Topic List -- 2018 Great Conversation - University of Houston
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2018 Topics and Conversationalists

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Surfing and the American Imagination in Song, Story, and Film — Terry Hallmark

The first written words about surfing came from Captain James Cook in 1777: “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast by the sea.” Only a surfer knows the feeling, but writers who followed Cook, like Mark Twain, Jack London, and Tom Wolfe, musicians like the Beach Boys, and filmmakers like Bruce Brown and John Milius, did what they could to let everybody else in on the fun. As the Hawaiians say, let’s get together and “talk story.”

Terry Hallmark is a faculty member in the Honors College at the University of Houston, where he teaches the Human Situation sequence, along with courses in political philosophy, American political thought, American foreign policy, and energy studies. Prior to his appointment in the Honors College, Hallmark worked for 30 years in the international oil and gas industry as a political risk analyst. He is the Director of the Energy and Sustainability minor.

A surfer since age 12, he has surfed all three coasts here in the U.S., plus mainland Mexico, the Baja Peninsula, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Brazil, and France.



Cruising the River Spey: Speyside Scotland and Its Single Malts — Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis is Founding Dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts at the University of Houston. A music theorist by training, he has published and lectured widely on opera and instrumental music of the Romantic and late-Romantic periods. He is the author of Il Trittico, Turandot, and Puccini’s Late Style, published by Indiana University Press in 2010, and Sonata Fragments: Romantic Narrative in Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms, published by Indiana University Press in 2017. His work as Dean has focused on integrating opportunities for interdisciplinary training into the curriculum and on establishing the arts as a leading force for social engagement and community impact. He is a strong advocate for the value of an arts and a liberal-arts education; the benefits of international study-abroad opportunities for students; and the opportunity for the arts to actively engage and transform universities and their cities.

Davis served previously as Director of the Moores School of Music and as Associate Dean of the Honors College. He was co-chair of the university-wide committee that led the successful effort to bring a chapter of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa to the University of Houston. He was the recipient of the 2010 University of Houston Teaching Excellence Award. He is founder and chair of the Texas Council of Arts Deans, Vice President for Fundraising of the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Houston, and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Arts Alliance, Music Doing Good of Houston, Workshop Houston, and the Texas Society for Music Theory.

Davis holds the Ph.D. in music theory from Indiana University. He was appointed to the University of Houston faculty in 2003, and he holds the Margaret M. Alkek and Margaret Alkek Williams Endowed Chair.



Oprah 2020: The New Trend in Presidential Politics — Christine LeVeaux-Haley

Christine LeVeaux-Haley is a political science professor in the Honors College at the University of Houston. She received her B.A. from Spelman College in Atlanta and her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Her teaching and research interests include legislative politics, black politics, and political behavior. LeVeaux-Haley has fused these research areas together, focusing much of her attention on minority representation in Congress and black electoral politics. She is also a political commentator for local and national news outlets, including CNN. Her work appears in the Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Research Quarterly, and an edited volume titled Eye of the Storm: The South in an Era of Change.



News? Does the Truth Matter Anymore? — Steve Smith

Steve Smith is a former Houston news anchor who began his career at KPRC-TV, Channel Two, during the '60s, at the height of the evening news heyday, and he spent the next several decades on the Houston news scene. During his 30 years at KPRC-TV and KHOU-TV, Smith anchored two, sometimes three daily newscasts. He also covered most of the important local and national news events of the era. Smith reported on several hurricanes, including the devastating Hurricane Alicia in 1983, as well as the moon landings and the Challenger explosion. He was the only Houston anchorman to report live from Berlin when the infamous wall was breached in 1989. Coverage of news events have taken Smith to widespread points of the globe, including the North Sea, the British Isles, Japan, Singapore, Cairo, Israel, Kuwait, Paris, and Vienna. For 10 years, Smith also wrote and hosted a Sunday morning public affairs program, Steve Smith’s Sunday. He retired from nightly television in 1999 and formed a media consultancy, Anchor Communications. He remains active in the community, contributing his time and talents to numerous charitable and arts groups in the Houston-Galveston area, including the Honors College.



