Today@Sam Article

American Democracy Project Celebrates 20 Years

Feb. 27, 2024
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is celebrating the 20-year milestone of its nonpartisan American Democracy Project (ADP) with a call to its membership to recommit to the initiative's guiding principles.  

Those principles include:  Deliberative-Dialogues.jpeg

  • Making civic learning and democratic engagement an expectation for every student.
  • Integrating civic inquiry across the curriculum.
  • Modeling open, democratic engagement from multiple perspectives.
  • Fostering an ethos of civic mindedness.
  • Advancing civic action through democratic processes and practices.

“College and university leaders are committed to advancing thoughtful and constructive dialogue rather than polarized debate,” said Cathy Copeland, ADP national director. “By recommitting to ADP’s guiding principles, we encourage information literacy, responsible stewardship of our nation’s resources and relationships that acknowledge America’s commitment to a healthy global society.” 

AASCU has championed the cause of civic engagement through the ADP, which was established in 2003. The nonpartisan initiative has engaged thousands of campus leaders, faculty, staff and students to equip college graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to be informed and engaged global citizens.  

Sam Houston State University has been involved with the AASCU and the ADP as early as 2004. The establishment of the ADP spurred campus leaders to start a similar initiative at SHSU, which led to the creation of the Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

“In such a short time the CCE has developed from a grassroots collaboration of a few interested faculty, staff and administrators to a fully-staffed center with three broad components to their mission: community engaged research, civic engagement and academic community engagement,” Brian Loft, SHSU’s assistant provost for sponsored programs, said. “All the programming, events and initiatives of CCE have AASCU’s mission as a primary driver: providing resources and assistance to help our community solve some of its most pressing challenges.”

The CCE engages in ADP-specific projects and programs annually and provides various trainings and initiatives. This includes Deliberative Dialogues, which brings participants from all over campus to solve complex problems; voter engagement initiatives such as registration events, Walk to the Polls and Drive to the Polls; and assessment of political learning and engagement on campus, which is a collaborative effort between SHSU, Tufts University, AASCU-ADP and 11 other institutions. Steven Koether, SHSU’s ADP coordinator and assistant professor of biological sciences, says their programming on campus is aimed at enabling students to apply what they have learned and be civically active. Deliberative-Dialogues-shirts.jpeg

“Ultimately, why are we educating students? So that they become active participants or leaders in society, to give them the tools to advocate for themselves and their communities? That’s what we’re here for. The whole point is so that they can learn our information and make use of it in whichever way that they feel can support themselves and their communities,” Koether said. “We’re training tomorrow’s leaders, so this is just another component of that. It’s not just learning facts, it’s being able to deploy that information for one’s own community.”

During the past 20 years of the ADP, nearly 300 AASCU campuses have collaborated on creating meaningful and engaging methods of preparing students to participate in a thriving democracy. 

"At this pivotal juncture in our nation's history, it’s vital that higher education continues to lead by example and advocate for the kind of democratic engagement and civic mindedness that embodies the ADP," said Terry Brown, AASCU’s vice president of Academic Innovation and Transformation. "Whether it’s voting, promoting community dialogues or developing the civic skills that promote critical thinking and action, ADP campuses reflect a commitment to nonpartisan initiatives that prepare students to lead and participate as global citizens within diverse societies.” 

Key benefits for ADP campuses include access to a network of leaders, faculty, staff and students, all of which foster collaborative research and resource-sharing opportunities. Additionally, the program offers regular gatherings such as the annual Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement meeting, professional development opportunities for leaders across all levels and an extensive national partner network. Participating institutions also have the chance to engage in grant-funded national projects, workshops and initiatives aligned with their missions. 

“This is such a wonderful community of practitioners because it’s people who really care, when you go to these ADP meetings, it is all about students,” Koether said. “It’s not one of those conferences where you compare the size of the university or who out ranks whom. Participants collaborate. They talk to each other like normal human beings, so you can sit at a table with a president, provost, faculty, staff, or student and they’re in it for the students, it’s just amazing.”

To learn more about the nonpartisan American Democracy Project recommitment initiative and to see the growing list of institutions that have made the commitment, visit

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of 350 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development. These are institutions Delivering America’s Promise.

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