When Shogher Mikayelyan '16G was working with Historic Armenian Houses, an organization in her home city of Gyumri in Armenia in 2008, she took a group of American volunteers on a tour of a local orphanage. She remembers that one of the girls living there thanked them for coming but then remarked that the volunteers would all forget the children as soon as they left.
“I wasn’t actually expecting her to say that. I tried to convince her that, ‘No I will be back, I promise you.’ And then she said, ‘Don’t promise something that you won’t be able to keep. Anyone who needs us comes here but as soon as they leave, they will always forget us and will never come back,’” Mikayelyan said.
That conversation prompted Mikayelyan to act, and after receiving encouragement from two Americans from her group, she began to research mentorship programs.
After researching programs abroad, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, she discovered there were none of that kind in Armenia.
By the time Mikayelyan came to Lehigh in 2016 as a Fulbright Scholar from Armenia, she had already established her nongovernment organization (NGO) Nor Luyce in 2010.
Nor Luyce works with adolescent girls in orphanages and in socially vulnerable families in Armenia. It is the first and only organization of its kind in the country even to this day, she says.
According to Mikayelyan, the organization began to reach out to teenage girls outside of the initial groups last year.
Mikayelyan studied counseling psychology in the College of Education at Lehigh so she could provide the appropriate assistance to the program’s mentees. She previously studied English and school counseling in Armenia. She said that the organization’s mentors, who are university students, come from a counseling background, as well.
The organization offers mentoring at three phases: the initial mentoring phase, skill-building phase and higher education phase. Each phase lasts one year, and once a mentee finishes a phase, they move onto the next.
The initial mentoring phase involves one-on-one meetings and group meetings with fellow mentees, so they can network and form a support group. In the second phase, the skill-building phase, mentees learn life skills and make their career plans. The organization uses empirically valid tests to help mentees assess their strengths and weaknesses, and it also helps them get to know themselves as people and professionals, Mikayelyan said. During the higher education phase, mentees learn job skills and are provided with scholarships toward a college degree. In one part of this phase, mentees have the opportunity to meet with famous Armenians in an event series called “A Key to My Success,” so they can learn about the journeys these speakers had in getting to where they are now.
“These meetings help the girls to know that no matter where you are from, anyone who has success went through a lot of challenges. The most important thing is how you deal with the problem, whether you step back or you continue trying to reach your goal or dream,” Mikayelyan said.
Nor Luyce Seeks UN Accreditation
While at Lehigh, Mikayelyan met Bill Hunter, director of fellowship advising and UN programs, and learned about the UN Partnership program.
In his other role as director of the Fulbright Association, Hunter got to know Mikayelyan as a Fulbright candidate.
“I was immediately impressed by her motivation, her enthusiasm and her dedicated, community-minded spirit,” Hunter said.
By taking a course called Women and the UN, Mikayelyan was able to observe how people worked together to meet the Sustainable Development Goals at the UN.
Halfway through her time at Lehigh, Hunter said, he suggested that she apply for UN accreditation for Nor Luyce. They then worked together to see whether this was an appropriate path.
After applying for accreditation through the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Nor Luyce achieved accreditation this past June, according to Whitney Szmodis, assistant director of fellowship advising and UN programs and the director of the Lehigh's Youth Representative Program.
After gaining accreditation at the highest level, Nor Luyce is applying for a variety of grants and projects that will help to develop the organization. Mikayelyan said she also hopes that these resources will allow for the partnership between Nor Luyce, Lehigh, and the UN to become stronger.
“It was truly Shogher’s dedication to gender equity and women’s empowerment that was a unanimous decision to bring on her NGO as a Lehigh partner and to have our students serve as UN youth representatives,” Hunter said.
In the UN programs office as a part of OIA’s larger strategic plan and structure, the office has certain missions aligned with the larger OIA picture. Within the UN Youth Representative Program and UN programs specifically, there are four pillars – health, sustainability, gender equality and youth empowerment, with an overall theme of social justice.
