Read about Dr. John J. Theis and His Work with Students - "How Civic Engagement Spread across Six College Campuses"

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  • John J. Theis

In an article titled How Civic Engagement Spread across Six College Campuses author Maura Casey describes how Dr. John J. Theis, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement for the Lone Star College System and professor of Political Science on the Kingwood Campus, introduced deliberative forums work to college campuses.

The following are excerpts from the article:

He began looking for ways to give students more experience with democracy that went beyond voting. At the request of his department head at the college where he taught, Theis met with a group from Minnesota interested in civic engagement. One person from that group, Harry Boyte, talked about helping people identify issues in their community and getting young people involved. “I thought, ‘This is exactly the experience I want my students to have.’ So I told them, ‘I’m in. Political science doesn’t teach this stuff. Let’s figure out how to do this.’” 

Katherine Perrson, president of the Kingwood branch of Lone Star College, is a true believer in public engagement. “Like most grand efforts, we started small,” she said. Theis worked with high school juniors and seniors attending Kingwood’s early college program, and matched them with college students to act as mentors. They picked a project to improve their community and worked on it all year as part of the public achievement program...

Through these activities, Perrson said, the college became comfortable with having communitywide dialogue on difficult issues, such as racism. When the public debate concerning guns on campus became heated, Perrson knew what to do. She asked Theis to organize deliberations on the matter. Theis called in all of his student moderators, built on the partnership that had developed with Windy Lawrence at University of Houston-Downtown to involve their moderators (ultimately, he arranged for 30 moderators to help), and wrote an issue guide on the topic with three choices. Within two weeks, he had arranged to hold deliberative forums in the biggest area on campus, at tables capable of seating 10 each. Theis assumed 200 people would attend. About 350 showed up, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and members of Open Carry Texas, a gun rights group, whose members not only joined the discussion, but also videotaped it... 

Read the full article.