Professor Marta Deyrup, Co-Head of Technical Services, University Libraries and English Professor Mary Balkun received an Incubation Grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH) to assist communities with developing citizen engagement programs before the 2020 elections.
Deyrup and Balkun were awarded a $5000 planning grant to expand the work of their pilot project, "The Digital Citizenry Project." The project is one of many initiatives inspired by the Seton Hall Digital Humanities Committee that Balkun and Deyrup co-chair. The Committee has planned workshops, funded seed grants, and sponsored faculty fellows across various academic departments as part of its mission to build digital scholarship on campus.
"The Digital Citizenry Project" originated as a series of conversations and local programming on the topic of engaged digital citizenship with the Village of South Orange. The project leaders coordinated several events with civic and cultural organizations in the community to educate on the core concepts of digital literacy and promote values like democracy and active civic participation.
Deyrup and Balkun first came up with the idea after being struck by the response to digital information. "People today are inundated with massive amounts of information. They do not know how to assess it or manage it, so they end up feeling completely overwhelmed and incapable of making informed decisions," said Balkun.
After the success of the pilot project, Deyrup and Balkun decided to extend the digital literacy project to neighboring communities in New Jersey such as Maplewood, Irvington, Orange, East Orange, and Newark. "We want to run these programs collaboratively with other institutions by sharing resources including venues, digital tools, and equipment," explained Deyrup.
As noted in the proposal detailing the plans for the project:
We need to be able to tap into the appropriate human resources in these townships in order to better understand the particular needs of the local constituencies and how these townships function (for instance, how local governmental functions overlap or feed into the affairs of civic organizations and school districts in these townships). We need to reach out to the appropriate town officials and important stakeholders invested in these locales in order to get their buy-in to our project idea and ultimately their cooperation.
Deyrup and Balkun hope the program will serve as a model for other universities and communities to implement in the future. The project leaders are also in the process of developing an online public planning document or "Toolkit for Digital Citizenship" to keep the dialogue ongoing.
Read the New Jersey Council for the Humanities grant announcement, "NJCH awards $45,000 in grants to fund 9 incubation projects throughout the state."