Stavros Niarchos Foundation

​Ithaca Initiative

Encouraging Civil Discourse

In fall 2021, the University of Delaware Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration will launch a new civil discourse pilot program supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). The program will be called the SNF Ithaca Initiative, named after the home of Odysseus—one of Greek mythology's greatest heroes, and whose talent for persuasive discourse was revered in ancient Greece.

Ithaca represents not only the beginning of a journey but the ultimate destination. Likewise, the SNF Ithaca Initiative will serve both as the beginning of the Biden School students' journey toward becoming engaged and effective citizens and as the ultimate destination for students across the country to come together and work in partnership to develop policy solutions. Read the full announcement.


The academic anchor of the SNF Ithaca Initiative at the Biden School will be the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor, a faculty position held by a respected scholar who does work in civil discourse and civic engagement.

The SNF Professor, working closely with the Executive Director of the Biden Institute and the faculty and staff of the Biden School, will develop and guide the delivery of the SNF Ithaca Initiative's academic and experiential learning programs.

SNF Ithaca Student Leade​rs Program 2021-22

Students interested in sharpening their knowledge and skills for productive, civil discourse across polit​​​ical differences are able to become SNF Student Leaders. The 2021-22 cohort of SNF Student Leaders has been selected—learn mo​​re​ about this group of new champions for civil discourse! ​

Student leaders conduct research around civil discourse, participate in a summer internship, and present at the Ithaca Initiative's National Student Dialogue.

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A Bold and Unique Curriculum

The SNF Professor will t​each a foundational course:​ “Citizens, Community, and Change," which will provide UD students with a shared understanding of the meaning and guiding principles of civil discourse through an academic examination of case studies on bipartisan collaboration that changed the course of American history. The foundational course will also help students develop a common language of civil discourse that can be shared across campus.

In addition, the SNF Professor will work with faculty to integrate an ongoing curriculum focus on civil discourse and civic engagement into the overall design of the Biden School's public policy major and minor. This extended curriculum content, tied together in a thematic way under the SNF Ithaca Initiative, will incorporate existing, standalone Biden School courses, including but not limited to: Introduction to Civic Engagement; Citizens, Community, and Change; Media, Citizenship, and Public Policy; Conflict Resolution and Collaborative Problem Solving; and the Washington D.C. Policy Practicum.

Enhancing and enriching the academic core of the SNF Ithaca Initiative will be the selection of SNF Ithaca Fellows - prominent elected officials, activists, journalists, and public servants representing diverse viewpoints who have demonstrated a commitment to civil discourse and bi-partisan collaboration. The SNF Ithaca Fellows will teach seminar courses and serve as guest lecturers on a range of policy topics, providing the Biden School's students with another distinct outlet to further their education in civil discourse.​

​Compelli​​​​​ng Programming

The annual headline event of the SNF Ithaca Initiative will be a National Student Dialogue, which will bring together a diverse group of college students from across the country to discuss, debate, and develop policy solutions that would benefit from bi-partisan collaboration. Over the course of a weekend, the event will celebrate student leaders and facilitate discussions, panels, and town halls that will train students to more effectively and respectfully engage with one another in policy discussions on their campuses and in their communities.

Additional programming will include the Biden School Civility in Public Service Award—an annual event that will honor two public servants from disparate places on the political spectrum who successfully worked together for the public good, as well as “All Politics is Personal"—a filmed seminar series hosted by Valerie Biden Owens in which students will get to meet public servants from across the ideological spectrum and get to know the person behind the politician, driving home the point that we can find commonality, humanity, and civility even with people with whom we disagree politically.


Student Success

An exemplary Biden School graduate student will be awarded the SNF Graduate Fellowship to work on the SNF Ithaca Initiative while researching issues of civil discourse and civic engagement. The recipient of the SNF Graduate Fellowship will support the work of the SNF Professor and the executive director of the Biden Institute, and also operate as a dedicated research assistant for the SNF Ithaca Initiative program.

Additionally, four exceptional Biden School undergraduate students will be invited to join the SNF Ithaca Student Leaders program. The Student Leaders will be trained as ambassadors of the SNF Ithaca Initiative program—serving as active listening coaches and peer mentors and charged with leading student training programs across campus. To enrich their learning experience, all SNF Ithaca Student Leaders will receive funding to pursue a semester or summer-based civil discourse and civic engagement project in the community that is related to their academic and career goals. ​

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For more information about the SNF Ithaca Initiative at the University of Delaware, please contact

​About the UD Biden School

Established in 1961 and named in 2018 for the University of Delaware's most distinguished alumnus, the 46th President of the United States, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in research and public service activities to improve the quality of life in communities around the world. The Biden School's faculty, staff, students, and alumni create and use interdisciplinary, nonpartisan research, and empirically-based analysis to inform effective decision-making and policy and to improve leadership and administration. The Biden School partners with organizations from all sectors to discover innovative and equitable solutions to the critical challenges of our time.

​About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is one of the world's leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. SNF funds organizations and projects worldwide that aim to achieve a broad, lasting, and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. SNF also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare. Since 1996, the Foundation has committed more than $3.1 billion through over 4,900 grants to nonprofit organizations in more than 130 countries around the world.