction for the activities.

“We had been planning it most of the semester, we had talked to the professional partners, we had an entire schedule for different groups and for different activities that we were planning on doing,” Ragland says. “We try to have activities where they can be hands-on and demonstrational, as opposed to us just talking at them.”

EAMS students had an opportunity to learn about building columns and bridges by constructing structures out of spaghetti and marshmallow. 

Ragland explains that as part of the visit, “We thought it would be a good idea to have them incorporate the building a little bit as well, as they did this retaining wall activity that the kids seem to enjoy.”

“I liked how each activity was extremely different from the rest, but all had similar propert[ies] in engineering,” notes one middle school student.

As the day drew to a close, Brokenshire and Ragland could tell the activities had inspired the middle schoolers to learn more about what Lafayette offers for engineering students.

Brokenshire says she thinks it’s a good connection to make for these students that this could be part of their future. “Just getting exposed early on, I think, is super helpful,” she adds.

Ragland adds, “I think it helps to encourage them about civil engineering and educate them on it, especially the middle schoolers in this case, because a lot of them didn’t know about civil engineering.

Benko says the visit was inspiring for her students.

“It’s very nice for them to see that something that big and that great exists here,” Benko says. “It gives them a little bit of hope, and a little motivation possibly about going to school because it’s like, ‘Right here, look how successful it is,’ and then getting to actually go and see it, that’s a whole big experience.”

Finding their path

Easton juniors in the Generation Next program had a full day on campus April 25. Their visit began with a campus tour, which was followed by a panel discussion focusing on student resources available at the College. 

Students also had the opportunity to attend a class, which gave them a glimpse of college-level coursework. After class, they ate lunch in one of the campus dining centers.

The day continued with a scavenger hunt across the campus and concluded with a reflection session, where students discussed their experiences and insights from the day.

Generation Next, an initiative by Community Action Lehigh Valley, aims to address educational inequities by guiding students through the process of preparing for, gaining admission to, and graduating from college or vocational programs. 

“This program specifically supports first-generation juniors and seniors at Easton Area High School (EAHS), helping them integrate into college life and succeed in higher education,” says Jodi Fowler, associate director of civic leadership for Landis Center.

Fowler explains that the MOSAIC Generation Next volunteers, coordinated by Damaris Gomez ’24, meet with EAHS students weekly and engage in activities that are designed to enhance critical thinking and life skills. The goal is to prepare students for the challenges of both high school and college, while also fostering self-awareness. 

“We were very happy to bring them to Lafayette for the day to give them a chance to experience college firsthand,” Fowler says.

Categorized in: Community, Community Impact, Featured News, Landis Center, News and Features, Students

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