Skip to main content
Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

IDHE – About Us

The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) serves as a leading venue for research, resources, and advocacy on college student political learning and engagement in democratic practice. Through research, resource development, and convening,we strive to inform and shift college and university priorities, practices, and culture to strengthen democracy and advance social and political equity.

Founded in 2015, IDHE arises to address a pressing need in higher education. In 2012, the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement published A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, which calls for investing in higher education’s capacity to make educating young people for democracy a widely shared national priority and urges institutions to make civic learning and democratic engagement expected parts of every college student’s education in the 21st century. In 2014, the White House and Tisch College hosted a national, invitational conference of educators and policy makers to further discuss the potential of civic learning in higher education.

The Institute’s signature initiative is the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), which offers colleges and universities an opportunity to learn their student registration and voting rates and, for interested campuses, a closer examination of their campus climate for political learning and engagement, as well as correlations between specific student learning experiences and voting. More than 1,000 campuses across the country are enrolled in this first-of-its-kind study which provides us a research database that includes nearly half of all college students in the United States.

Meet the IDHE team:


Nancy Thomas

Director, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education
Phone 617.627.4802

Nancy Thomas directs research on higher education’s role in American democracy, including the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Prior to joining Tisch College in 2012, Nancy directed the Democracy Imperative, a national network of academics and practitioners working to advance deliberative democracy in higher education. Earlier in her career, she practiced university law. She currently serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Public Deliberation and senior associate with Everyday Democracy. Her professional interests connect political learning and democratic engagement; equity, diversity, and inclusion; academic freedom and free speech, and; legal issues in higher education. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a JD from Case Western Reserve University.

Ishara Casellas Connors

Associate Director, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education
Phone 617.627.3804

Ishara manages the National Study for Learning Voting and Engagement.  She works to create resources for campuses interested in learning about their students’ voting and political learning. Previously, Ishara worked as the Director of Future Ready, building a public campaign that engaged K-12, higher education, and community stakeholders to support college and career readiness across Massachusetts.  Prior to that position, Ishara worked in policy and development roles with community colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts. She holds a MA in Higher & Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Inger Bergom

Senior Researcher, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education

Inger serves as a researcher at IDHE examining predictors and outcomes of college student civic and political engagement, particularly among groups traditionally underrepresented in politics. Her interests include college student learning and development, teaching in higher education, faculty work, and institutional research. She earned a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education and a B.A. from Grinnell College.

Prabhat Gautam

Data Analyst, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education

Adam Gismondi

Program Administrator, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education

Alena Roshko

Program Administrator, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education
Phone 617.627.0602

Alena coordinates day-to-day operations for the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). She works to recruit campuses in the study, manages the database of participating campuses, responds to their inquiries about voting data, produces customized data analysis for groups of campuses, and coordinates campus data distribution. Prior to this position, Alena was engaged in human rights advocacy (as a project/fundraising manager) and election campaigns (as a field campaign manager with a national opposition party) in Russia. Alena came to Harvard University as a visiting human rights scholar in 2008 and later remained in North America. She holds a MA in Political Science from the University of Toronto.