Sixty Years of Honors Education at University of Houston — Ted Estess and Bill Monroe

For thirty-one years, Ted Estess was the leader of Honors education at the University of Houston, first as director of the Honors Program, and then, in 1993, as founding dean of the Honors College. He is a proud recipient of the University of Houston Teaching Excellence Award. Though he left the deanship in August of 2008, Estess remains a member of the Honors College faculty and a professor in the Department of English at the University of Houston. In Honors, he also holds the Jane Morin Cizik Chair. He has published a book on Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel and a number of articles on various writers and topics. Most recently, he has been writing and publishing non-fiction life stories—his collections The Cream Pitcher: Mississippi Stories and Be Well: Reflections on Graduating from College. Ted Estess’ teaching of Honors classes has concentrated in the humanities, especially in a yearlong, ten-hour, team-taught course required of all Honors students at the University of Houston entitled The Human Situation. He also has taught upper-level English Honors seminars dealing with contemporary American fiction. (Ph.D., Syracuse University)

William Monroe is professor of English and dean of the Honors College at the University of Houston.  His book Power to Hurt: The Virtues of Alienation was selected as an outstanding academic book of the year by Choice magazine and nominated for the Phi Beta Kappa/Christian Gauss Award. His other publications include the play Primary Care, which deals with personhood issues related to Alzheimer’s Disease, and articles on T.S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, and Willa Cather. He also publishes in the interdisciplinary field of literature and mMedicine and contributes to the scholarship of teaching, including a forthcoming essay on the “old school” methods of Wayne Booth, his mentor at Chicago.  He teaches honors courses in literature and medicine and contemporary American fiction, and in 2004 the University of Houston awarded him its Teaching Excellence Award. He directs The Common Ground Teachers Institute and founded the Medicine & Society Program at Houston. He is currently at work on The Vocation of Affliction: Flannery O’Connor and American Mastery.


Pete Rose

Pete Rose: Baseball, Rules, and Forgiveness — Dave Shattuck

Pete Rose was arguably one of the greatest hitters of all time, and yet has not been selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps the most polarizing and provocative question in sports is, “Does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame?” Other questions are related to that one: “When should we forgive someone? How long should it take? Should it matter whether they apologize?” We will discuss these and other questions.

Dave Shattuck (aka Dr. Dave), Ph.D., Duke Univ., was born at a very young age in upstate New York. Based on his research in medical ultrasonic imaging, and on his assists/game average, he was hired by the University of Houston in 1982. He has since earned 20 separate teaching awards, culminating in the UH Career Teaching Award in 2013. He is the reigning faculty slide-rule champion and the faculty 3-point shooting champion. In other achievements, he hit .097 in Little League, earning a trophy for “Conspicuous Ineptitude”. His goal is to win the lifetime teaching award, twice.



Corporate Ethics: How Plato and Aristotle Could Have Saved Wells Fargo and Volkswagen From Scandal — Fermeen Fazal

The greatest risk of fraud or misconduct in the workplace exists when rationalization, opportunity, and pressure exist together. To combat this risk, corporate ethics and compliance programs stress the importance of following policies and procedures and doing the right thing, but often fail to teach us how to make ethical choices. Where should we turn to get our ethics? Does an inner moral compass exist? Should religion or the law guide our choices? What would Aristotle, Plato, and Mills say to the leadership at Wells Fargo or Volkswagen about their decisions? Let's explore the intersection of philosophy and business decision-making in a great conversation about what it means to do the right thing, how to figure out what that is when the situation is not black and white, and why it matters.

Fermeen Fazal is Vice President, Chief Counsel, and Director of Ethics and Compliance at UniversalPegasus International, Inc., an engineering company offering services to oil and gas clients with a focus on midstream work. She holds a B.S. in Biology and English Literature from the University of Houston. During her undergraduate career, she was a member of the Honors College and was the president of Sigma Tau Delta. She then earned a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 2000, clerked on the Texas Supreme Court, and was a commercial litigator before moving in-house.



Introverts Rule! — Jamie Belinne

Increasingly organizations are realizing the important value that introverted employees bring to their organizations, but workplace cultures and policies are still evolving to take full advantage of their gifts. In addition, more introverted people are often required to “fake extroversion” in order to reach personal or career goals, yet most coaching around networking and negotiation is designed with extroverts in mind. Let’s discuss how organizations can better leverage the gifts of introverts and how introverts can excel in an extroverted society.

Jamie Belinne is the assistant dean for Career Services at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston's Rockwell Career Center. Prior to that she managed Recruiting and Staffing at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the president of the international MBA Career Services and Employers Alliance. She is the winner of the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2012 Professional Change Maker Award for her initiatives around experiential education in large classes and the winner of the 2013 NACE Innovation Excellence Award in Diversity Programming for her e-book, The Care and Feeding of Your Young Employee. She was a member of Team USA 2009 for the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships and Team USA 2011 for ITU Duathlon World Championships. She is an Ironman, an RRCA Certified Run Coach, and a mother of two. Belinne has also developed and taught a class called “Professional Network Building,” designed specifically to help more introverted students successfully build professional networks.



