LEAD Initiative

Civic Engagement LEAD Initiative

NASPA’s LEAD Initiative on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (LEAD Initiative) comprises a network of NASPA member colleges and universities committed to encouraging and highlighting the work of student affairs in making civic learning and democratic engagement a part of every student’s college education.

The LEAD Initiative offers unique professional development opportunities, targeted resources, networking, and recognition for its LEAD Institutions. 



As we transition into the eighth year of the NASPA Lead Initiative, we are again seeking connection and engagement with NASPA members and institutions committed to CLDE work. Whether you are just beginning efforts to stimulate work in this space or are a seasoned, nationally-recognized leader in CLDE, NASPA hopes you will consider joining the LEAD Initiative. Our objectives for the 2020-2021 year will facilitate exchanges of knowledge and develop a sense of community around our shared civic learning and democratic engagement work.

Join us by applying to the LEAD Initiative here

Application deadline has been extended! Applications are now due by August 14, 2020.


5 Things Student Affairs Professionals Can Do to Institutionalize Civic Engagement | August 2013

Matthew Hartley and Laura E. Sponsler

A newly released NASPA 5 Things Issue Brief asserts that student affairs professionals generally—and chief student affairs officers (CSAOs) especially—can play a pivotal role in the important civic purpose of advancing our democracy through the preparation of citizens

While the responsibility of this task is shared among faculty, administrators, policymakers, and community leaders, the brief argues that student affairs leadership is crucial to institutionalizing civic learning and democratic engagement. The brief is constructed around five key suggestions for CSAOs to consider to improve their institutional culture, policy, and practice in order to advance their institution’s educational opportunities to prepare students for active citizenship and active participation in our nation's democracy.


Effective Strategies for Supporting Student Civic Engagement | May 2018

Marissa Corrente, Jonathan Hilsher, Stephanie King, and Melinda L. Tejada

Recent protests and political events signal the need for higher education institutions to take a closer look at the importance and significance of student activism on college students’ experiences. Out-of-classroom environments are ripe with opportunities for students to process, communicate, and engage. This brief offers examples of effective strategies for student affairs educators in supporting student activism movements on college and university campuses. Examples from three NASPA Lead Initiative institutions are highlighted.




A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future
NASPA's Reading Guide for "A Crucible Moment"
Civic Agency
Involves the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences like partisan ideology, faith traditions, income, geography, race, and ethnicity to address common challenges, solve problems and create common ground; requires a set of individual skills, knowledge, and predispositions; also involves questions of institutional design, particularly how to constitute groups and institutions for sustainable collective action. (CLDE Emergent Theory of Change, 2017 CLDE Meeting)



Guiding Questions to Promote the Development of Students’ Civic Agency
  • How is the concept of citizenship explored in your programs/services?
  • How is meaningful dialogue facilitated across political ideologies?
  • How can community service experiences direct reflection about common challenges, common ground, and common work?
  • How do developmental aims inform your campus response to conservative and/or liberal activism?
  • How do programs support the development of resilience for civic life?
  • How do interactions with students highlight the need for personal and social responsibility?
  • How does your institutional mission statement express the civic mission of your college and university?
  • What specific skills and values do you hope to provide to your students and your graduates?

Weaving Together Career and Civic Commitments for Social Change
What if higher education understood developing a civic consciousness and conscience in each college graduate as essential preparation for work?   This on-demand webinar explores how such commitments might alter not just the students but their workplaces, thus allowing  graduates to combine finding a secure income and attending to the well being of the world and its people.  Through the webinar we will explore together how education for social responsibility is the best preparation for work, what this means for the kinds of educational opportunities student and academic affairs professionals design, and what new capacities and careers might evolve for students.

Civic Assessment
In the NASPA Online Learning Community there are a variety of resources dedicated to CLDE assessment. To preview these items, click on the titles of these sessions: 

Assessment of Service Learning
Not all experience is educational. How do educators discern effective experiential learning from ineffective? How do individuals who organize service learning programs create powerful plans and experiences that integrate course content with experience outside of the classroom? This session will provide tools and proven best practices for planning effective service learning, and for assessing what students learn through experience.

CLDE Strategies to meet the CAS Revised Standards for Civic Engagement & Service-Learning
Higher Education has a responsibility to current and prospective students to move our focus beyond service-learning to include the larger fields of civic learning and democratic engagement in every college graduates collegiate experience. This live briefing will explore the changes made to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education’s (CAS) ideals for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning Programs, as well as to provide some guidance for effective program and student learning outcomes that balances student, institutional and community goals.

