Dr. Abraham Goldberg, Executive Director

Abraham Goldberg is Executive Director of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement and an Associate Professor of Political Science.  Prior to arriving at JMU, he was Director of the Office of Service-Learning and Community Engagement and a political science faculty member at the University of South Carolina Upstate. 

Abe authored the South Carolina Civic Health Index (2014) in collaboration with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University and the congressionally chartered National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC) in Washington D.C.  Described as the first state-wide assessment of civic behaviors, the report analyzes political participation, community involvement, and neighborhood engagement rates among various demographic groups within the state.  Abe has also written about the need for colleges and universities to prepare students for a lifetime of active participation in civic life. 

Along with his civic engagement work, Abe co-authored articles focusing on how the built environment of urban places and the accessibility of community amenities contributes to the social connectivity, health, and happiness of residents.  This work has appeared in academic journals including Social Science and Medicine, Urban Design and Planning, Urban Affairs Review, and Journal of Urbanism and has been profiled in various popular media outlets.  He regularly supervises undergraduate research projects and teaches courses in civic engagement, urban planning and policy, and American politics.  Abe is originally from Charleston, West Virginia and earned his doctorate from West Virginia University.

Dr. Carah Ong Whaley, Associate Director

Dr. Carah Ong Whaley is Associate Director of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at James Madison University where she works in partnership with students, faculty, staff and community partners to embed civic learning and democratic engagement across campus through curricular and co-curricular programming.

Carah has developed innovative pedagogy melding scholarship and experiential learning to teach courses on civic engagement, campaigns and elections, and state and local politics. At the heart of her research interests is a desire to understand and illuminate how the interactions of political actors and institutions structure public access and participation in policy- and decision-making processes. Her dissertation explored the politics of cleaning up the environmental contamination that resulted from the testing, development and production of nuclear weapons, with a focus on the role of community-based groups in developing expertise and engaging the public in policy- and decision-making processes.

Carah has previously worked at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and in the Governing America in a Global Era (GAGE) program at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. From 1999-2012, she worked as a research and program director for non-governmental organizations on nuclear and security issues, and traveled around the world to engage with communities on these issues.

Carah holds a PhD in American Government, and an MA in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. Recent research and publications include American Government: Roots and Reform (co-authored chapters with Dr. Larry Sabato on Political Parties, Campaigns, Elections and Voting, and The Media). With Dr. Walter Heinecke, she is co-editing a new book series on “Research in Global Civic Engagement” (Forthcoming, Information Age Press).

Sarah Gully, Graduate Assistant

Sarah Gully is the graduate assistant for the Center for Civic Engagement. She is a first-year graduate student pursuing her Masters in Sports in Recreation Leadership at the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management. Sarah attended Bridgewater College ('15) where she attained a Bachelors of Arts degree in History and Political Science. She has spent the past four years teaching 8th grade American Government and Economics at Benjamin Franklin Middle School where she also coached the girls' soccer team and served as the academic advisor for the Student Council Association.

Bryana Moore, '19-'20 Engagement Fellow

Bryana “Bry” Moore is our Engagement Fellow for the 2019-2020 academic year! She is a 2019 graduate of the College of Arts and Letters, majoring in Public Policy and Administration. Bry attended JMU through a full-scholarship with the Centennial Scholars Program and also served as a Madison Center Democracy Fellow in Spring 2019.

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Ryan Alessi, Faculty Fellow '19-20

Ryan Alessi is an assistant professor in the School of Media Arts and Design, where he teaches foundational courses, as well as a "Media and Politics" class. He has covered politics and government as a print, television and online news journalist for nearly 20 years. And he continues to do so as one of the co-founders of the online news site, The Harrisonburg Citizen, which launched October 2018 to add depth to coverage of local issues and politics. 

Before coming to JMU in 2017, Ryan spent two years teaching journalism at Murray State University, where he also advised the student newspaper, The Murray State News. His professional reporting career began at the now-defunct Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C., covering energy issues, California's congressional delegation and, in 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks. After moving to Kentucky in 2003, Ryan covered three governor's races, four U.S. Senate contests, two national political conventions and one vice presidential debate over the course of 12 years. He has also done freelance reporting for national organizations, such as The Center for Public Integrity, The Christian Science Monitor and 

In summer 2020, Ryan will lead a team of students reporting on the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and the Republican National Convention in Charlotte.

Cathy Copeland, '19-'20 Faculty Fellow

Cathy Copeland, an adjunct instructor with the Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication department at James Madison University, holds an M.A. in English Literature from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and a B.A. in Biology from Hanover College. She also completed doctoral coursework in Renaissance Literature at The University of Alabama. 

She is on the editorial board for The International Journal of Responsibility and was in the first faculty cohort for the “Debate Across the Curriculum” initiative at JMU. She teaches "Hacking for Diplomacy" and other courses with the JMU X-labs. In 2018, she was chosen to be in the University of Virginia’s Political Leaders Program with the Sorensen Institute. She is very involved in her community, having twice run for state-wide political office and helping to found the local grassroots organization of ForHHS2. 

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