Where Were You When the Waters Rose? — Doug Erwing

Douglas A. Erwing began teaching in the Honors College in 2009. He graduated from the University of Houston's dual J.D./ Ph.D. program in 2007. Erwing recently returned from a year of teaching and traveling in China where he held a visiting scholar position and lectured at a number of Chinese universities about the U.S. political system, real estate law, and the U.S. Constitution. He teaches courses in U.S. history, political science, and constitutional law, is currently working on a book about how the federal system worked during the 1790s, and is practicing real estate law. (Ph.D., J.D., University of Houston)



Taking and Making: The Traveler’s Viewfinder — Jesse Rainbow

This table will investigate what we do—and what we think we are doing—when we take photographs as tourists. We will compare examples of 19th century and recent travel photographs, including photographs from recent Honors College overseas trips. Participants are invited to bring duplicate prints (no irreplaceable heirlooms) of up to four of their own travel photographs to pass around the table. Please bring at least one photograph that you think spectacularly captures a travel experience and be prepared to talk about why. If you have a photo that failed spectacularly, we'd like to see it, too!

Jesse Rainbow is an alumnus of the Honors College and has been a member of its faculty since 2012. A scholar of the ancient Near East, he teaches in the Human Situation and in the Honors College's Medicine & Society minor. He has led several student trips to Israel, Russia, Italy, Egypt, and Turkey and will lead a trip to Israel and Greece in May 2018.



Will Trump Turn Texas Blue? — Richard Murray

Most projections have Texas remaining a solid “red” state until the mid 2020s, but the Trump presidency may be shifting that timeline. Across the country, Republican candidates in special elections are running about 10% below the usual GOP vote share, losing seats in states like Oklahoma and Kentucky that Trump won by large margins. Additionally, the party lost what was considered a very safe U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in December 2017. Here in Texas, voting in the March 2018 Republican Primary was flat compared to 2014, but Democratic turnout is up sharply from four years ago. Add to that the fact that Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke has outraised incumbent senator Ted Cruz in recent FEC filings, suggesting that what was rated a safe Republican seat may be coming into play this year. Our table will discuss this dynamic environment in the Lone Star State, focusing on whether this is just a short term reaction to a controversial president, or portends a long term shift in the partisan political balance in Texas.

Richard Murray is a political science professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston. The Richard Murray Endowed Scholarship was established in 2008, honoring his service to the Houston community and his 40 years of teaching and research at UH. Murray’s research interests include political parties and elections, political interest groups, urban politics, and state and local electoral politics. He has worked on several redistricting projects for local governments, and has been an election analyst for KTRK-TV Houston 13. He is frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national publications.



Boss vs. Bossy: How Do We Learn to Lead? — Brenda Rhoden

From the playground to the boardroom, those around us model a variety of successful and unsuccessful leadership behaviors. What does your leadership style say about you and how do you practice positive leadership behaviors for others? This conversation will examine how we learn different leadership techniques from a young age and practice them at home, in the classroom, and in our communities with wildly different results.

Brenda Rhoden is the director of the Leadership Studies minor and assistant dean for student success in the Honors College. Dr. Rhoden oversees the student lifecycle in Honors, from recruitment and admissions to advising and leadership development to graduation. She works closely with a variety of academic and co-curricular cohorts, including but not limited to Terry Scholars, Houston Premedical Academy, Club Theater, Honors Ambassadors, Honors Leadership Council, and the Honors Biomedical Sciences program. In her twenty years with the University of Houston, Dr. Rhoden has established many initiatives to ensure student success, including the Faculty Advising Network and the Honors Mentorship Program. Dr. Rhoden is a proud graduate of the Honors College with B.A. in History and B.S. in Psychology; her research interests include leadership, student retention and persistence, mentoring, and engagement. (Ed.D., University of Houston)



Are Novels Relevant? — Robert Cremins

In turbulent times, how much can we lean on literature to provide us with answers to the world’s woes? Is it asking too much of novels that we should expect relevance from then, and not just consolation or simply escape? Conversationalist Robert Cremins has been thinking about the issue of relevance in relation to the novels of the most recent Nobel Laureate in Literature:

Robert Cremins is a novelist and essayist who has taught in the Human Situation sequence in the Honors College since 2010. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia. Cremins moved to Houston in 1993 and has since led Honors College study abroad trips back to his native Ireland. He wisely married a Texan and they have two sons. He has published two novels: A Sort of Homecoming and Send in the Devils. A Sort of Homecoming was translated into French and highlighted as an L.A. Times notable novel of the year. 



