GS alumnus Christopher Riano ’07 was recently named a Scholar in Constitutional Law and Civics for New York by the James Madison Legacy Project, a nationwide initiative of the Center for Civic Education that aims to increase the achievement of over 200,000 students in attaining state standards in civics and government.
Over the next three years, Riano will provide professional and curricular support to teachers of high-need high school students in the areas of constitutional law, jurisprudence, and civics.
“It’s one of my favorite areas of law—it seems like one of the more esoteric areas, but it’s actually one of the most exciting, when you really get down to it. What is the law? What is the Constitution? These questions are invigorating in so many ways. The questions that are surrounding this year’s election—they all have a root in the beginning, and in jurisprudence,” Riano said.
In late February, Riano gave his first lecture as a Program Scholar to teachers from New York on the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system, providing an overview of the foundations of natural law, positive law and legal positivism, and legal realism in the context of American jurisprudence.
Teachers participating in the program, which is funded by a federal grant from the Department of Education, receive a free set of textbooks and participate in 30 hours of professional development sessions facilitated by scholars and mentors, and will also have the opportunity to implement a mock congressional hearing in their classes.
“I’m very humbled to have the chance to engage with people from around the city and state who might not otherwise have access to some of this material and knowledge. Constitutional law is an area of law that certainly doesn’t require one to be a law student or professor to engage with it. It’s an area that everyone should understand and study,” Riano said.
Riano was also the keynote speaker for the New York Project Launch, held in Albany, where he spoke to a group of about 50 teachers and 250 students from across the state on the importance of civic virtue and civic engagement within the constitutional republic of the United States.
“Chris breaks down the materials and communicates them in a way that anyone can understand. He doesn’t just lecture—he engages the entire audience, which encourages them to ask questions and challenge him on some of his positions, creating a dialogue that allows for true learning. He has a gift,” Debra Lesser, Executive Director of the Justice Resource Center, said.
According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, completed in 2014, just 23 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders performed “at or above the proficient level in civics,” which speaks to the need for such an initiative.
“It was a privilege to have the opportunity to get the project moving for our city and state,” Riano said.
After graduating from GS in 2007 with a degree in political science, Riano went on to study constitutional law at Washington and Lee University, where he earned his J.D. degree in 2010. Today, he is a partner at Drohan Lee LLP, serving as lead of their Strategic Affairs practice. From 2013-2015, Riano served as the inaugural Co-Chair of the General Studies Alumni Association (GSAA). He is also a Lecturer in Constitutional Law and Government at Columbia University, where he focuses his legal teaching, research, and scholarship on constitutional law and civics, international comparative political theory, and higher education law.