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SIU’s Paul Simon Institute awards four Simon Democracy Prizes

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SIU News

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale today (May 23) announced the recipients of the Paul Simon Democracy Prize. The institute is awarding four prizes of $5,000 each to current Illinois college or university students for the design and implementation of projects to revitalize democracy in their communities.

The winners are:

  • VanKevia Garner from SIU Carbondale. She will develop a podcast series that explores the restoration of voting rights for people with criminal records and encourages civic engagement among previously incarcerated people. 
  • Lylee Gibbs from SIU Carbondale. She will continue to help develop the Saluki Local Reporting Lab at SIU. Her project will focus on telling local news stories in Southern Illinois, specifically in Alexander County, which has the lowest median income in Illinois.
  • Keara Gray from Illinois State University. She will develop The Sovereign Citizens Project, which will organize community conversations on current civic issues and create a special website with local election-related information.
  •  Lyndsay Jones and Saqlain Khurshid from Illinois State University. They will develop an analytic model to predict voting probability among ISU students. The model will target students who are less likely to vote with relevant information via an AI-driven chatbot on ISU’s Center for Civic Engagement website. 

John Shaw, institute director, said he’s very encouraged by the compelling proposals submitted by Illinois college and university students.
“We received thoughtful and imaginative proposals which affirm that university students in Illinois want to find practical and constructive ways to revitalize our democracy,” Shaw said.

“We believe the Paul Simon Democracy Prize will inspire students to think about, design and implement programs that will bolster our democracy and encourage people to feel more connected to the civic life in their communities.”

The institute solicited proposals that are persuasive, imaginative, optimistic and can realistically be implemented within six months. Proposals were submitted through short videos.

The three winning videos are posted on the institute’s website. Prize recipients will be invited to give a presentation about their projects at the institute’s “Renewing Illinois Summit” for Illinois college and university students Oct. 24-25 on the SIU Carbondale campus.

Shaw said the institute has established three programs to underscore Sen. Simon’s commitment to better government and smarter politics: the Paul Simon Democracy Prize, the Renewing Illinois Summit for Illinois college and university students, and the Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award in Illinois state and local governments.

“These three programs embody Paul Simon’s hopes for Illinois and his most aspirational values,” Shaw said.

Complete details of the Paul Simon Democracy Prize and its winners are available on the institute’s website.

After serving as a state legislator and lieutenant governor, Simon was in Congress for 10 years, followed by two terms in the U.S. Senate. After leaving public office in 1997, he returned to his Southern Illinois roots and established the then-Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale. The institute was renamed to honor Simon’s legacy after his death in December 2003.

The institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank promoting better politics and smarter government and preparing young people for careers in public service.


Pete Rosenbery — arts and design, architecture, automotive and aviation, humanities, journalism and mass communications, law, public policy, social sciences.

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