Gambling: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — KiJoon Back

This topic at this table is gambling: gambling truths and fallacies, problem gambling, responsible gambling. KiJoon Back will share some fun facts about casino games and discuss the dynamic development of the integrated resort industry. The table will explore and how gambling has affected society, both positively and negatively.

KiJoon Back holds a B.S./ M.S. in hotel administration from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Ph.D. in hotel, restaurant, and institution management from The Pennsylvania State University. He is a co-guest editor of Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing–Gambling Issue and Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes–Gambling Themes. He has industry experience in casinos in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Perth, and Seoul. Back is a three-time recipient of the International Council on Hotel and Restaurant and Institutional Education's Best Paper Awards, as well as a recipient of 13 other research and teaching awards.



Love and Health Care — Jennifer Walthall

This table will discuss the motivations that lend to effective social service programs and how they are connected to basic human emotions and needs. We will walk through the history of the Medicaid program and how its evolution has affected vulnerable populations over time. We will hone in on the “cliff effect” and how love as a program plan can overcome difficult policy decisions and drive improved health outcomes

Jennifer Walthall, MD MPH earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Houston Honors College, before going on to earn a medical degree from Indiana University. She completed her residency in emergency medicine and pediatrics, then stayed on at IU as a faculty member and picked up a masters degree in public health. She was division chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Riley Hospital for Children before serving as deputy health commissioner from 2014 until 2017. In 2017, she was appointed as the Family and Social Services Administration Secretary.  



The New University of Houston College of Medicine: What Difference Will It Make in Our Community? — Steve Spann

The University of Houston Board of Regents recently approved the establishment of the UH College of Medicine, which hopes to enroll its charter class in August 2020. Does Texas, and Houston, really need another medical school? If so, how should it differentiate from the other excellent medical schools in our area? How can this new medical school truly make a difference in the health and healthcare of our community? How will we know that it has made a difference?

Steve Spann holds an M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is a family physician who started out in rural Arkansas and North Carolina. After working in family medicine for years, he left rural practice to be a full time faculty member at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Since making the switch to teaching medicine, he has held several different positions at UTMB Galveston and Baylor College of Medicine. He has most recently worked in the United Arab Emirates as the chief medical officer at Tawam Hospital, which is managed by Johns Hopkins International. He has just been appointed as the founding dean of the University of Houston’s new College of Medicine.


Nick Anderson political cartoon

Political Humor in the Age of Trump — Bill Kelly and Nick Anderson

Bill Kelly is the current director of government relations at the Mayor’s Office for the City of Houston. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and government at the University of Houston in 2003. Since earning his degree, he has worked in the field of public policy and governmental relations.

Nick Anderson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist for the Washington Post Writers Group. He has most recently drawn cartoons for the Houston Chronicle, and is syndicated in more than 100 newspapers. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, News Week, The Washington Post, and USA Today. In addition to winning his Pulitzer Prize in 2007, Anderson has also earned a Sigma Delta Chi Award, the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award, and the John Fischetti Award from Colombia College Chicago.


Willie Nelson

Blue Eyes and Whiskey Rivers: The Music and Legend of Willie Nelson — Andrew Hamilton and Eric Bittner

No one—not even Bob Wills—casts a longer shadow on Texas music than Willie Nelson. This conversation will circle around his songs, of course, but perhaps also on the development and richness of the Texas music scene. Texas music has unique flavor, partly because of Nelson’s song writing, production, and influence on music venues. It’s likely that we will also talk about some of the other stars in the Nelson constellation: Michael Martin Murphy, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keene, Guy Clark, and Billy Joe Shaver. We’ll also put on headphones and listen briefly to some of Nelson's best work, including some that even fans might not know well.

