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American Democracy Project Regional Conference at the University of Central Oklahoma, April 18, 2012

By Janelle Grellner, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Assistant Director of the American Democracy Project, University of Central Oklahoma

As part of an inspiring week of campus wide celebrations and presentations celebrating the inauguration of President Don Betz as UCO’s 20th president, the American Democracy Project hosted a regional conference, “Democracy and Civic Engagement: Continuing the Civic Work,” and welcomed the campus and community to engage in civic conversations. The American Democracy Project is a national initiative at public colleges and universities focusing on the development of civic skills and civic engagement of college students. President Betz served as a founding member of the steering committee that guided the development of the American Democracy Project in 2003. The University of Central Oklahoma played a key role as a charter member of ADP and hosted the first regional conference in 2004. Featured speakers included: George Mehaffy, Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and founder of the American Democracy Project; Michael Slackman, Deputy Foreign Editor of The New York Times; Debbie Terlip, Assistant Director of Oklahoma Campus Compact; President Don Betz; Provost William J. Radke; and Jean Hendrickson, Executive Director of Oklahoma A+ Schools.

The day started with a luncheon for all conference participants and many campus dignitaries to kick off the conference. Provost Radke provided a welcome that included a review of the past ten years and a vision for the future of ADP and civic engagement on our campus. Mehaffy congratulated UCO for sustained involvement in the civic work of the American Democracy Project, with Dr. Patti Loughlin serving as the campus director since 2007 and unwavering support from Provost Radke.

The luncheon was followed by a student poster contest sponsored by The New York Times. Students competed with posters that reflected civic engagement as it applies to their specific disciplines. Business, economics, psychology,

UCO students (left to right): Caleb Thompson, Toni Sledge, Cierra Maddox, Kristine Sims, Toby Walker, Mohamad Shaaf.

teacher education and student groups were among those who entered. The first place winner was Cody Brown, a student seeking a master’s degree in psychology, who created a poster to highlight a recent political act on campus that involved a questionable ethical procedure and the subsequent legislation passed by UCO’s student senate to rectify the policies for future votes. Second place went to four students in Advanced Developmental Psychology, Maime Ball, Lauren Craig, Deni Napier, and Jenna Sinclair, who created an electronic messaging system to keep new mothers abreast of their child’s developmental level and facilitative parenting activities. Third place went to members of the UCO Skeptics student organization who highlighted their peaceful protest of psychic John Edwards when he came to Oklahoma City recently. They presented their poster to promote science based knowledge and object to pseudo-scientific propaganda, especially when consumers are misled for the financial benefit of others.

The next session, “Continuing the Civic Work: Statewide Collaborations and Partnerships,”  was an opportunity for campuses across the region to share current civic engagement projects, such as the Oklahoma Civic Health Index, Oklahoma Campus Compact’s voter registration contest, and Fort Hays State University’s Global Challenges, and create partnerships for future projects.

George Mehaffy delivered the keynote address, “The Citizenship Imperative of the 21stCentury,” at 4:00 p.m. in Constitution Hall. Following the presentation, Jean Hendrickson, Executive Director of Oklahoma A+ Schools, joined

AASCU’s George Mehaffy and UCO’s Don Betz

Mehaffy for a discussion that focused on how to ignite the passion for civic mindedness in our K-12 schools. Following the keynote address, conference attendees gathered for a reception honoring President Betz sponsored by The New York Times, Oklahoma A+ Schools, Educators’ Leadership Academy, and the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.

In addition, we value our partnership with The New York Times readership program, offering free copies of The New York Times on campus, and bringing journalists from The New York Times to campus to meet with students. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Oklahoma City native Anthony Shadid visited campus in 2009 and 2010 as part of readership program.

Michael Slackman, Deputy Foreign Editor of The New York Times, giving talk entitled “Arab Spring: The Call for Change”

This year Michael Slackman, Deputy Foreign Editor of The New York Times, joined the special inauguration programming for presentations with students during the day and an evening presentation at 6:00 p.m. in Constitution Hall on the topic of “Arab Spring: The Call for Change.” Following the presentation, President Betz, a specialist on the Middle East and the question of Palestine, joined Slackman for dialogue. In 2011, Betz attended the Fulbright-Hays Seminar on higher education in transition in Oman and Jordan with six other university presidents.

What was the response from the campus community? Two professors who served on the ADP conference planning committee reflected on their experiences at the conference. Elizabeth Overman, Associate Professor of Political Science, said, “I was reminded of the aphorism attributed to John Dewey: ‘Democracy is a conversation.’ Certainly it was a day of heightened civic engagement and a reminder that we bear both the legacy of a democratic republic and the responsibility to expand democratic frameworks in truly meaningful ways.” For Mary Carver, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication, her favorite part of the day was the student poster session. “What amazing ideas, incredible dedication, and truly transformative projects students presented that day. I left the session inspired. More importantly, I really knew in my heart that the next generation was ready to go out and not just be engaged in their communities, but ready to transform their communities.”

ADP at UCO participates in many national civic initiatives including: the Oklahoma Civic Health Index, a state report analyzing the civic health of our state in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship, voter registration in partnership with Oklahoma Campus Compact (UCO has won the statewide college voter registration contest two years in a row – 2010 and 2011), deliberative polling initiative, and measuring voter turnout initiative.

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