Introducing Berkeley Forum’s fall 2017 speaker lineup

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8/29/2017: This article has been updated to reflect new information from Berkeley Forum spokesperson Jeffrey Wirjo regarding an additional speaker in the lineup.

What do the former interim CEO of Reddit, the California State Treasurer and an internationally featured muralist have in common? They’re all coming to UC Berkeley this year as part of The Berkeley Forum’s fall 2017 speaker lineup.

The Berkeley Forum, a student-run organization that hosts prominent speaking events on campus, announced its lineup of 12 speakers Tuesday night. According to Berkeley Forum President Haley Keglovits, the organization worked hard this semester to ensure that the lineup represented a variety of different niches and backgrounds.

The Berkeley Forum was founded in 2012 as a platform to engage campus students through events featuring distinguished and influential figures. Since its founding, the forum has hosted a variety of speakers, including former U.S. secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson in 2015, Noah’s Bagels founder Noah Alper in 2016 and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Amy Ziering in 2017.

Several past Berkeley Forum events have raised controversy among the UC Berkeley community. Talks featuring Johnson and former UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks attracted student protesters in 2015.

“Our platform is not a soapbox for our speakers,” Keglovits said. “We have moderated questions by our members, as well as (an) audience Q&A.”

Keglovits also said the organization utilized its diverse membership this semester in putting together its lineup, encouraging, for example, biology students to invite their favorite scientists and English students to invite their favorite writers. According to Keglovits, all featured speakers must want to reach the Berkeley community in some way.

Keglovits also noted that the events are completely free to students.

“I really hope that students are able to take advantage of the fact that we really do provide a medium to engage with ideas, for people to learn new things,” Keglovits said. “What are other people questioning? What is the forum questioning? Coming to our events … is a great resource.”

In addition to the 12 speakers that are being hosted this fall, the forum is also hosting a panel on arts, as well as debates on affirmative action, hate speech and the United States Electoral College. The dates and times of these events are still to be determined.

Carol Christ, UC Berkeley chancellor (Aug. 31)

Chancellor Carol Christ is no stranger to UC Berkeley. With her rich background in higher education and administration, Christ will address the forum this week on free speech and community.

Christ’s talk comes in light of several recent free speech-related controversies on campus. In a campuswide email sent Wednesday, Christ confirmed that conservative writers Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos have been invited by student groups to speak on campus in September. Christ has also called the 2017-18 academic year a “free speech year” on multiple occasions.

Christ was the president of Smith College from 2002-13. On March 16, Christ was unanimously approved for the position of UC Berkeley chancellor, and July 1, she officially became the first woman ever to hold the title.

Jessica Hische, lettering artist and designer (Sept. 12)

Jessica Hische has been an independent letterer, illustrator and type designer since 2009. In September, she will speak to the forum on art and typography in the 21st century.

Hische was raised in Pennsylvania by parents who allowed her to pursue a “seemingly impractical career,” as Hische calls it on her website. In 2006, Hische graduated from the Tyler School of Art with a degree in graphic design. She went on to become a freelance designer for a studio in Philadelphia and later worked for Louise Fili, a renowned Italian-American graphic designer.

Hische is best known for her personal projects, including her “Daily Drop Cap” series and her “Should I Work for Free?” flowchart.

John Chiang, California state treasurer (Sept. 18)

Berkeley Forum is hosting California State Treasurer John Chiang in September in partnership with the Goldman School of Public Policy. Chiang is set to deliver a talk on the power of public investment and how it can help improve the economy, climate and future of California.

Chiang’s accomplishments as treasurer include saving the state approximately $5.5 billion by refinancing older debt; cutting Wells Fargo off from its most profitable lines of business in California after it was discovered to be allegedly swindling thousands of customers; and sponsoring a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring greater transparency in the state’s spending of taxpayer dollars.

Chiang is responsible for managing trillions of dollars in annual state transactions and is the United States’ largest issuer of municipal bonds.

Michael Stevens, creator of Vsauce (Sept. 21)

Michael Stevens is the creator and host of Vsauce, an educational YouTube channel that addresses often-unconventional but intriguing topics. Stevens’ YouTube channel currently has more than 12 million subscribers and more than 1 billion views.

In his videos, Stevens has explored topics such as why animals don’t have wheels and how many photos have been taken since the first photo was taken in 1826. Since its inception, Vsauce has won two Streamy Awards and three Webby Awards.

In a February 2013 TED talk exploring how much a video weighs, Stevens said that because the spread of information through videos is so “light,” it becomes a lot more democratic.

David Kurs, artistic director of the Deaf West Theatre (Sept. 27)

David Kurs grew up in a deaf family in Riverside, California, eventually going on to major in marketing at Gallaudet University, according to the website DeafPeople. Upon his graduation, Kurs worked as a freelance writer, producer and filmmaker.

