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April 21, 2004


    OSWEGO -- SUNY Oswego is one of nearly 200 campuses throughout the country working to increase student engagement and community involvement through the American Democracy Project.

    The American Democracy Project is a nationwide initiative launched and co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the New York Times.

    A major goal "is to bring the practice and education of civic engagement into the classrooms and to activities outside the classroom," from voter registration drives to volunteering in local nursing homes, said Dr. Douglas Deal, professor and chair of history at SUNY Oswego and convener of the steering committee for this project.

    While the effort is nationwide, "there is no nationally dictated agenda for campuses who sign up," Deal said, as each campus is empowered to find the best way to encourage students to be responsible citizens and good neighbors.

    "There will be interested students on the steering committee, as well as faculty, staff and administrators," Deal said. An institutional audit of which existing aspects -- classes, volunteer or internships activities, student groups -- already fit the mold is one of the expected first steps.

    Greg Lawson, the 2003-04 vice president of Oswego's Student Association, has been involved with the planning process for several months.

    "It's very exciting," he said of the project and its potential. "It's more than just a few programs or a couple of events. It's really about integrating the concept of civic engagement and civic involvement through the culture of campus. We're really looking to involve students actively in the community."

    How much student engagement arises during the election year will test the project in its first steps, Lawson added. Programs on the U.S. presidential election and the political parties represent possible avenues to educate students and motivate them to become more involved.

    The project will succeed if it shows "the world outside that colleges and universities play a crucial role in sustaining democratic processes," Deal said, such as engaging participants in civilized discourse or appreciating dissenting opinions.

    If, in a few years, SUNY Oswego sees an increased level of dialogue and involvement inside and outside the classroom, the project will have hit its mark, Lawson said.

    "You'll see the results in the press and in what's happening around campus and how it impacts the Oswego County community," he noted.

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