“In looking at those pillars, Nor Luyce works on young girls’ empowerment so it definitely fits within our structure and our mission within the Youth Representative program,” Szmodis said.
Nor Luyce Joins Lehigh's Youth Representative Program
Over the past six months, Mikayelyan and Szmodis had been talking about conducting qualitative and quantitative research for the organization and soon started this research with Nor Luyce’s two Youth Representatives, Jacqueline Fales '22 and Marissa Hastings '22. Fales and Hastings are the first Youth Representatives that Nor Luyce has had.
Fales is studying sociology with a minor in writing. She got involved with Nor Luyce when she was applying for scholarships for studying and teaching abroad. She had mentioned to her advisor that she was half Armenian and would be interested in living there for a year, which is when he had told her about Nor Luyce.
Hastings, who is studying toward a joint major in international relations and economics, became acquainted with Szmodis through participating in the Global Citizenship Program. She expressed an interest in economics and the relationship it has with gender equality and Szmodis eventually brought Nor Luyce to her attention during the spring 2020 semester.
According to Mikayelyan, the two have been organizing evaluation forms and assessing how the Nor Luyce evaluations align with the international evaluation statistics, as well as conducting research and attending UN events as Youth Representatives.
Hastings said that toward the beginning of the summer, she and Fales did research on many areas with one being on the success of individual mentoring compared to group mentoring.
“Through our research, we found out that while group meetings really do help with the community aspect and really help people feel comfortable in the space that they’re in, the real growth comes from the individual meetings,” Hastings said.
After this, Hastings said that she and Fales began to work on two separate but related projects. Hastings has primarily worked on improving the evaluations that have been used to quantitatively and qualitatively assess the improvement of the mentees over time in the program. Fales has been creating bullying surveys for both the organization’s participants and for local teachers. The surveys have been designed to gather information about the prevalence and effects of bullying in schools, with students and teachers answering similar questions.
Throughout their time working with Nor Luyce, Fales said that she and Hastings have had the opportunity to complete certificates through programs, specifically the City Program for Social and Behavioral Research course.
Hastings said that going to her team meetings with Fales, Mikayelyan and Szmodis and seeing the effects of their work has been a highlight of her experience as a Youth Representative.
“It’s been really fun to see that we’re impacting all these people’s lives, compared to just doing research and not seeing results upfront,” Hastings said.
For Fales, learning about the program as a whole has been a particularly enjoyable and interesting facet of her work. As an Armenian American, she had been involved with several Armenian organizations. Even with all her knowledge of organizations, she said she hadn’t heard of Nor Luyce before.
“This was really interesting to me because I was so familiar with so many different Armenian organizations. So it made it that much more special for me to become a part of it and for me to share what I’m doing with my American Armenian friends and how important it is,” Fales said.
Though there have been limitations with the pandemic, Mikayelyan and Szmodis both say that their respective programs have continued operations.
According to Mikayelyan, Nor Luyce has been doing online mentoring sessions with a larger scope of guests, with guests from Armenia and abroad. Rather than having about 11 sessions for the year, Mikayelyan estimates that this will double with the usage of video meetings. She also said that Nor Luyce’s mentors and mentees have begun to meet in person while abiding by COVID-19 precautions. The participants began to meet after findings from a survey that Hastings conducted showed that in-person mentoring was more effective than online mentoring.
Szmodis said that even with the pandemic, the UN Partnership will be providing many opportunities for students to attend UN programming and meetings online. Fales said that as a part of the program, she and other students have to attend at least three UN events a month.
“I think a lot of people can attend these events online and a lot of speakers can speak because they don’t have to travel to Lehigh or the UN-, they can sit in their makeshift offices and speak to large audiences. I think we are definitely not slowing down; I think we are ramping up,” Szmodis said.
Looking back on the beginnings of Nor Luyce more than 10 years ago, Mikayelyan said she is grateful for the UN Partnership program and the opportunities it has provided her and Nor Luyce.
“This has made things easier because I don’t have to wonder about how I will reach goals or how I will do things while overseas. I have people who support me over there and who will represent the organization in the right way,” Mikayelyan said.