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Illinois State University Recognized with the Political Engagement Project Program of Excellence Award

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

I am pleased to announce the creation of Political Engagement Project (PEP) Program of Excellence Award sponsored by The New York Times and the
American Democracy Project.  PEP has the goal of developing a sense of political efficacy and duty on the part of undergraduates as well as a set of political skills that students will need as they engage with the political world. To do this, PEP campuses have infused political education and engagement tactics into a variety of disciplines and courses on campus and have made the tenants of political engagement central to the institutional framework of their campuses. The purpose of this award is to recognize the distinctive excellence of PEP programs and to identify programs that can serve as best practice models for other AASCU campuses across the country. The 2011 New York Times PEP Program of Excellence Award winner is Illinois State University (ISU). “We are proud to be a sponsor of the new PEP Program of Excellence Award and we are excited about the work that the PEP campuses are doing. It was clear from the entry that Illinois State is engaged in substantial work and an innovator in the field,” Felice Nudelman, Executive Director of Education for The New York Times, wrote.

Steve Hunt, leader of PEP at ISU

Steven Hunt professor of Communication at Illinois State University has been a national leader in our efforts to expand PEP programming and philosophy to more AASCU institutions. This work crystallized in the creation of the PEP monograph: Educating Students for Political Engagement: A Guide to Implementation and Assessment for Colleges and Universities.  (To purchase the monograph, visit this website). In addition to providing national leadership for PEP, ISU has done groundbreaking work in transforming its curricular and co-curricular offerings to produce politically engaged undergraduates.

Tom Ehrlich of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was instrumental in the creation of PEP and has worked closely with ISU through the project. Tom expressed his enthusiasm about ISU being recognized with the award in a recent email. “Illinois State University is a model for campuses across the country in the ways it educates its students to be politically engaged in their communities. Too often, faculty and administrators, especially at public institutions, fear that politics and sound education cannot mix.  To the contrary, as Illinois State has shown, college years are an important time to gain the knowledge, the skills, and the attitudes for wise and responsible political engagement. The path-setting programs that Illinois has put in place ensure that its students learn in an environment of open inquiry without ideological bias.  Illinois State deserves the applause of everyone who cares about the future of our democracy.”

Pin from ISU's PEP voter registration and education campaign

The American Democracy Project salutes Illinois State University for its
leadership in preparing informed, engaged citizens for our democracy. Please see below for a description of ISU’s work and learn more about their commitment to political engagement pedagogy.

The Political Engagement Project at Illinois State University

The primary mission of the Political Engagement Project is to enhance Illinois
State University students’ awareness and understanding of political engagement and impact their level of political involvement and leadership. Faculty and staff work together to provide opportunities for students in the classroom, on campus, and in the community to develop skills related to political processes and leadership. Illinois State’s PEP is an initiative of the Provost’s Office in collaboration with representatives from Student Affairs. Chad Kahl (Subject Specialist Librarian for Criminal Justice, Law, Military Science and Politics & Government) chairs our PEP committee and represents the team on our larger ADP Committee. In our invitation to join PEP, we were asked to begin the project by focusing on a limited number of courses with an emphasis on the first year. This section begins with an overview of those curricular efforts in general education.

The First Year Learning in Communities [LinC] Seminar. One of the distinctive characteristics of the curricular approaches taken by our PEP faculty is that they craft pedagogy that provides opportunities for students to become directly engaged in campus and community life. Dr. Carlye Kalianov serves as our Carnegie PEP Fellow for the LinC program at Illinois State.  In a small seminar environment LinC provides a jumpstart for first-year students to help them learn campus resources, transition to college, identify potential majors/careers, and introduce them to political engagement. Other highlights of LinC include:

  • This is an eight week, first-year seminar offered in the fall (we typically have 16 sections of 21-25 students).
  • All incoming first-year athletes are required to enroll in the LinC Seminar.
  • Over the last four years many new activities, assignments, and discussion topics have been developed related to the goals of the PEP (e.g., election issues, community and campus involvement, and diversity).

COM 110 – Communication as Critical Inquiry. Dr. Steve Hunt (Professor of Communication) serves as the Carnegie PEP Scholar for Communication 110 course activities. While efforts to integrate PEP into COM 110 began with four sections in the fall 2006 semester, virtually all 76 sections of the course now contain PEP pedagogy (e.g., use of political examples to highlight course concepts, written paper assignments requiring students to link course concepts to politics, group campaigns on political issues, etc.). COM 110 is a required course for all freshmen and serves approximately 3,500 students annually.

Individuals and Civic Life Middle Core Courses. Dr Robert Bradley, Professor of Politics and Government, serves as our Carnegie PEP Scholar for the middle core of our general education program. Some of the courses in this core include: POL 101 (Citizens and Governance), POL105 (American Government), POL 106 (U.S. Government and Civic Practices), POL 161 (Introduction to Political Thinking), POL 215 (U.S. Judicial Process), POL 217 (U.S. Presidency), POL 220 (Campaign Politics), POL 325 (Constitutional Law), and POL 432 (Graduate Seminar in Judicial Politics). Dr. Bradley also coordinates efforts to infuse PEP into Criminal Justice courses such as CJS 102 (Society and Justice). Approximately 2,100 students enroll in these middle core courses every year.

PEP across the Curriculum

Beyond general education, our PEP team has created numerous opportunities for students that cross all disciplines at Illinois State. For example, Dr. Bradley oversaw the development of a Washington DC Study Tour that exposed more than 20 students over two summers to politics inside the beltway. This program, open to all majors, is now being redesigned with personnel from Research and Sponsored Programs as a Washington DC Internship (three students have already enrolled for summer 2011). In addition, our PEP and ADP teams collaborated over the last year to create a Civic Engagement and Responsibility Minor. This minor combines two new courses with existing courses and curriculum as well as out-of-class service-learning to instill the values of civic and political engagement in students (the minor currently has an enrollment of 10 students). Also, the Community Engaged Classrooms (CEC) project assists Illinois State faculty with identifying potential political engagement projects and establishing partnerships with community agencies/organizations. The remaining sections of this application as well as our endorsement letters provide additional information about how PEP is being integrated vertically into several majors at Illinois State.

PEP across the Co-Curriculum

In addition to these curricular efforts, Illinois State faculty are integrating PEP into a wide variety of co-curricular activities. For instance, members of Lambda Pi Eta and COMM (LPH and COMM are registered student organizations in the School of Communication) recently collaborated with a local non-partisan community group to host a debate about public financing options for political campaigns. Earlier this semester, our PEP team worked with the same group to host a deliberative forum on financing for public schools. Members of our nationally recognized speech team, Student Government Association, and Political Science Club were especially active during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles as participants in our Trust Me, I’m A Voter campaign. Earlier this semester, ISU faculty and students partnered with the PEP team to host a Town Hall meeting with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and Congressman Adam Kinzinger. In addition, our PEP faculty regularly collaborate with the PEP team at Heartland Community College (HCC) to host events, workshops, and voter registration drives. As you can see, these co-curricular efforts compliment and extend ISU’s curricular initiatives. The following sections of this application provide additional information about how all of the aforementioned initiatives are maintained and supported as well as plans for the future expansion of the PEP on our campus.

To learn more about the Political Engagement Project, visit this website.

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