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McCourtney Institute Staff


John Gastil is Director of The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Head and Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences. He specializes in political deliberation and group decision making. John's work on the Citizens’ Initiative Review has helped evaluate an exciting new form of public deliberation that should improve initiative elections. The Jury and Democracy Project has investigated, and hopefully helped vindicate, the jury system as a valuable civic educational institution. John has assisted with the Cultural Cognition Project in demonstrating the ways in which our deeper values bias how we learn about issues and form opinions. He has authored, co-authored, or edited eight books including Political Communication and Deliberation, The Group in Society, The Jury and Democracy, and Democracy in Motion. John holds a BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College and a Master's and PhD in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Director of Center for Democratic Deliberation

Debra Hawhee is McCourtney Professor of Civic Deliberation, Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and Professor of English and Communication Arts and Sciences as well as Director of Graduate Studies in English at Penn State University. She studies and teaches histories and theories of rhetoric with a particular focus on rhetoric's less-than-rational elements. She has written about bodily and material theories of rhetoric, ancient and modern. She is author of Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, which received the 2010 Diamond Anniversary Book Award from the National Communication Association, as well as Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. Hawhee is co-author, with Sharon Crowley, of Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, now in its fifth edition. Her latest book Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation, will be published next year by the University of Chicago Press. Her research has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, and Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities. She has published articles in Rhetorica,Philosophy and Rhetoric, Quarterly Journal of Speech, College English, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Advances in the History of Rhetoric, and College Composition and Communication.


Director of Center for American Political Responsiveness

Michael Berkman (PhD, Indiana University) is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR), a center of excellence within the McCourtney Institute for Democracy.  Berkman’s research focuses on American politics, particularly American state politics and policy.  His most recent research, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on state Transitional Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs.  Along with his colleague Eric Plutzer, Berkman has published two books on state education policy: Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press) and Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts (Georgetown University Press).  His first book, The State Roots of National Politics: Congress and the Tax Agenda, 1978–1986 (Pittsburgh University Press), looked at how state policies influence national politics.

Associate Director

Mark Major Mark Major is the Associate Director of The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science. He specializes in the American presidency, political communication, and American Political Development. Mark is the editor of Where Do We Go from Here? American Democracy and the Renewal of the Radical Imagination and author of the book, The Unilateral Presidency and the News Media: The Politics of Framing Executive Power. He holds a BA in Communication from Michigan State University, a Master's in Public Policy and International Affairs from William Paterson University, and a PhD in Political Science from Rutgers University. 


Managing Director

Christopher Beem (PhD, University of Chicago) is managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He is the author or co-editor of five books, including The Necessity of Politics (University of Chicago Press).  His latest book, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience and America’s Political Crisis (Lexington Books, 2015) argues that democracy requires a specific kind of humility to counter our natural inclination to self-delusion and self-righteousness. Before joining the Institute, Beem served as grants and communications manager for Next Door, a nonprofit organization dedicated to early childhood education in Milwaukee’s central city. Before that, he directed the Democracy and Community Program at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center.


Administrative Assistant

Rose Petrunyak is the administrative assistant for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. She holds a B.A. in Criminology from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma. Most recently, Rose served as the assistant director of the University of Oklahoma's graduate programs in Europe at their main office in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Before that, she worked for the Nature Conservancy's Regal Fritillary project in Ft. Indiantown Gap, PA and before that was an investigative assistant for the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Rose has also volunteered for numerous non-profit organizations focusing on military families and environmental conservation.

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The McCourtney Institute for Democracy
324 Pond Lab,
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 673-3722