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CU Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs to return to roots with broad, diverse events

Human rights, college athletics, gaming, the future of fashion and artificial intelligence — these are just a handful of the wide variety of topics set to highlight this year’s Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The conference will span four days from April 9 to April 12 with 70 speakers and events focused on themes of global equity, leadership and the next 100 years. After being somewhat restricted with a single theme last year, CWA Student Program Chair Vara Reom said this year’s program will be broad and exciting.

“We really do feel like we’re back,” Reom said. “So even if you didn’t come last year because you weren’t a fan of the limited content, this year is really diverse and really broad.”

The CWA, in its 76th year, is a conference that brings in various experts in different fields to discuss present-day issues. All events are free and open to the public. This year, all events will be in person with an online option.

“CWA at its heart is a coming together,” CU Boulder Chief Communications Officer Jon Leslie said, adding, “It’s a great mash-up of our community and our university community talking about important issues that matter to the world and doing so in a way that brings different perspectives to the table.”

The four-day conference will kick off with an opening keynote from Scott Dikkers, a co-founder of The Onion, “who will tell funny stories about telling funny stories,” Leslie said. The Onion is a digital media company that posts satirical articles about international and national news.

The CWA will conclude with a closing keynote from Buffs head coach Deion Sanders about leadership on and off the field. Tickets for his talk are limited and required for those wishing to attend.

“We really think we’ve hit a nice stride coming back from the pandemic and setting up a program we think is going to be really engaging,” Leslie said.

Dikkers and Sanders will be the two keynote speakers. Leslie said another event that will elevate to a similar level as a keynote will be a discussion on name, image and likeness hosted by Rick George and Carl Quintanilla. Quintanilla is a news anchor at CNBC and George is CU Boulder’s athletic director, who was named the athletic director of the year on Wednesday by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

George and Quintanilla will discuss the impact of the three-year-old rights of college athletes to control and profit from their name, image and likeness and how it will play a role in the future.

Leslie said other notable speakers include Moses Ma from FutureLab Consulting who will discuss gaming, Sarah Yager from the Human Rights Watch who will tackle global human rights issues and cybersecurity expert Laura Harder who will talk about existing and future threats of a cyber age.

CU Boulder faculty will also speak, including CU Boulder Professor Dana Anderson who will address the global impacts of quantum computing.

“The multiple themes, the interdisciplinarity, are really more of a return to CWA’s programmatic roots and we’re excited about the engagement and the quality of the program,” Leslie said.

Leslie said he’s expecting to see higher levels of engagement this year than in previous years, and the impacts from the pandemic are starting to recede.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about this year is the future of CWA and how we really are kind of the oldest startup on campus,” Leslie said. “We’re a 76-year tradition, and the pandemic really did impact things.

“And so coming back, we’re really looking at … respecting the deep roots that the conference has and the community-university partnership that’s really important to how it functions to how we can really start to deepen that partnership, enhance campus engagement and build that campus community trajectory in the future.”

Students and community members comprise the volunteer program committee that selected each of this year’s speakers and performers. Reom said the oldest community volunteer is 93 years old, and the youngest are students who are 18.

“I think it’s really beneficial to the conference and the content to have an intergenerational mix of ideas,” she said. “Students will push for things more like AI and community members might want to focus more on arts, and it’s really interesting to see the ideas they come up with.”

Leslie said the university plays a role in enabling discourse and an exchange of ideas that’s increasingly important today.

“I hope people will see CWA as a really big opportunity to engage safely and in an entertaining way those types of topics, and really come together and maybe learn something from each other in the process,” he said.

For more information on CWA or to see the full schedule and list of speakers, visit colorado.edu/cwa.

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