The Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement (CDCE) received a $12,500 direct gift from Larry Telford, an ‘83 University of Maryland alumnus in chemical engineering, in late December. The donation will go toward supporting and expanding the Center’s polling initiatives, and Telford hopes it will help put the University of Maryland on the map for those interested in studying government and politics.
Created out of what was previously known as the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, CDCE was established in 2019 to conduct non-partisan research on politics and improving democratic governance in the U.S. Dr. Stella Rouse, Director of CDCE, pursued the transformation to better align the center’s research with the priorities of the university. At the top of these priorities are civic engagement, public information and public education.
“We think the center is well-positioned to play a role within the university on important topics that are going to matter moving forward,” Rouse said. “So its mission is really to educate students and the public on being civic citizens, being informed about politics, making good decisions, and holding elected representatives accountable.”
The research center creates several polls a year in partnership with the Washington Post and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, respectively. It also actively collaborates with other groups on campus for projects involving politics and public opinion. Faculty of CDCE also study youth civic participation, voter registration, and voting technology to discover potential reforms to increase voter engagement and improve American democracy.
“Those polling efforts are really important to what we do, because we’re able to produce research, write reports, and hold events around the results of those polls, and get publicity through the Washington Post articles,” Rouse said. “And so Mr. Telford’s gift is really going to go toward those efforts.”
Telford has remained involved in politics throughout his entire adult life, working on two successful county executive campaigns in Anne Arundel County, including managing one of them. A pollster then helped Telford find work on Capitol Hill with two members of Congress, and, later, the National Republican Congressional Committee. There, Telford oversaw 80+ congressional House races, enjoying his favorite activity: poring through a few hundred 2-inch thick polling books.
Telford now works at Targeted Creative Communications, Inc., a political strategy firm involved with helping trade groups and members of Congress reach out to their members or constituents. While he’s no longer professionally involved with polls, he hopes his gift will help expand CDCE’s capacities in polling and help to emphasize the value of a political education at the University of Maryland.
“We’re right on top of our nation’s capital and yet, we’re not automatically thought of as a school for political science,” Telford said. “And so this was just my small attempt at getting us a little closer to having people recognize Maryland as a place they should go if they’re interested in government and politics.”
Rouse voiced her gratitude for the gift, explaining that modern polling demands the development of new and innovative ways to survey people online. The money, she said, was very timely and would be put toward initiatives that Telford is passionate about, including both undergraduate and graduate student education on survey research.
“This is the first gift we’ve gotten directly from an outside source and particularly an alum directly for CDCE so we’re very happy about that, and very grateful for Mr. Telford’s support,” she said. “Any support that we can get for the polling initiative is really incredible for us to continue these efforts and expand what we’re doing.”
Telford, who has been interested in supporting political programs like CDCE at the University of Maryland for years, feels fortunate to have reached a position where he finally can give back and play a role in developing UMD’s programs.
“I just think, if you can, it’s important to give back to something that’s as important as education,” he said. “It’s easy to think that these schools have a lot of money, that it may not matter if you get involved or not, but it always matters whether you get involved.”