Andrew Hamilton is Associate Dean for Student Success in the College of Natural Sciences at Mathematics at UH. He is also the Founding Director of the Bonner Leader Program in Honors. He has published widely on evolutionary theory and biological classification, as well as effective teaching. His most recent work in these areas can be found in The Evolution of Phylogenetic Systematics (University of California Press) and in Student Engagement: A Multidimensional Perspective (forthcoming from Wiley), as well as in a recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle. Hamilton has been playing guitar seriously since the mid-1980s, and has been a devotee of Texas music since seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn perform magic on his ‘In Step’ tour in the summer of 1989. For almost 30 years, Hamilton been enjoying new and old Texas song writers, musicians, and bands. Since 2015, Hamilton has played guitar well and sung badly in Post-Tenure Revue, an all-faculty blues rock band. This will be his fifth Great Conversation as a table host..

Eric R. Bittner, FRSC, is a theoretical chemist, physicist, and the John and Rebecca Moores Distinguished Professor of chemical physics at the University of Houston. Bittner obtained his B.S. in chemistry and in physics from Valparaiso University.  From 1988 to 1994 he worked with John C. Light at the University of Chicago and obtained his Ph.D. thesis in 1994 on Quantum Theories of Energy Exchange at the Gas-Surface Interface. He has worked at University of Texas and Stanford University. In 1997 he joined the University of Houston, and since 2009 Bittner has been the John and Rebecca Moores Distinguished Professor of chemical physics. He has worked at the University of Cambridge, the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and at Los Alamos National Lab. He is was a Guggenheim Fellow at Cambridge, a Fulbright Fellow,  and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. His main research interests lie with the dynamics of molecules in their excited electronic states, quantum symmetry breaking, quantum entanglement, and condensed matter physics.  His musical interest were sparked by classical music.  He bought his first electric guitar the day John Lennon died and hasn’t looked back since.  Major influences include Chicago blues (Buddy Guy & Muddy Waters) and the Rolling Stones—who he met once by chance at the Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago’s South Side.



They Were Right: You Are What You Eat — Henk Rossouw

Inside strip-mall eateries, store-front taquerias, food trucks, family-owned bakeries—and at home—Houstonians prepare some of the most exciting and varied cuisine in the United States. As part of The Great Conversation 2018, I will discuss the creativity and problem-solving behind Houston’s immigrant-enriched foodways, whether Hugo Ortega’s focus on edible insects, John T. Edge’s musings in “Mutt City” on Houston’s openness to cuisine fusion, or the grit of the bakers at El Bolillo who, trapped by Tropical Storm Harvey, baked non-stop to help feed flood survivors. Any discussion of food brings memory and identity to the table, such as Javier O. Huerta’s reflections on shopping at Fiesta or Mai Pham’s search for the perfect bun cha Hanoi, and so the conversation can extend to how food has shaped both your sense of self and community.

Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Henk Rossouw's book-length poem Xamissa won the Poets Out Loud Editor's Prize and will be published in fall 2018 by Fordham University Press. Best American Experimental Writing 2018 (Wesleyan University Press) features an excerpt. His chapbook Xamissa: The Water Archives is part of the boxset New-Generation African Poets: Tano (Akashic Books/African Poetry Book Fund), along with the work of ten other writers connected to the continent. His poems have come out in The Paris ReviewThe Massachusetts Review, and Boston Review. He holds an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. He is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly. Currently, Rossouw is a visiting assistant professor in the University of Houston's Honors College, where he’s teaching a course on Houston food and everyday creativity.



Tillerson and Trump on the World Stage — Joseph Pratt

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, and President Trump are an odd couple, with very little in common in terms of training, experience, values, and management style. We will explore these differences and discuss their working relationship as they have fashioned U.S. diplomacy in the first year of Trump presidency. Special attention will be paid to Russia, North Korea, NATO, and the Middle East.  

University of Houston Professor Emeritus Joseph Pratt is a leading historian of the petroleum industry. He received his undergraduate degree from Rice University and his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He taught at UC-Berkeley, Harvard Business School, and Texas A&M. Professor Pratt teaches courses in energy history and regulation, international business, and public history and is currently the director of an interdisciplinary minor in Energy & Sustainability. He is the author or co-author of twelve books and numerous articles. His research is primarily in energy history and the history of the Houston region. Pratt’s most recent publications include a history of ExxonMobil from 1973-2005 and an edited volume of essays on energy capitals around the world. Pratt has been a consultant for the PBS mini-series on the oil industry, "The Prize," and for the American Experience documentary on the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. He is the editor of the Oil and Business History Series for Texas A&M University Press; the director of the Houston History Project; and the editor of Houston History, a magazine of popular history.


