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Presidential Engagement Fellows: Speaker Topics

The Presidential Engagement Fellows can speak to a wide variety of fields of study. From specific presentation titles, to general topics of discussion, use the list below to help inform requests for speaking engagements.

If you have questions about requesting a speaker, please reach out to Ashley Rhode ( before completing a speaker request form.

Hadara Bar-Nadav – English
  1. The Intersection of Poetry and Medicine: Can Words Really Heal? - A Poetry Reading
    I will give a brief presentation on the intersection of poetry and medicine, with an overview of my current manuscript-in-progress, The Animal Is Chemical.  I will read a selection of poems from this manuscript and consider how words shape and impact our health and well-being.
  2. Imagery on Fire: The Whole Wide World of Objects - A Creative Writing Workshop
     Do you have a favorite ring, photograph, or house key that is meaningful to you? In this creative  writing workshop, we will discuss poetry that brings inanimate objects to life, including texts by Gertrude Stein, Pablo Neruda, and others.  We will also write our own creative work and explore the magical world of objects, with a focus on imagery.  Attendees will leave with a new work of poetry or prose and the inspiration to continue writing their own worlds.    
  3. How to Publish Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction in Literary Journals and Beyond - A Guide to Success!
    In this forum, we will learn how to identify the right journals and publishers for our creative writing.  We will also learn how to write cover letters and track submissions, and how to become active members of the literary community.
  4. Writers, Teachers, and More: Why Majoring in English Can Take You Everywhere:
    Every major company in the world has an editorial department. As expert writers, researchers, and communicators, English majors are prepared for careers in publishing, advertising, public relations, marketing, social media, and web development. English majors work in libraries, higher education, government/politics, healthcare, law, and pursue graduate degrees. In this workshop, I will detail my own professional journey and explore the exciting range of career paths for English majors.    

Thomas Bennett – Law

The Missouri Constitution is very different from the United States Constitution. For one thing, Missouri’s is much longer and younger. The documents also embody different choices about how to structure government. During Missouri’s bicentennial, let us compare some ways our state’s constitution differs from the federal constitution.

  1. The Judiciary: Missouri’s system of judicial appointments is a model for other states and the world. By using a hybrid of judicial appointments and elections, Missouri’s constitution allows voters to have a say in judicial politics without unduly threatening judicial independence. On the other hand, federal judges are appointed for life and can be removed only by impeachment. So there’s a tradeoff between democratic accountability and judicial independence. Are there reasons to think one model is better?
  2. The Legislature: Unlike members of Congress, Missouri legislators are bound by term limits. Voters favors term limits because they prevent politicians from making a career out of holding office. But are term limits a good idea? Maybe not, according to political scientists. But they remain popular, and there have been many attempts to impose them on Congress. This history teaches us about the limits of democratic governance.
  3. The Executive: Nationally, we elect only two officials: President and Vice President. But in Missouri we elect many more statewide officials. These officials include the secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and attorney general. Why does Missouri's constitution create these offices explicitly, while the federal constitution left the creation of similar offices to Congress? And does that mean that the President sits at the head of a “unitary executive” with almost limitless power to direct and control the administrative state?
  4. Medicaid Expansion: In 2020, Missouri voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution expanding Medicaid to a new group of Missourians. Yet as the deadline for expansion came and went, the government declined to proceed with expansion. That decision thrust the courts into a conflict between Missouri’s elected representatives and the voters who elected them. On an emergency schedule in the summer of 2021, Missouri judges had to decide whether Missouri’s constitution allowed Medicaid expansion. By following the litigation over Medicaid expansion in Missouri, we can see the many ways in which our state’s constitution differs from the U.S. constitution.

