• Who can join the program

    High school students are permitted to apply if they satisfy one of three conditions:

    1. They are in "action civics" education programs which already get the students to do a terminal action civics project.
    2. They are in civics education programs whose students do not conduct action civics projects, and their program administrators will help guide them through the execution of a “Civics Unplugged action civics application project.”
    3. They are already doing some kind of “change the system” civic activity that demonstrates civic leadership potential.

    We are targeting high schoolers because experiences that take place between someone’s 14th and 24th birthdays shape their politics forever.

    How we will select Fellows for the convention

    CU will select Fellows by assessing their “civic leadership potential,” as well as how they affect the diversity of the Fellow cohort.


    How do we determine whether a candidate has civic leadership potential? We define and will assess each candidate across four dimensions:

    1. Self-mastery: How developed is their self-awareness and social/emotional/spiritual intelligence? Do they have moral and civic virtues such as concern for the rights and welfare of others, social responsibility, tolerance and respect, and belief in the capacity to make a difference? Can they engage in self-inquiry to under their position, privilege, and power? Do they practice mindfulness or meditation or other forms of self-care?
    2. Civics knowledge: Do they have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy? Do they have an understanding and awareness of public and community issues? Are they able to obtain information and think critically and dialectically?
    3. Systems-orientation: Are they able to understand and embrace a long-term, strategic thinking, and collective leadership approach? Do they understand complex adaptive systems? Are they able to work with diverse worldviews? Are they fundamentally committed to and prioritizing the health and vitality of human systems?
    4. Systems-change experience: Have they played a substantial role in promoting or institutionalizing an idea, practice, law, or technology that improves public processes and systems, promotes engagement between communities and governments, and improves the lives of individual citizens?

    We will score each candidate across each dimension by reviewing a combination of:

    • The candidate’s responses to essay prompts
    • A detailed evaluation of the candidate’s civic literacy and action civics experience by civic educators and mentors

    In addition to weighing a candidate’s civic leadership potential, we will consider how they affect the diversity of the Fellow cohort across a number of dimensions, including location of residence (e.g. state, city, urban vs rural), socioeconomics, gender, race, and ethnicity. These diversity dimensions matter because a civic engagement disparity exists whereby poorer, minority, immigrant and non-college bound youth participate less in civic activities than wealthier, White, non-immigrant and college bound youth (Levinson, 2010).


    Fellow selection will be made in February 2020.

    How the convention will be structured

    The convention will be split across three days over a late May 2020 weekend, Friday through Sunday. The three days will be packed with hands-on civic learning, story sharing, case-studying, group coaching, network building, and paradigm-shifting moments. Each day will have its own theme, corresponding to our three pillars of civic empowerment: inspiration, illumination, and interconnectivity. And at the convention, attendees will use a custom-built app which incentivizes and tracks interpersonal learning and connection. (More on that in the “How we are designing the convention for measurable success” section below.)


    Friday’s theme will be “Inspiration.” American history experts will take the Fellows on interactive tours of monuments and the branches of government. Then, a renowned speaker will inspire Fellows to reflect on their awesome civic power and responsibility. Finally, Fellows will meet elected officials and non-governmental leaders for dinner to discuss what kind of leadership is needed to unite and transform the country in these turbulent times.


    Saturday’s theme will be “Illumination.” A polymathic civic leader will set the tone for the day with a speech highlighting how anyone who wants to solve a big societal problem needs to develop an insatiable hunger for personal growth and interdisciplinary knowledge. Attendees will then break out into several rounds of “case study sessions.” Each session—attended by ~20 people and centering on a single interesting project whose leaders exemplify skill mastery—will start with the project lead introducing the organization; followed by three interdisciplinary experts asking clarifying questions; then the Fellows getting their turn to ask questions; then the experts dissecting the case study; then the Fellows getting to share their own observations; and finally the project lead requesting asks of the audience (e.g. advice, connections). The day will also feature a chunk of time dedicated to “coaching circles”—where a handful of students discuss with an expert how to get a job in civil service, run for office, and more. The day will end with a magical “night at the museum” co-hosted by our corporate and nonprofit sponsors that will feature special guests and musical performances, gourmet food, games, giveaways, and tons of fun, educational, and inspiring stations. This night event will be when we believe most of the longest lasting Fellow connections will form.


    Sunday’s theme will be “Interconnectivity.” The day will start strong with a stirring speech by a legendary activist and organizer emphasizing the importance of finding co-conspirators with a range of complementary talents and perspectives. Like Saturday, attendees will then break out into a couple rounds of “case study sessions,” but this time focused on projects whose development exemplify masterful coalition building. The rest of the day will be dedicated to presenting awards: scholarships to universities, internships to systems-changing organizations, fellowships to do travel and do research, and cash and non-cash prizes for work well done. We will make sure that these Fellows feel well-networked and well-supported by the time the weekend is over.


    After the convention, these students will bring all the connections, knowledge, and tactics back to their home states to better serve their respective communities. Later, they will give back to the CU community as “alumni Fellows” by mentoring the next cohorts of Fellows.

    How we fit into the education reform debate

    As a founding team, we have decades of professional commitment in education reform. From passing bills to running for office, and from opening and managing schools to teaching in classrooms, we deeply understand the gravity of the education crisis, and believe the massive amount of resources that have been poured into education reform is justified. But the crisis simply won’t be fixed without a complementary, strategic investment in raising civic and national pride in this country.


    Consider the cultural ramifications of bringing the most powerful forces—including cross-industry titans, well-known independents, and leaders of the political left, right, and center—behind the shared goal of empowering the future leaders of America’s next generation. In a time when just 17% of Americans believe our culture and values are heading in the right direction, and just 9% believe the same about our state of politics and government, seeing those who disagree drop their bitterness for a cause greater than any one person’s ego may just be the dose of spiritual medicine Americans need. Extraordinary things happen when a nation’s people rally behind a noble, shared mission.

    Why we are coalescing so many different stakeholders

    We are convening so many types of stakeholders because we want to change the lives of these students, and we know it takes a village to do it. It’s one thing to get a standard civic education; it’s another thing to get flown to the mecca of American politics and feel like your civic purpose is supported by the biggest civic organizations, brands, educators, civic leaders, and politicians in the country. Young people reach for the highest branch they can see and believe they can reach, so we’ve made it our mission to recruit the right partners to help us illuminate more branches and change what our Fellows, and America at large, believe is possible.

    How we will foster the CU network of stakeholders

    Already well-connected in media, politics, arts, entertainment, business, education, and the public sector, our core team is bringing on national nonprofits and local civic organizations as partners; respected businesses as corporate sponsors (e.g. airlines, hotel chains, universities); and industry leaders across various sectors of society as advisors, connectors, and thought partners.