High-Tech To Help Turn Students into Engaged Citizens

$3 Million from Knight Foundation for Civics Experiments
At Bob Graham Center at University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Dec. 21, 2010) An electronic “Civil Debate Wall”, social media, an innovative online curriculum and a “citizenship fellows”program are new ways that The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida will use to encourage civic commitment among University of Florida students. Top researchers will evaluate the pioneering approaches and share the information with other universities across the nation.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which promotes informed and engaged communities, is supporting the initiative with a $3 million grant. The grant is the largest ever received by the Bob Graham Center.

“Knight Foundation promotes programs that inform and engage citizens.  We think that is key to sustaining democracy,”said Alberto Ibargüen, the foundation’s president and CEO. “It isn’t enough to simply bring back civic education.  We should be open to new approaches that foster civic engagement, especially ones that use digital technology. The Bob Graham Center is an ideal laboratory for testing and studying new ways of strengthening the civic fabric of our society.”

“This wonderful grant from the Knight Foundation will allow us to launch some very novel programs in areas like social media and interactive online experiences that will greatly expand our reach,”said former Senator Bob Graham. “We believe these ideas can spread to other campuses and create an exciting new generation of student leaders, citizen activists, who will go out and spur changes in their communities at the local, state and national level. “

“There is so much information that inundates students and leaders every day,”Graham continued. “The skill we at the Bob Graham Center need to develop in our citizens and leaders is how to assess that information, and act on it. This important grant from the Knight Foundation will help us create programs to develop that next generation of citizen activist and leaders in both the civic and public sectors.”

“The Bob Graham Center forms a central component of our university’s effort to produce our state’s future leaders,”added Bernard Machen, president of the University of Florida. “We’re grateful to Knight Foundation for supporting groundbreaking work in new media and civic engagement among young people.”

The initiative will create:

  • Knight Effective Citizenship Fellows, who will do research to develop best practices in encouraging a lifelong civic engagement;
  • A high-tech “Civil Debate Wall”that will allow students to instantly engage in debate and conversation on issues. The wall will anchor a series of interactive kiosks both on and off campus that will poll students on their views, and present them with opposing opinions on issues.
  • An interactive, online course called “Rethinking Citizenship”that will teach students civic engagement on the local, state and national levels. The curriculum will be reviewed by a panel of experts and scholars.
  • A series of live forums and panel discussions that will use live streaming, multi-media imagery and social media tools to link students and scholars in public policy discussions around the world.

Civic health is a pressing issue in Florida. The National Conference on Citizenship has ranked the state 34th nationally in average voter turnout, 48th in public meeting attendance and 49th in volunteering – making it one of the weakest civic cultures in the nation.

The Bob Graham Center’s central mission is to reverse these dire trends. Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, who also served three terms in the U.S. Senate, created the Center and has been active in pushing for curriculum reforms in civics education. He is the author most recently of “America: The Owner’s Manual: Making Government Work for You,”which details his approach to using detailed case studies of citizen-led campaigns to teach students the “nuts-and-bolts of democracy.”

About the Bob Graham Center for Public Service

The Bob Graham Center for Public Service is a community of students, scholars and politically engaged citizens, devoted to enhanced citizenship; the training of current and future public and civic leaders who can identify problems and spearhead change; and the development of policy on issues of importance to Florida, the United States and the global community.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Contact: Marc Fest, Vice President of Communications, Knight Foundation,

305-908-2677; [email protected]