Devin Burns – Psychological Science
(Missouri S&T)
  1. How to think better: What to know about cognitive biases: In my Rationality course we talk about the various predictable mistakes that people make in their everyday lives in terms of evaluating evidence, forming opinions, and making decisions. I enjoy sharing these examples with people and providing advice for how to reduce these mistakes and biases to live a better life!
  2. Zoomed Out: What changes when we interact virtually: We all know now that a zoom meeting is not the same as being there, but why not? My colleagues and I have conducted research measuring the impact of observing a job interview through zoom instead of being there in person, and found dramatic effects. Participants who watch through zoom rate the applicant much lower across all metrics, even including their ability to feel human emotions. I enjoy talking about why this might be, and what we can try to do to avoid negative impacts.
  3. Augmented perception: The new sensory frontier: I have conducted multidisciplinary research with a colleague from mechanical engineering demonstrating new possibilities of providing additional sensory information to participants, such as a vibratory belt that provides extra cues to guide balance and avoid falls. I can describe this burgeoning field of research where the types of "new senses" we can give people depends only on our creativity.

Anand Chandrasekhar – Biological Sciences
  1. Of Flies, Fish and Men:  Understanding human biology using model organisms
    I will discuss the contributions made by research in organisms such as yeast cells, worms, flies, fish and mice in generating fundamental insight into understanding and treating human diseases.
  2. Stem Cells:  Implications for personalized medicine and model organism research
    I will discuss the discovery of stem cells, the ethical issues associated with stem cells, and their ongoing impact on personalized/precision medicine and research using model organisms. 
  3. Wiring the Brain:  Discovering the mechanisms and their relevance to human biology
    I will discuss the challenges involved in building the brain, and the process of discovering the rules for building it.  I will highlight recent advances in deciphering the wiring of the human brain and its implications for health and disease. 

Rabia Gregory – Religious Studies
  1. Marrying Jesus in the Middle Ages 
    This presentation explains how Christians in medieval Europe learned to marry Jesus and why this practice has remained meaningful in the modern world. 
  2. How Paper changed European Christianity 
    Paper was invented in what is now China approximately 1000 years before it arrived in Europe in the last decades of the thirteenth century. Affordable, disposable, flexible, it was used to make sculptures, books, written on, swallowed, stamped, burned, and even tucked into boxes as packing material. It replaced treated animal skins and reusable wax tablets and slates as a writing medium, radically changing how Christians communicated. This presentation introduces the history and technology of paper-making and explores the relationships between Europe, Asia and the Americas between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. 
  3. The Artist’s Constellation
    This presentation narrates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation using the art and writing of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). During his life, European Christians responding to encounters with the cultures of distant continents and existential threats from disease, revolution, and invasion. Dürer lived through the expulsion of Jews from Nuremberg, a Muslim Ottoman army encroaching on central Europe, the first outbreak of syphilis in Europe, the discovery of the Americas, and the Protestant reformation, which he extensively documented in his letters, diaries, and art.  
  4. Religions in Missouri
    At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the South and Midwest, the Ozarks and the prairies, America’s religions flow together and are remade in Missouri.  From the French Missions in St Louis to the Trail of Tears, the Mormon Wars, to the present day, Missouri has been central to the history of religion in America. This presentation surveys key moments in the history of Missouri’s religions and invites the audience to share their own stories and observations. 

Amanda Grimes – Health Sciences
  1. The bicycle is a lifeline for KC men experiencing homelessness
  2. The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity in youth and older adults
  3. Misconceptions about biking and driving: Drivers understanding of Missouri bicycle laws

Yotam Haber – Music Composition
  1. Community music-making: amateur and professional community projects
  2. Underrepresented voices in music
  3. Who's afraid of the avant-garde: Bringing contemporary music to new audiences.

Brett Johnson – Journalism
  1. The First Amendment and public schools - I have often spoken with high school students about how the First Amendment applies to them. I would love to continue to do so through this program.
  2. The First Amendment and minority communities - A lot of discussion of the First Amendment revolves around extreme speech, namely as used by white supremacists and the like. I would love to speak with minority communities about how minority groups have historically wielded the First Amendment to fight for justice and equality.
  3. The First Amendment and extremism - The U.S. is an outlier in how it protects vile, hateful, extremist speech. Why is that? Does the current rise in domestic extremism require that we rethink First Amendment jurisprudence? I'd love to talk to various audiences about this topic.

