Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Democratic Leadership

Democratic Leadership

CAS 209/PL SC 209: Democratic Leadership


Jessica O’Hara, Teaching Professor in Communication Arts and Sciences

Course description

This course introduces students to deliberative democratic theory and encourages them to reflect on effective strategies for changing governance and society, with an eye toward participating in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Nevins Fellows program. Internships will be arranged by the McCourtney Institute and can be taken at any time they’re available, but most students will choose to take one in the summer following the course.

This one-credit course provides a broad background for this approach to democratic leadership, and it also prepares students for a unique paid internship program. Those who complete this course will have first priority when awarding internships.  

Students will also have the opportunity to interact directly with the kind of leaders they may aspire to become as representatives from participating organizations visit class virtually or in person.

In addition to short reaction papers due for each class session, students will produce a single six-page narrative essay at the end of the course that describes how they could see themselves advancing democracy in the United States (or elsewhere) and what kind of internship/work experience will help them prepare for such a career. For those who opt to seek an internship in 2022, this will be a supplement to their formal application.

Credit for the course requires attendance at every class meeting, workshop, and other events to be announced. Required work includes readings assigned for each class, the short reaction papers, and a final essay.

Spring 2024

The spring 2024 course will meet on Mondays from 3:35-5:30 p.m. in 10 Life Sciences Building. It runs from January 22-February 26.

The class is open to students in any year, but graduating seniors will not be eligible to complete the summer internships.