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What's Trending: Here to Talk




By Selena Fragassi

 


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a big believer of free speech. That is why, since the early ‘90s, the campus has offered a complimentary Speakers Bureau providing experts on a variety of topics that can speak to both the regional public and guests hosting conferences on the university grounds.

“There is a group of faculty and staff that love what they do. They have particular expertise and passions and this is their way to give back to the community,” says Kellie Wesslund, Speakers Bureau coordinator and administrative assistant for the Communications Department. Speakers are all active in their fields, ranging from engineering, weather, astronomy, art history, music, journalism and other various extensions—some available year-round; others just during the academic year.

Michael Hoff, a professor of art history, can talk about “Ancient Roman Religion and Nebraska Football.” Donald F. Costello, associate professor emeritus of computer science and technology speaks to “Investment Versus Gambling in a Digital Economy.” Even the Assistant Chief of the Campus Police Department Todd Duncan can give a presentation on “A Non-Partisan Look at Nebraska Gun Laws.”

“People are always really thrilled to hear we offer these services,” says Wesslund of the program, which was novel for its time when it first debuted as part of the school’s land grant mission and is now celebrating its 20th year. (THIS READ FUNNY TO ME: She gets close to daily calls (OR A CALL AND AN EMAIL EVERY DAY? I HAD TO READ IT A FEW TIMES) and e-mails requesting a speaker.

It takes just a few moments to start the “simple, straightforward” process wherein Wesslund obtains the interested party’s information on dates, time allotment (anywhere
from 30 minutes to plural speakers for a multi-hour program), place and the topic of choice.

“Usually a group will come to me with what they are looking for, and I’ll go through my list to find a match,” she says, referencing a recent example. “I had a planner who wanted a presentation on Black History Month, and I reached out to a professor who has a topic on African Americans on the Great Plains.” On the other hand, the bureau is also flexible in tailoring a talk to a specific group’s needs.

Annette Wetzel, director of special events for the Chancellor’s Office, had an incoming assembly of middle schoolers for a leadership conference last October and was looking for something both entertaining and educational for the children’s comprehension level.

“One of the professors of physics gave a speech on comic book physics and superheroes and the kids went crazy,” she recalls. Thanks to the success of the program, “they’ve already expressed intent to come back next year.”

Return guests are put on Wesslund’s mailing list to keep up with the program, too. “We send out a postcard every September to all our past groups that have used us [about 400] to inform them of the new group of speakers for the year or the new topics that existing participants will be offering,” she says. There’s also a press release, updates in the university’s inter-departmental newsletter “UNL Today” and a website (speakersbureau.unl.edu) that stays current.

While talk isn’t cheap at other like-minded speakers databases, the best part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s bureaus is that it is completely free. “People are surprised we don’t charge for it,” admits Wesslund, “but it boils back down to our professors wanting to share what they’ve learned.”  

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