Why do we hold the Symposium every year?
The Symposium is our signature event, meaning it represents the finest aspects of a Westminster College education. As a liberal arts college, Westminster teaches us all to enjoy learning new things and seeing how interconnected academic disciplines can be within a single topic; for that reason, we take two days to learn together about a topic of global significance, like environmental sustainability, technology, sports, or the arts. We also believe in developing a global perspective, so the Symposium brings together national and international speakers. And we value leadership, so we bring in leaders from around the world to speak to us, while also inviting local leaders, and even faculty, staff, and students.
Who decides on the topics and speakers?
Several years ago, we ask our faculty, staff, and students to submit topics, and we received so many outstanding nominations, we have been working through them one by one. Also, each year we invite the entire campus community to recommend speakers, and we always get a long list of fascinating names. The Symposium Committee, which includes faculty, staff, and students, reviews all recommended speakers, researches them, watches videos of them, and discusses them together. We want to make sure there’s both something for everyone (many topics are explored in our break-out sessions) as well as some speakers that no one should miss (they are featured in our plenary sessions). We always welcome input from students, so students should always feel free to send in their opinions.
How does the Symposium “count” for class?
We expect attendance at all plenary sessions, and we take attendance there by checking ID’s. In essence, then, the plenary sessions take the place of a typical day of classes. Faculty will often assign students to attend break-out sessions, but even if they don’t, we encourage everyone to attend as many break-out sessions as possible, as well. The plenary sessions will be somewhat broader, helping us to understand the true significance of the topic; the break-out sessions are more personal and specific, giving individuals time to get to know the speakers, ask them about their expertise, and learn about key elements within the broader topic.
How can I get the most out of the Symposium?
First, check out the website and review the posted readings, as they will help you understand the big picture and become educated about the topic before the event; take time to read the bios of our main speakers, or even do a bit of reading about them or by them. Second, think about ways that the Symposium relates to your classes, and be sure to talk with your professors about ways to discuss the Symposium in class. Finally, we always schedule several fun events that build up to the Symposium and help students engage with the topic, such as movie nights, book clubs, performances, or even games. Be sure to take part in these events so that you will gain a full understanding of the topic before the Symposium arrives.