Civic Agency in Practice: American Democracy Project Takeaways

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

David HoffmanThe American Democracy Project’s annual meeting took place earlier this month in Louisville, Kentucky, with UMBC sending 18 participants: the largest of all the campus delegations. Our team of students, faculty and staff members led two presentations and hosted a roundtable discussion about practicing democracy on campus, shining a spotlight on The Garden (winner of this year’s SGA Prove It! competition) and the STRiVE student leadership retreat. We also had a dinnertime conversation with Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, who found inspiration in the confidence and mature public presence of UMBC’s student leaders.

As in the past, we found that we had much to gain from spending time with the people in higher education doing some of the most creative and important thinking about how our institutions can strengthen democracy. And as in the past, we found we had something distinctive to contribute: insights from the ongoing experience of co-creating a university in which the democratic spirit infuses our teaching, research, student organizations and daily interactions.

Beverly Bickel, a member of the UMBC delegation, shared some of her reflections here. Below are thoughts from other members of the UMBC delegation about what we did and what we learned in Louisville.


Work in Progress: American Democracy Project Takeaways

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

David HoffmanEarlier this month, I joined 21 other members of the UMBC community—students, faculty, staff and a recent alum—at the 2013 American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment National Meeting in Denver, Colorado. It was an action-packed few days, featuring two well-received UMBC presentations. We had great conversations with Center for Democracy and Citizenship director Harry Boyte and other higher education leaders, and discussed important ideas now gaining momentum in the field, including scholar Peter Levine‘s observation that “civic engagement is work and work is civic engagement.”

The conference was, most importantly, a tremendous opportunity to deepen connections within and beyond the UMBC delegation. Here are reflections from some of our UMBC participants (click on a photo to see the text).

Contact the author, David Hoffman, at

Transforming the Here and Now

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

[Cross-posted on Co-Create UMBC].

David Hoffman

STRiVE 2013, UMBC’s fifth annual homegrown student leadership retreat, sponsored by the Office of Student Life and Student Government Association, took place last week at the Skycroft Conference Center. I served as one of 12 coaches (6 staff members, 6 students). Each STRiVE is different (I’ve participated in all five), but they are always life-altering. [My reflections on previous STRiVE retreats: 2012201120102009].

B-1The phrase “leadership retreat” really doesn’t do STRiVE justice. It obscures the poetry and magic of the lived experience. What happened in the hills west of Frederick last week was mostly spontaneous, profoundly real and deeply poignant. 62 UMBC students and staff members, most of us strangers to each other when the week began, helped each other to discover that despite our fears and vulnerabilities, and partly because of them, we are strong, wise and perfectly capable of transforming our lives and world together. We know this now without a doubt, because by week’s end the transformations already had begun.

C-14STRiVE’s intellectual foundations include the “social change model” of leadership developed by higher education scholars, student development theory, social cognitive theory, and Harry Boyte’s pioneering ideas about preparing people for active roles in democracy. Based on our synthesis of these ideas, one of the core principles of STRiVE’s design is that we coaches empower the participants as co-creators of all their experiences, including the retreat itself while it is happening. To do otherwise would risk stunting their growth by equipping them to thrive only in leadership simulations, when authority figures are available to give instructions and assign roles. [Read more…]