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Four Living Democracy students to live, learn in Alabama communities

Mikailie Caulder, Jessica Criswell, Payton Davis and Kaitlin Stabler

Four Auburn University students will be living and learning in Alabama communities for ten weeks this summer as participants in the College of Liberal Arts’ Living Democracy initiative.

The 2023 Living Democracy students are Mikailie Caulder, Jessica Criswell, Payton Davis and Kaitlin Stabler. Throughout the summer, they will create civic projects working with community partners in Camden, Chatom, Collinsville and Elba.

Caulder, who is majoring in genetics and public health, will be living and learning in Elba, working primarily with the nonprofit organization Restoration154. A graduate of Weaver High School, she is the daughter of Ben and Jennifer Caulder. Caulder said she is looking forward to being involved with the residents of Elba to “make a difference for the greater good of all.”

Criswell, a biomedical sciences major with a pre-med concentration, will be returning to her hometown of Chatom. She will be working closely with Jessica Ross, director of the Washington County Public Library.

“In our rural county, community service, partnership and civic engagement are priorities for WCPL. The goals and objectives of Living Democracy align perfectly with our mission,” Ross said.

Criswell, a graduate of Washington County High School and the daughter of Jeff and Deborah Criswell, said, “I hope to learn more about the individuals who are responsible for the great things already happening in Chatom while serving alongside the community in places that need an extra hand. I would also like to connect with rural health professionals. I am excited to return home for the summer and look at the place that raised me through the lenses of what I have learned during my time at Auburn. I am looking forward to giving back to a community that has molded me into the person I am today.”

Davis, from Huntsville, will spend her summer in the northeast Alabama community of Collinsville, a Living Democracy community since 2012. She will be working closely with Jennifer Wilkins, director of the Collinsville Public Library. A graduate of Virgil I. Grissom High School, Davis is the daughter of Steven and Lynne Davis.

“I’m excited to make friends and find my place in the community. I’m so curious about the town and culture, not only from the community members that have generational roots in the area, but also from the Hispanic immigrants that doubled the population in Collinsville,” said Davis.

Davis, who is pursuing dual degrees in pure mathematics and Spanish at Auburn, said she hopes to work with Northeast Alabama Community College to begin an oral history project documenting the stories of the Hispanic immigrants. She added, “I just want to try my best to use my skills to support the library and community in any way I can.”

Stabler, who is earning a double major in English and journalism with a minor in linguistics, will be returning to her hometown of Camden. She will be working with community partners Sulynn Creswell, executive director, and Kristin Law, arts programs and marketing director, at Black Belt Treasures.

A graduate of Wilcox Central High School, Stabler said, “I am looking forward to giving back to my community and serving the people of Camden in ways that benefit the town. I’m excited about rediscovering aspects of my community that I find charming and significant.”

The daughter of Ruby Stabler added that she hopes to introduce teens to paths to higher education and gain experience in journalism by sharing stories from her community.

Living Democracy students serve as Jean O'Connor Snyder Interns with the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. Started in 2010 by Mark Wilson, director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, and Associate Professor Nan Fairley, Living Democracy originated as a Kettering Foundation project focused on the role of higher education in preparing citizens for public life. Deborah Witte, in the 2012 Higher Education Exchange, described the initiative as a “pioneering approach to civic engagement” because of its community-based approach and impact on students.

"In the end, the goal of Living Democracy is to teach students just that: to live democracy and show that true change, understanding and progress comes from being engaged and active in your community, wherever that may be," Wilson said.

Graduate Assistant Brittany Branyon is coordinating social media accounts produced by 2023 Living Democracy students. Anyone interested in this year’s students can follow stories they write about their adventures on the Living Democracy Facebook page and the Living Democracy web page.

Tags: Community and Outreach Center for the Arts and Humanities

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