Personal Statement Cecilia Orphan American democracy is in crisis. Countless research studies attest to the American
people’s low level of engagement with, and knowledge of, democratic institutions. Universities were originally created to protect American democracy. Yet higher education has strayed from this democratic purpose. Given its legacy, I believe that higher education has an indispensable role to play in reversing our current crisis in democracy. Fortunately, in the last 25 years there has been a resurgence of attention to the democratic function of higher education. I have spent four years helping advance this movement as manager of the American Democracy Project (ADP). The ADP is a national network of 230 universities focused on higher education’s role in protecting American democracy. I am now pursuing graduate study to deepen my understanding of how higher education might best serve democracy. No other program better matches my interests and experiences than the Higher Education Administration doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
I became familiar with Penn’s leadership in community engagement while working for the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) as a student at Portland State University (PSU). The CAE is responsible for facilitating PSU’s community/university partnerships, and I served as a liaison for four sites - two of which were public schools. The Netter Center’s leadership in K-12 partnerships and Matt Hartley’s scholarship helped me build meaningful and reciprocal relationships with our sites that served PSU’s mission of ‘letting knowledge serve the city.’
I continue to use Penn’s scholarship in my work with ADP and have closely followed the Netter Center. Ira Harkavy’s research on community/university engagement has helped me design and implement several ADP initiatives. Additionally, many of the universities in ADP
have used the Anchor Institutions Toolkit while striving to fulfill their role as “Stewards of Place.” The ADP Stewardship of Place notion is similar to Penn’s “Anchor Institution” metaphor because it recognizes that universities are rich with resources – both human and intellectual – and are uniquely positioned to solve local problems and advance democracy. To be Stewards of Place, I believe that universities must institutionalize community engagement. When a university is intentional about embedding community engagement into its core structure, it is better able to advance democracy by educating future citizens and...