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Maryland Democracy Initiative

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Building a Better Democracy for All

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MISSION: The Maryland Democracy Initiative grows the capacity of all people for a lifetime of civic participation in service to a fairer and more just society. We accomplish this through innovative interdisciplinary, community-centered research, teaching, learning and civic engagement.

The Initiative combines and leverages the skills of its four core colleges and Maryland’s public, land-grant university. Our work prioritizes best practices and innovations in helping grow people’s capacity for effective civic engagement. In doing so, we meet people where they are at all stages of life, with a continuing eye on where technology and behavior are moving. We concentrate on areas of need not addressed elsewhere. We focus on work that is scalable and replicable to maximize our impact.

We start with the hypothesis, based on research and the knowledge of our fields, that people require five capacities to participate in a healthy democracy. The capacities are:

  • Civic Competence: This includes a grasp of the skills needed to participate in civic life, skills gained in school, at home and throughout life. 
  • Knowledge: This includes awareness of current events, an understanding of history and familiarity with the systems, strategies and principles of how our democratic republic works.
  • Opportunity: This includes the opportunity to vote, to voice one’s opinion and to participate in civic life in a myriad of other ways – and ensuring that these opportunities are not denied or made all but impossible to access.   
  • Agency: This includes a feeling that one can make a difference, that one should participate. Without it, a person might have knowledge and skills and still believe the system is so stacked against them or unfair that their participation doesn’t matter. 
  • Respect: This includes an appreciation for democratic institutions, for the democratic process, for the rights and opinions of other people and belief in working for the common good. 

Confident in the future of American democracy, we draw knowledge and inspiration from the past, including the example of Maryland native Frederick Douglass - journalist, statesmen and champion of education. We move forward with an urgent calling: strengthening democracy for all is a Grand Challenge of our time. 

Maryland Democracy Initiative Team

Lena Morreale ScottDirector of the Civic Education & Engagement Initiative, College of Education; Principal Investigator, Maryland Democracy Initiative

  • Research Interests: democracy education; civic education in K-12 schools and higher education; the civic mission of schools; teacher preparation and ongoing professional development; academic service-learning and teaching for civic engagement

Sarah McGrew, Assistant Professor, Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership

  • Research Interests: educational responses to misinformation; digital literacy

Lucas Butler, Associate Professor, Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

  • Research Interests: social cognition; cognitive development; the development of empirical reasoning; developmental and educational approaches to fostering resilience to disinformation

Doug Lombardi, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs; Professor, Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

  • Research Interests: scientific thinking, reasoning and evaluations in classroom contexts; critical thinking and collective agency in response to science denial and disinformation

College of Education research/graduate assistants:

Julie Miller, Ph.D. Candidate, Urban Education, University of Maryland College of Education 

  • Research Interests: teacher retention; school climate; student service learning

Elizabeth Reynolds, Ph.D. Student, Teacher Education & Professional Development, University of Maryland College of Education

  • Research Interests: digital literacy; social studies and civic education; teacher education

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Michael Hanmer (PI), Professor and Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement

  • Research Interests: voter registration, voting, voting rights; election administration, election laws; youth engagement; public opinion; sports and politics

Antoine Banks, Professor and Interim Chair in the Department of Government and Politics, College of Behavioral & Social Sciences; Director of the Government and Politics Research Lab

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Rafael LorenteDean and Professor of the Practice, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

  • Research Interests: local, state and national news coverage; experiential journalism education; journalism accreditation

Sarah Oates, Professor and Senior Scholar, Journalism

  • Research Interests: political communication; media and democracy; propaganda; Russia; elections

Tom Rosenstiel, Eleanor Merrill Visiting Professor on the Future of Journalism

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Paul Brown, Associate Clinical Professor; Director, Civic Innovation Center in the School of Public Policy

  • Research Interests: federal policymaking; US Congress and congressional procedure; state and local governance; policy advocacy; civic engagement; deliberative democracy

David Backer, Research Professor; Research Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland

  • Research Interests: transitional justice; dynamics of fragility, instability and conflict; post-conflict transitions; civil society in conflict-affected settings; predictive analytics; multi-method primary data collection

School of Public Policy research/graduate assistants:

Bridget Ruiz Rivezzo, Master of Public Management student

Emilie Lahneman, Master of Public Policy student

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Campus Partners

TerpsVote Coalition is a campus partner working to bring students, staff, and faculty together to promote civic engagement at UMD.


SLSV is a national organization and the largest nonpartisan network in the United States dedicated to increasing college student voter participation.

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge empowers colleges and universities to achieve excellence in nonpartisan student democratic engagement.

Generation Citizen offers tools that empower the rising generation to build civic skills and make America the inclusive multi-racial democracy we need.

The Maryland Civic Education Coalition, which MDI partners helped to establish, is a growing network of scholars, teachers, students and community activists providing a national model for promoting civic and service learning.

Maryland Democracy Initiative partners established and helped to lead the Vote16 Research Network, a national network of community scholars, academics and students engaged in the work of understanding and addressing challenges to more civic participation by youth under age 18.

The Big Ten Collaboration on Democracy in the 21st Century was formed by Maryland Democracy Initiative partners in partnership with the Big Ten public policy school network. MDI partners co-direct the Collaboration which connects student learning and debate on key issues facing our democracy with civic action.

Big Ten Students Debate, Empathize in Policy Simulation

Policy Simulations

Collaboration which connects student learning and debate on key issues facing our democracy with civic action.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar Welcomes Students at Vote at Home Act Simulation