Strengthening Democracy: Rachael Shah, Charlyne Berens

Civic Nebraska honors Nebraska U.'s Rachael Wendler Shah and Charlyne Berens of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for their contributions to the state's civic health.

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Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans whose work embodies the spirit of a modern, robust democracy. Among our 2018 honorees are educators, administrators, students and everyday Nebraskans. We officially honor the winners April 12, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.

Outstanding Civic Health Partner: Rachael Wendler Shah

Civic Nebraska honors Rachael Wendler Shah, assistant professor of English in the composition and rhetoric program at the University of Nebraska, as an Outstanding Civic Health Partner. Shah’s research and teaching explore how to create meaningful collaborations between writing classrooms and community organizations. Her commitment to educational equity and youth civic voice stem from experience working in under-resourced urban schools.

Rachael Wendler Shah

In partnership with a dynamic group of local educators and community partners, Shah coordinates Husker Writers, a public writing collaborative of secondary and university teachers who link curricula to promote college access pathways and community action. She also supports the College Career Community Writers Program in Nebraska, which helps students learn to revise their thinking in response to new evidence, write nuanced claims, and enter public conversations with sources.

Shah has collaborated with Civic Nebraska to bring students and teachers to the State Capitol, and to equip them to engage in democratic participation. This shared vision is perhaps best expressed by the the words of a special education student who participated in one of their programs: “I now know how to go to the Capitol and do things there.”

 Amanda Barker, Civic Nebraska’s deputy executive director, said: “Civic Nebraska has been grateful for the partnership between Husker Writers and our own Capitol Experience Days.  It has provided some much-needed energy for one of our longest running programs, and allowed us to work with some incredibly thoughtful students and teachers.”

Outstanding Civic Health Partner: Charlyne Berens

Civic Nebraska honors Charlyne Berens, co-chair of the curriculum committee of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and a retired University of Nebraska journalism professor, as an Outstanding Civic Health Partner. Shortly following the 2016 general election, Berens and two others came to Civic Nebraska with a concern — not necessarily about which candidates won, but the divisiveness and lack of civility that was displayed throughout the campaign.

Berens, concerned about the lack of civil discourse trickling down into our communities and our discourse,  became the driving force behind creating and implementing a civil discourse and media literacy class with OLLI. The course eventually benefited more than 70 adult learners.
Charlyne Berens
Berens retired in 2014 from Nebraska U.’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she was associate dean and professor. During her years at the university, she taught courses in writing, reporting and editing as well as an honors seminar on the First Amendment. She was the editor and co-publisher of the Seward County Independent from 1976 until 1990.

She has published two books about the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature and two political biographies as well as a number of journal articles about Nebraska history and politics.

“It was truly wonderful partnership that allowed Civic Nebraska to get civil discourse programming off the ground and working for Nebraskans,” said Amanda Barker, Civic Nebraska’s deputy executive director.

Meet Rachael Wendler Shah, Charlyne Berens and their fellow honorees at this year’s Strengthening Democracy Awards on April 12 at Chez Hay in Lincoln. Get your tickets here.

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