Beth Kania-Gosche – Teacher Education and Certification
(Missouri S&T)
  1. The Realities of Missouri Rural Education
  2. Become a Teacher, Change the World 
  3. How do I measure that?  Creating performance evaluations

Anita Manion– Political Science
  1. Understanding state and national politics: A civil discussion 
  2. Absentee, mail-in, and approval voting—how does it work in Missouri? Voter fraud: Myths and reality 
  3. Free college: Who supports and opposes tuition-free college and student debt forgiveness 
  4. How Perception of Taxes Impacts Support for Tuition-Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness 
  5. 4-day weeks in K-12 schools—who participates and what are the impacts 
  6. Merit vs need-based aid: who benefits and what are the impacts 

Steve Moehrle– Accounting
  1. What is a profession?  What is a professional?  How does one prepare for a profession?  
  2. Introduction to the CPA Profession 
  3. Financial literacy:  Managing your financial life to achieve your aspirations 
  4. The basics of personal finance: Building and protecting your personal wealth 
  5. Building your investment portfolio:  Investing in stocks, bonds, individual retirement accounts, and other investment alternatives 
  6. Basics of business valuation: How are small and large businesses values determined?

Daniel Oerther – Environmental Health Engineering
(Missouri S&T)
  1. Promoting local food and nutrition security in Missouri!
    Everyone's gotta eat. No doubt. But what do we eat, and why? Where does our food come from? How do the decisions we make at our plate - three times a day - influence our health, our economy, and the world? Leveraging the Missouri Hunger Atlas and sharing what we've done in my classroom, I'll empower my audience to make healthful decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities.
  2. Mental health is health. Period.
    Our world is stressful. Sometimes we don't recognize how that stress impacts our lives. Often, simple habits can promote mental health. I'll empower my audience to consider "life hacks" that promote mental health, including: good sleep hygiene; opting for a healthful diet based on the science of the gut-brain connection; and adopting simple habits for building strong relationships such as asking others, "how does that make you feel?"
  3. Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WaSH): Local to global.
    Each day, every day, thousands of children die needlessly due to a lack of clean water, a toilet, and basic sanitation such as hand washing. Through stories of my work overseas, I'll raise awareness about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and my collaborative research to change the world, for the better. I've helped bring WaSH technology to improve the lives of nearly a million people in a half-dozen countries. The audience will learn how to connect the global UN goals to our daily lives in Missouri, today and historically. 

Erin Robinson – Social Work
  1. Older adult and family caregiver mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic:
    Older adults have disproportionately been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This disparity has led many older adults to isolate during the pandemic, with reduced contact with family, friends, and neighbors. Recent research I have conducted highlights mental health, social supports, and resiliency of older adults and family caregivers during the pandemic.
  2. Older adult sexual health and HIV prevention:
    In the U.S., older adults account for 50% of people living with HIV/AIDS, and almost 20% of new infections. My research suggests that healthcare providers can increase older adult knowledge of HIV, their perceived susceptibility, and their likelihood of talking with their sexual partners about HIV prevention. Communication of risk factors with their aging patients can dramatically reduce HIV transmission among this population.
  3. Older adult technology use to promote longevity and aging-in-place
    Embedded in-home sensor technology can enable community-dwelling older adults to live longer, healthy lives. In ongoing and interdisciplinary research, we developed a health alert system that captures and analyzes in-home sensor data, and flags possible health changes, including in-home falls. Health information generated from this technology is used by a clinical team to manage older adult health.

