LaGuardia Professors and Students Collaborate With Gilder Lehrman Institute to Develop ‘Rights and Duties of Citizenship’ Projects
LONG ISLAND CITY, NY (December 6, 2023) — LaGuardia Community College/CUNY faculty and students often explore opportunities to partner with organizations on academic projects and events. During the 2023 Spring Semester Dr. Chelsea Del Rio, professor of History and Dr. Anja Vojvodic, professor of Political Science, taught a class on civics, defined as the “rights and duties of citizenship” in the Social Sciences Department.
This program and the course were spearheaded and supported by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (GLI), a leading non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the “understanding of American history” through education.
The professors worked closely with four LaGuardia students, Lucia Chavira, Giovana Maldonado, Debbie Avila, and Brenda Pazaran. Each week in class students learned about key aspects of civics, including civil dialogue, the Bill of Rights and rule of law. Students also went on a field trip to the historic Gilder Lehrman Archives and in the afternoon were treated to a showing of the musical Hamilton. At the end of the semester, students created final projects related to themes in civics and contemporary topics, such as abortion, gun control and climate change. Their work is featured on the Gilder Lehrman website and will serve as a model for furthering this worthwhile program nationwide.
Dr. Dionne Miller, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, administered the partnership with GLI.
In June 2022, Charles Sahm, Assistant Director of Development with GLI contacted President Kenneth Adams to discuss the possibility of a partnership with LaGuardia. Dr. Miller said the Institute had been given an opportunity to submit a proposal to the Annenberg Public Policy Center (University of Pennsylvania) to develop high-quality instructional materials and programs to support civics education for adult learners in community colleges. The materials and programs needed to support foundational knowledge in one (or more) of these topics: Three branches/separation of powers, Jury service, Bill of Rights, Media literacy, Rule of law, Federalism, Voting, Civil dialogue, Role of the military in a constitutional democratic republic.
Dr. Miller said GLI selected LaGuardia, making it the first time the Institute worked with a community college. The Annenberg grant awarded to GLI provided funding for reassigned time for two faculty to develop and offer the experiential class we proposed as well as funding for $500 stipends to the students to create projects that could be used to educate their peers. Additionally, the college was granted a permanent subscription to GL’s extensive archive of American History, which contains over 83,000 documents and items.
The partnership resulted in the creation of the Civic Mission of the Nation Learning Guide to assist community college students in conducting research, using primary and secondary sources, and developing educational materials including: “LaGuardia Votes,” “Today’s Federalism,” “Civil Dialogue Presentation.”
“The idea behind the course was to teach LaGuardia students about civics or the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship,” Dr. Vojvodic said. “Some of the objectives involved teaching students about the basics of American government, including the concept of federalism, the Bill of Rights, and very crucially civil dialogue. The point is to familiarize students with aspects of government and civics, so they become more engaged in the political process and learn how to respect other viewpoints.”
Dr. Vojvodic said it was an honor to be the pilot project for this program with GLI.
“The most rewarding part of this experience for me was working with students and working with my colleague, Dr. Chelsea Del Rio,” Dr. Vojvodic said. “It was a pleasure to facilitate debate among students in class and help them finalize their projects. Helping them think through ideas was fulfilling. Working with Chelsea was also great because she has a lot of expertise in this field and listening to her while engaging with her ideas was always fruitful.”
“I agree with Anja,” said Dr. Del Rio. “I loved that this program gave me the opportunity to collaborate with my colleague, especially one in another discipline. The conversations we had in preparing our course were so fruitful in thinking through how our programs might be placed in better conversation moving forward. Working closely with a small group of students is such a gift. We were able to get to know them well which in turn facilitated more productive conversations about the civics issues because we were able to explore them in the context of their daily lives and the issues they cared about.”
Dr. Del Rio says today’s society often perceives college students and young adults as apathetic and disengaged from contemporary politics and social issues; however, that was not the case with this project.
“Here we have a group of young people who have dug into complex issues, spent time understanding their implications for issues they care about, and demonstrated genuine interest in creating materials that can assist their peers in doing the same,” she said. “I hope that the website serves as a model to other community college courses to support student engagement. Further, I hope it serves as an example to visitors that with the proper support our young people can and do engage, and that properly prepared with the necessary knowledge, they will change the world around them.”
Dr. Miller says she hopes the partnership will continue and both LaGuardia and GLI are now exploring how the partnership could evolve. She hopes this project will enlighten people about the importance of civic engagement.
“At this time there are no definite plans for what comes next,” she said. “With this project, I hope people get a renewed sense of the value of our democracy, and the need to protect it through civic education and engagement. These experiences also really enliven and deepen student learning and will create indelible memories of their time at LaGuardia.”
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LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), a Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in Long Island City, Queens offers more than 50 degrees and certificates, and more than 65 continuing education programs to educate New Yorkers seeking new skills and careers. As an institution of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his advocacy of underserved populations. Since 1971, LaGuardia’s academic programs and support services have advanced the socioeconomic mobility of students while providing them with access to a high quality, affordable college education.