When Shoghik Mikayelyan, co-founder and executive director of Nor Luyce, first traveled from Gyumri, Armenia to Lehigh University on a Fulbright scholarship, she had no awareness of the Lehigh / UN Partnership or how it might help grow Nor Luyce’s reach. At that time, her non-governmental organization (NGO) - a mentoring center for Armenian women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds - was only beginning to expand and was exclusive to Armenian influence. Now, Nor Luyce is a UN-accredited, flourishing NGO that consistently engages with UN events and recruits volunteers from Armenia and beyond.
Lehigh’s relationship with Nor Luyce has strengthened as well. Mikayelyan now supports Lehigh students’ ambitions to travel to Gyumri as Iacocca International Internship Program interns and Fulbright scholars.
While pursuing her master’s in counseling and human services at Lehigh, Mikayelyan visited the UN for the first time as part of one of her classes. There, she learned much about how the UN helps NGOs amplify their voices to the global community, which is a privilege available only to UN-accredited NGOs. Determined to gain this status for Nor Luyce, she applied for it upon graduating and returning to Armenia in 2019. With the help of Dr. Bill Hunter, Director of Fellowship Advising and United Nations Programs, and other staff at Lehigh, Mikayelyan successfully obtained ECOSOC status in 2020. This meant that Nor Luyce could finally present itself on the massive global stage of the UN.
While at Lehigh, Mikayelyan was also introduced to the UN Youth Representative Program, which matches NGOs with high-achieving students to serve as their voice at the UN. With no other representation in the US, she immediately recognized the value of this partnership and recruited her first Lehigh Youth Representatives to advocate for youth empowerment and gender equality at the UN on Nor Luyce's behalf.
Elena Reiss, Assistant Director of Fellowship Advising and UN Programs, manages Lehigh’s Youth Representative program. Reiss developed a connection with Mikayelyan while she was a student in her English class, and has since visited Mikayelyan in Gyumri. According to Reiss, “[Mikayelyan] is very intentional with the students she works with. Her representatives become very passionate and involved, and her NGO is one of our strongest partners.”
Marissa Hastings was one of Nor Luyce’s first Youth Representatives before she graduated from Lehigh in 2022. Hastings worked closely with Mikayelyan for three years, where the two formed an intercontinental friendship, and Hastings now serves on Nor Luyce’s advisory board. It was this bond that led Hastings to apply to the Fulbright Program to Armenia. As a Fulbrighter herself and admirer of Hastings’ work ethic and character, Mikayelyan wrote a letter of recommendation that helped bring her to the semi-finals of the application process.
Mikayelyan said, “She’s a treasure that I’ve found. Together we have been able to achieve great things.” The two of them even contributed a chapter to the book, Perspectives on Lifelong Learning and Global Citizenship, which shares researched approaches to learning through a global citizenship lens.
Even if she does not receive the scholarship, Hastings plans on visiting Gyumri to see Mikayelyan and the Nor Luyce facilities in-person. “She really trusted us as youth representatives,” said Hastings. “She gave me a lot of responsibilities to be excited about.”
Hastings is thankful for the bond that she and Mikayelyan have formed. She continued, “I have made a lifelong friend, someone I can learn a lot from. When we work together, it makes an even better outcome for the girls in the program…it's fantastic.”
Currently, two Lehigh students serve as Nor Luyce’s Youth Representatives to the UN (Caroline Mierzwa and Julianna Caskie). Like Hastings, their tasks include speaking at UN conferences, drafting written statements along with hundreds of other ECOSOC NGOs, helping prepare, market, and facilitate presentations for the Commision on the Status of Women (CSW) forum, and much more.
Mikayelyan has high hopes for the future of Nor Luyce and its growth in collaboration with Lehigh. This summer will be the first of many with a Lehigh student working as an Iacocca Intern for Nor Luyce. She continues to set goals for her current youth representatives, such as getting more involved with UN Women, the UN entity focused on gender equity and women’s empowerment. As for visiting Lehigh, Mikayelyan looks forward to the first available opportunity to return and re-connect with the Lehigh students that help Nor Luyce assert itself on the global advocacy stage.
PHOTO: ELENA REISS