Democracy Requires Information: Fostering Media Literacy for Civic Engagement in College
Between the proliferation of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, college students are incessantly bombarded with information.  The purpose of this session is to model educational strategies to enhance students’ media literacy, so they become less susceptible to making snap judgments based on distorted information.  These strategies share a focus on engaging diverse groups in deliberative discussion.  Participants will also discuss recent research on where and how students receive and process information with a particular focus on political conversation.

Integrating & Assessing Service and Civic Learning into the Curriculum & Co-Curriculum
Campus Compact (2003) identified that “In a service-learning experience, students learn not only about social issues, but also how to apply the new knowledge to action that addresses real problems in their own communities” (p. 7).  Service-learning is generative pedagogy that connects academic courses with theory and practice in an effort to address and learn from community issues, while advancing civic knowledge and competencies. Like faculty, student affairs administrators also have an opportunity to blend service experiences and civic learning into the co-curriculum, especially through partnerships with academic affairs colleagues and local community organizations. As Palmer (2011) articulated in his notion of a hidden curriculum, “Students learn not only from what is taught; they also learn from how it is taught” (p. 132). Service and civic learning, within the curriculum and co-curriculum, provide opportunities for higher educational professionals to foster the principles of democratic civic engagement through innovative learning experiences with and within the community.

Making the Most of the NSSE Civic Engagement Module Results
This presentation highlights findings relevant to civic engagement from NSSE including the Topical Module on Civic Engagement which invites students to report on the extent to which they are engaged in service-learning, community service, and as active citizens on campus, local, state, and global issues. We will also share new findings from qualitative data about students’ civic learning experiences and consider what these data suggest for civic education and for institutions interested in increasing civic experiences. Institutions with NSSE results are encouraged to participate to exchange ideas about approaches to using data to assess and inform civic engagement efforts on campus.

Meaning, Methods, and Measures: Challenges and Solutions to Assessing Student Affairs Impact
While assessment is critical to both accountability and improvement of efforts in student affairs, there are challenges to adapting academic assessment practice to co-curricular programs, resources, and initiatives. This Live Briefing will focus on assessment best practice, keeping in mind the challenges that can exist when applying those concepts to co-curricular endeavors. Although rooted in theory, the content will focus on practical strategies for building effective assessment processes.

Additional resources:

Civic Technology

The 2016-2017 NASPA Lead Initiative Lead Advisory Institutions did a review of several technology platforms that are of interest to Lead Initiative campuses. From this review, a few tools are highlighted below as a resource for campuses. These reviews are not intended to be an endorsement for the product but should serve as a guide when considering the use of civic technology platforms.

    • Campus Connect: When bundled with their Service Learning Module, Campus Connectmakes it easy for School Admins to create, manage, track impact, and report on student service learning courses and programs.

      Highlights: Offers corresponding modules for community partners to track volunteers and community wide volunteer postings which can integrate with the campus version so community partners are not duplicating data entry.

      Things to note: Focus more on tracking hours than student learning.


    • Campus Groups: CampusGroups helps universities and colleges increase campus engagement by providing all the tools to manage groups, promote events, and improve the student experience.

      Highlights: Provides aggregated, campus wide data, can collect, analyze and compare student involvement and assessment data, satisfaction surveys, identify students who need reminders on their goals to reach learning outcomes of the campus. Extensive attendance and involvement data - # of hours at each event, membership data for each student, their roles within groups, number of events attended, number of hours contributed towards requirements, and the number of emails students are reading. Create custom evaluations for measuring ROI, program effectiveness, presenter assessment event satisfaction and more. Download reports into Excel or build RSS feeds of data.

      Things to note: It is unclear if users outside of the college community (alumni, campus partners, employers etc.) are able to access Campus Groups.


    • CampusLabs (Collegiate Link / OrgSync): With the power of Campus Labs, an individual / institution can connect students to meaningful and guided opportunities, easily manage and track their involvement, and showcase the impact on the student experience.

      Highlights: Track individual student activities, can produce a co-curricular transcript, students can upload/input reflection responses.


    • Credly: End to end solution for creating, managing, and issuing digital credentials.

      Highlights: Capture individual student activities, can require staff approval/verification if preferred.

      Things to note: There is not a space for faculty/staff data entry.


    • Lyon Software: CBISA (Community Benefit Inventory for Social Accountability) features a blend of both statistical and narrative information. This allows you to not just crunch numbers, but to also describe your group's real and intangible contributions in the form of stories and anecdotes. CBISA also collects and stores information used throughout your reporting year including community needs, partnerships, and goals.

