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The American Democracy Project at Illinois State University

American Democracy Project Logo

In 2003, the national American Democracy Project (ADP) was created as an initiative of American Association of State College and Universities (AASCU) in partnership with The New York Times. The goal was to offer a nonpartisan initiative among state colleges and universities that focused on higher education’s role in preparing students to ultimately be informed and engaged citizens who participate in democracy.

Illinois State University, under the leadership of Provost John Presley, was an early adopter of the initiative and joined ADP in 2004. A committee was formed with individuals from both the divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, and both divisions also made financial contributions to fund the committee’s efforts. The committee was co-chaired by a representative from both divisions, and it remained that way until its dissolution in 2020.

The first co-chairs of the ADP at Illinois State were Jan Murphy, who was Associate Provost at the time, and Brent Paterson, then Associate Vice President of Student Affairs.

According to Murphy, the University’s participation in ADP and the ADP committee’s initiatives focusing on civic engagement were both important aspects of why civic engagement was added as a core value of the University in 2008. This addition was initiated during the process to develop the 2008–2013 strategic plan.

In addition to Murphy and Paterson, several other individuals served as co-chairs of ADP at Illinois State during the 15+ years the committee was active. Other co-chairs were:

  • Jan Paterson
  • Steve Hunt
  • Art Munin
  • Noha Shawki
  • John Davenport
  • Jackie Lanier

The Work of ADP at Illinois State

Illinois State University American Democracy Project Logo

Over the years Illinois State University’s ADP committee developed several initiatives that are foundational to the institution’s civic engagement work today.

The committee was responsible for student voter engagement and election engagement at Illinois State. The University was one of only nine campuses participating in the Political Engagement Project (PEP), an ADP initiative that focused on developing student political efficacy and duty.

Illinois State was honored in 2011 as the recipient of the Political Engagement Program of Excellence Award. After the PEP program concluded, Illinois State continued using the PEP model until electoral engagement shifted to a campus coalition model in 2020.

Other key initiatives included Community Engaged Campus as well as the Washington D.C. study tour, now housed in the Politics and Government Department.

The Civic Engagement and Responsibility Minor

One of the most notable achievements of the ADP committee was the development of Illinois State University’s Civic Engagement and Responsibility Minor. That took place in 2009 with leadership from Lance Lippert in the School of Communication.

The interdisciplinary minor was the first of its kind in Illinois and sought to develop students who were effective problem solvers and change agents. The Civic Engagement Course Redesign Program was born from the creation of the minor too. Additionally, Lippert was recognized in 2019 with AASCU’s Barbara Burch Award for Faculty Leadership in Civic Engagement.

The ADP committee was also a part of Illinois State University’s first attempt at earning the Carnegie Foundation’s Classification for Community Engagement.

The Center for Civic Engagement

The Center for Civic Engagement Logo

In fall of 2017, after nearly two years of planning, the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) officially opened. (CCE was originally named the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning but changed its name in 2020.)

Without a doubt, the vision and effort of the ADP committee lead to this institutionalization of civic engagement at Illinois State University. The voluntary work of so many faculty, staff, and students for many years demonstrated the need for greater infrastructure to support civic engagement at the University.

Just like the very first ADP committee, CCE also dual reports to both the divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. The dual-reporting nature of CCE reflects the University’s belief that a student’s development of civic knowledge, skills, attitudes, and motivation occurs cumulatively through all their campus experiences.

Today most of the core initiatives that originated from the ADP committee are now housed in CCE. CCE staff are responsible for engaging with community-based organizations to facilitate and strengthen campus-community partnerships. CCE partners with the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology to continue to offer civic engagement course redesign.

The Voter Engagement Coalition, led by CCE staff, is a campus-wide coalition to support student voter engagement. CCE staff, along with the new Civic Engagement Fellow: Electoral Engagement, work to incorporate political engagement initiatives in curricular and co-curricular spaces.

The CCE director also serves as the coordinator of the Civic Engagement and Responsibility Minor.

Illinois State also continues to be active with national initiatives in AASCU’s ADP. Dr. Steve Hunt (School of Communication), Dr. Byron Craig (School of Communication), and Dr. J. Scott Jordan (Department of Psychology) currently serve as Civic Fellows for the Extending Empathy Project. Harriett Steinbach (CCE) serves as a planner and facilitator for AASCU’s Deliberative Dialogue Institute.