Graham Center's mission: civic engagement through education

Retired Florida Senator and Governor Bob Graham speaks during the dedication of the Graham Center for Public Service at Pugh Hall on the University of Florida campus Wednesday, March 5, 2008.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer/File
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 6:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 10:54 p.m.

Just two years since its opening, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida has many attracted notable speakers, and thanks to a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, this year’s lineup promises to continue that trend.


Events at the Graham Center

Jan. 24 -- A Tale of Two Cities: Civic Engagement in Miami and Minneapolis. 10:30 a.m.

Jan. 27 — Deep Water: A Special Report to UF by Oil Spill Commission Co-Chairs Bob Graham and William Reilly, with Lynn Scarlett as moderator. 6 p.m.

Feb. 2 — Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos on the upcoming Florida legislative session. 6 p.m.

Feb. 15 — “Fuel”: Film screening with director Josh Tickell and producer Rebecca Harrell. 6 p.m.

Feb. 16 — An Evening with the Dues: Pioneers of the U.S. civil rights movement. 5:30 p.m.

Feb. 28 — Nicolas D. Kristof on his book “Half the Sky”: From Oppression to Opportunity for Women. 6 p.m.

March 22 — Michael Sandel: Doing the Right Thing in Public and Private Life. 6 p.m.

Gail Sasnett, interim assistant director for public programs at the Graham Center, said everyone at the center is hoping the higher profile will draw more people to events and increase awareness of civic culture.

“We try to put on events that will draw people in to learn more about our country and about being good citizens,” Sasnett said.

The center’s theme this academic year has been the Gulf oil spill. Several speakers will focus on educating students and the community about the past, present and future impact of the disaster.

Oil Spill Commission co-chairs Bob Graham and William Reilly will discuss their investigative findings on Jan. 27.

“Fuel,” a critically acclaimed environmental film on America’s oil use, will be screened on Feb. 15, followed by a discussion with the director and producer.

The Graham Center opened in 2008 and has had a full-time director and staff for about a year and a half, Sasnett said. A full-time staff allows more hands-on development to bring in new ideas and speakers, she said.

Among the speakers last year were former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former U.S. Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, prize-winning journalist and author Carl Hiaasen, and Robert D. Putnam, one of the nation’s leading experts on community and civic engagement, who discussed the changing composition of religious faith in the U.S.

Speakers this year include state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who will speak Feb. 10 about the upcoming 2011 Florida legislative session.

An interactive “Social Debate Wall” is also a result of the Knight grant. The wall, designed by Jake Barton, who also designed the National September 11 Memorial, allows visitors to instantly engage in debate about local and global issues, Sasnett said.

People post views on issues and are shown other posts that might oppose their own.

“It’s a phenomenal concept,” Sasnett said.

Ann Henderson, director of the Graham Center, said it is a way to boost the low level of civic awareness in the area.

“A community needs to have a form to express its ideas and have them respected,” Henderson said.

According to Henderson, Florida ranks 46th out of 50 in state civic health, which includes volunteering and voter turnout. Miami is rated the least civically engaged city in the country, she said. On Monday, a panel discussion titled “A Tale of Two Cities” will compare Miami with Minneapolis, the city with the highest civic engagement.

“We have a huge agenda, and it’s just right for Florida,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the center is ahead of where she thought it would be after her first year and a half as director, but she wants a much more civically engaged state.

“Maybe in three years, we can be at 30,” Henderson said.

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