Inspiration, Engagement Opportunities Offered With American Democracy Project

Renee Ballenger

The American Democracy Project (ADP) was the focus of a development luncheon for faculty and staff earlier this month hosted by the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Dr. Chapman Rackaway, the coordinator of the project at Fort Hays Kansas State University, gave a presentation titled “The Missing Piece: Inspiring Student Engagement Through the American Democracy Project.”Dr. Rackaway is also an assistant professor of political science on the FHSU campus.

In his presentation, he explained that the creation of ADP in 2003 was largely influenced by Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone,” in which Putnam calls for a changing of the current mindset on civic engagement. Characterizing the current environment as one of “declining social capital,” Putnam, and now ADP, want to alter that mindset to one of having trust in the American civic process. ADP is a movement among American institutions of higher education that seeks to increase understanding of democracy’s conceptual and historical roots through engagement in contemporary issues and events, opportunities to experience core processes of civic engagement, and a developed commitment in individuals and entities to become involved in the life of communities.

Operating on the belief that an active, politically-knowledgeable and involved citizenry can be developed by proactive college efforts, ADP is administered through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

In his discussion, Dr. Rackaway illustrated several reasons why it makes the most sense, and is proving to be most effective, to operate ADP on university campuses across America.

ADP, he maintained, is beneficial for students, faculty, staff and administration, as well as the communities in which they live and work.

“Using ADP as an umbrella for civic engagement activities,”Dr. Rackaway said, “provides a branding opportunity for universities as well as methods of publicizing and programming civic engagement activities.

“It provides research and pedagogical opportunities for faculty and excellent measures of studentlearning outcomes,” he added, emphasizing that it is crucial to its effectiveness that ADP be a facultyled process.

“The ADP process instills leadership traits in students that ripple positive impact into communities,” he said. “An emblematic partner to the service-learning concept, the ADP philosophy is ripe with opportunities in outreach, networking, and significant research for community service, nonprofit and governmental agencies.”

Dr. Rackaway shared with his UNK audience of about 50, a list of ideas on how to integrate ADP principles into course planning, strategic planning, goal-setting, organizing resources, developing programming and assessment.He detailed a number of ADP projects, including stewardship of public lands, youth voter mobilization, jury project and deliberative polling.

His students at FHSU regularly conduct a variety of town-gown events such as campus/community forums and distribute a newsletter highlighting American current events in civic engagement. They also take advantage of an offer by the “New York Times”; in direct support of ADP, the newspaper subsidizes the cost of up to 25 brown bag lunches at ADP events on campuses across the country.

More information about how to incorporate the teaching and learning opportunities of the American Democracy Project into classrooms and programs is available in the ADP section on the AASCU Web site: or, contact Dr. Rackaway: 316 Rarick Hall, Fort Hays State University,Hays, KS 67601;; or call: 785.628.5391.