Lectures Program celebrates 60 years, takes a look back


Photo: Megan Wolff/Iowa State Daily

Bill Nye gives a speech at Stephens Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 21, as a the kickoff event for Engineer’s Week. The speech, titled “You Can Change the World,” told of how scientists and the average person can make a positive change in the world.

Katlyn Campbell

Wednesday the Iowa State Lectures Program will celebrate 60 successful years of bringing speakers to campus for students and community members.

The Lectures Program office collaborates with a variety of different student organizations and planning committees to solidify which speakers Iowa State students want to hear from.

For the past 60 years the Iowa State Lectures Program has seen the likes of Bill Nye, John Oliver, Juan Enriquez, Salva Kiir Mayardit and Margaret Atwood.

The commitment to enhancing the lecture series at Iowa State is what keeps speakers coming and students interested in showing up.

Pat Miller, director of the Lectures Program, spent 29 of those years trying to encourage Margaret Atwood, author and environmental activist, to come speak at Iowa State. She finally came in November of 2016.

“There are speakers that we will work with for several years or several months just trying to find the date that works with them,” said Molly Helmers, program assistant for the Lectures Program.

Once a guest is on the Lectures Program’s radar an invitation is sent out on behalf of the students inviting them to speak at Iowa State.

“You have the information they need: the date, the host, the time. Then you have one maybe two lines that has to grab their attention. It’s a craft,” Helmers said.

The invitation has to be “brief but scintillating,” Miller said.

That craft has brought many notable faces to Iowa State over the past 60 years.

In 2010, Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of the Government of South Sudan came to discuss independence referendum that would determine if the country of Sudan would remain united or South Sudan would secede.

The Lectures Program only had four days’ notice for that lecture and ended up with a turnout of around 1200 people.

“The science lectures for me I find inspiring, those are the ones where I’m just in awe of the research that is being done,” Helmers said.

Juan Enriquez, co-founder of Synthetic Genomics, a company developing genomic-driven solutions to address global energy and environmental challenges, captivated Helmers with his lecture.

He talked about programming and growing cows’ skin cells in the shape of a leather jacket, so that you didn’t have to raise the cow for leather, according to Helmers.

“I didn’t even want to leave because I was so fascinated by the way this lecture was going,” Helmers said.

John Oliver, now host of the political talk show Last Week Tonight, came to Iowa State in 2008 when he was a correspondent for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He entertained the audience with his stand-up skills during Veishea.

Bill Nye, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, came to a packed Stephens Auditorium in 2012.

Nye spoke about human’s impact on the environment, how we use resources and changes we can make for the world to be a better place.

The lecture coined “You Can Change the World” had audience members lining up for seats at least three hours before the show began. By the time Nye came on stage Stephens Auditorium had reached capacity with around 2,800 people in attendance.

“Bill Nye, we estimate we turned away 2,000 [people],” Miller said, “there were 2,800 because they put extra chairs up in the back.”

Nearly 5,000 people showed up to see a familiar face from their childhood science classrooms.

Miller plans to continue to bring people that change the lives of students.

“The Committee on Lectures is here to serve the needs of the students both entertaining and knowledge based,” Miller said. “You can be entertained and actually learn something.”