Artificial Intelligence

The Social Impact of Artificial Intelligence — Thomas Markovich

Growing up in Houston, Thomas Markovich was steeped in the ethos of NASA and manned space flight. He learned to love making the seemingly impossible work in the real world. At Forge.AI, he has been able to leverage these desires as well as his skills in high performance and distributed computing to construct intelligent machines to read and understand the near infinite amount of unstructured text available on the web. During his career, he has pursued a variety of different research projects in math, physics, and chemistry to hone his ability to clearly solve previously unsolved questions. Currently, he is a principal engineer focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning research and development. Markovich holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard University. While at the University of Houston he was a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and a member of the Honors College.


coffee beans

From the Bean to the Bar and the Brew: How Today's Socially Conscious Chocolate and Coffee Companies Help You Indulge Your Cravings and Protect the Planet at the Same Time — Wendy Paris

Wendy Paris is a writer and editor living in Santa Monica, CA. She has worked in the field of journalism, writing, and editing for the last two decades. Her most recent book, Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well, takes a look at how laws made in the last 40 years have greatly improved divorce. Her book has been written about or excerpted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, Real Simple, Marie Claire, and the Houston Chronicle, among others. Paris runs the nation’s first “divorce wellness” website and blog.



The Law of Rock and Roll — Michael A. Olivas

Every Saturday evening at 7:00, the NPR station KUHF broadcasts University of Houston Law Center Michael A. Olivas’ show, The Law of Rock and Roll™, where he discusses the legal aspects of entertainment law, cases involving the record companies, and the business of rock and roll. For Great Conversation, he will consider recent songs that have been legally deemed to have entered the public domain, such as “Happy Birthday” and “We Shall Overcome.”

Michael A. Olivas is the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at UH. He holds a B.A. (Magna Cum Laude) from the Pontifical College Josephinum, an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Ohio State University, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author or co-author of fifteen books, and his most recent book, Suing Alma Mater, on the subject of higher education and the U.S. Supreme Court, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press. In 2011, he served as president of the Association of American Law Schools. He has been elected to membership in the American Law Institute and the National Academy of Education, the only person to have been selected to both honor academies.



Feminism & Power in Life & on Stage — Dan Price and Tanya Fazal

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements promise to transform the gender dynamics in business and education, but can they succeed without a fundamental shift in how feminist power is represented? Actress, director, and Honors alumna Tanya Fazal joins her old Human Sit professor to look at recent performances of classic plays and look for clues to how the new movement may (or may not) escape the classic staged responses of aggrieved women, forced into either anger or despair.

Dan Price is a faculty member in the Honors College at the University of Houston. He is the author of Touching Difficulty: Sacred Form from Plato to Derrida, as well as many others. His Ph.D. is in 19th and 20th century continental philosophy, and he directs a number of interdisciplinary projects on community health and data. Continuing projects involve air quality and asthma, and a new initiative for creating a network of community health workers who can sustain a data-driven culture of health in communities.

Tanya Fazal is co-presenting with Dan Price, her former teacher. Fazal is a proud alumna of the University of Houston Honors College and a life-long fan of the Human Situation course. She holds an M.B.A. from NYU Stern and currently works in New York as a marketing director at American Express (no, she can't get you a black card). Fazal’s true passion lies in the theater. She recently played her dream role of Medea in Euripides' Medea in New York. It was a true honor to be asked to bring the show to the Honors College, where she performed Medea again in November 2017. Other favorite roles include Maryamma in Miss Witherspoon, Thetis in Andromache, Trisha in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Lady Macduff in Macbethand Jeanette in Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Fazal has trained at Stella Adler and HB Studios, and her television credits include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.



Foreign Policy in the Age of Twitter — Joel Westra

Foreign policymakers must balance both domestic and international politics. The former requires that they be responsive to a range of demands from their domestic constituents, while the latter requires that they be prepared for a range of actions by foreign countries. Policymakers generally have tried to separate political speeches intended for domestic audiences from diplomatic communications intended for foreign leaders. But what happens when social media platforms facilitate and encourage brief and hasty communication directed to both audiences simultaneously? Come join us as we discuss foreign policy in the age of Twitter.

Joel H. Westra is Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His teaching and research interests include international organizations and law, international security, international relations theory, and US foreign policy. His research focuses on multilateral and regional security institutions as instruments of international order, specifically on questions pertaining to institutional design and to mechanisms of legitimation and restraint on the use of armed force within the international system. Previously, Dr. Westra was Visiting Lecturer in the Committee on International Relations at The University of Chicago and Fellow in the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University. He received his B.A. in political science from the University of Houston and his M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Chicago.



