Alabama communities become summer classrooms for Auburn’s Living Democracy students

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Summer adventures are underway for Auburn University's 2016 Living Democracy students, who will live and work in diverse Alabama communities for the next 10 weeks.

Four students, Weston Sims, Hamilton Wasnick, Madison Chamblee and Maranda Whitten, will create civic projects working with community partners in Collinsville, Elba, Linden and Roanoke.

Two students, Wasnick and Sims, will be living in local fire stations during their summer adventure. A 2012 Living Democracy participant, Marian Royston, will welcome Sims to serve in her hometown of Roanoke. This is the second summer Royston has continued the Living Democracy legacy by hosting an Auburn student in Roanoke.

"I've had the privilege of being a part of the program since almost the beginning, and it's amazing to be able to have Roanoke be used as a classroom," Royston said. "We have many wonderful lessons to teach."

Sims, a political science and economics major from Athens, Alabama, said, "I'm looking forward to seeing how democracy and society in general function on a local scale. I'm sure I'll pick up some valuable skills along the way with the help of the citizens of Roanoke." He plans to focus on economic and youth development during his stay in Roanoke.

Chamblee hopes her summer in Collinsville gives her an outlet for developing her passions for the environment and the arts. From Trussville, Chamblee will be working with longtime Living Democracy community partner Jennifer Wilkins at the Collinsville Public Library.

"Madison will stay busy organizing a recycling program for our community, teaching adults and children about growing their own food and helping all ages to get moving with dance," Wilkins said.

Chamblee is majoring in environmental design and interdisciplinary studies. "Exploring is an authentic part of the academic process. This experience is an excellent opportunity for me to discover more about myself and other people," Chamblee said.

In Elba, a Living Democracy community since 2012, Whitten will be working alongside community partners with the nonprofit organization Restoration154, at She will be working with teens involved in Elba High School's Interact Club to develop projects that will have a positive impact on the community. Whitten, a sociology major from Valley, will also be working on Restoration 154 projects such as Elba's Giving Garden and Pea River Outdoors.

Hamilton Wasnick will be the fifth Living Democracy student to spend the summer in Linden. A sophomore history major, he hopes to conduct interviews with veterans in Marengo County and send their stories to the Library of Congress. Wasnick, who grew up in Seattle, spent time in his hometown volunteering with the Veterans' Administration as a high-school student. He said he learned that getting to know veterans provides opportunities for a great understanding of service. His community partners will be Pam Stentz, the Marengo Extension coordinator, and Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority.

Living Democracy is a program of Auburn University's College of Liberal Arts and the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. Participating students serve as Jean O'Connor Snyder Interns with the Mathews Center.

Living Democracy was started in 2010 by Mark Wilson, director of Civic Learning Initiatives, and Nan Fairley, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Journalism. It began as a Kettering Foundation project focused on the role of higher education in preparing citizens for public life. Deborah Witte, in the 2012 Higher Education Exchange, described the initiative as a "pioneering approach to civic engagement" because of its community-based approach and impact on students.

In the end, the goal of Living Democracy is to teach students just that: to live democracy and show that true change, understanding and progress comes from being engaged and active in your community, wherever that may be, Wilson said.

Follow the 2016 Living Democracy students and their stories and lessons learned in civic life on the Living Democracy Facebook page and the Living Democracy blog at Follow them on Twitter using the handle @AuburnLD2016.

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