Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Tisch College Year in Review: 2018-2019

Check out what we were up to in the past academic year: new student programs, election-year research, exciting speakers and more!
Tufts students cheer during JumboVote 2018 election night watch party

2018-2019 was a banner academic year for Tisch College. We launched innovative programs, like the new Tufts Civic Semester, to provide more pathways for students to learn civic skills and values. We hosted influential leaders—diplomats, activists, as well as current and former members of Congress—who enlightened and challenged the Tufts community on some of the most pressing issues facing the world. And, in a critical election season, we conducted important research on the civic and political lives of young people in the United States.

Here are some of the highlights from the past academic year:


During the past academic year, we hosted more than 25 events that brought over 30 speakers to the Tufts campus. It was an especially exciting year for our Distinguished Speaker Series and Civic Life Lunch programs. In the Fall, we kicked off a fantastic semester with a visit from U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (TX-20) and later welcomed former Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe to campus. We also hosted environmental activist Bill McKibben, Republican strategist and co-host of ABC’s “The View” Ana Navarro, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey brought our fall lineup to a close.

Our Spring semester featured one of our most diverse and dynamic lineups yet:

Check out our YouTube channel for full video from many of our events this year!

Ayanna Pressley speaking at Tufts

Academics & Research

It was an exciting inaugural year for the new, first-in-the-nation Civic Studies (CVS) major, co-directed by Tisch College Associate Dean Peter Levine and Philosophy Professor Erin Kelly. Introduction to Civic Studies, which is required for all majors, enrolled 45 students in the fall and 30 in the spring. We also offered a capstone course, an internship course, and cross-listed courses in 19 departments. The major will continue to grow, with more and more varied courses added each year.

We also continued to advance Civic Studies and engaged scholarship outside of the classroom. For the 11th consecutive year, Tisch College hosted both the Frontiers of Democracy conference and the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, both of which bring together scholars and practitioners from around the world for in-depth discussions and how individuals and institutions can improve their societies.

This year, we also hosted the American Political Science Association (APSA)’s inaugural Institute for Civically Engaged Research (ICER), an initiative of the APSA president that aims to shift the whole discipline to engage better with the public. Peter Levine, one of the founders and leaders of Civic Studies, convened all of these gatherings.

Civic Studies is an increasingly global field and movement: in addition to the “sister” Summer Institute held yearly in Germany or Ukraine, a new Ibero-American civic studies gathering modeled on those at Tisch College was held for the first time in Spain with higher education leaders from the Spanish-speaking world.

Meanwhile, our research centers continued to produce some of the most important scholarship in the field of youth civic and political engagement. Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) played a key role informing the public conversation about youth activism and voting in advance of the 2018 midterms. Our experts provided data on everything from the role of Parkland gun-control activists to the barriers faced by voters who lack transportation on Election Day. The latter inspired ride-share giants like Uber and Lyft to implement ride-to-the-polls initiatives. CIRCLE’s exclusive estimate of youth turnout—28%—was widely cited as proof of young people’s impact in the 2018 elections.

Our Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, which now has more than 1,000 campuses in its study of college student voting, made important contributions to nationwide efforts to improve political learning and engagement at universities. In 2018 it published Election Imperatives, a report that contains specific recommendations for college leaders, faculty, and students to catalyze institutional action. To date, Election Imperatives has reached the desks of more than 150,000 educators. Higher education administrators, students, campaigns, organizations, and media outlets frequently use this and other IDHE resources to improve political learning and mobilize students for electoral participation.

As evidence of the reach and impact of our scholarship, the data, analysis, and commentary from our research centers appeared in approximately 2,000 stories across print, radio, television, and online media, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, CNN, The Boston Globe, Inside Higher Ed, The Hill, TIME Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, Forbes, and others.

A JumboVote student colors in a map on election night


We pride ourselves on offering numerous and varied opportunities for students to learn, serve, engage with diverse communities, and find their own path to a fulfilling civic life. This year, we added a new student program to help us advance those aims: the Tufts Civic Semester. This initiative which, like our Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year, is available to incoming undergraduates, offers unique, global experiential learning as a foundation for the college experience. Students spend their first fall semester abroad, combining work at a nonprofit organization, cultural immersion, and for-credit classes. Our initial group of 12 students already came to campus for orientation and coursework and now they’re in Peru!

Our other student programs continued to grow. We had our largest ever group of Tisch Summer Fellows: 150 students from across the university, with 110 working at organizations in the nonprofit and public sectors in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C, and another 40 students working internationally.

Our STEM Ambassadors, who provide workshops and mentorship in local high school science classrooms, led activities for more than 900 students this year - also an all-time high.

In addition, this was the first year that every Tufts school participated in granting the Honos Civicus distinction to graduating students. We honored 158 students with this recognition: 71 undergraduates and 87 graduate and professional school students.

After admitting 30 students in its inaugural year, this summer our Leadership for Social Change program for high school students accepted 41 students. These young leaders came to campus for coursework with Tufts staff and faculty, hands-on community work, and projects that explored and advanced their passion for making the world a better place. We expect the program to keep growing next year!

Last but certainly not least, our JumboVote initiative played a critical role in helping Tufts students get informed, registered, and ready to vote in the 2018 elections. This non-partisan electoral engagement effort, created by Tisch College but led by students all across the university, signed up more than 1,150 students and staff to vote via our partnership with TurboVote. They also organized more than 30 events, from debate watch parties to poll monitor trainings, and even drove students to the polls on Election Day!

Students in the Leadership for Social Change summer program

Looking Forward

It would be impossible to highlight everything we accomplished in a rewarding and memorable academic year. And 2019-2020 promises to be even better! This year we’ll welcome back to campus the inaugural group of Civic Semester students, and we’ll bid farewell to the first-ever cohort of 1+4 Bridge Year participants, who will graduate five years after starting their Tufts experience thousands of miles away from campus. We’ll also celebrate the first group of students to graduate with a degree in Civic Studies. Most exciting of all, 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of Tisch College, and we look forward to commemorating the occasion with special events and other opportunities to celebrate and reflect on two decades of immensely rewarding work improving civic life at Tufts, in our communities, and around the world.