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Major SNF grant builds on success of Penn program seeking to foster civic-minded students

Oct 05, 2023

A major new grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) supports the continued growth of the University of Pennsylvania’s SNF Paideia Program, which aims to help educate students as whole people and citizens by focusing on core civic engagement and civil discourse skills.

The new support builds on the success of a program whose expanding offerings have seen strong demand from Penn students. So far, nearly 3,000 of them have enrolled in at least one SNF Paideia course—of which around 30 are offered each year—since the Program was started through a founding grant from SNF in 2019. Following another recent expansion of SNF Paideia, this latest five-year grant, which will go into effect in 2024, brings SNF’s total support for the Program to over $20 million.

"We tend to think of education primarily as a means of personal development,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos, “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. 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.”

“A thriving society requires broadly educated and service-minded leaders who express their views openly, listen to others respectfully, and disagree productively. 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,” said University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, who recently traveled to Athens with SNF Paideia Fellows to attend the SNF Nostos Conference. Four cohorts have immersed a total of nearly 80 undergraduates in the structured curriculum of the fellowship.

The Program draws inspiration from ancient Greece and the concept of “paideia,” which indicated the rearing and education of the ideal citizen. “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 SNF Paideia Program Faculty Director Sigal Ben-Porath. “We seek to bring forward a 21st century version of those ideals, to help students understand how their individual wellbeing is inseparable from the wellbeing 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.”

In the previous academic year alone, SNF Paideia helped sponsor more than 70 events that welcomed almost 2,500 attendees. “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.”