Paul Simon Democracy Prize

April 01, 2024

SIU’s Paul Simon Institute seeks Illinois college students to revitalize democracy

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is accepting project proposals from Illinois college and university students for the Paul Simon Democracy Prize. 

Three $5,000 prizes will be awarded this spring to current Illinois college or university students for exceptional proposals to revitalize democracy in their communities. Proposals could involve hosting public discussions or debates, registering voters, funding school newspapers to cover local issues, creating a speaker series on community matters, developing a program to recruit and train poll watchers, or other ideas to expand and revitalize democracy. 

The Paul Simon Democracy Prize, which honors the institute’s founder, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, was inaugurated in 2023. 

“Paul Simon was passionately committed to the enduring challenge to renew and revitalize our democracy,” John Shaw, institute director, said. “We created this prize to encourage and inspire students to think about, design and implement concrete programs to improve our democracy.” 

To be considered for the Paul Simon Democracy Prize, students must submit a video proposal to the institute by May 1, 2024. Prizes will be announced by May 15. 

The institute is looking for persuasive, imaginative and optimistic proposals that can be implemented within six months. Videos should be between 3 and 5 minutes long. The quality of the proposal, not the video itself, will be assessed. 

The three winning videos will be posted on the institute’s website and YouTube channel. Prize recipients will be invited to a celebratory reception at the institute in the fall of 2024 and asked to describe how their proposals are being implemented. 

Complete details of the Paul Simon Democracy Prize are available on the institute’s website

Simon was a two-term senator from Illinois. 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. 

Simon also served in the Illinois House and state Senate and served four years as Illinois’ lieutenant governor. In 1974, Simon was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for 10 years before winning election to the U.S. Senate. In 1987-88, he sought the Democratic nomination for president. 

The institute now has three programs that underscore Simon’s commitment to better government and smarter politics: the Paul Simon Democracy Prize, the Renewing Illinois Summit for college and university students in the state, and the Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award honoring officials in Illinois state and local government. 

“These three programs embody Paul Simon’s most aspirational and inspiring values,” Shaw said. 

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