Conference History

smithIn 1964, twenty-one foreign delegates visited the campus of Kearney State College with the objective to “awaken and properly channel the interest of our future leaders in education in the search for an understanding of the issues facing the peoples of the world.” The conference program, structured to maximize student contact with the delegates, was developed by a faculty-student committee representing all undergraduate schools of the college. Over the next 12 years, the Midwest Conference on World Affairs grew to become a multi-campus, state-wide event that brought in over 200 diplomats from nearly 100 different nations, as well as representatives from the U.S. Government and business leaders. Kearney State students and others were given the opportunity to hear and interact with dignitaries in general sessions, classes, and seminars, as well as informally.

After a 12-year hiatus, the conference was revived and renamed “The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs” in 1988. The objectives of the conference expanded to reflect the new global economy and accentuate the problems and opportunities arising from interdependence, while enhancing international awareness in Nebraska for both students and civic leaders. Topics have included “Education: Change Agent for the New Millennium,” “Water and Survival: From the Platte to the Nile,” “The Global Economy: Promises and Perils of an Uncertain Frontier,” “Technology and Power: The Global Outcomes of New Media,” “Creating Hope: Positive Responses to Global Challenges,” and numerous others.

At the first conference in 1964, the campus hosted senior officials from the UN Secretariat, the U.S. Department of State, and the Peace Corps. Since then, numerous international leaders and exponents of global engagement have come to speak at the conference, including the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who spoke on “Human Rights and the War on Terrorism” in 2004; Peter G. Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, former Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Kearney native, who gave the keynote address in 2006; Reza Aslan, who spoke on “The Future of the New Middle East” in 2011; Dr. Mahabir Pun, UNK Alumnus and winner of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award, who spoke on “An Impossible Dream Becomes Reality: Nepal Wireless Networking” in 2013 – and many others.