“PACE is very active campus-wide,” said Lisa-Marie Napoli, Ph.D., PACE’s director. “We work on academic and co-curricular programming that can help students gain skills and knowledge that help them be effective citizens.”
Any IU Bloomington undergraduate, whatever their major, can participate in PACE, which offers a 22 credit hour undergraduate certificate program along with real-world projects and hands-on learning, from nonpartisan voter registration, to encouraging civil dialogue on campus and beyond, to learning facilitation and advocacy skills.
"When I talk with students interested in PACE, I like to mention the wide range of super interesting elective courses that will fulfill PACE requirements,” said Ana Almanza (’24), a junior double majoring in Political Science and Spanish with a PACE Certificate. “This gives students the opportunity to study what they're interested in, while easily adding on an academic certificate.”
“Our work intersects with many different departments across the College and at IU,” said Dr. Napoli, “And in addition to the PACE Certificate, we also offer a College minor in leadership, which not only provides students with history and theories of effective leadership, but also experiential opportunities to learn leadership styles and processes in practice.”
Undergraduates can also benefit from two scholarships available for PACE internships—the Steven R. and Lisa A. Block Internship Award and the Hutton PACE Internship Scholarship. Internships range from organizations such as Braver Angels to Common Cause Indiana and across a spectrum of sectors such as law offices, non-profit organizations, city and county governments, and state and federal legislative offices.
One important, high-profile PACE project is the Big Ten Voting Challenge, “A friendly competition among IU’s peer institutions in the Big 10, with the goal of increasing student voter registration and turnout and nonpartisan education, while helping students find and use their voices as active, engaged citizens,” explained Napoli.
The Challenge was founded in 2016, and “We’ve seen significant student voter increases in the last presidential election as well as the last midterm election,” said Napoli. In fact, IU Bloomington student voter registration increased 22 percent from 2016-2020.
“The Challenge’s work is, of course, competitive with the other Big 10 schools, but it's also highly collaborative in that it serves to creatively break down silos between IU departments to pull them together on a project that collectively advances effective student citizenship,” noted Napoli.
PACE also hosts a project, Voices for Democracy and Civility, that trains students in facilitation skills so they are able to lead respectful and civil conversations with their classmates, including those that involve contentious topics. “These are skills our students crave and with which they thrive, and many of them participate in these PACE-sponsored conversations and curricular experiences several times so they can learn and practice them as often as possible.”
Napoli added: “Many of our students take these skills and practices and go into the community and help community members, even some policy decision makers, as they grapple with hard issues,” from voter access to health issues.
PACE also arranges for students to speak with state and federal legislators and their staff in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. from both sides of the aisle, and bring in representatives from advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and others to talk about how they engage at the State House and in the nation’s capitol. But, noted Napoli, “We are very careful about anything we do that has any associations with politics, because we are very intentional about remaining nonpartisan, and we rigorously practice that.”
“In a country where less than half of Americans can name all three branches of government, the work of PACE is more important than ever," said Valerie Pena, Executive Director of the Center on Representative Government at IU. "Their dedication in creating curriculum and programming that nurtures students’ interest in civic and government engagement is critical to building the federal, state, and community leaders of tomorrow. We applaud their work and consider them to be important partners to the initiatives being done at the Center on Representative Government."
While college and university campuses may be one of the last bastions in the U.S. for respectful and civil political dialogue, how does PACE avoid these conversations going off the rails?
Undergirding PACE’s approach, “We rely on group agreements, which most people know, of course, but our group agreements are unique in a way, because we teach students to listen first to understand, and be respectful—we encourage curiosity, instead of hostility,” said Napoli. “We are diligent about maintaining a space for people to feel safe, and open to full expression, without harm.
“We want people to be challenged and stretched, because it’s about getting to the tensions that we really need to be talking about and exploring. This is not about getting one-up on someone or putting them down, but about learning and curiosity.”
PACE’s motto “Is to bring theory to practice,” said Napoli. “We are teaching and service oriented, and we build on the research of academia and use those ideas to bring them into the world for the benefit of students who seek to successfully and meaningfully engage in political and civic issues to become more effective in public life for a healthy democracy.”