UNL’s E.N. Thompson Forum continues to educate students, community
By Nedu Izuegbunam, NewsNetNebraska
The E.N. Thompson Forum will hold its last lecture of the 2012-13 season when Dr. Shirin Ebadi begins her presentation on human rights Tuesday evening at the Lied Center. The forum’s final speaker will receive the UNL’s Willa S. Cather medal before her lecture on “True Islam: Human Rights, Faith and Women” at 7 p.m.
But what is the E.N. Thompson forum?
Since 1988, speakers picked by the forum have provided informative lectures on various international issues to educate the public.
Each season the forum’s committee, which is a mix of UNL faculty and community members, agrees on a different theme that may be a hot topic during the year, according to Chairman Lloyd Ambrosius.
“We want something that is broad enough that will attract a large audience,” the UNL history professor began, “but at the same time focused enough that it gives a kind of cohesiveness to the particular year.”
In 2011-2012, the theme was Water and Global Security. This season’s focus is on Religion Rights and Politics.
Ebadi, who is a part of the Lewis E. Harris Lecture, will focus on perseverance and tolerance, while also sharing basic tools to make a difference.
In December, the forum was given a grant worth $14, 313 by the Cooper foundation and the Thompson Family Fund to continue its program for a 25th year.
Ambrosius, whose been chairman since 2008 and a part of the committee since E.N. “Jack” Thompson established the program 25 years ago, said he’s grateful for the annual grants given by the two funding sources.
“Without them we probably wouldn’t be able to continue to operate,” he said.
Educating students and the general public about critical global issues is why the history professor said he’s passionate about the forum.
“We in Nebraska, and people anywhere, are tied into the events that are happening around the world whether we understand them or not,” Ambrosius said. “The better we can understand them, I think the better off we’ll be.”
One of the best parts Ambrosius said is that tickets are free, which is one reason he feels students should take advantage of attending the lectures.
“Where else would you have the chance to hear Archbishop (Desmond) Tutu?” Ambrosius asked. “Or where else would you have the chance to hear Mikhail Gorbachev? It isn’t that easy for students to have access to really preeminent people who are well known in their fields. This gives them that opportunity.”
The first lecture UNL junior Ally Phillips went to was on freshwater shortage by Sandra Postel in 2011 and said she found the lecture enlightening.
“It was very informative,” the news-editorial major said. “I feel like I learned a lot.”
Another student besides Phillips who’s taken advantage of this opportunity is UNL senior Ian Chapo.
The economics and political science major is on the forum’s committee as one of two student representatives and is a member of the E.N. Thompson International Scholars. The senior said he enjoys the learning community because he and other members get an exclusive 30 to 60 minute question and answer session with the speaker prior to his or hers presentation.
Chapo, who’s missed only three lectures since his freshman year, said one of his fondest memories of E.N. Thompson lectures came in 2010 when former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel and Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui came to speak at the Lied Center.
“Getting to hear those two together was just a really fascinating experience that you don’t get to have every day,” he said.
And the above people aren’t the only well-known speakers that have come to talk for the Thompson forum’s lectures. Other prominent guests have been Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel (1996), former head of CIA James Woolsey (2000), and U2 lead-singer Bono (2002).
So who is the committee thinking of bringing in next season?
Thompson Forum coordinator Katie Cervantes said the theme next year will be called “U.S. and Them” (ie. U.S. and the rest of the world) and will examine America’s role in the world today. Cervantes added that the committee has already begun discussions with potential speakers for 2013-14.
The committee’s focus for next fall and spring has left Chapo eager for the future lectures.
“As a political science major, a lot of what I do is look at how countries interact with each other,” he said. “I’ll get to hear perspectives from experts in the field who have been there and gotten into things that I want to do someday.”
Phillips said she’ll be the first to purchase a ticket if the forum brings in high profile speakers next year.
“Trying to bring in big name people is good,” the junior said. “Even though kids may just go because of their name, they’d still learn something.”