Currently, Kurs is the artistic director of the Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles, which was founded by Ed Waterstreet in 1991 and intends to boost the theatrical experience and “bridge the gap” between deaf and hearing communities, according to its Facebook page.

In 2008, Kurs wrote and produced a multimedia show aimed toward young audiences called “Aesop Who?” He served as an associate producer for productions of “Children of a Lesser God” in 2009, “My Sister in This House” in 2010 and “The Adventures of Pinocchio” in 2011.

Ellen Pao, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact (Sept. 28)

UC Berkeley has proposed several efforts to increase diversity in its campus community in the past several years, making the appearance of Ellen Pao of the Kapor Center for Social Impact on campus next month very timely. Pao will discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in tech.

Previously, Pao was the interim CEO of popular social news aggregation website Reddit, and before that, she was an investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Pao became widely known for her 2012 gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins.

Pao is known for her critical views of hiring and promotion practices in Silicon Valley with regards to female employees.

Mythili Prakash, Bharatanatyam classical dancer (Oct. 9)

Mythili Prakash is an internationally recognized exponent of Bharatanatyam, a major Indian classical dance form. She is set to address the Berkeley Forum in October.

Prakash was raised in Los Angeles, where she was exposed early on to an environment “filled with dance and music,” according to her website. Prakash began learning Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of her mother and had her solo debut in India at the age of eight.

Since then, Prakash has staged productions in Europe, Asia and North America. In 2009, she was featured on NBC’s “Superstars of Dance,” and in 2012, she portrayed Pi’s wife in the Academy Award-winning film, “Life of Pi.”

Hartmut Neven, engineering director at Google (Oct. 10)

In October, the Berkeley Forum will hear from Hartmut Neven of Google. Neven founded and manages the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, which is a joint effort by NASA, Universities Space Research Association and Google Research.

Neven helped develop the visual search service that is today utilized in a variety of Google products, such as Image Search, Google Photos, YouTube, Street View and Google Goggles. Hartmut also co-founded the Google Glass project, leading the team that constructed the preliminary prototype.

In a 2017 study co-published by Neven, he and his fellow researchers proposed that short-term returns with small quantum computing devices would be possible in the next five years.

Zio Ziegler, American artist and muralist (Oct. 23)

Zio Ziegler is an American painter and sculptor who currently lives and works in San Francisco. Ziegler will present on the evolution of visual art, from the gallery to the streets.

Ziegler was born in 1988 and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010. Painting is Ziegler’s attempt at self-understanding, according to his website. Ziegler’s paintings start with an “existential journey” and end with an “absurdist conclusion,” his website states.

Ziegler’s work has been exhibited in various parts of the Bay Area as well as around the world. Locations include San Francisco, Oakland, London, Milan, Tokyo and Singapore.

Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of WORLD News Group (Nov. 2)

Marvin Olasky, who will speak on campus in November, is the editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including “The Tragedy of American Compassion.”

In addition to his work at the WORLD News Group, Olasky is also the dean of the World Journalism Institute and the distinguished chair in journalism and public policy at Patrick Henry College. In 1995, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich recommended Olasky’s “The Tragedy of American Compassion” to incoming Republican representatives of the 104th Congress.

Olasky has a multi-installment biography detailing his experiences as a young communist, his years in academia, his involvement in welfare reform and his present title as WORLD News Group’s editor in chief.

Aida Giachello, founder of Midwest Latino Health Research (Nov. 7)

Aida Giachello is a widely respected expert on Hispanic and Latino health who founded several public health organizations including Midwest Latino Health Research and the Midwest Hispanic AIDS Coalition. She will address the forum in November.

When Giachello moved to the United States in the 1950s at the age of three, her family experienced financial difficulty and lived off welfare for approximately a year. Living in the Spanish Harlem, Giachello was exposed to drug abuse and violence.

Giachello is currently a research professor of preventative medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. In 2005, TIME Magazine named Giachello one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in America.

Alexandra Petri, satirical columnist for the Washington Post (Nov. 15)

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog for the Washington Post, delivering a “lighter take” on popular daily news and opinions, according to her author page. The title of her November talk is “I Am *Probably* Not Melting: On Cautious Optimism.”

Petri’s started her comedic career early on in her life. Standup comedy was her “weird hobby,” according to a 2016 Cosmopolitan column written by Petri. After graduating from Harvard College in 2010, Petri became the youngest person to have their own column at the Washington Post.

“My goal is to be weirder than everybody else and hope that no one stops me,” Petri said in her Cosmopolitan column. “So far no one has.”

Harini Shyamsundar is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.