Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life

2023 Annual Impact Report

In 2023, I was delighted to be hired as the new Director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. I had been a fan of the Institute’s work - and a participant in many of its programs - during my five terms as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. I left political life in 2013 to work at Google, and am very happy to be re-engaged in our state’s civic affairs with my work here at the Institute.

I feel very fortunate to inherit a strong foundation, established by the Institute’s founder, Dr. Rod Hart, and carried on through the leadership of former Director Susan Nold, and interim Director Dr. Talia Stroud. And it is an honor to lead an Institute named for former Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss - the goodwill her name continues to evoke among Texas civic leaders is a powerful tailwind for our Institute’s efforts.

As you’ll see in this report, we are a student-centered Institute, and the best part of this new job for me has been the opportunity to work with students. I spend every day with young people who are on the front end of their civic journey, whose passions and political predilections span a wide spectrum, but who share a common conviction that their lives should serve a cause bigger than their own self-advancement. 

Thank you for your continued support of the Institute, and for the next generation of Texas civic leaders.

Director Mark Strama
Speak Up Speak Out

Since 2002, Speak Up Speak Out has fueled a passion for civic engagement in third grade through high school students across the state of Texas.

Students, supervised by outstanding educators across the state, work in teams of 2-8 students to identify community problems and propose a solution. They present their work to distinguished community leader at regional fairs and the top teams are invited to participate in our state-wide Civics Fair.

In the 2022-2023 program cycle, Speak Up Speak Out had nearly 200 teams from across the state compete for a chance to attend the State Civics Fair. Fifty-Seven percent of participating teams attend a school supporting children from low-income families (Title 1).  Of the nearly 200 participating teams, 20 teams advanced to the State Civics Fair held at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs on March 6, 2023, representing 6 school districts, 11 schools, and 80 individual students. 

2023 State Civics Fair Winners 

Elementary School Division: The Team PLAYERS, Democracy Prep, San Antonio ISD 

Middle School Division: BOTS, Harmony School of Innovation – Fort Worth  

High School Division: DEPOT, CAST Tech Med High School, San Antonio ISD

Superlative Awards 

Excellence in Creative Expression:

  • BOTS, Harmony School of Innovation – Fort Worth
  • Mental Health in NEISD Schools, International School for the Americas, Northeast ISD

Excellence in Community Engagement:

  • Let’s End the Sentence: Period Project, Keystone, San Antonio ISD 
  • Women and Elderly Homeless, Houston Academy for International Studies, Houston ISD 

Excellence in Primary Research:

  • DEPOT, CAST Tech Med High School, San Antonio ISD
Middle School Division Winners
Interviewing SUSO Students
2023 Speak Up Speak Out State Civics Fair
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SUSO State Civics Fair Winners
SUSO State Civics Fair Presentation
SUSO State Civics Fair Students
SUSO State Civics Fair Winners
SUSO State Civics Fair Students
SUSO State Civics Fair Students
SUSO State Civics Fair Speaker
SUSO State Civics Fair Students
SUSO State Civics Fair Presentation
Texas Civic Ambassadors

Established in 2016, the Texas Civic Ambassadors is a statewide program that offers students civic learning and skill building opportunities, fostering individual and collective civic capacities.  

The TCA Leadership Summit and January Retreat united the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 cohorts at the University of Texas at Austin. With 25 students from 14 institutions, ambassadors underwent comprehensive leadership training, interacting with key figures in the community, academia, and politics. 

Program Highlights

Keynote speakers at our event included Rey Saldaña, CEO of Communities in Schools and a former San Antonio City Council member, alongside Miguel Romano, an accomplished author and nonprofit leader. Students also heard from Representative Gina Hinojosa, Jay Dyer, Dade Phelan’s Deput Chief of Staff, and UT Austin Moody faculty members Dr. Rod Hart, Joe Cutbirth, and Jenifer Sarver. 

In September, Ambassadors returned to Austin for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival. Over three immersive days, they participated in 125+ sessions and events. The festival provided a platform to gain direct insight from influential figures, including Sen. Ted Cruz, US Senator Joe Manchin, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. 

Featured Student Projects



Victoria Kidder (UTSA) reignited an IGNITE National Chapter on her campus, welcoming 9 new officers and 50 new members. The fall semester was marked by a series of educational and engaging events, including workshops on resume and cover letter writing, policy paper drafting, dialogues, and a premier event featuring Averie Bishop: Gen Zer Running for the Texas House.

