Giving America's Youth a Voice

Lehigh University College of Arts and Sciences - Dan Coviello

Lehigh University environmental policy design graduate student Dan Coviello ’13  ’15G is revolutionizing youth engagement at the United Nations

Dan Coviello ’13 ’15G, who has served two terms as chair of the United Nations’ Department of Public Information (DPI)/Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Youth Representative Program, advocates for young people to advance the mission of their NGO by participating in education, orientation and training opportunities at the United Nations.

NGOs, nonprofit groups that are independent of governmental structures, fill an important role in policy-making processes. They exist for many causes, including environmental, social and economic. Their passionate members hold fundraisers, campaign, educate communities, push for appropriate legislation and conduct research.

Every NGO associated with the UN through the DPI is able to provide two grounds passes—entrance tickets that permit recipients to attend weekly meetings, access public information events, acquire training and represent their NGOs at conferences and other events—to youth representatives (between 18 and 32 years old) annually.

As chair of the DPI/NGO Youth Representative Program, Coviello afforded leadership in providing institutional structure to the youth representative program and enhancing communication between NGOs and the UN. His achievements include the development of youth-led conferences and briefings and outreach through social media, blogs and newsletters.

“I was fortunate enough to be elected chair and have continuously helped define what the program is, as well as guide what it can become,” he explains. “There was a need for leadership in terms of organization, and I quite honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. One of the most important things I learned was how to establish an environment where people’s opinions were valued, heard and incorporated.”

On June 1, Coviello stepped down as chair to pursue other avenues of service. Following a summer of international travel, he now works as an intern for the policy analysis branch of the UN’s division for sustainable development and will train two representatives to serve as youth delegates for Tarumitra, an environmental NGO based in India.

Coviello’s zeal for civic engagement started at Lehigh. As an undergraduate environmental engineering major, he served as the ourtreach chair and Global Union representative for engineers, where members partner with disadvantaged communities to improve their quality of life through education and implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while promoting global experience for engineers, engineering students and similarly motivated non-engineers. Through the organization, he helped design a water conservation plan for Pueblo Nuevo, Honduras, and led a water filter design competition for seventh-grade students at Broughal Middle School in the Bethlehem Area School District.

“It was in Engineers Without Borders that I discovered firsthand how to approach a development project,” he says. “I learned a lot about how to make some tough decisions.”

Coviello also founded a student chapter of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists and facilitated the establishment of the Lehigh University Eco-Representatives group. These are only a few of the philanthropic and community-based volunteer initiatives he was involved with, but a few themes underline all of his activities: a dedication to help others, a willingness to seize the day and assistance from Lehigh in achieving his goals.

“Lehigh will help open doors for you, but it’s up to you to take that step through,” he reveals. “After representing Lehigh at the 64th annual UN NGO conference in Germany, I was able to contribute to the text (of the conference declaration, which was focused on youth empowerment in sustainable development). After that, I served as a social media volunteer for the UN and, not long afterward, became an official youth representative. I just kept moving.”

Support from Lehigh came both before and after Coviello’s association with the UN. It was at the community service office and through the mentorship and guidance of director Carolina Hernandez where he learned the five critical elements of service: community voice, orientation, meaningful action, reflection and evaluation.

“I use them daily in my activities at the UN,” he says.

Coviello’s efforts at the UN have primed him to inspire others on a global scale. In May, he traveled to Taiwan with members of the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) and was a guest of honor at a ceremony to honor Buddha’s birthday and Mother’s Day in Taipei, the capital city. One thing is certain: Coviello does not suffer from stage fright. At the celebration, he spoke in front of 100,000 people and met Ma Ying-jeou, president of Taiwan; Hau Lung-pin, mayor of Taipei; and the venerable master Hsing Yun, one of the leaders of humanistic Buddhism.

During his travels, he lived in a monastery for two days, visited a fishing village that reminded him of his hometown of Brick, N.J., and had the opportunity to deliver a speech titled “The World We Want, 2015: A Future for All” at universities around the country. In his presentation, Coviello discussed how meaningful youth engagement means being seen as and treated like a partner, before, during and after decisions are made. He also explained to students that an individual’s background informs his or her perspective on different issues.

“It was fun,” he recalls. “Each speech was a little different for me and the audience, and I enjoy that. Everywhere I went, the people were extremely welcoming, compassionate and genuinely interested in me being in and seeing Taiwan and learning about Buddhism. My favorite part of the trip was interacting with the people I met over there and being able to connect with the BLIA. They really made the trip unforgettable.”

Not one to stand still, Coviello attended the third Youth Led Briefing and Youth Rep Orientation at the UN, completed arrangements for his fraternity’s (Psi Upsilon) convention and half-day of service at Lehigh University and prepared to head abroad again after returning from Taiwan. On June 8, he traveled to Galway, Ireland, as the graduate assistant for the Lehigh in Ireland summer study abroad program.

“I try to sleep, eat well and say yes to the right things,” he laughs. “I have a great girlfriend, a supportive family and a great Lehigh support structure to help me as well. I’m always trying to find balance. It’s not there yet, but I’m getting close. Through it all, I’ve realized that if you have passion, ambition and a good network, there’s no telling what can happen if you set your mind to something. My route hasn’t been direct, but it’s been fun every single turn.”

-Esther Shanahan