Bringing It

Bringing It #117: Highlighting Civic Engagement Initiatives that Advance Higher Ed as a Public Good

February 08, 2024

Dear friends,

As you know, one important commitment of BT2P and our Paradigm Project is advancing the movement to offer all students education for democracy and civic engagement. Today’s Bringing It highlights new efforts to promote civic education in higher ed. We hope you find these groups inspiring, especially as we enter an election year, where it is vital that students participate as civic actors.

The Citizens Campaign:

The Citizens Campaign is an initiative to expand the citizen leadership capacity of America’s youth by offering tools to students to participate in government problem-solving. Sam Castro, who is heading up the youth outreach campaign, outlines more about the initiative below.

“The Citizens Campaign is a national initiative that has produced nonpartisan training tools to empower all citizens to participate in government problem-solving. The Campaign argues, that our elected officials simply can’t keep up with all the problems we’re facing in the 21st century, so we need to get off the sidelines and become citizen leaders who bring solutions. The core of the training is a ten-step method of No-Blame© Problem Solving that keeps the focus on the solution by avoiding the blame game and polarized ideologies.

This includes a new outreach to higher ed. The Citizens Campaign is partnering with colleges and universities (primarily MSIs and community colleges) to serve as Citizen Leadership Training Bases. Each Training Base offers the self-paced online certificate course in Leadership and No-Blame Problem Solving as a non-credit offering for Continuing Education. The course can be used as a module in employee training or undergraduate courses too, and The Citizens Campaign’s staff facilitates training in a High-Impact project-based approach. Everyone who takes the course is invited to join the Campaign’s Citizen Service, with the goal of establishing community-based “civic trusts” around the country to advance local policy solutions.

To check out the course, visit training.thecitizenscampaign.org, or visit our website at thecitizenscampaign.org. To learn more about becoming a campus Training Base, reach out to [email protected].” –Samantha Castro, Civic Trustee and Chair of the Citizen’s Public Safety Advisory Board 

Unify America:

Unify America is a national initiative that bursts Americans out of their “bubbles.” By pairing citizens of differing ideologies and introducing them via video chat, Unify America is connecting people to discuss our country’s biggest, toughest questions, and to help our country heal. Here’s how Unify America’s Abby Ferguson describes an important new project of theirs, the Unify Challenge College Bowl.

“Want to give your students a high-impact, low-risk way to practice the critical skill of respectful, productive dialogue across differences?

Meet the Unify Challenge College Bowl, a biannual intercollegiate conversation event that has grown 10 times in two years, hosting over 8,200 students from 160+ colleges and universities.

Here’s how it works: Two students, from different colleges and different backgrounds are paired into one-on-one guided online conversations about America’s toughest political issues. During the experience, students discover they share common ground and report that they were able to listen to new perspectives. Nearly 100% of professors surveyed would recommend the experience and use it again in their classrooms. (And it’s completely free for universities and colleges.) Learn more about how your students can participate here.”–Abby Ferguson, Director of Partnerships

These groups prove that civic action can be a core tenet to higher education. We hope you’ll take advantage of these resources and draw inspiration from their efforts. Thanks to Abby Ferguson of Unify America and Joanna Kenty and Sam Castro from The Citizens Campaign for sharing vital information about their organizations.

All over the country, many campuses are successfully encouraging their students to register, vote, and engage in electoral politics. To lift up one of many exemplars, we’d like to highlight the impressive efforts of St. Olaf College.

St. Olaf College:

In the last presidential election, 87.6% of eligible St. Olaf students cast their vote, 21% higher than the national average, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. St. Olaf participated in the ALL IN Campus Democracy challenge, but their efforts didn’t stop there. Academic Civic Engagement Program Director Alyssa Melby created a Campus Election Engagement Champion program, which empowered students to connect with their peers about voting.  The Champions developed a toolkit that offered resources on how to talk to fellow students about voter registration. The 70 student ambassadors used peer-to-peer engagement to get students excited about voting and help them create their voting plans–all during a time when in-person voting options were unavailable due to Covid-19. Not only did this effort win the university a national award it also earned them coverage from Good Morning America.

News and Events:

  • Imagining America is hiring a Communications Director to create communications concepts, designs, and materials reflective of IA’s mission and values. Imagining America is looking for someone with a balance of technical and writing skills with experience leading storytelling campaigns, writing articles, and developing social media campaigns. Please submit applications before February 18, 2024.
  • Project Pericles is offering Civic and Voter Engagement Fellowships for use in the humanities. Fellows will be awarded a $1,000 grant to make use of the Periclean Civic Engagement Resources in the Spring and Fall of 2024, and to participate in virtual learning communities with other fellows. Fellowships will be awarded along two tracks, Deliberative Dialogue (for faculty) and Voting Rights Expansion (for faculty and staff). Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.
  • The 2024 PHENND Conference is taking place February 23rd in Philadelphia, PA. PHENND is a network of over 25 colleges and universities that strengthens service-learning, civic engagement, and community partnership in Philadelphia, connecting academics with community involvement. The organization is also an Emerging Model partner. The conference is themed “The Future of Higher Education” and draws inspiration from the big questions of the Paradigm Project. Featuring Paradigm Working Group member Dr. Tim Eatman as the Keynote speaker, and many of our colleagues from the Emerging Models, this event will bring together many of our partners and friends.  We are proud to support this gathering and hope you’ll join us in Philadelphia.

With thanks for you and all you do,

David, Gianna, Gillian, Kate, Paul, and Todd

Bringing Theory to Practice
Elon University
www.bttop.org