The Business of Beer — Aaron Corsi

Aaron Corsi is a faculty member in the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. His expertise and research interests include brewing science, viticulture, enology, and distillation science. Corsi is co-founder and master brewer of 8th Wonder Brewery. He has restaurant experience in both the United States and Europe, including positions as a general manager for Food Maker, Inc. and managing partner of Café Metro in Copenhagen, Denmark. Aaron is a member of the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the American Chemical Society, and he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular and environmental plant science at Texas A&M University.



Handling Your Business: What Honor Cultures Can Teach Us About Conflict — Tamler Sommers

We tend to see conflicts as something to avoid. When we can’t avoid them, we marshal our conflicts to specialists, lawyers and judges, who have no personal connection to the case or the people involved. Our aversion to conflict, according to sociologists, reflect the depersonalization of social life in the industrialized West. Everyone lives in their own comfortable, corner, their bubble or echo chamber. Conflicts provide opportunities for social engagement and active group participation. When conflicts are contained and handled directly, they can foster social cohesion, and add vitality to relationships we might otherwise avoid.

Honor cultures believe it’s shameful to appeal to impartial third parties to resolve their disputes. And since unresolved disputes can lead to violence, honor cultures have a variety of rituals and ceremonies that allow people to hash out their differences face to face. We can learn from their practices, and develop a healthier approach to conflict in the modern life.

Tamler Sommers is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Houston with a joint appointment in the Honors College. He is the co-director of Phronesis, a program that comprises the study of politics and ethics. He holds a B.A. in English from University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Duke University. In addition to writing reviews for Times Literary Supplement and The Believer, he has a podcast with David Pizarro called the Very Bad Wizards, and is the author of the book Why Honor Matters.


Larry McMurtry

LARRY MCMURTRY: A Minor Regional Novelist or a Texas Paragon? — Stuart Long

The life and times of Larry McMurtry will be discussed, including his formative years in Archer City, his brief teaching stint at Rice University, his major novels that were set in Texas, and his extensive book collection. While once referred to as only a “minor regional novelist,” one can argue that the author of Lonesome Dove has done more to shape the country’s understanding of Texas than anyone before or since. The conversation leader was fortunate to have had Mr. McMurtry as his freshman English teacher, and learned much about novels from that experience, as well as having visited “Booked Up,” his bookstore in Archer City.

Stuart Long is the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Research and the Honors College and is the academic advisor for all Honors students majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Additionally, Dr. Long regularly teaches the Honors section of the undergraduate introductory course in applied electromagnetic waves. He has been a research mentor to over 90 undergraduate students during his 44 year career at the University of Houston. He holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Harvard University, and his research involves antenna design, wireless communications, and applied electromagnetics.


1960s demonstration

The 1960s: The Years That Changed America? — Lawrence Curry

Lawrence Curry, professor emeritus at the University of Houston, received his B.S. and M.A. degrees in history from the University of South Carolina in 1957 and 1959. He joined the University of Houston Department of History in 1968 and received a Ph.D. in history from Duke University in 1971. He officially retired in 2001 but continues to teach at least one course in American history each semester. He received awards for teaching excellence in 1978, 1997, and 2000, the Honors College Distinguished Service Award in 1996, the Houston Alumni Organization's Outstanding Faculty Award in 1999, the Magner Award for Excellence in Academic Advising in 2000, and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Distinguished Service Award in 2001. This is his twenty-first year to lead a Great Conversation table.



Wine — Nathan Jarvis

Wine brings people together, distinguishes cultures, and highlights civilizations. It expresses the land, the production practices, and the grape itself. Less than 50 years ago the 1976 Judgment of France put American wines on the map. Enjoy an evening discussing the amazing development of the American wine industry, its long-term sustainability, and the magic that happens when the right varietal is matched with its ideal climate. We will specifically discuss the example of the quest for the perfect grape to grow in Texas. Is it possible to produce great Texas wine? What if non-traditional varietals are the ideal for Texas? 

Nathan Jarvis is a Clinical Assistant Professor for the San Antonio location of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He originally received his B.S. from the Hilton College and was a member of the Honors College. His doctoral work at the University of Arkansas studied the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, and he has authored more than 10 peer-reviewed journal articles and two book chapters. Nathan brings more than 15 years of food and beverage industry experience to the classroom. He played an integral role in the Houston farmers’ market scene for several years and has owned a catering company and a gluten-free bakery. As a former chef, he approaches wine the same way he approaches food: discover the great diversity of flavor, appreciate its potential, and use the utmost care to present it to the guest.



