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Hart Leadership and Polis Launch Political Engagement Project

The Hart Leadership Program and the Center for Political Leadership Innovation and Service (POLIS) are excited to launch a new undergraduate fellowship program focused on political engagement.  

The Political Engagement Project (PEP)—co-led by HLP Director Gunther Peck, an associate professor of public policy and history, and POLIS Research Director Deondra Rose, assistant professor of public policy—is a three-semester opportunity aimed at supporting the political and leadership development of Sanford School of Public Policy students. One of the program’s goals is to support women and underrepresented groups in political leadership, though the program is open to students of all identities.

“At a moment when more young people are participating in political engagement than in the past, a majority of young Americans still do not vote,” said Rose. “There are few endeavors that are more important than equipping the next generation of political leaders with the tools necessary to serve as agents for positive change. PEP makes a serious investment in the development of young leaders, and I am excited to see what impact the PEP Fellows will have.”

Eligible participants are public policy majors who apply during the fall of their junior year. Selected students will serve as PEP Fellows until their graduation from the Sanford School. 

As PEP Fellows, students will receive financial assistance for their Sanford summer internship and/or their Honors Thesis work. Additionally, PEP Fellows will participate in other leadership development opportunities, including taking a HLP class called the “Democracy Lab” during their junior spring, participating in the work of the Political Engagement Project Lab, and creating a public-facing project during their senior year. 

Each student will have access to $500 from a PEP Impact Fund to implement this project. Potential uses could include an event showcasing their research, an on-campus get-out-the-vote effort, or a compelling semester long project via the Policy Lab. 

POLIS/HLP will work collaboratively to nurture the PEP Fellows’ political and leadership abilities through engagement with guest speakers and participation in training and mentoring activities centered on running for political office or building careers in public policy.

“Too often, financial burdens are a barrier to students seeking to pursue opportunities in public service fields,” said Peck. “We hope these new resources help students dream big and tackle the challenges facing our democracy.”

PEP is supported by a generous gift from the Carrin M. Patman Fund. Patman was a long-time activist for political reform in Texas. She successfully lobbied for a law requiring political parties to publicly disseminate their participation rules prior to making decisions. On the national level, she led the fight against winner-take-all presidential primaries at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Patman was an advocate for political engagement, and multiple members of her immediate family served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas legislature.

PEP builds on the work of the Political Engagement Pilot Project (PEPP), which HLP ran in 2016 under the direction of former Director Alma Blount and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, who co-taught the introductory class. That attempt clarified that a leadership development pathway focused on political engagement could be successful with adequate resources and support.

For more information about PEP, please visit its website, join us for an information session October 17 at 5 p.m. in Rubenstein Hall 200, or contact HLP Associate in Research Adam Beyer (adam.beyer@duke.edu).

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