SNF Agora Receives $6M Grant from the US Department of Defense to Bolster Civic Learning

The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University has been awarded a $6 million grant from the US Department of Defense to support the institute’s new Minor in Civic Life and other civics education efforts. 

Last week, the DoD, through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, announced grants totaling up to $53 million awarded to 13 organizations under the National Defense Education Program. The grants support the NDEP’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program, STEM scholarship programs, Civil Society programs, and Enhanced Civics Education programs. 

SNF Agora received its grant in the Civil Society Education category and will use the funds to develop an approach to civics education for the 21st century that integrates curricular programming, community-facing work, and training programs. The program will teach civics in a way that focuses on some of the key challenges facing our modern workforce and citizenry, with particular attention to the needs of STEM students. A review of democratic engagement at Johns Hopkins, led by SNF Agora fellow Scott Warren, found that Johns Hopkins undergraduates in STEM fields tend to take fewer courses related to democracy as part of their studies; yet, after graduation, their professional work often has a direct impact on civil society and democracy. The grant will help SNF Agora to empower Johns Hopkins students in all fields to be informed, engaged global citizens. 



In the 21st century, the US is experiencing rapid economic, technological, political, and socio-demographic shifts, all of which demand a workforce and citizenry with new skills and capabilities and a commitment to the public good.  

Civics education should be where these skills and orientations are developed, but in the US, such education is increasingly uncommon in both K-12 and higher education. As a result, students are graduating from college and entering the workforce without a commitment to or understanding of public service, nor with the skills they need to engage as effective denizens of modern, pluralistic, democratic communities. 

“Research shows us that civics education in the United States is often siloed—especially from STEM fields—and much of the existing civics education is outdated for the 21st century,” says Hahrie Han, director of the SNF Agora Institute. “There is a growing mismatch between the skills people need and what they have when they graduate from college.  

“We are excited and grateful to the Department of Defense for supporting our work to address these inadequacies and to build a future-facing model of civics education, here at Johns Hopkins University as well as for the broader community.” 

The SNF Agora Institute aims to address this problem through multipronged programming that will equip students of all backgrounds with essential skills they need to be thoughtful, informed participants in their communities. The program will also train a pipeline of young scholars to carry this work forward, and create civic learning opportunities for members of the general public.  


Civic Life Learning

SNF Agora’s programming takes a four-pronged approach to developing civic life skills for students and others on and beyond campus:  

First is curriculum development. SNF Agora recently launched its new Minor in Civic Life, which introduces undergraduate students to civic studies through core seminars, electives, and experiential learning opportunities. As a minor, the program is specifically intended to engage and equip students interested in pursuing any kind of career, included STEM careers, with skills of critical inquiry they need to be engaged global citizens. 

Second is courses and workshops designed to give students and members of the public the opportunity to work directly with practitioners and develop the skills they need for civic life. This includes student- facing events like Democracy Day and public-facing events the Elijah E. Cummings Democracy and Freedom Festival, hosted in Baltimore each year. With the opening of the new Hopkins campus in Washington DC, the institute will be offering a variety of programs to engage Washington policymakers and the general public in its work.   

Third is faculty development, which aims to build a pipeline of scholars who will be equipped to teach civics not only at JHU but also at universities around the country. The institute recently launched the SNF Agora Academy, which comprises pre- and postdoctoral programs that support scholars whose work is aligned with the SNF Agora mission and instilled with the values, approaches, and intellectual rigor of the institute. Through the Academy, SNF Agora can train the next generation of faculty to integrate civics into their teaching. 

And fourth, the institute will create opportunities for cross-sectoral engagement between faculty and civics educators from the public and nonprofit sectors to assist with developing and refining curricula for civics education. The SNF Agora Visiting Fellows Program identifies and recruits fellows from diverse sectors, disciplines, backgrounds, and ideologies to join the institute for a defined period, and to contribute to the academic community, generating cross-sectoral engagement through their projects. And as part of the SNF Agora Academy, the institute has recently launched a series of Community Workshops, in which practitioners, faculty, fellows, and graduate students are invited into dialogue on salient and timely topics related to nurturing democratic and pluralistic societies. 

About the SNF Agora Institute

The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University is a multi-disciplinary academic center and public forum dedicated to improving and expanding civic engagement and informed, inclusive dialogue as the cornerstone of global democracy. The institute was founded in 2017 with a visionary $150 million gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).