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Bard College Receives AAC&U Award To Spur Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement in Students' Majors

Mark Primoff
Bard College’s Political Studies program is among 24 from institutions across the country that received mini-grants from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to advance civic learning and social responsibility within students’ majors. AAC&U received 134 mini-grant applications, indicating widespread interest in rethinking departmental disciplinary designs for learning, life, work, and citizenship.

Bard’s mini-grant funding will be directed towards three interrelated projects. First, the Political Studies program will articulate academic goals that include civic learning as a central outcome. Second, Political Studies at Bard intends to be a leader in the creation of Engaged Senior Projects, through which students participate in a civics-based internship and develop a research question to be used for their Senior Project that includes work from junior or senior-year engagement experiences. Students at Bard must complete a yearlong Senior Project, which is viewed as the capstone of their college experience. By explicitly linking the Senior Project to a civic engagement experience, civic learning is elevated to the pinnacle of the Bard curriculum. Finally, in coordination with Environmental and Urban Studies (EUS) and Global and International Studies (GIS), the Political Studies program will launch a conversation about incorporating civic learning and engagement using interdisciplinary approaches to better harness the opportunities available through local and state government, civic organizations, and nonprofits. Political Studies will invite faculty from EUS and GIS to a series of lunch/dinner conversations to discuss ways to coordinate course work and internships in the junior year to create a more comprehensive upper college experience for students to engage with political systems in the U.S. and abroad, and to continue early conversations between Political Studies, EUS, and GIS about developing more intensive internship experiences for upper college students similar to the current Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program in New York. This will lead into the Engaged Senior Projects.

“As a private college working in the public interest, Bard has given civic and democratic engagement central roles in our curriculum,” said Jonathan Becker, Executive Vice President of Bard. “This grant will help us to further integrate these essential elements of liberal education into our academic programs.”

Civic Engagement work at Bard is supported by the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) where course stipends, training, student support, internship funding, and transportation, are provided to faculty and students across the disciplines. The Political Studies partnership with CCE will support conversation about how academic programs can work together to create learning outcomes and goals developed to enhance civic learning.

“Educating for democracy is more critical than ever, and AAC&U is proud to support the departments and institutions receiving grants for their commitment to advancing liberal education in the major as a foundation for fostering civic engagement,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.
AAC&U has argued that the health of our diverse democracy depends on higher education doing its full part in preparing students to be thoughtful, open-minded, informed, and responsible citizens and workers in their home communities, nation, and the world. “This group of departments is proof that educating for disciplinary knowledge and educating for democracy are not oppositional but mutually illuminating,” said Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives, who directs the project at AAC&U.
Supported by a grant from The Endeavor Foundation, the Civic Prompts: Civic Learning in the Major by Design initiative aims to limit the civic-free zones within departments.

AAC&U has developed resources to assist departments in integrating civic learning and social responsibility within majors. Among these resources is Civic Prompts: Making Civic Learning Routine across the Disciplines (2015) by Caryn McTighe Musil. Civic Prompts offers a process for faculty members and their colleagues to explore, on their own disciplinary terms, how to make civic learning customary. The “Civic Learning in the Major by Design” issue of Peer Review, AAC&U’s quarterly journal, includes nine civic-rich departmental designs, and the online case studies include twelve more examples. An AAC&U webinar on "Redesigning Majors" offers additional resources.
For more information about Civic Prompts: Civic Learning in the Major by Design, visit

About AAC&U
AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises 1,400 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size. 

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges. Information about AAC&U can be found at

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This event was last updated on 06-08-2018