Great Decisions series brings foreign affairs experts to West Michigan

By Ryan Jarvi | 1/30/13 1:53pm

The Great Decisions Discussion Series hosted by the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan through February and March will bring several prominent experts on foreign affairs to town to speak on global issues.

The purpose of the WACWM is to inform citizens of West Michigan about events happening around the world. Grand Valley State University supports the council as an educational partner, said Mark Schaub, chief international officer of the Padnos International Center at GVSU.

“We have some great experts from around the world on these topics, so it’s an opportunity to really get information and (hear) perspectives from the very best scholars and experts on international affairs,” said Schaub, who also acts as liaison between GVSU and the WACWM.

Amy Richards, programming coordinator of WACWM, said GVSU faculty participate in committee meetings with other colleges and the council to determine what topics will be covered and which speakers will be invited.

“GVSU, as an annual educational sponsor, has the opportunity for all GVSU faculty, staff and students to attend, free of charge, our two major annual events—Fall Lecture Series and Great Decisions Discussion Series,” Richards said.

Speakers of the Great Decisions series will discuss topics that are also being addressed by other world affairs councils and chapters across the nation.

“Our local series is one of the largest and most prestigious lecture series on American foreign policy in the United States,” Richards said. “We bring national experts to West Michigan for provocative and stimulating discussions on eight critical issues.”

Kicking off the series will be Dina Temple-Raston, counterterrorism correspondent for National Public Radio, speaking about “The New Threat Assessment: Defending America on a Budget.” Other speakers will address issues such as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the Turkish perspective of NATO and Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Glenda Quarnstrom, professor of political science at GVSU, is a member of WACWM and has attended the series for 12 years.

“For the most part, the speakers are engaging and excellent,” Quarnstrom said. “In an increasingly interconnected global world, it is imperative that we keep abreast of events happening in countries outside our borders.”

Quarnstrom is also teaching a course this semester at GVSU titled Great Decisions.
“For the GVSU course, students will attend the lectures held in February and March,” she said. “After the lectures, we will meet as a class to discuss the issues covered in the lectures.”

The discussion series provides the students, as well as the public, the opportunity to become informed about current issues in foreign affairs, Quarnstrom said.

“Often the topics discussed will include items which have been in the news during the previous week,” she said. “In addition, the lectures are chosen to include security issues, human rights as well as all regions of the world.”

Schaub said foreign affairs have more influence over Americans than most realize.
“These issues affect us,” he said. “They affect our pocket book, they affect our friends and family serving in the military. It’s how the United States is perceived around the world, it’s how our interests are advanced around the world and it’s part of being an educated person.”

The relationship between WACWM and GVSU allows students the opportunity to ask the foreign policy experts questions during an extended face to face discussion time, Richards said.

“While our speakers are visiting, we have the chance to bring them to visit some of our educational partners for an opportunity to talk with students,” Richards said. “We bring Washington, D.C. to GVSU.”

Schaub said the series is a great resource and an efficient way to learn a lot.

“If you invest an hour and a half of your time you will be up to speed on things you don’t know about,” Schaub said. “GVSU students should attend the Great Decisions speaker series because it’s really part of being an educated citizen—an educated U.S. citizen, but also an educated world citizen, because these issues do affect us directly or indirectly all the time.”

The series will be held at the Performing Arts Center of Aquinas College every Monday during February and March at 6 p.m. Additional lectures on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. will begin March 5 and will be held at the Gillette Auditorium in the Fifth Third Bank building on Lyon Street.

GVSU students, faculty and staff are able to attend the series for free by signing up at a registration table preceding the events.

For more information on the series visit the WACWM website,

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