      Highlights: Focus on overall engagement to see impact, emphasis on generating reports to Excel, Word, XML, Crystal, and PDF formats, cost is $1360 annually with unlimited data, unlimited users, all necessary web trainings, and unlimited technical support, some campuses are currently using for reports to and information for AAC&U, Campus Compact, Carnegie Classification, and President’s Honor Roll.

      Things to note: Does not track individuals nor is it useful to do survey administration.


    • Presence (formerly Check I'm here): Presence is a web and mobile software platform that helps you identify ways to increase student engagement, better allocate resources, enhance assessment practices, and promote opportunities, ultimately improving outcomes and retention.

      Highlights: Organization and event management, track individual student involvement, easily used on mobile devices and campus branded apps, conduct assessments/evaluations on site, use card swiping.

      Things to note: Focus seems to be on event management and student organizations, unclear if there is space for faculty to share their s-l activities and information.


    • SharePoint (Microsoft product): SharePoint empowers teamwork with dynamic and productive team sites for every project team, department, and division. Share files, data, news, and resources. Customize your site to streamline your team’s work. Collaborate effortlessly and securely with team members inside and outside your organization, across PCs, Macs, and mobile devices.

      Highlights: Share or download Excel, Powerpoint, Word, or Visio documents, campus Sharepoint site is highly customizable for look/feel, and organization, most campuses already have Microsoft or 365 so it is easy to add the SharePoint functionality.


  • Simplicity - CSM Module (related to NACElink): Connect job seekers to leading employers while giving them all the tools they need to prepare for and succeed in today's job market. Efficiently manage all aspects of career services, including job postings, on-campus recruiting, post-graduation metrics, and more.

    Highlights: Symplicity offers modules for managing student conduct, on-campus housing, accommodations, study abroad, student support services, and connecting with community which many campuses already use so this could be an easy add on.  Can review and evaluate resumes/CVs, job applications, interviews, etc.  Can be a tool to create and host career fairs and workshops.  Recruiters have access to candidate information.

    Things to note: Does not seem to be a tool that tracks hours volunteered/worked.
Community Partnerships

Resources coming soon.

Dialogue and Deliberation
  • Conversation Café: Conversation Cafés are open, hosted conversations in cafés as well as conferences and classrooms—anywhere people gather to make sense of our world. At a Conversation Café there is nothing to join, no homework, no agenda, just a simple process that helps to shift us from small talk to BIG talk, conversations that matter.

    Hosts are key to successful Conversation Cafés.

    • Hosting Manual: http://www.conversationcafe.org/the-complete-hosting-manual/

    • Principles, agreements, and process: http://www.conversationcafe.org/principles-for-conversation-cafes/

  • Facing Project: The Facing Project is a nonprofit that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. We provide tools, a platform, funds, and inspiration so communities can share the stories of citizens through the talent of local writers, artists, and actors.

  • Interactivity Foundation: The Interactivity Foundation works to enhance the process and expand the scope and health of our democracy by bringing people together in small group discussions of broad topics of societal concern. Our goal is to engage more people in the exploration and development of more possibilities for public policy. We use a facilitated discussion process that is oriented around the notion of collaboration by difference, engaging a group to work together to uncover divergent perspectives on the discussion topic and to develop divergent approaches to that topic.

  • Living Room Conversations: Living Room Conversations is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 as a result of a transpartisan partnership focused on revitalizing civil discourse through conversation. Living Room Conversations offers an open-source format to facilitate structured conversations among people of differing views and backgrounds. Through these conversations we hope to increase understanding of various issues, build relationships, and pave the way for collaborative and inclusive problem-solving.

  • National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD): The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation is a network of thousands of innovators who bring people together across divides to tackle today’s toughest challenges. NCDD serves as a gathering place, a resource clearinghouse, a news source, and a facilitative leader for this extraordinary community. 

  • National Issues Forum (NIF): National Issues Forums (NIF) is a network of civic, educational, and other organizations, and individuals, whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America. It includes civic clubs, religious organizations, libraries, schools, and many other groups that meet to discuss critical public issues. Forum participants range from teenagers to retirees, prison inmates to community leaders, and literacy students to university students

    NIF does not advocate specific solutions or points of view but provides citizens the opportunity to consider a broad range of choices, weigh the pros and cons of those choices, and meet with each other in a public dialogue to identify the concerns they hold in common.

  • Public Conversations Project: Difficult conversations - about the issues that matter most - are too often avoided or approached with fear. Many believe, often based on experience that engaging with difference will threaten the stability of their community or result in the same unproductive debates where no one feels heard or valued. Even when people do engage with difference, they often retreat further into what they know and understand; communities devolve into silence, heated disagreement, or sometimes even violent conflict. In this stalemate, everyone loses the richest, most essential parts of living and working in diverse and pluralistic communities.

