SNF Agora announces 2024 cohort of visiting fellows

The incoming cohort of public officials, creators, entrepreneurs, scholars, and nonprofit leaders will engage with issues around civic education and elections during the 2024-25 academic year

The AY24-25 SNF Agora Visiting Fellows

Image caption: The incoming SNF Agora Institute Visiting Fellows are (top row, from left) Adam Ambrogi, Amar Bakshi, Jean Parvin Bordewich, Leila Brammer, (second row, from left) Theo Dolan, Erhardt Graeff, Joseph M. Hatfield, Seema D. Iyer, (bottom row, from left) Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Stefanie Sanford, and David Smolansky

The SNF Agora Institute announced its new cohort of visiting fellows, who will be part of the Johns Hopkins University community for the academic year beginning in fall 2024.

The incoming cohort includes public officials, creators, entrepreneurs, scholars, and civil society leaders. During their time at SNF Agora, they will develop new curricula for university-level civics education and engage with issues around elections, tackling questions about the responsibilities of civic-minded engineers, the role of conservatives in left-leaning organizations, the role of diaspora in promoting elections and civil rights, the ways theater can increase understanding of democracy, and efforts toward building resilience against misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech, among others.

The SNF Agora Visiting Fellows program was created to support the mission of strengthening global democracy by expanding the institute's reach and incorporating a broader range of people into its work. Through this program, the institute invites a select cohort of fellows from diverse sectors, disciplines, backgrounds, and ideologies to join the institute to work with permanent faculty, researchers, and students on defined projects during the academic year. This year's call for applications focused on elections and modernizing civic education at the university level.

"During this pivotal election year for democracies around the world, we are excited to be welcoming a group of outstanding leaders and creators who are focused on empowering voters, bridging political divides, and equipping university students with the 21st-century skills they need to be effective global citizens," said managing director Stephen Ruckman. "This year's visiting fellows bring diverse experiences, perspectives, and approaches that we know will broaden our students' understanding and spark new forms of democratic engagement."

SNF Agora Visiting Fellows will be on campus at various points over the next academic year. Throughout the year, the cohort will participate in regular programming offered by the institute, while also teaching courses, pursuing their research, and hosting a variety of campus and public convenings.

The AY24-25 SNF Agora Visiting Fellows are as follows:

Adam Ambrogi is the chief of external affairs at the League of Women Voters, which works to protect and expand voting rights and representation in democracy. Previously, he worked at the Democracy Fund, where he led efforts to promote voting rights, voter-centric election administration, and trust in the election process. Ambrogi also served as chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, leading work on election law, campaign finance, ethical matters, and Senate rules. He was special assistant and counsel for Commissioner Ray Martinez III of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and played a key role in modernizing elections and promoting awareness of the Help America Vote Act. He is licensed to practice law in New York and Washington, D.C., and currently chairs the board of the Center for Civic Design and sits on the advisory board of the Civic Responsibility Project.

Amar Bakshi is an artist and entrepreneur who forges meaningful connections between widely diverse people to promote individual and social flourishing. He is the founder of Whose Metaverse, a nonprofit advancing digital equity, and of Shared Studios, a social impact company connecting people in 30 countries via life-size audiovisual portals in 100 locations, from refugee camps to public parks. Bakshi helped launch the Portals Policing Project, collecting the most extensive firsthand accounts on policing across America. Additionally, he worked with the UN Museum and Cortico to host and analyze the world's largest-ever-recorded climate action conversation. Bakshi's artistic work has been exhibited at institutions including the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery. He previously reported for The Washington Post across 12 countries, launched CNN's international analysis site, and worked as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He is a Truman Fellow and Soros Scholar and currently resides in Brooklyn.

Jean Parvin Bordewich is a playwright who explores the intersection of history, politics, and the moral choices of people in public life. Two of her full-length plays are set in Congress: HUNT revisits the blackmail and suicide of a senator in the 1950s McCarthy era, and Now's the Time explores the political battle over racial equality immediately after the Civil War. Her current play Electionland, about the election of 1876 and the Electoral College, was commissioned in 2023 by StoryWorks Theater and will become part of a civic education program for high school students. Bordewich draws from historical research and more than two decades as a senior Senate and House staff member, political candidate, elected official, and campaign manager to bring an authentic, experienced voice to dramas played out at the highest levels of American politics. Bordewich was staff director of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, responsible for the Obama-Biden inauguration in 2013. She served as chief of staff to Rep. John Hall and in additional roles for Sen. Charles Schumer and other members of Congress. After leaving the Senate, Bordewich was part of the U.S. Democracy program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where her grant-making sought to strengthen Congress and the electoral process.

Leila Brammer is the director of outreach and instructional development at the University of Chicago's Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse. There, she develops curricula and programs to foster vigorous, inclusive, and productive discourse in classroom, campus, and civic life. She studies and builds frameworks in which organizations and community members understand issues from multiple perspectives and work together to develop evidence-based approaches. Brammer also established a nationally recognized civic learning and engagement curriculum and a community-based public deliberation and dialogue program.

