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Grand Challenges: The Maryland Democracy Initiative: Building a Better Democracy for All

MDI Photo from Constitution Day Dialogue Event

Panel photo from Constitution Day Dialogue Event on September 18, 2023

Grant Type: Impact Award
Topics: Threats to Democracy and Misinformation
Colleges Represented: EDUC, BSOS, JOUR, SPP

Grand Challenges Grants Program


American democracy is in crisis. The lack of trust in democratic institutions—including in our election system, our public schools, and the news media—represent major threats.

Deep and growing polarization threatens to thwart any understanding of the common good. Dangerous rhetoric begetting political violence threatens our nation’s stability and jeopardizes a fundamental principle of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. These threats as well as metastasizing misinformation and disinformation have significantly exacerbated inequalities and tensions across racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic lines, putting in question our two-century long experiment in self-governance. Without a vibrant and healthy democracy, we stand little chance of tackling other urgent policy issues facing the nation and the planet such as the climate crisis, structural racism, and poverty.

The Maryland Democracy Initiative will catalyze interdisciplinary innovation in three core areas: cutting-edge research, inventive teaching and learning, and impactful civic engagement. This initiative will establish University of Maryland as a force to empower students, faculty, and staff on campus—and our Maryland Democracy Initiativecommunity partners throughout Maryland—as co-creators of solutions that remove barriers that threaten our future as nation and that ensure a better democracy for all.

Team Members:

PI: Lena Morreale Scott (EDUC), Director of the Civic Education and Engagement Initiative

Michael Hanmer (BSOS), Professor and Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement

Rafael Lorente (JOUR), Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Director, Master's Program, and Senior Lecturer, Journalism

Paul Brown (SPP), Associate Clinical Professor, Public Policy, and Director, Civic Innovation Center

Antoine Banks (BSOS), Professor and Director of the Government and Politics Research Lab

Sarah Oates (JOUR), Professor and Senior Scholar, Journalism

Nathan Dietz (SPP), Associate Research Scholar, Public Policy, and Research Director, CivIC

Tom Rosenstiel (JOUR), Eleanor Merrill Visiting Professor on the Future of Journalism

Sarah McGrew (EDUC), Assistant Professor, Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership

Lucas Butler (EDUC), Associate Professor, Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

Doug Lombardi (EDUC), Associate Professor, Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

David Backer (SPP), Research Professor; Research Director, CISSM


  • Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism
  • Maryland Civic Education Coalition
  • CivXNow
  • The Vote 16 Research Network
  • The Big Ten Academic Alliance
  • Democracy in 21st Century
  • Students Learn Students Vote Coalition
  • ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge
  • Organization of American States Center for Media Integrity of the Americas


“Inclusive Excellence” Takes Center Stage in Vibrant Democracy and Education Dialogue (Sept. 19, 2023)


Constitution Day Dialogue: Affirming Our Commitment to Diversity and Democracy, presented by The Maryland Democracy Initiative
September 18, 2023
UMD faculty, staff, students, and alumni are invited to attend. Contact the MDI team for more information.


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