Texas Women's Alliance

Kaylee Sexton (TTU) initiated the Texas Women's Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women’s issues in north Texas. Their inaugural event drew over 100 attendees, featuring speakers and local musicians, raising over $2,000.00 to further their work in the Lubbock community. 



Tejas Narayanan (UTSA) organized the TEDxYouth@SanAntonio: Earth2Hot2Handle event, aiming to raise awareness about environmental challenges. The initiative featured TEDx speakers and equipped over 156 attendees with practical tools in the Idea Lab to drive change in their communities. 

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Texas Civic Ambassadors
ASI Interns
Texas Civic Ambassadors at the Texas Tribune Festival
Texas Civic Ambassadors with Evan Smith
Texas Civic Ambassadors
Texas Civic Ambassadors with Rey Saldaña
Texas Civic Ambassadors with Jen Sarver
Sarah Batson registering students to vote
Student organization presentation
TX Votes celebrating National Voter Registration Day
TX Votes Executive Board Members
TX Votes

TX Votes is a non-partisan, issue-neutral student organization that registers voters, educates students about the electoral process, and encourages voter turnout at UT Austin.  

Fall Highlights:  

TX Votes implemented dynamic initiatives to enhance voter registration and civic engagement on campus. Engaging with key university events, they registered students and recruited new members during Gone to Texas, Party on the Plaza, and Mooov-in.

Participation in civic holidays, saw collaborative with partners for impactful voter registration activities, including a major event on National Voter Registration Day. Voter Education Week combined in-person and social media outreach and extensive tabling that targeted high frequently places like the libraries and dining halls on the final registration day.

Outreach effort involved presentations in student organization meetings and classes, and coordination with faculty has been a longstanding core strategy. Streamlining student organization outreach, hosting voter education events, utilizing on campus resources, and social media channels and newsletters, TX Vote made significant strides in simplifying the voting process and empowering students.


The Civic Engagement Alliance is a coalition of student organizations working to encourage students to be civically engaged. TX Votes leadership cultivated close relationships with other civic engagement organizations, including TX Rising, MOVE Texas, Hook the Vote, the University Democrats and Texas PIRG Student Action. This has created robust and ongoing collaboration that has strengthened on-campus voter registration efforts.

Student organizations at UT Austin that currently participate in the CEA include: the American Society of Civil Engineers, The Texas Orator, Engineering LGBQTies, the UT Student Government Women's Resource Agency, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Communication Council, Seva Charities, the Liberal Arts Council, BridgeTexas, Texas Sunshines, the Education Council, Socks for the Sole, Texas Lassos, Partners in Health Engage at UT Austin, the Public Relations Student Society of America (Texas PRSSA), Engineers for a Sustainable World, Absolute Texxas, Texas Rising, MOVE Texas, the University Democrats, Hook the Vote, and Texas PIRG Student Action.

In order to amplify partnerships with student organizations, TX Votes launched the Civic Champions program which will have its first participants in Spring of 2024. The Civic Champions program incentivizes student organizations to complete activities in four categories of civic engagement: voting, volunteering, advocacy, and community. Student organizations that participate will receive recognition and are eligible for a monetary award. 

TX Votes also partnered with a record number of university departments and divisions including University Housing and Dining, Office of the VP for Student Affairs, UT Libraries, and the Office of the First-Year Experience.

Great Conversations

Great Conversations 2024 will take place on March 21st at the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom in the Texas Union. The event will feature the presentation of the Shirley Bird Perry Longhorn Citizenship award to Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini, and the inaugural presentation of the Corporate Citizenship Award to H-E-B.

The theme for the 2023 event, “What’s Next? Texas After the 2022 Elections” prompted guests to reflect on the recent election and contemplate the future role of our great state. The distinguished panel featured: 

Katrice Hardy

Katrice Hardy

Executive Editor of The Dallas Morning News

Maria Reeve

Maria Reeve

Executive Editor of the Houston Chronicle

Dr. James Henson

Dr. James Henson

Director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin (Moderator) 

Event Honorees

Dr. Roderick Hart

During the event, the prestigious Shirley Bird Perry Longhorn Citizenship Award was presented to Dr. Roderick Hart, Founding Director of the Annette Strauss Institute, former Dean of the Moody College of Communication, and Professor at the University of Texas at Austin

Rusty Kelley

Additionally, a Special Recognition was extended to Blackridge Founder Rusty Kelley for his enduring support of the Annette Strauss Institute and unwavering commitment to civic engagement in Texas.  

