University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


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UW-Eau Claire Participates in National
American Democracy Project

 MAILED:  July 25, 2003

EAU CLAIRE - As many as 700 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire first-year students and their instructors will participate in a national initiative this fall aimed at increasing student participation in civic life.

"Civic engagement is a term often mentioned on college campuses - often in the sense that we need more of it," said UW-Eau Claire Provost Ronald Satz. "Students are seen as disconnected from the world of politics and the communities where they live. Knowledge of current events is at an all-time low and, if you are to believe several polls, voting levels for college-age men and women are among the lowest of any age group."

To help increase the level of civic engagement among college-age students the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, The New York Times and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching are coordinating the American Democracy Project.

UW-Eau Claire is one of 146 public colleges and universities participating in the three-year American Democracy Project and an early leader in the project.

"There is a growing body of evidence suggesting Americans are becoming increasingly disengaged from their communities and government," said Satz. "This project seeks to increase student participation in civic life, and promote conversations about the theory and practice of civic engagement."

While college is just one phase in a person's life, it can be an important time for developing moral and civic awareness, Satz said. "Experiences during college can lead to new ways of understanding the world and one's place in it," he said. "This is the time to help students develop a framework through which they can interpret later experiences."

UW-Eau Claire participated in a pilot American Democracy Project during the spring 2003 semester involving 150 students and five faculty members. Through that project, faculty used The New York Times as a tool to help integrate current events and issues into their courses. "Students must be informed to be fully engaged," Satz said.

An essay written by Satz about UW-Eau Claire's experience with the pilot program will be featured on The New York Times Web site at the end of the month, when the national American Democracy Program officially begins. Satz, who has served on AASCU's American Democracy Project's National Implementation Committee since the summer of 2002, will share information about UW-Eau Claire's pilot next week at the national conference that launches the program.

"Faculty and students alike found the experience to be useful," Satz said of the pilot program, noting it involved faculty and students from five departments, including communication and journalism, history, political science, social work and sociology.

Faculty and students in various disciplines used The New York Times in different but equally useful ways, Satz said. For example, students in a sociology class used the paper to prepare for debates on topics such as welfare reform or affirmative action, while history students used it to help compare the events surrounding the Iraq war to conflicts from years ago.

"The newspapers were very useful in providing current information on the topics and also were used as part of an ongoing effort to include relevant current events in class discussions," said Melissa Bonstead-Burns, assistant professor of sociology.

Faculty who participated in the pilot program will work with a representative of the Times to conduct an orientation for new faculty participants in the fall, Satz said.

"This project encourages civic engagement activities involving UW-Eau Claire students, faculty and staff, and bolsters the university's goal of expanding and enhancing service in our own region," Satz said.

UW-Eau Claire has a history of promoting civic engagement, Satz said. For example:

"We are committed to expanding student understanding of civic life," Satz said. "We're proud to participate in a this important national conversation about civic engagement."

To help prepare faculty and the university for the expansion of the American Democracy Program, several workshops will be offered on campus, including one during the opening week of fall semester in August.


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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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(715) 836-4741

Updated: July 25, 2003