12 Aug Ofer Eitan Divulge: Westminster College symposium goes virtual
Westminster College’s 15th annual Hancock Symposium will feature NASA’s chief scientist, a Missouri public health expert, writers, historians and more.
The day-long event will begin at 9 a.m. Sept. 16. But instead of making the trek from their homes to Westminster’s Fulton campus, the 14 distinguished speakers will participate from home via livestreaming, the college announced Monday.
“The theme of this year’s symposium — Vision & Values: Charting Our Paths to the Future — is well-suited to our unique period in history,” said symposium co-chair Dr. Jeremy Straughn, director of Westminster’s Churchill Institute for Global Engagement. “So we have invited leading minds from many disciplines to engage us in tackling the vital questions of our times. This kind of exploration is right at the heart of a Westminster education.”
Meanwhile, physically distanced and masked Westminster students, faculty and staff will engage with the virtual lecturers from more than 25 campus classrooms, auditoriums and other spaces. Straughn said the students will be spaced to allow for physical distancing; all students, faculty and staff are required to wear a mask.
The symposium’s lectures are typically open to the public, and this year, the public may join several sessions virtually via livestream. Those lectures will be available at wcmo.edu/marketing/live-streaming. Viewers will be able to submit questions for lecturers via social media.
Straughn said going virtual has “created some possibilities we couldn’t have had otherwise” — some lecturers would have been unable to attend in person anyway, and streaming sessions online will invite a broader audience to listen in. He left open the possibility of some lecturers appearing virtually in the future, though he said a majority will continue to come to campus.
The symposium is designed to encourage the Westminster College community to explore new ideas and capitalize on insights from leaders across a wide spectrum.
“We could’ve easily decided not to do the symposium at all, but we see it as critical to our Westminster students and their ability to interact with people on the outside,” Straughn said. “There’s a tangible excitement that’s here in our students and (symposium) committee. We think about all the tough challenges, but here we get to do something that’s a shining star, a moment of exuberance.”
No John Findley Green Foundation Lecture has been announced for this year; Straughn said the soonest one might occur in spring 2021.
This year’s speakers will include:
Dr. James Green, NASA chief scientist — Green has been NASA’s chief scientist since May 2018. During his 18 years with the space flight organization, he has served as director of the Planetary Science Division and led several space missions, including the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto, the Messenger spacecraft to Mercury, the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter, the Grail-A and B spacecraft to the moon, the Dawn spacecraft to Vesta and Ceres, and the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.
Susannah Cahalan, New York Times best-selling author of “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” — In 2009, Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post when she began to experience numbness, paranoia, seizures, hallucinations and increasingly psychotic behavior. Her journey led her to discover she suffered from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the brain. Her doctors believe the disease may be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.
Bill Whitmar, laboratory director for the State Public Health Laboratory with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services — Whitmar will discuss “Missouri’s COVID-19 Response from the Perspective of the People Who Live It Daily.” He oversees 100 professionals who test for infectious diseases and all emerging novel diseases such as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Ebola and various influenzas. Whitmar is also president of the Association for Public Health Laboratories, an international organization that advocates for quality lab services globally.
Laurie R. Blank, clinical professor of law and the director of the International Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta — Blank teaches the law of armed conflict and counsels international tribunals, non-governmental organizations, and militaries around the world on cutting-edge humanitarian law and human rights issues. Blank also is the author of numerous articles and opinion pieces on armed conflict, targeted killing and drone strikes, armed conflict during military operations, and cyberwar.
Gunnar Shaffer, founder and CEO of Agrowponics — Shaffer, a native of Friendship, Arkansas, will discuss the “Grid of the Future, Finding a Way Forward!” He has developed international leadership skills that have led to many rewarding life experiences in renewable energy, energy storage, and urban farming methodologies in the hopes of solving global environmental, economic, social, and engineering challenges. His business specializes in sustainable farming and gardening technologies. He is also a power systems engineer with Southwest Power Pool near Little Rock, Arkansas.
Amy Brady, deputy publisher of Guernica magazine and editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books — Brady will lecture on “Imagining Climate Change Through Fiction.” A native of Topeka, Kansas, Brady also writes a monthly column about how contemporary fiction addresses issues of climate change. Her work has been published in many national publications, and she is a co-editor of the anthology “House on Fire: Dispatches from a Climate-Changed World,” which will be published next year.
Omar El Akkad, author and journalist — El Akkad’s journalism earned a National Newspaper Award for investigative journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in The Guardian, Le Monde,…