The annual two-day conference is coordinated through the Office of International Education and by a committee made up of faculty from each of the academic colleges. It is planned around a central theme. Previous topics have included:
- "Education: Change Agent for the New Millennium"
- "The Dilemma of Social Justice in a Global Age"
- "The Global Economy: Promises and Perils of an Uncertain Frontier"
- "The World in Turmoil: Understanding Conflict"
- "Creating Hope: Positive Responses to Global Challenges"
- "Water and Survival: from the Platte to the Nile"
- "The Future of the New Middle East"
- "Immigration and the Globalization of Labor"
In 2004, UNK hosted the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who spoke on "Human Rights and the War on Terrorism."
Recognizing the need to bring a strong international component to an undergraduate education, the University of Nebraska-Kearney sponsors an annual conference on global issues. The Midwest Conference on World Affairs began as an important campus and community activity in the 1960’s. In 1988, the function was renamed “The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs in honor of a professor whose vision and dedication significantly affected the continuation of the conference.
Many issues that shape the quality of our lives have an international dimension. Global economic interdependence is now a reality that no nation can ignore. The development of appropriate environmental strategies, the resolution of regional conflicts and the enhancement of human rights all require a global perspective. The fundamental objectives of the World Affairs program include: (1) to introduce important global issues to the students and local community; (2) to expose conference participants to a variety of viewpoints from other countries; and (3) to promote global awareness.
The James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs serves as an opportunity for students to hear the opinions of leaders in the global community and to discuss current and pressing world issues. This conference is unique in the state of Nebraska. Through panel discussions, lectures, classroom presentations and group activities, participants are exposed to a variety of important issues and afforded the opportunity to interact with distinguished guests from all over the world.
Given the geographic location of Nebraska in the center of the continental United States this conference is, for many people, their best chance to interact with representatives of other cultures. All events are open to the public and there is no admission charge. The University works with local civic organizations to create opportunities for community-wide participation.