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American Democracy Project Focuses Attention on Civic Values

PLATTSBURGH, NY __ If students aren't engaged in civic activities at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, it's not because the college hasn't offered any opportunities in the past.

In fact, a preliminary audit of civic engagement on campus has found that Plattsburgh State has had an intensive, nearly decade-long commitment to developing a sense of civic responsibility in its students.

Lori Walters-Kramer, assistant professor of communication and co-director of the Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism, is coordinating the audit for the American Democracy Project at SUNY Plattsburgh.

The project was established on the SUNY campus in spring 2003 to encourage students to civic mindedness through experience, and to focus attention on the civic value of the college experience. It is part of a larger nationwide effort by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in conjunction with The New York Times.

Dr. Robert Golden, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said he was not surprised by the findings.

"During the past 10 years, there have been many curricular and co-curricular initiatives to enhance students' understanding of civic engagement and responsibility," Golden said. "This audit, once complete, will point out how involved Plattsburgh State faculty, staff and students are in civic engagement. It will also establish a baseline upon which we can then decide where we as a campus need to promote initiatives to involve students in civic engagement."

From Project HELP and the many Alternative Break programs for students to National Issues Forums and the establishment of the Clinton County AmeriCorps (now the Plattsburgh Student Service Corps), many programs involve students on and off campus.

Golden said a number of new initiatives this fall have already sparked considerable awareness in civic engagement on the student and faculty level.

Interest in the presidential election Nov. 2 has renewed student attention toward voting on the Federal, State and local levels. "Rock the Vote," a national effort to encourage students to register to vote, has attracted considerable attention.

A "Debate Watch" following the first presidential debate on Sept. 30 was attended by nearly 200 students, faculty and community members. Donald McCann, president of Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication Studies honorary society that sponsored the event, told North Country Public Radio that it was a lively and emotional event.

"It couldn't have turned out any better," said McCann. "There were so many opinions, and people were so willing to discuss, talk and bounce off ideas with each other. It went extremely well."

The American Democracy Project has also established a lecture series, titled "Profiles in Commitment," which features local, regional, and national speakers discussing how they became engaged in local, statewide, or national political or social issues. In addition to speaking about their involvement in public life, the guests will offer suggestions to students and members of the broader community about avenues for such engagement.

The first lecture featured a discussion by several members of the local Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. Marlene Fields, director of the Equal Opportunity Program at Plattsburgh State and commission chair, along with Frank Jackson, Jr., past commission chair, and Monte Prather, commission member, told approximately 30 individuals on Oct. 7 how they became involved in the first Martin Luther King celebration in Plattsburgh.

Late this fall, the American Democracy Project will host Daniel Stewart, the mayor of the city of Plattsburgh, discussing how he became involved in public life.

For more information concerning the American Democracy Project, contact the Provost's Office or visit the project's Website at www.plattsburgh.edu/offices/academic/adp
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