From Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, Missouri State University will hold its 2020 Public Affairs Conference. Unlike prior years, the conference will be held online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary Ann Wood, the public affairs director, said the change did not happen quickly. The university moved all classes to an all-online format in March, but it wasn’t until July that the Public Affairs Committee officially moved the conference events online. Wood said the committee researched multiple sources but decided on Zoom Webinar for the hosting service.
Wood also said before the move to online, the public affairs committee was trying to help students planning on attending the conference. Start times for the events have been changed to mirror class start times on Wednesdays and Thursdays, to allow students to attend both class and webinars.
The Public Affairs Conference is free for anyone to attend without needing to reserve a spot.
The theme this year is “Power of Voice.” Wood said the theme was chosen two years prior since 2020 is an election year.
According to Tracey Glaessgen, associate director for academic success and transition, students enrolled in GEP 101 courses are required to attend two sessions of the public affairs conference.
GEP 101, or general educational programs, is required for all incoming freshmen at MSU. Glaessgen said GEP 101 has maintained a “strong course connection” to MSU’s three pillars of public affairs.
These are ethical leadership, cultural competence and community engagement. GEP 101 students also have a common reader each year, this year’s being ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover.
Glaessgen said students enrolled in GEP 101 will not only be required to attend the conference but engage with MSU’s public affairs mission in a variety of ways.
“In addition to attending the public affairs conference, whether in person or virtually, students will conduct indirect service, read and engage with this year’s common reader and increase their appreciation for diverse perspectives through cultural consciousness discussion and reflection,” Wood said.
Wood said speakers for the conference were finalized in March.
Speakers this year include MSU Alumnus Marcus Engel, Lyrissa Lidsky and Sue Klebold, according to the public affairs schedule of events.
Engel is an Alumnus who was struck and blinded by a drunk driver, and will share his testimony and his process of healing in hopes to encourage others. Engel will speak at 12:20 p.m. on Sept. 30.
Lidsky is the dean of law at the University of Missouri and will present how social media can lead to a user’s downfall. Lidsky’s presentation will include legal applications of the First Amendment. She will speak at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 1.
Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. She will share her experiences in overcoming grief, as well as trying to understand and help those with suicidal thoughts or tendencies. Klebold’s panel will be the final event of the conference on Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
“In developing the theme at that time, we knew this would be an election year and wanted to have a theme that could easily address issues of voter and civic involvement,” Wood said.
Wood said she is confident the conference will draw an even bigger crowd than in years prior.
The only seated event this year is the conference’s kick off-event, hosted by President Clif Smart in the Plaster Student Union theater on Sept 29 at 7 p.m. Glaessgan encouraged attendees to arrive early and bring their masks. All other events will be online via Zoom Webinar.
The Public Affairs Conference begins with its kick-off on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The final event will be on Thursday, Oct. 1. The Public Affairs website has a complete list of links to events, as well as descriptions of what they will cover.