About Democracy Works

If you’re looking for partisan bickering or hot takes on the news, this is not the podcast for you. We aim to rise above the daily news grind to take a broader look at issues impacting democracy — which can be just about anything.

Why the name Democracy Works? It’s about people coming together to build things that are greater than the sum of their parts. Much like workers throughout Pennsylvania’s history built ships and trains at iron and steel works, each of us has a role to play in building and sustaining a healthy democracy.

You probably hear a lot these days about how democracy is failing. We can’t promise that the view will always be rosy on this podcast, but we can promise an examination of how people are trying to make democracy work.

Democracy Works is created by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and recorded at WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania’s NPR affiliate.

Podcast Team

Michael Berkman, McCourtney Institute Director

Michael Berkman (Ph.D., 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.

Christopher Beem, McCourtney Institute Managing Director

Christopher Beem (Ph.D., 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

Jenna Spinelle, McCourtney Institute Communications Specialist

Jenna SpinelleJenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute’s external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach.

She holds a B.A. in journalism from Penn State and is an instructor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. Prior to joining the McCourtney Institute, Spinelle worked in Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and College of Information Sciences and Technology.

Victor Schleich, Research Assistant

Victor SchleichVictor is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Penn State. He prepares discussion questions for each episode of Democracy Works and conducts research to help the team prepare for upcoming episodes. He has received both a bachelor’s in political science and a J.D., with a concentration in constitutional law from Penn State. As a law student, Victor focused his studies in the area of free speech rights of college students. He is also a licensed attorney in the state of Pennsylvania having been  admitted to the bar in 2017. Victor’s academic area of interest is the study of law and courts within American politics; his long-term goal is to become a professor of constitutional law.