  • Story Circles: Story circles are one of the main tools used in the People's State of the Union!  From January 23-30, 2015, Citizen Artists across the country hosted story circles, inviting communities to come together and share their own perspective on the current state of our union.  Below is a general guideline for how story circles may be used in any setting.

Democratic Engagement
  • Election Imperatives | August 2018
    Ten Recommendations to Increase College Student Voting and Improve Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy
    Drawing from IDHE”s research on college student voting and the campus climates of highly politically engaged institutions, this report offers ten recommendations to increase student voting and to improve campus conditions for political learning, discourse, and agency during the election season and beyond. The 2014 midterm election data from our National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) is a wake-up call to U.S. colleges and universities. Although 62% of college students registered to vote in the 2014 midterms, turnout was far lower, as low as 12% for students ages 18–21. (Explore 2014 data here.) 

  • Fair Election Center's Campus Vote Project
    Campus Vote Project helps colleges and universities institutionalize reforms that empower students with the information they need to register and vote. We provide resources and information administrators and students can use to work together to overcome challenges student often face when voting. College students are a diverse and important sector of the electorate, but a large numbers of students do not vote (particularly in mid-term, state and local elections). By empowering them with information, is critical to getting students to be engaged and participate in the process.Data shows that, when armed with the relevant information, students will vote. Contact for help developing a school-sponsored student voting information website, registering students at freshman orientation, informing them of early voting options, or getting a polling place on campus eliminate some of the barriers that keep students from the polls.

  • Graduating Students into Voters: Overcoming the Psychological Barriers Faced by Student Voters | April 2016
    This brief has two sections: one discussing common barriers to voting, and one identifying solutions. They can be read in either order. Use the graphic below to decide where to start.

  • Institutionalizing Voter Engagement: A guide to developing and adopting handbook language | March 2018
    Institutionalizing Voter Engagement was created to help campuses unpack what institutionalizing voter engagement means and further campuses’ ability to prepare students as active citizens. The guide provides a working definition for voter engagement, methods for building programs, and arguments to support engaging students as voters. The purpose of Institutionalizing Voter Engagement is to support administrators in developing and implementing handbook language that commits institutions to carrying out voter engagement. 

  • MSI Vote: Ensuring Democracy and Promoting Voting through the Power of Minority Serving Institutions | September 2017
    Examining key issues that affect student and racial and ethnic minority turnout across the nation, this report explores the impact of the distance from campuses to polling sites, the time it takes to get to those sites, and why these factors disproportionately affect students and minorities. It also studies various policies that perpetuate voter suppression and other challenges that fall outside of the general structure of voting, such as misinformation, miscommunication, and racism.

  • National Resource Consortium Insights Brief | June 2019 
    The National Resource Consortium Insights Brief poses opportunities and challenges for campuses that seek full voter registration efforts of eligible students through programs and services like new and transfer student orientation.

  • The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE)
    The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) 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 and correlations between specific student learning experiences and voting.

  • Strengthening American Democracy: A Guide for Developing an Action Plan to Increase Civic Learning, Political Engagement, and Voting Rates Among College Students | September 2017
    This is a tool designed to help faculty, staff, and students write strong action plans to increase civic learning, democratic engagement, and voting rates among college students. It provides a framework for developing and documenting institutional goals and strategies. It is not meant to be prescriptive and should be adapted to your institutional context.

  • Students Learn, Students Vote 
    Higher education’s focus on civic engagement not only helps students to better understand their impact on those around them, it creates better students. Encouraging and assisting your students to vote will establish participatory habits that will last well beyond their collegiate experience. Incorporating democratic engagement into campus life creates structure and stability for students as they explore what their political beliefs are, and how they would like to engage in the democratic process. CVP developed a two-step system to integrate electoral engagement into campus culture. The first phase is a series of steps every institution can implement, while the second is a series of goals each campus can customize to specifically fit their needs and state regulations. CVP developed this programming from years of campus electoral engagement work. Each of our suggested activities is a successful best practice from our partner institutions. Every academic institution has a different student population, administrative structure and electoral regulations but the planning process and recommendations are easily adapted to any campus and reflect our work with a range of two-year, four-year, public, and private institutions of higher education from an array of different states. 

