Contact us:
Invest in the future of Democracy

Virginia Civics Operating Board

VA Civics is governed and operated by a dedicated team of civic education experts and enthusiasts.

Jen Patja Howell
Co-Executive Director

Jen Patja Howell has dedicated her career to strengthening constitutional self-government through her work with the Center for Civic Education and Montpelier’s Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, where she served as Deputy Director. She is the producer and editor of “Rational Security,” a weekly foreign policy and national security roundup; “The Lawfare Podcast”; and Eagles, Globes, and Anchors, the podcast of Marine Corps University. 

Jen has also held teaching and research positions at the University of Virginia, most notably in Criminology and the school’s University Internship Program with the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. She is an appointed member of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education, and the former We the People Coordinator for the District of Columbia. She received her master’s in Sociology from the University of Virginia, and a bachelor’s in English from the University of California, Berkeley.
Read more.
Emily Voss
Co-Executive Director

Emily is passionate about making museums relevant to the modern world. At four different museums, she has developed creative approaches to working with adults, families, schools, teachers, and general audiences. As Director of Education at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier, she develops, delivers, and manages professional development programming for teachers focused on modern constitutional issues.

She has also helped support global civic education through a partnership with Projeto Constituição nas Escolas in Brazil. She has coordinated the We the People program for students in Virginia and Washington, D.C. since 2013. Emily has a BA in History from Gettysburg College, and an MA in Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies (SUNY).
Read more.
Lauren Bell
Director At-Large

Dr. Bell is Professor of Political Science and Dean of Academic Affairs at Randolph-Macon College. She is a former American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary and a former United States Supreme Court fellow at the United States Sentencing Commission in Washington, DC, as well as the author of numerous books and academic articles.

Kelly Booz
Director At-Large

Kelly Carmichael Booz is the Manager of Online Resources and Dissemination for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), overseeing the AFT’s PreK-12 publications and digital content through Share My Lesson and AFT’s E-Learning. Kelly is currently a member of the Alexandria City School Board, where she also served from 2013–2015. 

In 2014, Kelly was appointed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to serve on the Virginia Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to evaluate the Virginia accountability and assessment systems. Formerly, Kelly was Director of Civic Education at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier, where she ran the Virginia and Washington, DC We the People programs for students and educators. Kelly has a M.Ed. in Social Foundations of Education from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. in Psychology and minor in Women’s Studies from Carleton College.
Read more.
Jennifer Hoffman

Jennifer Hoffman’s career path has led her to James Madison’s Montpelier three different times, thus James Madison’s words and writings have been a constant backdrop in her life. Jennifer has held multiple event planning jobs over her career. While working at the Association of Social Work Boards as their Convention & Meetings Manager, she served as primary staff of the Program & Education Committee, assisting them to select suitable themes and speakers for the Association’s annual education meeting. 

Jennifer received her BA from James Madison University with a dual major of History/English.
Read more.
Russell Riley
Director At-Large

Russell Riley, associate professor and co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on elite oral history interviewing and on the contemporary American presidency. He has logged more than 1,000 hours of in-depth, confidential interviews with cabinet officers and senior members of the White House staff reaching back to the Carter and Reagan administrations.

Since 2003, he has led the William J. Clinton Presidential History Project. Professor Riley studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He subsequently taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown. He helped found Penn’s Washington Semester Program and from 1994 to 1998 was its resident director and a lecturer in American politics.
Read more.
Bill Shields
Director At-Large

Bill Shields is a native of Charleston, West Virginia. In 1967, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 1974, he graduated with his Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia Law School. Mr. Shields has nearly 40 years of civil litigation experience. His practice is concentrated in the areas of personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice, workers' compensation and criminal law.

Mr. Shields has been a frequent speaker and educator at continuing legal eduction seminars. He is also a former president of the Richmond Trial Lawyers Association and listed in "Who's Who in American Law". Bill was also an attorney for the Virginia Chiropractic Association for twenty years and was a member of the Nation Association for Chiropractic Attorney's. In the case of Chirkinian v. Liberty Mutual he won a precedent setting libel suit where the jury awarded a $100,000.00 verdict against an insurance company for defaming a chiropractor. He has achieved numerous other successful results in court. He is licensed to practice before all state and federal courts in Virginia as well as before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Read more.
John Sponski
Chairman Emeritus

John J. Sponski retired from Bank of America as an Executive Vice President in 2001, having spent 33 years in banking at several large financial institutions managing and directing the functions of Retail Banking and Operations/ Technology. After retiring, he formed Tre Sorelle, L.L.C., a general management consulting firm and was engaged by Invest Corp., in New York to act as interim COO for several functional split outs purchased from Technology firms.

John has been a Director and VP of Development and Finance for the Virginia Opera; Director and member of the Finance Committee for the Atlanta Opera; Chairman of the Operations and Technology Committee of the American Bankers Association; Member of the Board of the Bank Administration Institute; Member of the Board and Chair of the Audit Committee of the TransCommunity Financial Corporation; Member of the Board and VP Finance of the Orange County Free Clinic; Member of the Board and Secretary/Treasurer of the Piedmont Regional Dental Clinic; and Member of the Board, Chair of the Finance Committee, and Treasurer of The Montpelier Foundation. He is a Director Emeritus of The Montpelier Foundation and serves as Chair of the Operating Board of Virginia Civics Education, Inc. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and the MBA program at Michigan State University.
Read more.
Joe Valenti
Chair of the Finance/Audit Committee

Joe Valenti is a public policy researcher and advocate with a focus on consumer and economic issues, currently working for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, DC. He previously served as a senior policy advisor with the AARP Public Policy Institute, and prior to that was the director of consumer finance at the Center for American Progress.

He is a 2016 graduate of the Sorensen Institute's Political Leaders Program, and a 2018 graduate of Sorensen's Candidate Training Program. He holds a BA in political science from Columbia and a Master's of Public Policy from Georgetown University.
Read more.