Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement

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Renewal in civic engagement has reemerged into the nation's consciousness. Public universities have been challenged to rededicate themselves to civic service by stimulating community and government involvement among their students. 

The PACE office is located in Fulton Hall 258.  Salisbury University is committed to undergraduate involvement that enhances the conduct of public affairs.  Under the aegis of the Fulton School of Liberal Arts, PACE was conceived for the University to provide learning opportunities for its students and outreach to assist the communities of Delmarva.

PACE's Mission:

The Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) at Salisbury University serves the academic and broader communities through:

  • Non-partisan programming designed to promote civil discourse and an expanded understanding of issues related to the public good;
  • Support for civic engagement opportunities and citizenship education;
  • Cultivation of a more informed and democratic citizenry; and 
  • Promotion of good government at the local, state, and federal levels.

Examples of these activities include organizing forums to discuss issues, working on local recycling efforts, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and providing opportunities for our students to work on political campaigns.  Such activities support the Institute's understanding of public affairs and civic engagement.

Public affairs: By the term ‘public affairs’ we mean issues and ideas in the realm of community concern or interest. There is debate over whether some issues belong in that realm. Nevertheless, democratic societies handle lawmaking and enforcement, public safety, national security and the distribution of a range of services through an elected government, which is accountable to the citizens of a community, whether local or national.  Understanding the interplay among public and private, individual interest and community good is essential to effective engagement in the realm of public affairs.

Civic engagement: “Civic Engagement” is a broad term that encompasses the wide range of activities by which citizens work together to improve the quality of life in their communities, whether locally, nationally or even internationally. Its core meaning expresses the idea that democratic citizenship is embodied whenever people come together to define the public good, determine the processes by which they will seek this good, or reform policies and institutions that do not serve this good.

Civic engagement education “explicitly teaches the knowledge, skills and values believed necessary for democratic citizenship” (Kahne & Middaugh, 2010, p. 141).  This approach inspires, informs and shapes learning activities to impact public affairs.  Those activities also deepen our understanding of how social, political and economic systems work and how individuals can work effectively within those systems as they develop sustained habits of active democratic citizenship. Civic engagement education is a key value of Salisbury University and should be considered a key value of every university.

Kahne, J. & Middaugh, E. (2010). High quality civic education: What is it and who gets it? In W. Parker (Ed.), Social studies today: Research & practice (pp. 141-150). New York: Routledge.

How Will This Partnership Work?
PACE acts as a resource center where local government, non-profit and public groups can easily access knowledge and information.  With the University nearby, PACE draws on the interdisciplinary expertise of the faculty, students and staff.  As a nonpartisan contributor, the Institute organizes projects and programs that are customized to fit the particular needs of theEastern Shore community.  By providing a forum to discuss current issues and community concerns, PACE actively serves as a venue that benefits the local Eastern Shore communities.  In return, PACE students share in unique government experiences that foster further civicengagement and lifelong learning.

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Mr. Robby Sheehan, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Government and Community Relations, Interim Managing Director of the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement

Robby SheehanRobby Sheehan has served in a variety of capacities throughout his professional career at Salisbury University. He began in 2010 as a research fellow at SU’s Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) before being nominated to serve as the Institute’s interim managing director. Following his service at PACE, he began working in the President’s Office as director of government relations in December 2011. In May 2013, Sheehan was promoted to deputy chief of staff and director of government and community relations, and in 2014, he was selected to serve on the President’s Executive Staff Committee. In July 2014, he again assumed the role of interim managing director of PACE in addition to his other responsibilities.

Sheehan serves as Salisbury University’s chief advocate to the federal, state and local governments, and is the primary liaison between the University and the surrounding community. Sheehan was instrumental in assisting with the University’s receipt and advancement of $107 million dollars to fund the construction of the Guerrieri Academic Commons. He has worked diligently to build and strengthen positive relationships with key elected officials across the state and beyond.