Kimberly Welch – English
  1. What’s with all the Drama? Theater as Healing Practice
    What is drama therapy? How can artists use theater to help women in recovery? In 2012, Theatre Lab collaborated with playwright Jennifer Nelson to write a play based on the stories of women residing at N Street Village, a community that provides housing and services to homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. The creation of the play as well as the resulting performance at the Kennedy Center are the focus of the documentary How I Got Over (2014). I discuss the utility and potential drawbacks of the structure of the documentary, which paints a story of healing and recovery as the audience learns the women’s backstories, witnesses community affirmations and emotional post-production family reunions, and learns about the women’s lives since the Kennedy Center performance.
  2. Caught in the Act: An Ode to Prison Theater
    “Caught in the Act” looks at two productions by the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women — “My Life in the Concrete Jungle” and “Slouching Towards Armageddon”. Each Medea Project performance is structured around a particular myth in order to foster a sense of community for the incarcerated participants in San Francisco Jail #8, bringing women together as they share personal experiences that resonate with the themes present in the myth. Working with women incarcerated in the Bay area, theater-maker Rhodessa Jones and social worker Sean Reynolds use theater to help women process their journey into prison, imagine alternatives to their current situation, and illuminate these women’s experiences to a broader audience.
  3. Black Theatrical Protest: #BlackLivesMatter
    What does it mean to be hypervisible? How does hypervisibility affect the life chances of black people? How does modern theater attend to these questions? I discuss the uptake of #BlackLivesMatter in contemporary theater and interrogate the impact the historically white institution can have on social change.
  4. Who’s Invited to the Cookout?: Representations of Black Women in Theater & New Media
    Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue is a racially double-casted comedy that centers on an intervention hosted by the O’Mallery family at a barbecue to help their drug-addicted sister Barbara. The play opens with an all-white cast who are replaced by an all black cast in the next scene — each ostensibly racially homogenous cast picks up where the other leaves off. Through this continuity, Barbecue questions the ties between race and performance both on and off stage. I discuss how black-created theater and new media content show the correlation of problematic representations of black women across theatrical, virtual, and physical space and how these monolithic representations cite a historic and contemporary racial hierarchy in which black women’s bodies are put on the line to protect white femininity.
  5. Picturing Katrina: The American Refugee
    What does it mean to be framed as a refugee in one’s country of citizenship? While Hurricane Katrina survivors are not de jure refugees, this article takes up the term to interrogate what it means to seek refuge in one’s country of origin. Using the film Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), which serves as an allegory of Hurricane Katrina, I explore the violent technologies of power tied to U.S. colonial and imperialist military practices that worked to manage and discipline Katrina survivors and refugee communities.

Nan West – English
(Missouri S&T)
  1. "What Is Hollywood, Anyway?"
    This talk will chart the evolution of Hollywood by focusing on three pivotal years, each marked by a major transition: 1921 (the explosion of stardom), 1971 (the rise of “The New Hollywood”), and 2021 (COVID’s shutdown of theaters). 
  2. "The Hollywood Star."
    his talk will provide a wide-ranging look at the Hollywood star, from the emergence of the first star, Florence Lawrence, in 1915 up to the present. Among the central questions we will explore are the following: What does the Hollywood star mean to us? How has stardom changed? And is it true that the Hollywood star is “dead?” 
  3. "Hollywood in Crisis."
    This talk will take a long, historical look at the current crisis in Hollywood, exploring the gradual decline in movie attendance, the advent of streaming, and the onslaught of COVID among other topics. 
  4. "1971: Hollywood’s Year of Living Dangerously."  
    1971 produced some of the most challenging and artistic films ever produced by Hollywood, including The French Connection, The Last Picture Show, Klute, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Dirty Harry. What conditions in Hollywood and America enabled this explosion of risk and experimentation? How do we make sense of 1971 in terms of larger movements and trends? These are just some of the big questions we’ll explore in this talk. 
  5. "Masterpiece: A 50-Year Retrospective."
    On January 10, 1971, Masterpiece Theatre debuted on television, offering viewers a showcase of British drama. 50 years later, it still survives. What is it about the show—and about us, as Americans?—that has allowed Masterpiece to survive for as long as it has? This talk will answer these and many other questions about one of America’s most beloved TV series. 

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Reviewed 2022-04-11