Terri Jett’s pledge to PBS is lending her expertise on politics and American history to WFYI’s video series Simple Civics.

An Associate Professor of Political Science and Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity, Jett hosts the videos that have tackled topics such as Freedom of Speech During Times of War, How Does the Draft Work?, and Can You Run for President from Prison?. Usually about three or four minutes in length, Simple Civics debuted in October on WFYI’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

With 2020 being a presidential election year, WFYI producers developed the series for viewers to better understand U.S. policy and history. Looking for a host with a political science background, producer Kyle Travers discovered Jett through Butler University’s College of Communication produced videos as well as Jett’s work for Founder’s Week. The collaboration has been successful as Simple Civics season two tapings are underway.

On an afternoon in early March, Jett took her place in front of a gigantic green screen, under the bright studio lights, to record about a dozen new episodes. With Travers and fellow WFYI producers Scott McAlister nearby, she completed upcoming videos including Women as President, How Primaries Work, and 19th Amendment.

Jett has the commanding voice of an educator, the confidence to speak in front of large groups, and decades of research and writing experience. Still, she says hosting a web video series is a new challenge she wholly welcomes.

“I have a new, profound admiration for people who do this on a daily basis—speaking in front of a camera. It’s exhausting. But I really do enjoy that it’s actually difficult for me to do,” says Jett during a short break between episodes. “It’s like something you’re struggling with, and you finally achieve it. You have a sense of pride about it. I’m really honored to be a part of it.”

The full-length Simple Civics videos will be posted online, but one-minute versions—and 30-second versions produced for children—are expected to air on WFYI this summer.

The scripts are first written by McAlister and Travers, but Jett contributes her thoughts and edits. The collaboration makes for a mix of content based on history and political issues that hit home today. Recorded before Senator Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, the Women for President episode discussed female candidates who have pursued the nomination throughout history, from Victoria Woodhull in 1872, to Shirley Chisholm in 1968, to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“It shows how things we are talking about today have been talked about historically—how they evolve and change,” Jett says.

Originally from Oakland, California, Jett arrived at Butler from Auburn University in 1999. She adopted Indianapolis as her own, quickly establishing a presence on campus and in the city. Jett serves on the board of directors for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Indiana Humanities, Indianapolis Public Library, and Indianapolis-Marion County Land Improvement Bond Bank. Now, she is building even stronger bonds to the city through Simple Civics.

Simple Civics goes to school

After releasing the first three Simple Civics episodes in the fall, Jett and WFYI received the feedback they needed to know the series was heading in the right direction.

Political Science Professor Terri Jett, right, prepares for another Simple Civics take.

“We received some notes from teachers, saying they could see themselves using this series in the classroom as a supplement to what they’re talking about in their civics lessons,” McAlister says. “That’s really encouraging. One of the goals of this series was for it to be a resource for teachers.”

The WFYI producer and social media manager says the timing of Simple Civics is important.

“With it being an election year,” he says, “people have so many questions about how primaries work, how the election works, how the electoral college works, why we even still have the electoral college—all of which we are hoping to address in this season of episodes.”

And Jett is happy to help. She wants Simple Civics to educate and create discussion.

“I think it’s important to do this kind of work,” Jett says. “I’m really hopeful for children of all different backgrounds to see me talking about politics and history in this way. It’s accessible, and hopefully they will see it as kind of fun, and they will develop some curiosity.

“For me, if there is one child out there who says ‘Wow, I want to pick up a book and read about that. That’s interesting,’ I’m good. That’s it for me.”

Photos by Tim Brouk; videos by WFYI and Tim Brouk

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