Date ArticleType
6/23/2020 Member News

USF St. Petersburg Campus and YMCA to Host Virtual Civics Institute for High School Students to Improve Civics Literacy

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (June 10, 2020) - For the second year, the USF St. Petersburg campus and the Florida YMCA are partnering to offer the Civics Fellows Program, an initiative designed to enhance civic education in the state by giving high school students hands-on experiences in government and public service. As part of the program, students from across Florida will participate in a virtual Summer Civics Institute on June 12-13, 2020.

The Institute is designed to instill a better understanding of state and local government to young adults, preparing them to be active, engaged and effective citizens. High school fellows will be immersed in municipal and local government to learn how these institutions interface with state government. Through online platforms, students will directly engage with elected officials, emergency and health responders and many others who help run government in the state.

Governor Ron DeSantis will kick-off the Institute with a video message to the students. A packed agenda of panels, workshops, seminars, presentations and small group discussions will follow, including:

  • A discussion on racism and mass protests led by Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa: George Floyd - Where do we go from here?
  • A COVID-19 local government response panel with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, City of Seminole Fire Chief Heather Burford, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Representative Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis;
  • A 2020 legislative wrap-up session featuring State Senator Lauren Book, D-Plantation, State Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, Representative Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, Representative Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, and Representative Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater;
  • A conversation on education policy with Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran; and
  • A discussion on careers in state government.

“An event like the coronavirus pandemic emphasizes the vital importance of public service and bringing people together to solve major challenges,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who is speaker-designate of the House in 2021-22. “I applaud USF St. Petersburg and the YMCA for continuing to partner to bring this unique program to Pinellas County and I hope the students participating will use this wonderful opportunity to challenge themselves by wrestling with big ideas and thinking about their future in new ways.”


There will be time in between each of these sessions for students to reflect on and discuss what they have learned with their peers as well as present a portfolio of their civic work as a year-long fellow of the program.

“Back when I used to train field organizers on the campaign trail, my number one rule was to “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome,” said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, a political science professor at USF’s St. Petersburg campus and coordinator of the program. “That is exactly what we are doing with this virtual Institute this summer, as we develop creative and robust programming to engage students. In fact, this online platform will allow for more elected officials and presenters from around the state to participate.”

Students will earn six college credits at the USF St. Petersburg campus for their participation: three in leadership and three in political science.


The Civics Institute is the capstone for the year-long Civics Fellows Program. Over the course of the year, selected high school students have participated in a number of civic projects as well as attended city council and school board meetings and participated in the Youth in Government State Assembly, an annual statewide gathering in Tallahassee, where students create a model state government to debate and make legislation.


The partnership between the USF St. Petersburg campus and the YMCA’s Youth In Government (YIG) program is the first such partnership in the nation. For more than 60 years, YIG has provided civics and character education to middle and high school students with an emphasis on direct experiences and service learning.


“The Civics Fellows Program is providing students statewide the opportunity to learn how they can affect real change in their communities,” said Lily Tysinger, program director of the YMCA’s Youth In Government. “Through a hands-on and immersive experience, our students are positioned to convert education to action in a time when it is most vital. The Civic Fellows are showing up and participating as civic leaders, today and for the future.”

The University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at