Sheehan serves as chair of SU’s Town-Gown Council and is actively involved in managing University-neighborhoods relationships. He also serves on several other campus committees, including PACE’s Steering Committee, Women’s History Month Committee, Strategic Enrollment Planning Team and Steering Committee, Strategic Planning and Budgeting Committee, President’s Advisory Team, the Safety Task Force, and the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Work Group. Sheehan was appointed to serve on the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors in April 2014 as assistant vice president of the Advocacy and Government Relations Division. Under his leadership, as co-chair of the Chamber’s Local Legislative Roundtable, he has been instrumental in increasing membership and establishing the Roundtable as a forum for members of the greater community to dialogue with elected officials on key issues. He was also selected to serve on the Chamber’s Education Network. Sheehan serves on the Wicomico County Visioning Committee, the Mayor’s Neighborhood Roundtable, the Chesapeake College Alumni Association and the Leadership Council of The Uprising Church in Hebron, MD.

Sheehan graduated summa cum laude from Salisbury University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in music. In 2014, Sheehan graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a Master of Public Administration and a certificate in politics.

Sheehan and his wife Erin are both natives of the Eastern Shore and reside in Wicomico County.

Dr. Sarah Surak, PACE Steering Committee Chair
Sarah Surak (Assistant professor) holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Political Science and Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. She received her BA in political science (2003) and a Masters of Public Administration (2006) from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a Ph.D. in Planning, Governance and Globalization from Virginia Tech (2012). Her teaching and research interests include civic engagement, environmental policy and political theory, comparative politics, public administration, and modern political and social theory. Dr. Surak is currently working on a manuscript titled Governing waste: Politics, process, and public administration, assessing sustainability, waste management, and the public administrative experience (publication date fall 2016).
Dr. Surak serves as the chair of the PACE Steering Committee. With her colleague Sandy Pope she facilitates PACE's Civic Engagement Across the Curriculum (CEAC) program. Together they are coordinating a multi-year research project to collect and analyze data on the delivery of a civic engagement component within the fourth credit hour of undergraduate courses. Dr. Surak also teaches courses for the Presidential Citizens Scholar program.
Dr. Surak’s office is in Fulton Hall 280F, phone number is 410-677-3879. Website:
Matthew Swiderski, Graduate Assistant

Matt Swiderski is serving as the Graduate Assistant for PACE while he is completing his Masters of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution. Swiderski also obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution from Salisbury University in the spring of 2013. Prior to his time with PACE, Swiderski served as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution. During his time at the Bosserman Center, Swiderski assisted with the Maryland Statewide ADR Research Project, the most comprehensive research project ever conducted in Maryland regarding court-connected mediation.

A Baltimore native, Swiderski now resides in Ocean City. Building off of his conflict analysis background, Swiderski is also interested in international relations, international law, policy making, environmental issues, and human rights issues. Currently Swiderski is also serving as a teaching assistant for Dr. Brian Polkinghorn, assisting with the instruction of International Conflict Resolution.  In 2001, Swiderski was a proud recipient of the prestigious Ben Carson Scholarship, awarded for academic excellency and commitment to community involvement.


PACE History and Co-Founders

PACE was launched in 1999 to reinvigorate the idea of a state university as a place where civic and political involvement could be developed and where students' spirits of generosity and intellectual curiosity could foster engagement. PACE is a non-partisan institute committed to civic learning, engaged citizenship and community involvement that sparks interest in public affairs and civic life for the students and the communities of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The Institute:

  • provides students with enriching learning experiences through interactive, thought-provoking seminars and classes,
  • sponsors lectures that bring public speakers to campus,
  • serves the region as a non-partisan "public square" for ideas and debate,
  • and offers hands-on student internships.
Dr. Harry Basehart, co-founder of PACE, is professor emeritus of Political Science. Dr. Basehart co-authored the book, "State and Local Government: Politics and Public Policies," which is used extensively across the country in university government courses.

During his 37-year tenure at SU, Dr. Basehart conducted over 15 voter and citizen satisfaction surveys and supervised over 300 students in governmental internships, many in the Maryland General Assembly. Within the community, he served for several years as chair of the City of Salisbury Ethics Commission. 

Dr. Francis Kane, co-founder of PACE, taught in the Philosophy Department at SU for 35 years, primarily in political philosophy, ethics and biomedical ethics. Dan Rather, CBS news anchor, praisedDr. Kane's book, "Neither Beasts Nor Gods: Civic Life and the Public Good" as "necessary to the health of any community."

Dr. Kane developed a nationally recognized policy for teaching about religion in the county school system and, in his spare time, coaches youth soccer.

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