Marquette faculty receive grant to develop course in civic reasoning and discourse for first year students

May 28, 2024

Dr. Amelia ZurcherMILWAUKEE — Dr. Amelia Zurcher, professor of English and director of the University Honors Program, and Dr. Amber Wichowsky, chair and professor of political science, both in Marquette University’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, have received nearly $150,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to develop an innovative, cross-disciplinary curriculum to teach civic reasoning and discourse skills to first-year undergraduates at Marquette.

The project has an expected value of $146,557 over three years and will get underway this summer. The goal of the course is to address the need for students to learn how to weigh different points of view, critically examine evidence and productively engage those with whom they disagree.

“Research shows that civic reasoning and dialogic skills support critical thinking and learning integration,” said Zurcher, the principal investigator on the award. “At a polarizing time for our students, this class will help address an urgent need. These skills form the foundation of academic communities in which students connect across difference and take risks, and they are also essential for productive workplaces and healthier democracies.”

Dr. Amber WichowskyDuring the project, Zurcher and Wichowsky will build a curriculum that teaches the three interrelated activities of dialogue, deliberation and debate across a range of topics. The curriculum will be the foundation for a first-year experience course in Marquette’s Core Curriculum that is currently being piloted in the Honors Program and is expected to launch more broadly in year three. Funding will also support data gathering, comprehensive assessment at multiple stages of student learning, and training of instructors and peer facilitators.

Wichowsky, a co-investigator, is the director of the Marquette Civic Dialogues program, which works to foster deliberation about the pressing issues facing the world today, prepare students to be citizens with purpose, and advance scholarship on civic dialogue. Through its programming and research, Civic Dialogues encourages students to "Be The Difference" by engaging differences in political thought and lived experience.

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations are a legacy of Davis' successful corporate leadership, and they aim to honor his ambitious philanthropic vision. Throughout its history, the foundations have supported various efforts to improve education, public media, religion, health and the environment across the United States. These are common assets of American life, and their vibrancy and well-being are instrumental to our collective flourishing. Since their inception, the foundations have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools and divinity schools.

About Marquette University

Marquette University is a Catholic, Jesuit university located near the heart of downtown Milwaukee that offers a comprehensive range of majors in 11 nationally and internationally recognized colleges and schools. Through the formation of hearts and minds, Marquette prepares our 11,100 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professional students to lead, excel and serve as agents of positive change. And, we deliver results. Ranked in the top 20% of national universities, Marquette is recognized for its undergraduate teaching, innovation and career preparation as the sixth-best university in the country for job placement. Our focus on student success and immersive, personalized learning experiences encourages students to think critically and engage with the world around them. When students graduate with a Marquette degree, they are truly prepared and called to Be The Difference.

About Kevin Conway

Kevin Conway

Kevin is the associate director for university communication in the Office of University Relations. Contact Kevin at (414) 288-4745 or