Dr. Kara Dillard, Interim Executive Director

Dr. Kara Dillard comes to the Madison Center for Civic Engagement with 15 years of experience researching, teaching and professional practice in the deliberative democracy and public engagement fields. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication Studies, is a Co-Director at the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue and holds a Research Associate appointment in digital deliberation with the Charles F. Kettering Foundation.  

Dr. Dillard's current research focuses on innovations in civic-oriented design-built technology, specifically examining the behavioral and attitudinal effects of facilitated public deliberative dialogue in online spaces. Her research has been featured in Journal of Applied Communication Research, Journal of Political Science Education, and the International Journal of Communication. She’s given invited talks on facilitation and innovations in student online deliberation for Campus Compact, International Association for Public Participation, National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, and the popular international podcast Facilitating Public Deliberations. She serves as a curriculum program coach and in assessment design for the Interactivity Foundation’s Collaborative Discussion certificate program. Most recently, she built large-scale data visualizations as part of the City of Harrisonburg’s recent $23 million pandemic relief fund public input process, making data about civic engagement transparent and actionable. As a AASCU American Democracy Project Civic Fellow for the 2022-2023 year, she’ll focus on mapping the civic-deliberative technology landscape and integrating the most useful and dynamic software into expanding the National Week of Deliberation initiative, which will be housed at the Madison Center.  

She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in communication studies and earned a PhD in political and rural sociology from Kansas State University. Outside of the office, Kara is an avid runner, sports enthusiast, sometimes cyclist, and mom to two kids and a dog. She moved to Harrisonburg after living almost all of her life west of the Rocky Mountains. 

Logan Zeigler, Program Coordinator

Logan is the program coordinator for the Madison Center where she supports the mission and programming of the department. She is a graduate of Mary Baldwin College (now University) where she studied International Relations. Logan previously worked in JMU Student Affairs within the University Career Center (UCC), where she provided guidance on recruiting best practices to students and employers. During her time in UCC, Logan served as the department’s liaison to SOGIE Programming and stayed up to date on legislation impacting the LGBTQ community to inform student programming and employer education. Combining her expertise in employment legislation with her dedication to supporting students, Logan conceptualized and co-presented programs such as Career Decision-Making with a Queer Lens. This dedication to LGBTQ rights resulted in Logan’s nomination to the JMU SOGIE Advisory Board where she continues to serve as a representative of the Madison Center. Logan is an advocate for accessible and inclusive practices at JMU and has a strong commitment to equity and social justice. She recently won the College of Arts and Letters Staff Recognition Award in spring 2022. 

Daniel George, Next Generation Service Corps Coordinator

Daniel works in the Madison Center by providing support and oversight with our university’s partnership with Next Generation Service Corps. He is a proud Double Duke, first pursuing a B.S. in Psychology and minoring in Communications Studies, and then continuing on to receive a master’s in College Student Personnel Administration. Daniel previously worked in JMU Student Affairs through graduate assistantships in the Dean of Students Office and the Student Leadership Center. After graduating with his master’s, Daniel then went on to do a post-grad fellows program with the National Student Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. There, he helped orchestrate and facilitate many leadership conferences for student leaders from different universities across the country. These forums focused on faith and values, and centered the servant leadership values of current and past historical leaders. During this year's program, Daniel also got the opportunity to be an Office Fellow for a representative on Capitol Hill where he researched and presented on the current military personnel recruitment crisis. Daniel loves learning about people, chiefly through psychology, politics, and education, and how people interact with these systems.

Gabby Leija-Hernandez, Woodson Martin Democracy Fellow

Gabriela (Gabby) Leija-Hernandez is the 2022-2023 Woodson Martin Democracy Fellow. Gabby holds a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Nonprofit Studies from James Madison University (JMU). She is a past recipient of the Washington Semester Scholarship, where she interned in D.C. with Lachman Consultants, working in nonprofit and government management. She has also worked in immigration law, JMU SGA, and 4-H.

Gabby is originally from Harrisonburg where she was born in what we now call the Student Success Center at JMU! Gabby spent a lot of her time at and after JMU emphasizing her interests in advocacy efforts pertaining to immigration, diversity, human rights, and more.

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Mia Mannix, Engagement Fellow

Mia Mannix is the Civic Engagement Fellow for 2023-2024. Mia has her A.S. in Business Administration from Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in New Jersey. Mia earned her B.S. in Communication Studies from James Madison University (JMU). Mia enjoys learning about new ways to help the community. Secondly, Mia is interested in finding opportunities for individuals and students to get involved and informed on what’s developing in the community as well as the state of Virginia. When Mia was younger, and thinking of future jobs for herself, she mentioned she just wanted to, “help people.” Mia found that working for the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement would be the perfect place to start. Mia is enthralled at the opportunity to work alongside the university that she loves doing what she loves.

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Amelia Stoner, Senior Democracy Fellow

Amelia is the Senior Democracy Fellow and a first-year Graduate Student studying Communication and Advocacy with a concentration in Strategic Communication. Amelia got her Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with a Public Policy Certificate and a minor in Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Nebraska, Amelia has interned for several Nebraska state senators and served as a Legislative page for the Unicameral. She also was the Lead Policy and Research Intern for a local campaign in Montgomery County, Maryland. She is interested in state legislatures, public policy, and non-governmental organizations. Amelia looks forward to bringing her insider knowledge of democratic processes to the JMU campus and surrounding communities with the Civic Engagement Center.

Dr. Bernie Kaussler, Faculty Fellow

Dr. Bernie Kaussler is Professor of Political Science. His scholarship and teaching focuses on diplomacy, conflict management, US foreign policy, national security decision-making and international security. He is the author of four books on US foreign policy and international security. His scholarship also examines how deceit, lying and deception are accepted as an intrinsic part of politics and international relations even in democracies. His latest book is on the proxy war in Yemen. He enjoys the intersection of scholarship and the policy-making community. To that end, he has produced national security teaching materials, including simulations on national security decision-making for the US Air Force and participated in AWG war games on the Middle East. He has been teaching 'Hacking for Diplomacy' and ‘Hacking for Defense’ at the JMU X-Labs since 2017. He received his PhD in International Relations and his M.Litt in Middle East Politics from the University of St Andrews.

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