Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Inspires Campus and Community

The CIC Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows (WWVF) program brings prominent professionals to campus to engage students, faculty, and community members in exploring the most significant and complex issues of the day. Applications from campuses eager to host Fellows are accepted on a rolling basis; interested campuses are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible to have the greatest choice of Fellow and dates.

The recent residency of Fellow Maria Karagianis at Gannon University (PA) highlights the value and impact that Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows can have on a campus and its culture.

For 15 years, Karagianis worked on the staff of the Boston Globe, where she and her team won a Pulitzer Prize gold medal for coverage of Boston’s school desegregation and the resulting racial violence. After her career in journalism, she became the founding executive director of Discovering Justice, an education organization that teaches children about democracy, civics, and justice. Now the speaker, award-winning writer, and social entrepreneur works as a nonprofit strategy consultant and active board member for various organizations. She holds a master’s degree in world religion from the Harvard Divinity School.

Gannon University, which encourages students to speak out through an emphasis on advocacy, invited Karagianis to campus as part of its “#MakeChange: Stand Up. Speak Out” series. The cornerstone of the February 2020 visit was Karagianis’s lecture titled “Live Before You Die: A Semi-Autobiographical Presentation about Advocacy and Fighting for Justice.” While with the Globe, Karagianis lived for a year in South Africa, covering apartheid and police state violence including the 1977 Christmas Eve mortar attacks. In 2016, she was invited to the Greek island of Lesbos to witness the Syrian refugee crisis. During that time, Karagianis experienced the realities of life in a refugee camp and studied the impact of that crisis not only on the refugees but also on the Greek people and economy. In addition to her lecture at Gannon, Karagianis met with individual students, led small group discussions in classrooms, and engaged with the Erie, Pennsylvania, community.

Ann Bomberger, director of Gannon’s honors program and associate professor in the college of humanities, education, and social science, remarked, “Maria Karagianis has lived an impressive, inspiring life, never settling into the rut of a single career. A common denominator of those careers is that they tap into her gift for storytelling, her passion for social justice, and her genuine interest in learning new things about people and issues.”

Maria Karagianis presenting to seated students while standing and gesturing
Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Maria Karagianis speaking with Gannon University (PA) students in February 2020. (Photo courtesy of Gannon University)

The Erie Community Foundation and local law firm MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, LLP sponsored the visit, extending it to the surrounding community. A team of local business leaders met with Karagianis to learn how her nonprofit experiences in Boston might be transferred to the Erie community to “strengthen the civic muscle of local employees and create a pipeline of civic leaders who are ready and willing to advocate, volunteer, and champion a cause.”

Karagianis remarked that her week at Gannon “was both vibrant and inspiring. From the student body—including many commuters, first-generation college students, immigrants, and refugees—to the dedicated professors, academic leadership, business people, nonprofit and refugee resettlement workers, and the federal judge I met, I was reminded of the richness and diversity of American culture. Despite the divisions in our country, I came home to Boston from Erie feeling both hopeful and restored.” Gannon University student Adrian Sethi described Karagianis as “a true heroine for the American justice system and a true inspiration for all who want to make their dreams reality.”

As Karagianis’s example shows, campuses can design customized visits through the WWVF program. Responding to an institution’s specific academic and co-curricular program needs, Fellows are available to mentor students one-on-one, offer campus-wide lectures, host subject matter specific workshops, teach a session in a first-year or capstone seminar, speak with local community groups, and participate in nearly any other campus event.

For example, a campus interested in a conversation about the use of artificial intelligence in border security could plan a visit with Alan D. Bersin, former assistant secretary of U.S. Homeland Security and commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A campus exploring profitable, socially responsible business operations could plan a visit with Scott Nash, founder and CEO of MOM’s Organic Market. A campus interested in discussing racism and the experience of millennial students could invite former dean of freshmen at Stanford University Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the prose poetry memoir Real America and the anti-helicopter manifesto How to Raise an Adult. The most recent addition to the roster of 125 Fellows is Michael H. Fuchs, senior fellow for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. Previously, Fuchs served the U.S. Department of State as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and special advisor to the secretary of state for strategic dialogues. He could be part of a dynamic visit exploring topics such as U.S.-China relations and American foreign and national security policy.

In direct response to campus coordinator feedback, CIC now offers choices in the length of the visits: Participants can choose either a visit of three days or a full week (four to five days). In 2020–2021, the cost of an abbreviated visit for a CIC member institution has been reduced to $4,500. In recognition of the special circumstances campuses face this spring, contracts for 2020–2021 will include a no-penalty cancellation clause for visits that may not be able to occur as scheduled due to changes in college operations as a result of the coronavirus. For more information and to apply to host a Fellow, visit the program website or contact Michelle Friedman, CIC director of programs, at visitingfellows@cic.nche.edu.