Established in 2005 under the direction of former Illinois Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan, Benedictine University's Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) seeks to engage, recruit, and train high school aged and undergraduate students to become interested and active in the political and governmental systems.
Each year CCL sponsors a speakers series as part of its fall symposium and spring Youth Government Day at Benedictine University. In recent years CCL has hosted President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, Washington Post columnists Bob Woodward and David Broder, CNN's Peter Bergen, Children's Defense Fund Director Marian Wright Edelman, University of Chicago legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein, and human rights advocate Paul Rusesabagina. These keynote addresses are free and open to the public, and through CCL's Youth Government conference more than 1,500 area high school students have visited campus to hear many of these speakers and participate in a variety of civics simulations.
As a vehicle for civic education and engagement, The Center has also placed many undergraduate students into public service and government internships, where they gain valuable firsthand experience working closely with some of Illinois' finest public servants and elected officials. Through CCL, Benedictine students have interned in the State's Attorneys offices, with members of the General Assembly in Springfield, and with the Citizens Advocacy Group in Elmhurst, to name just a few. Other students have been placed as volunteers with political campaigns.
The cultivation of civic-minded young adults has continued through the Public Service Fellows program in Benedictine's Department of Political Science. Each year three distinguished undergraduate Political Science majors are awarded scholarships and in return the students are expected to work closely with Mr. Ryan and The Center, coordinating the speakers' events, developing plans for high school student simulations, and serving as group leaders during the Youth Government events.
In 2010, the Center for Civic Leadership and the Department of Political Science were awarded a $55,000 federal Help America Vote (HAVA) grant to recruit and train undergraduates to become election judges. One of only 15 academic institutions to have been awarded a HAVA grant in 2010, Benedictine trained more than 300 students, enabling them to work as election judges for the 2010 elections. A similar number of students also participated in the fall 2011 elections as judges.