#EngagedJMU Winter '20 Newsletter


SUMMARY: This is your Winter '20 update on engagement-related work at JMU. In this edition, we feature an exciting project conducted by an archaeology professor at the Woodrow Wilson Museum in Staunton, learn about the new cohort of Engagement Fellows, highlight the Debate for Civic Learning Institute, and more.


Debate for Civic Learning Institute at JMU

With the 2020 election around the corner, talk of debates has consumed all media from news broadcasts to comedy sketch shows. But in the classroom? The effort is still in progress, and JMU is leading the charge.

Debate in the classroom is best understood as a “learning experience that emphasizes evidence based reasoning, public minded or publicly oriented communication and advocacy, and fosters opportunities for disagreement, exploration, and experimentation,” according to JMU’s Paul Mabrey. It’s more than just arguing. Debate is a process of collaboration. And for faculty who want to engage their students in 2020 and beyond, this collaboration is the key to preparing active and enlightened citizens across all academic interests. Paul says the calling to the work is also “partly based on James Madison’s understanding of being civically oriented and developing a citizenry that can help govern.”


The Institute

On September 20th – 21st, 2019, James Madison University hosted the first Debate for Civic Learning Institute with Virginia Commonwealth University and the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. 73 professors, university staff, and higher education administrators from across the Commonwealth attended the two day workshop. JMU Faculty member Paul Mabrey served as the event organizer. For Paul, debate is second nature. He was a college debater, teaches public speaking in the JMU School of Communication, and serves as the JMU Communication Center Coordinator. He has made helping other faculty members effectively use debate in the classroom his mission.

Paul isn’t alone in his mission. In 2012, the Debate Across the Curriculum initiative was started to respond to the growing number of JMU faculty who saw the need for debate competency across subject areas but were unsure of how to design or implement the practice. They began developing digital modules, research resources, faculty workshops, and even provided 1 on 1 coaching sessions to help JMU faculty develop their approach.

Space to Collaborate

The convening was a natural outgrowth of this work. Then, an opportunity for collaboration with VCU meant that faculty could work with others across the state and region who are willing to tackle the same issue. Additionally, the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) was interested in the potential for debate as a practice of civic learning that might support the newly introduced civic core competency for state institutions. Other faculty in the space have considered whether institutional supports and mandates might help. Paul agrees it certainly helps, noting that JMU’s President Alger is passionate about the topic and even spoke at the Institute. The State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) also sent a representative to the Institute and their presence in the space has helped to link the institutions who are doing this work. But, the bottom line is that faculty must feel in it together. To foster camaraderie and recruit region-wide awareness about pedagogical approach in classroom especially with civic learning, a mini conference was a good fit.

Attendees began the retreat with a message from VCU’s Associate Vice Provost of Community Engagement and Debate for Civic Learning 2019 Organizer Lynn Pelco; Senior Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives, Office of the President, Association of American Colleges & Universities Dr. Caryn McTighe Musil; and James Madison University President Jonathan Alger on the importance of debate in the classroom and civic engagement in the 21st century. Next, a panel of regional debate in the higher-ed classroom experts provided an overview of civic learning and debate-based approaches as ways to create meaningful contributions to civic engagement. This session offered something for those like Amy Diduch of Mary Baldwin University who “have a focus on community and making sure they are all part of the ongoing debates important to the United States today.” Diduch explained that her “contribution is a small one. Within [her] classes trying to make those changes bit by bit.”

After laying these foundations, the Institute became progressively more hands on as sessions went by. Groups split to listen to a Faculty and Student Participation panel discuss the design and experience of debate in the classroom from both faculty and student perspectives. A faculty development panel also provided more pointed insight, perspective, resources, and strategies for institute participants interested in supporting faculty at their home institution.

The first day concluded with sessions on assignment design, and assessment and research. In the Design panel, representatives from VCU, JMU, and SCHEV all discussed the productive ways to help provide guidance and tools to assist faculty in designing assignments or courses utilizing debate for civic learning. The assessment & research panel discussed opportunities within the civic education and debate-based pedagogy landscape, including sharing data collected during the Debate for Civic Learning pilot cohort.


From Theory to Practice

Saturday turned the work over to participants, splitting them into groups and tasking them with curriculum and scholarship workshops that required them to apply the insight and information from Friday's panels. Participants were asked to begin to redesign courses, develop institution programming, explore collaborative opportunities, and create working goals for scholarship of teaching and learning projects that utilize debate for civic learning

This approach from theory to practice in two days provided the type of results Mabrey and others were seeking: immediate. He explains that they wanted to “have people who are more interested in debate based assignment especially around helping students develop civic skills, and to give them more evidence based reasoning, group collaboration.”  However, “acknowledging one another as people” and understanding how this both limits and enriches debate needed to be understood peer to peer, face to face.