New Politics Forum

Since its inception in 2000, the New Politics Forum has offered students educational conferences, trainings, and events led by seasoned political professionals. In the spring semester, we hosted Careers in Politics, a one-day event featuring an exceptional slate of speakers including: 

  • Emmy Ruiz, White House Political Director; 
  • A panel discussion with State Rep. James Talarico and former State Rep. Larry Gonzales 
  • A panel featuring Scott Milder, co-founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools; Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, Senior Director of Global Social Impact at Indeed; and Sheryl Sculley, former city manager of San Antonio.

Culminating in a fast-paced networking session, Careers in Politics provided its 75+ attendees with a unique opportunity to connect with statewide civic leaders and political professionals, and to learn about the many pathways that can lead to a life of civic impact.

Students at Careers in Politics
Emmy Ruiz
Pizza & Politics

Sponsored by the Lebermann Foundation, Pizza & Politics is a new ASI initiative that invites UT Austin students to an interactive exchange of ideas with special guests from the world of Texas and national politics. Students get to dive into thought-provoking discussions on pressing issues and enjoy free pizza, while connecting with fellow students who share their passion for politics. 

September 11th event

September 11, 2023

Jehmu Greene, Co-founder and CEO of We Defend Truth, and Bryan Jones, Tech Entrepreneur and Chairman of the Board of Tech Policy Press

October 9th event

October 9, 2023

Stephen Slick, Director of UT’s Intelligence Studies Project and 28-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service, including 6 years as CIA station chief in Tel Aviv

*Note that this event was organized just two days after the Hamas attack in southern Israel, offering UT students a timely opportunity to learn from an expert in the immediate aftermath of that attack

November 13th event

November 13, 2023

Linda Moore, former White House Deputy Political Director and President and CEO of TechNet; and Ted Delisi, former consultant to Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry and Owner of Delisi Communications 

Our launch of the Pizza & Politics program this fall semester proved successful with each event achieving full attendance and receiving strong reviews:  

  • “Loved it! Looking forward to more events like this in the future,”  
  • I really enjoyed Pizza and Politics, glad this is an event I can go to!”  
  • “I had a lot of fun in this event! I wasn’t keeping up with the current election cycle and it was fun to listen to news about it from people who were qualified.” 

Theodore H. Strauss Civic Internship Award

The Theodore H. Strauss Civic Internship Award supports UT Austin undergraduate students as they pursue internships in the fields of public policy, public service, government, or politics.  

Kayla Abramowitz

Kayla Abramowitz

interned at Sesame Workshop where she served as an Educational Intern on the International Social Impact team. With help from UNICEF, she assisted in creating a glossary of learning outcomes surrounding disability education using data surveyed from people with disabilities in the Middle Eastern region. 

Carter Moxley

Carter Moxley

worked in the Speaker’s Office of the U.S. House of Representatives. He worked for Speaker McCarthy’s policy team on topics such as the strategic capabilities of the United States and Chinese space programs, and Medicare grant funding for children’s hospitals in California. Creating a robust operations and administration portfolio, Carter also sat in on a meeting of the House Chief Administration Office, learned about the “Modernization of Congress,” and increased his understanding of mechanisms of power in the United States Congress. 

Mariana Gil Huerta

Mariana Gil Huerta

interned for Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. Originally starting with administrative tasks, she transitioned to performing research tasks for the legislative team, then found a passion for managing communications as she created graphic designs for events, social media, and billboard advertisements.  

Pranathi Pilla

Pranathi Pilla

served as a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for the Division of HIV Prevention Guidelines Team at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She completed research to determine whether the guidelines regarding the upper and lower age limit for HIV testing should be altered and the best methods to communicate an adjustment to the public.

Justin Vargas

Justin Vargas

interned for the Office of Congressman Lloyd Doggett where he learned about the importance of constituent work. He completed administrative duties while gaining the experience of efficient team work as he collaborated with caseworkers, field representatives, staff assistants, and a district director. 

Patricia Witherspoon Research Award

The Patricia Witherspoon Research Award is given to a UT Austin graduate student conducting original research in the areas of public service, government, community service, civic life, citizenship, or politics. 

Sheila B. Lalwani

Sheila B. Lalwani

conducted research on virtual court kiosks in her study called, “A True Tool for Civic Life? An Evaluation of the Ambitions & Limitations of Virtual Legal Courts.” In this study, she assessed the virtual court kiosks in Texas to analyze their potential for bridging the digital divide between urban and rural communities. Due to the divide, groups that have historically been challenged in accessing justice, particularly women and children, remain severely disadvantaged. Her projected outcomes include academic, legal, and communication policy articles, public outreach, and dissemination of research. 

