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The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement was conceived in 2002 as NKU sought to expand its public engagement. "We want to advance public stewardship, citizenship and engagement through learning, scholarship and building the capacity of the community," the Center's first director, Laurie DiPadova-Stocks, said. The Center launched by combining two existing outreach programs: the University-Community Partnership Grant program and the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, both of which still operate at NKU. 

In 2003, the Cincinnati-based Scripps Howard Foundation presented NKU with $750,000 to start an endowment for the Center. Judith Clabes, the Foundation's president then, said the center "represents everything we stand for: well-informed citizens involved in democracy. It's a perfect fit, and this is a great partnership."

In 2006, the Center began planning for an expansion of service by adding the Institute for Nonprofit Capacity, INC, which later that year released a significant report, "State of Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati Nonprofit Sector."  The widely cited report set the stage for INC to develop a menu of services to help build stronger, more effective nonprofits in our region. INC's mission was to step up student and faculty involvement in community nonprofits.  "A large percentage of our students are from the region and stay right here after graduation," Miles Wilson, the Scripps Howard Center's director when INC started, said. "If we can prepare them for the citizenship role while they're students, there is a greater likelihood they will continue to incorporate it into their lives after they leave school."

In October 2007, Mark Neikirk, the former managing editor of The Cincinnati Post and The Kentucky Post, became the Center's director. Neikirk said he sees a connection between his work at The Post and his new position at NKU.

"I've spent my years in journalism with a daily curiosity about public issues," he said. "The Post has tried to illuminate matters of public concern, always with the hope that our readers will use that information and analysis to be involved in the community and shape its future for the better.  I see this opportunity at NKU as a logical extension of that work. A university -- and especially Northern -- is curious, too, and interested in helping the community make informed choices about the course of its future."