A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy 2013

Living%20Democracy%20PosterLIVING DEMOCRACY 2013

 Seven Auburn University students are preparing to live and work in diverse Alabama communities in the summer of 2013.  These students are part of the Living Democracy Project in the College of Liberal Arts, a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities. Participating communities include:  Bayou La Batre, Cahawba/Selma, Collinsville, Elba, Hobson City, Linden, and Marion. 2013 Living Democracy Fellows are:  Kaleb Kirkpatrick, Sierra Lehnhoff, Laney Payne, Audrey Ross, Mary Snow, Catherine Tabor, and Taryn Wilson. Journalism student Nathan Simone is working with the group as a communication consultant.

The projects they are working on range from environmental projects, such as a working oyster farm and a canoe trail, to youth leadership and economic development efforts.

Living Democracy results from a College of Liberal Arts’ collaboration with the Kettering Foundation to explore the role of higher education in preparing citizens for public life.  
”The goal is to make political engagement the focus of a sustained experience rooted in the curriculum,” Derek Barker, the project’s Kettering Foundation program officer, said. After a year of instruction in the classroom and conversations with partners, the students will spend the 10 weeks of the summer semester immersed in the community and executing their collaborative project.livingDemocracy-1

Taryn Wilson, an entrepreneurship and family business major at AU who will be working in Old Cahawba/Selma, said, “To me, living democracy means going in and making our mark using the community’s “pen”. We aren’t there to bring attention to ourselves, but to show the local residents the potential that their community has had all along, using the resources that they already have.”

Students are now working on plans with community partners while enrolled in a community journalism class. Plans will be put in motion in the communities.

Sierra Lehnhoff, Elba’s Living Democracy Fellow, is working with her community partners to develop a wide range of art and recreation opportunities focused on the downtown area. Kaleb Kirkpatrick, Linden’s Living Democracy Fellow, will be also be working with local artists on downtown revitalization efforts.

Catherine Tabor is planning activities such as mock trial competitions and a community festival for her summer in Marion.

Audrey Ross, who is looking forward to her second summer of Living Democracy, will be working in Hobson City. She said the experience is helping her realize “how much power citizens have in their own communities.” She adds,  “I see that even I, a newcomer in a fresh new town, can motivate citizens and make a difference.”

The students are led by Nan Fairley, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism, and Mark Wilson, director of Civic Learning Initiatives. “This program is a trailblazer,” said Wilson. “The immersion in the community and the deeper connections where students are working with and not ‘working for’ the community are important.”

Laney Payne, who will be working in Bayou La Batre, agrees. She said, “To me, Living Democracy means having a say in how things are run in our society to create an air of possibility for everyone. In order to live democracy, we all have to do our part to get actively engaged and gather together to achieve common goals.” Student Mary Beth Snow, who will be in Collinsville, said, “Living Democracy means taking an active role in improving the world around you. If I see something that needs changing, and I don’t work to do it, who will?”

The 2012 Living Democracy projects involved more than 200 citizens in community initiatives. However, the goal is to go beyond a successful project into a process that accelerates student growth and understanding of civic action.

Contact Dr. Mark Wilson at mwilson@auburn.edu for more information.

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