SNF Paideia Program at Penn receives $13M to promote informed dialogue and civic engagement

The support is the third such grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

A group of people including Penn President Liz Magill and Michael Delli Carpini.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) co-president Andreas Dracopoulos, (front left), Penn President Liz Magill (front center), and SNF Paideia founding faculty director Michael X. Delli Carpini (front right) gathered with students and alumni in the rare book collection of the National Library of Greece at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, as a part of the SNF Nostos Conference, held in Athens in June 2023.

The University of Pennsylvania announced a $13 million grant to support further growth of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia Program from the program’s namesake. Since its inception in 2019, SNF Paideia has experienced high student demand and exponential growth of its program centered on individual and community wellness, service, and citizenship.

The new grant, spanning 2024-2029, enables SNF Paideia to continue equipping undergraduates with the knowledge and experiences to foster robust, informed, and respectful dialogue across difference.

“A thriving society requires broadly educated and service-minded leaders who express their views openly, listen to others respectfully, and disagree productively,” said Penn President Liz Magill. “We are deeply grateful for the ongoing support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which strengthens opportunities for Penn students to hone and practice these essential skills.”

The program’s design provides a cohort of students with a structured and immersive experience, while also providing an increasingly larger number of students, faculty, and the wider community with myriad opportunities to practice civic engagement and civil discourse in a variety of settings.

“We tend to think of education primarily as a means of personal development, but SNF Paideia offers a model for how, by building habits of civic engagement and civil discourse, it can lay a foundation for thriving communities, healthy democracies, and civil societies at large,” said SNF co-president Andreas Dracopoulos. “The strong interest young people have shown in this vision of engaged citizenship is cause for optimism in our shared future, and we congratulate the SNF Paideia team on the incredible growth that has made the program’s resources accessible to ever more members of the Penn community.”

Named after the Greek word “Paideia” which loosely translates to the education of the whole person, SNF Paideia is designed to integrate the development of students’ civic identities into their personal and professional ones.

“Ancient Greek thought emphasized the importance of civic engagement as a fundamental duty of citizens to actively participate in the governance, well-being, and cultural life of their city-states,” said Sigal Ben-Porath, faculty director of the SNF Paideia Program at Penn. “We seek to bring forward a 21st-century version of those ideals, to help students understand how their individual well-being is inseparable from the well-being of their communities. Thanks to the wonderful generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Penn can continue and grow important programming that teaches students how to be better citizens, and in turn, support improved civic health and wellness across the globe.”

The program offers four core components that navigate divergent viewpoints on pressing issues confronting the nation and the global community: courses; an undergraduate fellowship; co-curricular forums and events; and cross-campus collaborations. An average of 30 courses per academic year includes classes like Democracy and Disagreement; Political Empathy and Deliberative Democracy; and Good Talk: The Purpose, Practice, and Representation of Dialogue Across Difference. A combined total of nearly 3,000 students have enrolled in at least one SNF Paideia designated course since the program’s inception.

“In our first five years, we have seen remarkable outcomes, with students embracing dialogue across difference,” said Leah Anderson, executive director of the SNF Paideia Program. “The funding extension from SNF will enable us to expand our reach and offer more immersive experiences to an even wider circle of students, faculty, and the larger Penn community.”

Four cohorts of SNF Paideia Fellows total close to 80 students thus far. Undergraduates apply to become fellows in the spring of their first year at Penn, and if selected, begin the fellowship in the fall of their second year. Thanks to SNF support, fellows are able to complete a wide variety of projects that incorporate aspects of civic engagement and civil discourse, including internships with the National Institutes of Health and UN Watch, and research on topics ranging from civil rights in the American South to land governance conflict mediation in Uganda.

During the 2022-23 academic year, the program sponsored or cosponsored more than 70 events drawing nearly 2,500 attendees. Workshops, community of practice roundtables, and other events featured conversations with figures working across difference, such as former intelligence officer and U.S. Republican congressman Will Hurd; New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and New York Times correspondent Jamelle Bouie; and internationally-sought-after mindfulness teacher and speaker Rhonda V. Magee.

Since 2019, SNF has provided just over $20 million in grant support to the SNF Paideia Program at Penn.