Carah Ong Whaley

Academics Program Officer

Twitter: @CarahOng


Dr. Carah Ong Whaley is the Academics Program Officer at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and is co-host of Politics Is Everything, a podcast with thoughtful discussions to inspire informed political and civic participation to strengthen democracy. Carah currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Civic Engagement Section of the American Political Science Association. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Teen Vogue, NPR, Inside Higher Education, Education Dive, among others.

At the heart of her research interests is a desire to understand and illuminate how the interactions of political actors and institutions structure public access and participation in policy- and decision-making processes. Carah has developed innovative pedagogy melding scholarship and experiential learning to teach courses on campaigns and elections, state and local politics, and political and civic engagement. Her dissertation explored the politics of cleaning up the environmental contamination that resulted from the testing, development and production of nuclear weapons, with a focus on the role of community-based groups in engaging the public in policy- and decision-making processes.

Carah was previously the Associate Director of the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at James Madison University where she worked with faculty and staff to embed political learning and civic engagement in curriculum and campus-wide programs. She also led the student body to a remarkable 74.6% voter turnout and 92% registration rate in the 2020 election. In 2020, she was appointed by the Governor of Virginia to the Complete Count Commission for the 2020 Census. From 2019 until 2022, Carah was a Civic Fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project. Carah also worked for non-governmental organizations on nuclear weapons and security issues from 1999-2012.

Carah holds a PhD in American Government, and an MA in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. She graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Global Peace and Security.

Recent publications include: American Government: Roots and Reform (chapters on Political Parties, Campaigns, Elections and Voting, and The Media); Civic Engagement in an Era of Divisive Politics and Civil Unrest (Journal of Public Affairs, 2022). “Jan. 6 Hearings Show a Democracy in Crisis. Civic Education Can Help.” “Let’s Get Political: Co-Creating and Assessing Civic Learning and Engagement,” and “We the People, We the Process: Engaging Young People in Election Administration.” 

What students are saying: 

“This class is such a breath of fresh air. It is so great to both work collaboratively on projects that are important to us, while also getting so engaged in our local community.” 

“Every course reading, discussion, experience had meaning in this class. I learned so much outside of the ‘common core’ things we need to know. I think this class has more meaning than my math courses.”