Arts & Sciences

Marquette faculty receive grant to develop course in civic reasoning and discourse for first year students 

Dr. Amelia Zurcher

Dr. Amelia Zurcher, professor of English and director of the University Honors Program, and Dr. Amber Wichowsky, chair and professor of political science, both in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, have received nearly $150,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to develop an innovative, cross-disciplinary curriculum to teach civic reasoning and discourse skills to first-year undergraduates at Marquette. 

The project has an expected value of $146,557 over three years and will get underway this summer. The goal of the course is to address the need for students to learn how to weigh different points of view, critically examine evidence and productively engage those with whom they disagree. 

Dr. Amber Wichowsky

“Research shows that civic reasoning and dialogic skills support critical thinking and learning integration,” said Zurcher, the principal investigator on the award. “At a polarizing time for our students, this class will help address an urgent need. These skills form the foundation of academic communities in which students connect across difference and take risks, and they are also essential for productive workplaces and healthier democracies.” 

During the project, Zurcher and Wichowsky will build a curriculum that teaches the three interrelated activities of dialogue, deliberation and debate across a range of topics. The curriculum will be the foundation for a first-year experience course in Marquette’s Core Curriculum that is currently being piloted in the Honors Program and is expected to launch more broadly in year three. Funding will also support data gathering, comprehensive assessment at multiple stages of student learning, and training of instructors and peer facilitators. 

Wichowsky, a co-investigator, is the director of the Marquette Civic Dialogues program, which works to foster deliberation about the pressing issues facing the world today, prepare students to be citizens with purpose, and advance scholarship on civic dialogue. Through its programming and research, Civic Dialogues encourages students to “Be The Difference” by engaging differences in political thought and lived experience. 

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations are a legacy of Davis’ successful corporate leadership, and they aim to honor his ambitious philanthropic vision. Throughout its history, the foundations have supported various efforts to improve education, public media, religion, health and the environment across the United States. These are common assets of American life, and their vibrancy and well-being are instrumental to our collective flourishing. Since their inception, the foundations have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools and divinity schools.