  • The Voter Friendly Campus Program
    The Voter Friendly Campus designation program was started through the partnership of Campus Vote Project and NASPA in 2016. The goal of the program is to help institutions develop plans to coordinate administrators, faculty, and student organizations in civic and electoral engagement. The Voter Friendly Campus designation helps administrators develop a strategy to engage students and set clear goals so a path can be created in advance of upcoming elections. These activities can be institutionalized for years to come, keeping students engaged as they enter, and move through their time at school. After colleges and universities execute their plan to help students register and vote campuses will be evaluated and designated as an official Voter Friendly Campus.

  • Voter Friendly Campus Report (2016)
    The Voter Friendly Campus (VFC) report reflects on the program’s inaugural designation process. The 84 institutions (out of 94 that started the program) that received the designation for 2017-2018 were selected because of their commitment to promoting democratic engagement on campus. 

  • Voter Friendly Campus Report (2018)
    The Voter Friendly Campus (VFC) report emphasizes leadership and goal setting, taking a big picture look at what the 124 designated campuses are doing to institutionalize their democratic engagement efforts.


One of the best resources available to you is the wide range of professional development opportunities. This list contains both our “Hosted Events,” workshops and webinars that we plan and manage, and some “Related Events,” hosted by the NASPA Central Office or other NASPA Constituent Groups. To see a full listing of NASPA events, please see the Events page.


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Participating Institutions

NASPA LEAD Initiative Participating Institutions

Covering two- and four-year public and private institutions, with diverse student profiles and varying enrollments ranging from large public flagship universities to small religiously affiliated private colleges, the NASPA LEAD Initiative institutions reflect the diversity of the U.S. higher education landscape. Explore the list of the 2019-2020 LEAD Initiative institutions below.

LEAD Advisory Institutions:

Alfred State College
Baylor University
Kennesaw State University New Jersey Institute of Technology
Rollins College
University of Central Florida
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Miami
University of Mississippi Main Campus
University of Nevada, Reno
Washington & Jefferson College  

LEAD Consulting Institutions:

East Carolina University
Elon University
Frostburg State University
Grand Valley State University
Illinois State University
Salt Lake Community College
SUNY: The College at Brockport

LEAD Initiative Institutions:


Arkansas Tech University Barry University
Binghamton University Buena Vista University
California State University - Los Angeles
Chatham University
CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College
East Tennessee State University
Eastern Illinois University El Centro College
Florida Atlantic University
George Mason University
Harvey Mudd College James Madison University
Kent State University
La Salle University
Le Moyne College
Lewis University
Loyola University Maryland
Middlesex Community College
Middlesex County College Moraine Valley Community College
Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles Penn State University - Abington
Ramapo College of NJ
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Seminole State College of Florida
Stony Brook University
Texas A&M University-Central Texas
Texas Woman's University
Towson University University of Baltimore
University of Houston
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
University of North Carolina, Wilmington
University of South Carolina
Utah State University
Wake Forest University
Washington State University Washington University in St. Louis
Waubonsee Community College
Weber State University
Wichita State University
Wilkes University
Winston-Salem State University


Early-Career Development Initiative

The NASPA LEAD Initiative Early-career Development Institute will serve as the primary development and learning experience for early career civic learning and democratic engagement professionals to gain foundational knowledge and connections within the field through a cohort-based experience with individual coaching from a seasoned professional.


NASPA's LEAD Initiative is proud to offer this opportunity to professionals in the early stages of their career. Student Affairs professionals working in community engagement spaces have very unique needs and often have limited resources devoted to professional development for staff.

The Early Career Development Institute (ECDI) is a new signature initiative to provide new, full-time professionals in their first three (3) years in the field an opportunity to connect with peers and more senior staff members at LEAD Initiative institutions and to explore specific competencies essential for practitioners.

Goals for Coaches

  1. To provide mentorship and support to early career professionals as they navigate practice, theory, and rhetoric related to civic learning and democratic engagement in higher education.
  2. To provide monthly guidance in an online fora for professional development for early career professionals as participants engage in career exploration activities.


Goals for Participants

  1. To provide opportunities for new professionals to network with early career professionals working with and/or seeking positions focused on civic learning and democratic engagement.
  2. To provide coaching opportunities for early-career professionals with mid- and senior-level student affairs professionals who have demonstrated a significant professional commitment to civic learning and democratic engagement efforts within the field of student affairs.
  3. To provide purposeful opportunities for professional goal setting and self-reflection.
  4. To provide participants with online development offerings intended to advance participants' capacities for civic learning and democratic engagement.


Applicants will be notified by August 10, 2018 regarding acceptance into the program and matches will be shared via e-mail by August 30. Applicants are asked to be current NASPA members to participate in the program.