Speakers Bureau brings the University to Iowa

The University of Iowa is home to experts on just about every subject under the sun. Faculty and staff can offer guidance on diet and nutrition, explore the changing demographics of our home state, share team-building strategies, and delve into issues surrounding rural health care. And that’s just for starters.

These are specialties that faculty, administrators, and staff have a passion for, and that folks across the state want to learn more about. So the University’s Speakers Bureau helps forge a connection between the two, acting as a liaison between nonprofit community groups and the educators and experts they’re looking for.

“The services offered through the Speakers Bureau are a way for us to give back to the community,” says Speakers Bureau coordinator Mary Kenyon. “For us to show the state: ‘We’re a partner with you, and we want to share what we know.’”

The Speakers Bureau has a roster of 140 speakers from across the University. About two-thirds are faculty members; one-third are staff. Top administrators are on the list—President Sally Mason often presents to Rotary clubs while traveling in Iowa—and Kenyon recently started working with the Division of Student Services to invite student leaders to share their Iowa experience with their hometown service clubs over winter break.

Diane Finnerty, who serves as director of faculty human resources and development and holds an adjunct faculty position in the School of Social Work, joined the Speakers Bureau many years ago as a way to make connections with people across the state and share a topic dear to her heart. Her most frequently requested talk is titled “Diversity: The Changing Face of Iowa.”

“As an Iowan, I am committed to providing this service to the state and playing a small role in supporting communities as they struggle to become more diverse and inclusive. And as an employee at a public university, I think it’s essential to our mission to participate in the creation of a more just society beyond our walls,” she says. “Besides, I love the topic and I really enjoy the conversations that I have with a wide variety of groups about diversity, immigration, and the future of the state.”

Because she delivers a talk that’s already been developed, the prep time for each individual speaking engagement is minimal. She often researches the history and demographics of the area where she’s delivering the talk, though, so that she can customize her presentation to each audience. And, in turn, each audience teaches her something new through sharing their own stories and perspectives. Often she is introduced to community resources she wouldn’t otherwise have known about, like a new consortium nonprofit organizations in Muscatine, which is about 35 miles southeast of Iowa City.

English professor Jonathon Wilcox says that speaking to community groups gives him an opportunity to act as an ambassador for the University, and for higher education.

Get involved

If you’re interested in joining the Speakers Bureau, contact Mary Kenyon at mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu

“I think it’s really useful to bring scholarly work to interested people within the state of Iowa, and break down some boundaries by making our work available to them,” says Wilcox, who speaks about a recent discovery of seventh-century English swords and shields, and ties that discovery into discussions of Old English culture and the epic poem, Beowulf.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase our work, and demonstrate that scholarship is interesting and valuable,” he adds.

Plus, such visits by University faculty and staff can help people across the state feel a more personal connection with Iowa, says Kenyon.

“If you think of The University of Iowa as just a big institution, it’s a totally different feeling than if you can think of a person you know at the University who you had a positive experience with, who you learned something from, who you felt inspired by,” she says.

The Speakers Bureau operates as part of the University’s outreach and service mission, and speakers participate on a volunteer basis and as time allows.

“We do about 50 or 60 events a year, so most people only receive one or two requests per year, and some can go a year or two between requests,” Kenyon says. “I’m the primary point of contact for groups seeking speakers. When I forward requests to our faculty and staff speakers, I always emphasize that participants accept invitations only as their schedules allow.”

Medical topics, diversity education, leadership and workplace issues, and discussion of current events are among the most frequently requested topics, Kenyon says, but she also regularly speaks with service clubs who are “universally curious, and almost every topic is appealing.”