Diaz leans on a table near a bookshelf
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Pitt junior Connor Diaz was named a 2024 Newman Civic fellow

  • Community Impact
  • Innovation and Research
  • David C. Frederick Honors College

Four hours into a bus ride to present his research alongside fellow Atlantic Coast Conference undergraduates at the annual Meeting of the Minds, Connor Diaz drifted in and out of sleep. Then, his phone buzzed with an email notification that eliminated any semblance of exhaustion.  

“I learned I was a Newman Civic fellow, and it was the most amazing feeling,” said Diaz, a junior double majoring in history and law, criminal justice and society. “It put wind in my sails before the conference and was a nice thing to come out of a stupor to.”

Diaz is one of 142 student problem-solvers selected for the 2024-25 Newman Civic Fellowship, a yearlong program designed to help fellows enact positive change on their college campuses and in their communities. 

Ron Idoko, a research assistant professor, director of the Office of Social Innovation in the Frederick Honors College and the founding director of the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute, nominated Diaz for his work as the chief content officer and outreach and engagement assistant on CivWiz, a mobile application designed to increase civic engagement among college students.

“There are innumerable problems facing every community. It takes individual actors to begin changing and fixing them,” said Diaz, a recipient of Pitt’s full-ride Chancellor’s Scholarship. “I want people to see CivWiz as a tool itself, but also as a tool to establish the baseline knowledge, vocabulary and awareness needed to start movements, better communities and evoke changes they want to see.”

Diaz wears many hats on the project, including that of research mentor. In this role he oversees a team of five undergraduate research assistants responsible for testing and developing content for the quiz-based tool, which is combatting an increasing lack of civic knowledge among American and global populations. One in four Americans can name all three branches of government while grade school students’ knowledge of civic concepts has regressed by more than a decade.

“Connor is an incredible student,” said Idoko, associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems and CivWiz’s advisor. “On this project, which is one of the initiatives housed in the Office of Social Innovation, he’s coordinated our student team on this project, applying for grants, and is leading us into the future. The Newman Civic Fellowship speaks to students’ ability to be powerful agents for change, and that is Connor.”

David C. Frederick Honors College Dean Nicola Foote said Diaz’s efforts are positioning himself and the school as global leaders.

“Connor’s work on CivWiz is reimagining civic education on a global scale and makes learning about civics accessible to a broad public audience in a fun and engaging way,” said Foote. “I could not be prouder of his success and recognition and consider his selection for this award is a powerful reflection of his emergence as one of our nation’s most innovative public leaders.”

Pitt, Diaz said, has given him not only a platform to pursue his interests, but also a dream team of collaborators. He praised Idoko as well as Alaina E. Roberts and Wes Hiers for showing him he can be a force for good as a lawyer and undergraduate instructor.

“I can’t overstate my gratitude and couldn’t be happier to bring this award back to my office,” said Diaz. “It’s relatively new and small but doing more significant, impactful work than anyone could imagine with the Changemakers seriesIan Kehinde’s podcast, the Social Change Research Hub and my project. All are creating frameworks to inform scalable and accessible social action.” 

A future inspired by the past

Diaz is the child of an immigrant mother  and the first in his immediate family to attend a traditional four-year college. Having grown up attending schools with minimal diversity where “casual racism,” was standard, two instances set him on a course for social and civil justice: George Floyd’s murder and participation in the National Constitution Center’s We the People program.

Following Floyd’s death, protests regarding Confederate monuments erupted in Diaz’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and showed him that lack of knowledge can lead to lack of respect. That experience helped lead him to We the People, which Diaz said, “opened my mind to the constitution’s power when used for good with respect to ensuring civil rights, and to how pervasive constitutional legal parameters are in society.”

He compared the program to putting glasses on for the first time: “That’s a feeling I hope to give other people; to see how these structures you didn’t even know were there affect you.”

Diaz’s flair for history, his “bread and butter,” began in high school. Though his initial interest was in European history, his experiences led him to take a more critical look at American history. As a Brackenridge Fellow last summer, he researched Antebellum American history, homing in on American Indians’ experience right before the Civil War.

For Diaz, the intersection between history and law is essential to achieving his goal of practicing civil rights law. “I’m a firm believer that historians are well-served by a baseline understanding of legal history because it affects everything in American life,” he said.

On this path, he aims to meld history and practical discipline with his passion for people.  

“As Ron (Idoko) says, we’re trying to end racism, save America, save democracy. Lofty goals, but I think we’re moving toward them through our work.”


— Kara Henderson, photography by Aimee Obidzinski