Plans for More

Funding for the convening came from 4VA, Virginia Commonwealth University, the JMU President’s Office, American Evolution, the Center for Faculty Innovation at JMU, the School of Communication Studies, the JMU Debate Team, Strategic Planning and Engagement, and the Madison Center for Civic Engagement. Stipends for travel were provided to faculty who attended so that they can have more support, and then will engaged in resource sharing, data collection, assessment, and that anything they develop will be shared.

The feedback from the institute was positive, Paul assures. There was energy and excitement, and the affective energy was overwhelming. There was marked excitement about the model, and people liked the idea of networking with other faculty and staff around Virginia through hands on experience. There is interest especially in holding another convening to explore debate based pedagogy in classes.

The Debate Across the Curriculum program partnership between JMU and VCU that supported the Debate for Civic Learning Institute received a 2019 Civvy Honorable Mention. Additionally, SCHEV announced that they will be running another round of assignment design workshops (also known as "charrettes") beginning in 2020 for those who expressed a desire to workshop a debate assignment activity with peers. As Diduch put it, the work continues "bit by bit." 

Learn how to bring debate to your classroom here

Spotlight on Engaged Faculty

Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Dennis Blanton Talks Woodrow Wilson, Student Engagement, and Working with the Community in this Semester's Faculty Spotlight


Read more information about Dennis Blanton's Woodrow Wilson project here. 


At JMU, Engagement Fellows are recent JMU alumni who focus on promoting and fostering engaged learning, community engagement and civic engagement in and around the campus community by dedicating nine months of service to one area of university engagement. This year, the engagement fellows program includes fellows in the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement, Ethical Reasoning in Action, The Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, Food Access and Basic Needs Security, James Madison's Montpelier, The Office of the President, the Center for Inclusive Music Engagement, Student Connection with Engagement, Campus Compact for Virginia, and Valley Scholars.

Learn more about the JMU Engagement Fellows

Please encourage your service minded senior students to apply in early 2020!


From left to right: Brian Charette, Isaac Mensah Yeboah, Bry Moore, Nahla Aboutabl, Katrina Libera, Lou Veramessa, Melody Hackett, Bronwyn Neal, Hayley Jenkins, Addison Tucker, Mike Davis. 

To the 2019-2020 Engagement Fellows:

How would you describe you experience so far? What projects have you enjoyed working on this semester?


Nahla Aboutabl, Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services - "

My experience so far has been very educational. My position at IIHHS connects me to many people in the community. I love meeting people who are working on addressing the issues important to people in this area, especially having grown up here. I feel like I can give back to my community through my fellowship.

I'm working on creating a needs assessment to see what specific resources Arabic speaking immigrant families need in Harrisonburg and what skills they possess that they would like to build on. This needs assessment would inform the expansion of a grant funded program at IIHHS called Future Forward. This program has been serving Spanish speaking immigrants but we would like to expand its services to Arabic speaking newcomers as well."

Bronwyn Neal, Student Connection with Engagement – "

One word to describe my experience thus far: Educational.

I have been working on the Engagement hubs, an interactive touch screen and monitor that allows students to navigate through and find different opportunities offered on campus and around the Harrisonburg community. I have also spent time exploring the advantages and challenges of transfer students' experiences adjusting to life at JMU."



Melody Hackett, Valley Scholars – "The word I would use to describe my experience so far as the Valley Scholars Engagement Fellow is "fulfilling". As a first generation student myself, I love being able to help students and families navigate the sometimes confusing path to college applications, scholarships, FAFSA, and more. With college application deadlines coming up, we've all had our hands full with various programs here at JMU and out in the community. One project I particularly enjoyed planning, however, was a volunteer day at a local non-profit called Project GROWS. About 30 Valley Scholars and staff teamed up to do some farm work for Project GROWS, and I loved seeing everyone come together, meet new people, and give back in a different way."



Hayley Jenkins, Office of the PresidentI came into this position hoping to discover and develop skills necessary in the professional world. By this I mean networking, organizing, connecting, and various other things that will assist me in my career path--whatever that may be. I have not only been able to work on these things, but I have also been exposed to so many other university initiatives. Both in and outside of the President’s Office, I have been able to learn about and interact with so many programs and projects and see the passion that acts as a driving force for the faculty and staff involved. JMU is a wonderful place full of incredible people and ideas. 

I have loved learning about debate programs and the importance of integrating debate in the classroom. Before this, to me, debate was just a club you could join, just like a sports team. I have since learned it is more than just an extracurricular, but truly a way to reshape the way students think about popular issues that we often avoid speaking about. Not even in a sense to change anyone’s minds, but to instead encourage them to remain open-minded enough to understand the opposing views on truly any given topic. It seems that this is a concept that is ignored for the sake of avoiding conflict, but really, instead of avoiding conflict, developing healthy discussion and disagreement tactics is a much more sustainable solution.