Theo Dolan has 20 years of experience working at the intersection of media, technology, and peace-building. He has designed and led international initiatives to address digital threats, such as disinformation and hate speech. A seasoned expert in advancing media literacy for youth and marginalized groups, Dolan has worked for international nongovernmental organizations such as IREX, FHI 360, and the United States Institute of Peace. He has led projects to prevent election violence, counter violent extremism, and support civil society's role in engendering good governance. Dolan lived in Nairobi, Kenya, while heading the regional office of PeaceTech Lab. He has collaborated with partners in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Somalia to produce entertaining multimedia programs to educate and empower youth in their roles in building peace. He currently serves on the board of Media Literacy Now, a U.S.-based advocacy organization.

Erhardt Graeff is an educator, social scientist, and public interest technologist. He designs technology that advances civic engagement, civic learning, and social justice and works on the ethical responsibility of technologists as stewards of democracy. His current research articulates the responsibilities of engineers as citizens. He also works to develop new forms of civic education within undergraduate engineering, organizing his teaching around creating spaces for public interest technology projects owned and led by students. Graeff is an associate professor of social and computer science at Olin College of Engineering and a faculty associate at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Beyond academia, he is a public official, serving in local elected office as chair of the Trustees of the Needham Free Public Library and a member of Needham, Massachusetts' Town Meeting.

Joseph M. Hatfield recently retired as an active-duty naval intelligence officer and assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he taught courses on the technical fundamentals of cybersecurity, the ethics and policy of cyber operations, intelligence and national security, and human factors in cyber operations. His military experience includes an operational tour with Helicopter Squadron Five deployed aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and work as an intelligence analyst at U.S. Africa Command. He spent four years, from 2012-2015, as the director of intelligence for Commander Task Force SIX SEVEN in Sigonella, Sicily; his activities there remain classified. Hatfield was awarded the Joint Service Achievement Medal for his work during the 2011 Libyan Civil War, where his intelligence analysis was used to brief senior decision makers in the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the President of the United States.

Seema D. Iyer is senior director of The Hive, a U.S.-based innovation lab that raises awareness about refugees and designs solutions that address their needs through technology and data science processes. Iyer began her research career in the 1990s focused on urban migration patterns after the collapse of the Soviet Union and how cities planned for changing population realities. She is a contributor to the 2008 book Migration, Homeland and Belonging in Eurasia. She developed her data science skills to understand neighborhood change in urban areas like Baltimore, her hometown, where she was director of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. To connect local indicators to global frameworks, she spearheaded Baltimore's efforts to localize the newly-adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She was a 2017 Nehru-Fulbright scholar and co-edited Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in North American Cities. In 2021, she was named a Baltimore Gamechanger by Baltimore Magazine.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is the founder, president, and CEO of Global Policy Solutions LLC, a social change strategy firm. A political scientist, policy analyst, and government affairs expert, Rockeymoore Cummings successfully directed the strategy to elevate the racial wealth gap on the national policy agenda, led a multimillion dollar leadership initiative to reverse childhood obesity and promote healthy communities, was at the forefront of the charge to strengthen and expand Social Security, and conceptualized the first-ever study examining the impact of level 5 autonomous vehicle technology on the U.S. labor market. Her comments and articles have appeared in publications including The Washington Post and The New York Times, and she has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and NPR, among many other outlets. She is also a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings.

Stefanie Sanford is president of Civic Ventures at both Alithi Consulting and Humanitae Philanthropy Advisors, where she leads efforts to improve civic knowledge and engagement, transcend polarization, and animate spirited and effective conversation across differences. She began her career serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations in Texas, where she advised the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, and attorney general. At the federal level, she was selected a White House Fellow to serve in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs. An accomplished public speaker, moderator, and writer, Sanford's work has appeared in a wide range of outlets, including Stanford Social Innovation Review, Harvard Law and Policy Review, The Dispatch, Education Week, CNN, and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the author of the book Civic Life in the Information Age: Politics, Technology, and Generation X. She currently chairs the board of trustees at the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, an organization dedicated to cultivating young people to be empowered citizens, who are civically well-informed, productively engaged, and committed to democracy. She is also vice chair of the America's Promise Alliance and a trustee of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Planet Word, the Museum of Language.

David Smolansky served as mayor of El Hatillo municipality in Caracas, Venezuela, where his administration gained national and international recognition for its transparency and notable reduction in kidnappings, despite operating in one of the world's most violent capitals. His commitment to addressing human rights violations and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela led him to play a pivotal role in nonviolent protests against Nicolás Maduro's dictatorship. As a result of defending democratic values while serving in local government, he faced arbitrary arrest warrants, removal from his mayoral role, and illegal disqualification from public service. He was banned from voting and, ultimately, forced into exile. After fleeing Venezuela, Smolansky was appointed special envoy to address the Venezuelan migration and refugee crisis, the largest in the world, by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States. Currently, Smolansky is the deputy director of the foreign affairs office of the Venezuelan opposition leader, María Corina Machado. He led the diaspora movement in 77 cities across the world to vote in the primary election of the opposition in 2023. The violation of Smolansky's human, political, and civic rights has been brought before the International Criminal Court. He is also the founder and president of the Miranda Center for Democracy. Smolansky is the AY24-25 SNF Agora–RDI Dissident in Residence, a residency created in partnership with the Renew Democracy Initiative.