2023 Sponsors

$10,000 and above

Addison, Linda L.


H-E-B Grocery Company, L.P.


Calpine Corporation

Hillwood Alliance Group, L.P.

$5,000 - $9,999

Allen Boone Humphries Robinson

CPS Energy

Hunt Family Foundation

NRG Energy Inc.

Vistra Corporate Services Company


Dallas Jewish Community Foundation

Jim and Ginny Turner

Oncor Electric Delivery

Wallace Capital Management Inc

Arnold, Greg

Davis Kaufman PLLC

Knight, Edward S.

Rodney & Cristie Schlosser

Cheniere Energy Inc.

Ginsburg, Harold H.

Lower Colorado River Authority



Hilltop Securities Incorporate

Moore, Linda L.

Texas Mutual Insurance Company

$1,000 to $4,999

Austin Chamber of Commerce

DTH Strategies, LLC

Integrated Advocacy Solutions

Polumbo, Carol D.

Texas Electric Cooperatives In

Aldrete, James Q.

Edwin L. Cox Jr. Trust

Kirk, Ron

Shaw, David R.

Toyota Motor North America Inc

Austin Community Foundation

Foley & Lardner LLP

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP

Shepard, E. Robert

Valero Energy Corporation

Bryant, Kevin

Harkrider, Mark

McGarr, Janie Strauss

Shivers, Brian M.

Zutshi, Anjali

Centerpoint Energy

HillCo Partners LLC

National Instruments Corporation

Susser Family Foundation

Texas Electric Cooperatives In

Up to $999

Allen, Maile Lei

Eivens, Brenda W.

Jarvis, Sharon E.

McGuire, Kerry F.

Weatherford, Krista M.

Alliance for Youth Organizing

Elfant, Bruce J.

Kilroy, Taylor

Moore, Pasha

Weatherford, Matthew Bryan

Batson, Sarah Elizabeth

Feld, Alan D.

Krier, Cyndi T.

Naishtat, Elliott

Willis, Ottilia Adrian

Bhandari, Emily R.

Gale, Christopher J

Leadership Austin

Phebillo, Kassie M.

Wilson, James Cole

Bixby, Pamela

Great Hearts Texas

Lee, Wade T.

Phillips, Katherine

Wise, Deborah E.

Bjornson, Christopher R.

Greenberg, Alan D.

Lemay-Patten, Michelle R.

Runas, Allison Paige

Xu, Hillary Hf

Calixto, Anayeli

Greenberg, Sherri R.

Lockheed Martin University Gifts

Strama, Mark

Zhang, Anthony Haoran

Canright, Alexander G.

Guajardo, Marco Damian

Lueking, Paige

Stroud, Natalie J.

Zutshi, Anjali

Canright, Jeanne L.

Hopper, Kathryn Q.

Mammen, Sunitha S.

Sullivan, TeeLyn

Chan, Sewell

Howard, Erica Vella

Martinez, Benjamin

Tway, Maria

Duan, Rana

Howard, John L.

Mazurek, Mason Blaise

Van Arsdale, Corbin

Edelman, Kayla

Huebsch, Melissa L.

McCue, Elizabeth M.

Weatherby, Cinde

Advisory Council Members

Advisory Council Co-Chairs

Denise Davis

Rodney Schlosser

Advisory Council

James Adams 

Lisa Craven 

Russ Keene 

Pasha Moore 

The Hon. Florence Shapiro 

The Hon. Ernest Angelo

June Deadrick 

Rusty Kelley 

Mike Myers 

Dave Shaw 

Ellen Arnold 

Ted Delisi 

The Hon. Cyndi Krier 

The Hon. Elliott Naishtat 

Brian Shivers 

Daniel Becka 

Alan Feld 

The Hon. James “Pete” Laney 

Janie Perelman 

Terri Broussard Williams 

The Hon. Chris Bell 

Kathy Garcia 

Greg Levenson 

Sam Perry 

Carlos Zaffirini 

Jay Brown  

Nancy Halbreich 

Martin Otto 

Hector Rivero 

Anjali Zutshi 

Kevin Burnette 

Mark Harkrider 

Cappy McGarr  

Danielle Rugoff 

Snapper Carr 

Susan Hays 

Janie McGarr 

Kelly Sadler 

Stan Casey 

John Howard

Kevin Moomaw 

Dr. Stefanie Sanford 

Marjorie Clifton 

Rob Johnson 

Linda Lea Moore 

Jenifer Sarver