Addison Tucker, Campus Compact for Virginia – "I have enjoyed working on my student dialogue workbook and training the most. For me, empowering young people to speak on their own behalf and on the behalf of others is the most meaningful gift you can give. A lot of students want so badly to be a part of difficult conversations or even host their own, but the process of a dialogue seems daunting. My hope is to make that process more feasible, more accessible, so that anyone who is interested can take a step toward participatory, inclusive conversation and problem solving.

Bry Moore, James Madison Center for Civic Engagement – "If I could describe my experience in one word it would be: vote or busy. I had a lot of fun doing over 50 class visits for voter registration, tent talks on Impeachment & Immigration, Constitution Day & traveling town hall."


Engagement Fellows participated in a two day retreat at James Madison's Montpelier to set goals for the year and complete teambuilidng exercises. 


Fellows toured the grounds of montpelier during the retreat, including the Mere Distinction of Colour Exhibit and the South Yard (pictured above).

Applications for the 2020-2021 cohort open spring 2020. Encourage a service minded senior to apply, or reach out to Mike Davis at davismk@jmu.edu for more information. 

The Engagement Hubs

The Engagement Hubs at JMU are new as of Fall 2019! The hubs are interactive touch screens loaded with current events, service needs, and opportunities organized by the amount of time you are able to spend on the task (One Time and Ongoing) and by the category (Civic engagement, Community Action, On-Campus Involvement, Diversity Efforts, and Professional Development). Visit the Carrier Library Lobby or the Second floor of Rose Library to check them out! Look for the big purple wall graphics that say "Be The Change."


Want to meet with the student connection with engagement fellow at the hubs? Stop by: Carrier Library on Monday or Wednesday from 2pm-4pm or the second floor of Rose Library on Tuesday or Thursday from 6pm-8pm.


For more information on the engagement hubs please visit the hubs page or contact Bronwyn Neal at nealbh@jmu.edu.  

 What We're Reading

Office of Research and Scholarship

In the most recent issue of the Research and Scholarship newsletter learn about Faculty Grant Awards, Edge Walkers, the JMU alum trailblazing as the first woman to lead the Lincoln Park Zoo, and more!

The James Madison Center for Civic Engagement

Check out JMU Civic's most recent newsletter to learn about JMU's voter turnout in the 2018 election, the delegates from LEAD Mongolia, the opening of Jennings Hall, and more stories about civic engagement on campus. 

The Beacon: Spotlighting Inclusivity at JMU

Read the Beacon to stay up to date on inclusivity efforts at JMU. 

What We're Listening To 

CFI's Teaching Podcast

Don't miss this monthly professional development checkin with CFI! Topics so far include Diversity in HigherEd, Group Learning, Ethical Reasoning, and What JMU Libraries have to offer faculty. 


JMU Civic's podcast interviews special guests to take a deep dive into issues threatening our democracy today, and features Abe Goldberg, Carah Whaley, and a rotating group of the center's Democracy Fellows. 

 VAEngage Podcast

The New VirginiaEngage podcast SLEE04 takes a deep dive into Service Learning and Experiential Education. 


Civic Engagement in Action

2020 Census

Have you read up on all that the Madison Center is doing to prepare for the 2020 Census? Students are counted where they reside on April 1, 2020 AND spend most of their time, which means that the majority of students will be counted in their college community. Our community and others across the Commonwealth cannot afford to miss out on funding because of undercounting. The Madison Center is leading the charge and workign closely with the Complete Count Commission to ensure that Harrisonburg and Rockingham are counted in. Read More Here



Above: JMU Democracy Fellows and Engagement Fellows Bry Moore and Bronwyn Neal hand out pocket Constitutions on Constitution Day.


Above: JMU students participate in the Student Governemnt Association Town Hall. Below, an image of the SGA panel consisting of (left to right) the Dean of Students (Josh Bacon), Speaker of the senate (Matthew Hershberger), Student Body President and Newman Fellow (Aaliyah McLean), Student Body Vice President (Mikayla Dukes), and Student Body Treasurer (Gabriela Rudnik). 


 What's been happening with civic engagement this semester? Read on:

The Civicist, a monthly newsletter for the Madison Center for Civic Engagement and Dukes Vote.

Educating4Democracy, a blog by the Madison Center for Civic Engagement and Dukes Vote.

The All-IN Campus Democracy Challenge recently recognized President Jonathan Alger as a Standout President for his leadership in cultivating a culture of democracy and voter participation on campus and beyond during the 2018 election cycle. Read more here. 


Also Read More About:


The #EngagedJMU Conversation Continues


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Check out the Engagement section of the Talent Development Resource Collection!


left1.jpg We've created an Engagement section within JMU Talent Development's Resource Collection, which is located on the third floor of Wine-Price. You'll find a great selection of topics covering civic engagement, community engagement and engaged learning. Do you know of a title that would make a great addition to this collection? Email us at engagement@jmu.edu or tweet a photo of the book to @JMUEngaged!


Have ideas for the next #EngagedJMU newsletter? Email us at engagement@jmu.edu or tweet us @JMUEngaged!



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Published: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Last Updated: Saturday, January 27, 2024

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