University of Arkansas Honors senior Maya Ungar is collaborating with college students across the country to offer a publication of lessons in civic engagement through their non-profit, The Institute for Civic Organizing (TICO).
TICO is a non-profit organization that supports education for young people on how to be civic-minded citizens through lessons on political activism, social issues and voter engagement. The organization is the brainchild of Ungar, Stanford University student Hannah Zimmerman and University of Toronto student Uma Kalkar.
Though there is now distance between the students, who are back at their colleges, the trio was originally brought together by a conference put on by a fellowship program they were each participating in at the time.
Last year, the Honors College nominated Ungar to attend the Presidential Fellows Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which is a rigorous year-long program that includes two three-day conferences in Washington, where participants can engage and network with experts and other students from around the globe. At one particular event last fall in Washington D.C., Zimmerman was Ungar’s roommate and the two soon realized their shared interest in political activism and later had discussions about what could be done to help support other activists.
“We just noticed there was not a standard way to learn how to be an activist or a way to learn how to get politically engaged in the school system — that a lot of times, we all had to figure it out ourselves and that our civic education really focused on the history side of it and didn’t focus on teaching us actually how to be as civically engaged as possible,” Ungar said.
After Zimmerman and Kalkar set the groundwork to found TICO near the end of 2019, they quickly brought on Ungar as fundraising director. Now, with a team of nine people and two interns, TICO is well on its way to meeting the need for a broader basis of political organizing tools within the education system through its curriculum called Organizing Civics — a soon-to-be published series of modules and stand-alone lesson plans.
“It’s the first standardized curriculum of its kind to teach these tools in the American education system and we currently have, I think over 180 lesson plans in development … ” Ungar said. “We’re talking to publishing companies and things like that right now.”
The lesson plans have been put together by over 40 different activists and educators from around the country. However, they have released some content that is available for free online, including a profile with Teen Vogue andtheir article on Vox.
The future of TICO includes a second program.
“It’s like a two-pillar program, one is the curriculum and the second is the Teaching Fellows Program to make sure the curriculum is actually being implemented, so that, if all goes as planned, will be implemented in 2020-2021 school year,” Ungar said.
The team also wants to eventually take TICO international. With Zimmerman having spent a portion of last year in Germany, Ungar planning to attend graduate school in the United Kingdom and Kalkar studying in Paris, the combined group of founders see themselves in a good position to begin talks of expansion.
“We have connections in Germany, the UK and France and we would love to grow as much as we can,” Ungar said.
A planned conference at Stanford as well as a New York City fundraiser scheduled for this summer have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the team is optimistic and working hard to maintain the organization’s growth even while working across four different time zones.
“We use a lot of online platforms to help us out,” Ungar said. “We have a weekly executive team-wide Zoom call, but I also have three to four other calls a week with different members of the team about projects. We are communicating daily on Slack and over text, and we have a massive calendar spreadsheet where we can see what everyone else is working on for the week. We are actually bringing on a director of Ooperations soon whose sole job will be to coordinate everything efficiently between the group.”
The fundraiser will be continuing virtually through the TICO GoFundMe.
Starting and running a non-profit is no easy feat on top of the other general senior year responsibilities, but Ungar is no stranger to multitasking.
Currently a Sturgis Fellow in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Ungar is pursuing three majors — international studies (with a dual concentration in European and trans-Atlantic affairs and peace, security and human rights), political science, and French. She has also studied abroad in Denmark, France and Thailand and has had three internships in Washington D.C. — one with the State Department’s Office of Western European Affairs, one with the Peace Corps and one with the nonprofit Churches for Middle East Peace.
Ungar’s honors thesis focuses on the role of organizations founded by female survivors of genocide in post-conflict aid, and she recently won the Richard H. Solomon Award for the Most Original Paper on Foreign Policy or Diplomacy, one of five research awards presented by the Presidential Fellows Program.
Her ultimate goals are to use her experience to work with non-profits and eventually join the U.S. Foreign Service.
“My long term career goal is to actually be a U.S. diplomat,” Ungar said.
To learn more about TICO and Organizing Civics, visit their website athttps://www.civic-organizing.org/.