"The Russians Are Coming!" — David Rainbow

Salacious dossiers. Hacked computers. Special investigations. Not since the end of the Cold War has Russia been so important to American politics at home. Come discuss the significance of Russia in American affairs over the past couple of years, what Putin is up to both here and in Russia, and what it might mean for where our two countries are headed.

David Rainbow is a professor at the Honors College, where he teaches Russian history and “The Human Situation.” Before coming to Houston in 2015, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, and a writer-in-residence at New York University's Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. He holds a Ph.D. in modern European history from New York University (2013). Before becoming a historian, Dr. Rainbow worked aboard a ship on the Pacific and on a cattle ranch in Western North Dakota. He has also lived in Russia and Siberia several times.



The American Dream, Then and Now — Gerald W. McElvy

Gerald W. McElvy was appointed to the University of Houston System Board of Regents in 2015 by Governor Greg Abbott and will serve through August 31, 2021. For fiscal year 2016-2017, he will serve as a member on the Academic and Student Success, the Endowment Management and the Finance and Administration Committees.

McElvy worked for Exxon Mobil Corporation for 33 years, and his final six years with the company, he served as president of its global philanthropic arm, the Exxon Mobil Foundation. Currently, he supports several initiatives dedicated to the improving education opportunities for disadvantaged students. He also serves on the North Texas Advisory Board for Reasoning Mind, a leading not for profit organization dedicated to improving early grade math education.

McElvy is a UH alumnus and holds a bachelor's degree in economics and accounting; and holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of California, Los Angeles.  He is an ardent supporter of the University and higher education.  He previously served on the board for UH's Houston Alumni Association and was a supporter of the University's "Drive to Tier One" initiative. 

He also serves on the boards for numerous organizations dedicated to education and community service.



I Fought the Law, and the Law Won — Augustina H. Reyes

This table will discuss school disciplinary issues, including zero tolerance policies, the predominant model, which has failed. There are four factors that increase a child’s odds of entering the school-to-prison pipeline: being Hispanic, Black, academically at-risk, or poor. Other factors include teacher biases, absence of teachers of color, fewer resources in high-poverty schools, and lack of administrator support. There is much work to be done, and this table will discuss strategies to prevent these issues from taking hold.

Augustina H. Reyes is a professor in the University of Houston's College of Education. Her research focuses on teaching and school discipline. She has published and presented widely in her field, as well as serving the community. She served on the Human Services Recovery Committee of the National Commission for Children from 2009-2010.  Her research focuses on urban educational leadership in environments with diverse populations, including urban school finance; urban school leadership preparation; urban school behavioral policies, language issues, and race issues; examining the roles and responsibilities of principals in high-poverty and one-race schools; turnaround schools; disaster and public school policy; and Latino immigrant children and public policy.


Open Access

Open Access: Research as a Common Good — Lisa A. German

Lisa A. German is dean of Libraries and Elizabeth D. Rockwell chair at the University of Houston Libraries. Before joining UH, German served as associate dean for Collections, Information, and Access Services at Penn State University, and has also held leadership positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Wright State University. She joined the University of Houston in 2015. German has widely published and presented in the areas of library collections, management, planning, policy development, implementation and assessment. She has served on several editorial and advisory boards and has been a sought-after consultant to academic research libraries on an international scale. She holds a Master of Science in library and information science and a Bachelor of Arts in history, both from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.



Big Data, Better Education? — Catherine Horn

Interested in how growing information and shrinking resources interact to affect education for all kids? We’ll talk about the ways in which data are being used to support—and in some cases offset—learning in resource-constrained times. In particular we will think about issues of privacy, improvements (for students, teachers, and schools), accountability, and how we can keep students and their learning at the center of everything we do in schools.

Dr. Catherine Horn is Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Houston. Dr. Horn, who received her Ph.D. from Boston College, focuses on the systemic influences of secondary and postsecondary testing and related policies on the learning trajectories of students. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Institute for Educational Policy Research and Evaluation, Director for the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Advancement of Teacher Education, and Director of the UH Education Research Center (one of 3 approved state centers in Texas). Prior to joining the University of Houston, she worked as Research Associate for The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University; Senior Research Associate for the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy’s National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College; and a teacher at Jefferson Davis High School in the Houston Independent School District. Dr. Horn has been honored with numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship to Chile.