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York College grad exactly where she wants to be, improving situations for others

October 25, 2019
Adrienne McNeil professional headshot in front of brown backdrop

Adrienne McNeil has performed good works for the public before, during, and since attending York College of Pennsylvania. Now, as Assistant Vice President of Community and Regional Affairs at Lehigh University, she’s building bridges between the school and the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania community to improve public education, revitalize neighborhoods, and foster economic prosperity.

The 1998 York College graduate – a recent recipient of a York College Year of 50 Spartans award – earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and says she was inspired to do good as she grew up in the Baltimore area. “My parents were, and are, very involved in community work,” she explains, noting they took her and her brother along on their projects. “That kind of rubbed off on both of us.”

Adrienne’s work to build a stronger South Bethlehem starts with meshing the school into the fabric of the community. “Lehigh has no fences,” she says of the university. “We’re trying to blend in with South Bethlehem.” Adrienne oversees Lehigh’s financial investment in the community. It partners with three public schools to improve educational outcomes. It also keeps neighborhoods livable by paying for two codes officers who oversee conditions at off-campus housing.

With Bethlehem Steel long gone, the university is the city’s economic driver, supporting programs to encourage entrepreneurship and developing housing, retail, and parking space. Finally, Lehigh employs ambassadors who help university parents navigate the city and who provide cleanup and safety patrols. “We take our role as an anchor institution seriously,” Adrienne says. “There is a lot of revitalization happening now, I would say, because of Lehigh.”

A history of helping

Adrienne has been focused on community outreach since graduating from York College. Shortly afterward, she was back on campus, recruiting students from multicultural backgrounds and working with diverse populations at the College and in York. After earning a master’s degree in Human Resource Development from Villanova University in 2001, she worked with the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program (YCCOSP), which provided a free education to several city students.

Adrienne helped the students appreciate the value of a college education while helping administrators understand that these students might be helping support their families with their jobs on campus. “It was an education on all fronts,” she says. 

Adrienne also served as the first CEO of York County Community Against Racism, which supports cultural diversity. “I still get calls today from my time there,” she says. “They ask for help: ‘Who do I call? How do I address whatever issue?’”

She also worked in community relations for the University of Phoenix in Harrisburg and taught human resources and marketing courses at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. From 2010 to 2015, she served at the United Way of Lancaster County, ultimately becoming Chief Operating Officer. “All those experiences paved the way for the job I have,” she notes.

A lifetime of education

Adrienne’s experience as a York College student also contributed. She was a member of the Black Student Union and one of five Student Ambassadors. “I loved the relationships I had with administrators,” she says, noting that she learned how to deal with movers and shakers, with whom she now collaborates.   

She worked with the Crispus Attucks Community Center. And she met a student who remains her best friend. “She was so different,” Adrienne says. “I’m from Baltimore County. She lived in the middle of nowhere.”

Building on her York College education, Adrienne earned a certificate from Harvard Business School for courses taken for the United Way, and she is completing work on a doctorate in Higher Education Administration at the University of Phoenix. “I went for my master’s and ultimately my PhD because I wanted to be self-sufficient,” she says.

Focusing on a goal

After performing outreach throughout her career, Adrienne found York College reaching out to her this past spring. It conferred on her a Year of 50 Spartans Award, which marked a half-century since the first-year class of the school’s first four-year degree program. The award honored alumni for professional achievement and remaining active with the College.

This year, she hosted 20 York College students who toured Lehigh University and one of its partner public schools. Adrienne says her doctorate will not be a springboard to another position. She is exactly where she wants to be, improving situations for others.

“I worked my whole life for the position I have now at Lehigh,” Adrienne says. “I get to do a lot of strategy work about community change, and I have the resources on behalf of Lehigh to implement that community change.”