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Engaging The Mind Lecture Series Brings University Of Virginia To Virginia

April 8, 2002-- Who would want to go to Roanoke on a Friday night? Well, Steve Majewski would, as long as he gets to talk about the Milky Way to a crowd of people who are interested in the stars. Majewski, a renowned U.Va. astronomer, went to the Star City last fall as part of U.Va.'s Engaging the Mind lecture series, a free program custom tailored for auditoriums full of Virginia citizens around the state.

"The response to this statewide program in its first year has been deeply gratifying," said Laura Hawthorne, U.Va. public service coordinator. "We sensed there was an intellectual hunger in communities throughout the state and, as our numbers increase with each lecture, I grow more convinced we have created an offering that illustrates the best of university outreach."

Last fall the series included three lectures, two in Richmond and Majewski's in Roanoke. This semester features nine lectures, three in Northern Virginia, three in Virginia Beach and one each in Lynchburg, Roanoke and Charlottesville. Topics include U.S. policy in the Middle East and the changing face of the Supreme Court. James Childress, U.Va. professor of religious studies, spoke last month to a packed house at the central library in Virginia Beach on the ethics of war, and Michael Smith, U.Va. professor of political and social thought, spoke about human rights in the contemporary world of states at the Fairfax County Government Center. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend lectures this year.

"We try to select topics that resonate with each region of the state and current events," Hawthorne said. "Following the events of September 11, the director of U.Va.'s Northern Virginia Center, Steve Gladis, advised us to choose topics for the spring series that connect somehow with the aftermath. He said, 'People drive by the Pentagon every day and that's what they're thinking about. Help them understand and you'll have a packed house.'

"The director of the Roanoke center, Linda Linnartz, knew that her region has a high concentration of science enthusiasts, so we invited Steve Majewski to visit and talk about the Milky Way," Hawthorne said. "Over 75 people turned out that evening."

"It was a nice crowd, and they asked good questions," said Majewski. "I was impressed. I would definitely do it again. The community deserves to know what goes on at a university like this. Outreach is an important role for us to take on. Taxpayers fund our grants, and this is one way to give back for what they invest."

Hawthorne agrees.

"The program works because faculty believe in it," she said. "They want to contribute to intellectual life throughout the state, and we try to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. By creating a venue that brings together our talented faculty with intellectually curious citizens throughout the state, we hope to continually engage Virginians in the classroom experience and to fulfill one of our goals as a research university: that is, the discovery and creation of new knowledge and ideas. We're already planning our series for next year. We want to expand to new towns and cities and continue to present a diverse array of topics."

"We're touching the lives of folks who otherwise might not be involved in the regular for-credit courses we offer," said Rich Hoehlein, director of U.Va.'s Hampton Roads Center. "This is a wonderful intellectual enrichment opportunity for the public."

Last spring, Anthropology Professor Fred Damon gave a lecture about U.S. elections as ritual from an anthropological point of view.

"This was not long after the 2000 election controversy," he said. "The audience had a great interest in what I was saying. It was a rewarding experience for me and I'd do it again. I firmly believe that people at the University have an obligation to contribute to public discussions. This kind of program helps to make the learning process a part of life for people, rather than just a four-year period in their lives."

For the spring schedule and more information, visit:

Contact: Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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