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Cultivating Civic Engagement

Fall 2013 | By Stacey Mickelbart. Photo by Erick Thomas..

Project Impact students, including sophomore Minjae Kim (left), meet with Ian Urbina, a reporter for The New York Times, whose series Drilling Down explored the practice of fracking in the energy industry.

Liberal Arts faculty challenge their students to think broadly and critically about the global challenges they’ll take on in the workplace—but internships, mentors, and networking also play a big role in a student’s success. Recognizing this, Ambassador Carolyn Curiel, a clinical professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication (BLSC), has launched the Purdue Institute for Civic Communication (PICC).

Curiel (BA 1976, Communication; HDR 2008, Liberal Arts), whose own student internships led to her career as a journalist at top media organizations, presidential speech writer, and former Ambassador to Belize, wanted to increase the number of opportunities that students have to connect with professionals doing the jobs they aspire to.

The Institute, housed in BLSC, counts C-SPAN and its Purdue-based archive as key partners, along with other media organizations like Bloomberg View. It gives students opportunities to engage with policymakers, journalists, media executives, and other national leaders and entrepreneurs on issues that affect us all, including the economy, energy sustainability, technology, climate change, disease, human rights, education, media, and policy.

Students interview experts and organize public forums at Purdue on a range of topics. They conduct background research, arrange event publicity, serve as emcees, and use social media and audience polls in real time to gauge the response. Each year a Maymester course in Washington, D.C., gives students the opportunity to meet with C-SPAN staff, government officials, media professionals, and policy experts.

PICC builds on Curiel’s desire to increase the scope of her previous initiative, Project Impact, which featured similar opportunities. PICC will increase the number of Purdue faculty involved in the experiential learning component, invite executive mentors to campus, and develop what may be the country’s first student-run national poll. It will also link STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with the humanities, a partnership vital to communicating increasingly complicated policy issues.

The Institute was awarded a $1 million grant from the Denver-based Daniels Fund, named after the late cable television pioneer Bill Daniels. The fund’s initiatives include civic literacy and community engagement, which provided a meaningful match with the PICC mission. “The aspects of civic communication in the lives of Purdue students have not been fully explored,” Curiel says. “If you are a nuclear engineering student and you end up at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are you not involved in civic life? If you become a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, are you not involved with civic life?”

“Students learn that they will not get very far as leaders if they cannot clearly and concisely communicate complex thoughts,” explains Curiel, and PICC programs provide an excellent opportunity for students to hone these skills.


These opportunities are AMAZING! I graduated from Purdue's Communication Department in 2009. [Ed: The department was renamed the Brian Lamb School of Communication in 2011.] These opportunities were not there then. The growth the program has seen in the last few years has been fantastic to watch. I hope the students do not take these opportunities for granted.

Jessica Nuss

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