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Four days, 90 speakers, no charge. St. Pete forum tackles global issues.

This year’s Conference on World Affairs reaches out to include high school students and more conservative voices.
At next week's St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, panels will be held at USF St. Petersburg's University Student Center at 600 Sixth Ave. S, while film screenings and book talks will convene at the nearby Kate Tiedemann College of Business. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times (2017)]
At next week's St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, panels will be held at USF St. Petersburg's University Student Center at 600 Sixth Ave. S, while film screenings and book talks will convene at the nearby Kate Tiedemann College of Business. [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2017)]
Published Feb. 12

ST. PETERSBURG – Climate change. Infectious disease. Women’s equality. Jazz.

Nothing will be off the table at the eighth annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs next week at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Palladium Theater and Eckerd College.

With a growing emphasis on art and a larger outreach to the community, organizers say there is something for everyone.

This year’s lineup will offer more than “your classic bombs-and-rockets sort of high diplomacy,” said Thomas W. Smith, a political science professor at USFSP and co-founder of the event.

“We want the conference to look like the world looks in terms of the kind of interests and aspirations and problems that people face in their everyday lives,” Smith said.

The conference, which is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-seated basis, will be held Tuesday through Friday. It will feature nearly 90 speakers from government, academia, business, the military, the news media and the arts. Advance registration is encouraged.

Carol Bellamy will deliver the keynote address, “The Rights and Plights of the World’s Children,” at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N.

Bellamy, a former director of the Peace Corps and former executive director of UNICEF, is chair of a Geneva-based nonprofit that works to strengthen resilience against what it calls “violent extremist agendas” through job creation and empowering women and youth.

Following the keynote will be a concert by a trio led by Cuban piano master Chuchito Valdes. Attendees can get a $10 discount on $25 tickets for Tier B seats when they use the code WORLD at checkout on the Palladium’s website.

This will be the first year the conference expands to Eckerd College. Retired Army Gen. John Nicholson, who recently commanded NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will deliver the closing address at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, in Fox Hall on the campus at 4200 54th Ave. S.

Panels will be held Wednesday through Friday at the USF St. Petersburg University Student Center at 600 Sixth Ave. S, while film screenings and book talks will convene at the nearby Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

Among the topics: “International Business in the Tampa Bay Region — Opportunities and Challenges”; “Let’s Get Money Out of Politics. Where to Start?”; “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Health Care”; “Obesity As a Global Public Health Issue”; and “Should Trump Be Reelected Based on First Term Successes?”

“We have had criticisms from time to time that certain panels were not balanced enough — usually not balanced enough in favor of more conservative voices,” said conference president Diane Seligsohn, a journalist and educator who divides her time between St. Petersburg and Paris.

“We’re aware of that, and we have made an effort to seek out more of those conservative voices.”

This year’s films are Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America, by Tom Shepard; Sweet Home Monteverde, by Robin Truesdale; and Ahead of Time: The Extraordinary Journey of Ruth Gruber, by Bob Richman.

Authors François Savatier, Bruce Eberle, Ann Sussman and Ellen Prager will also discuss their books and serve on panels throughout the week.

To observe what St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has dubbed “International Week,” the conference will host additional artistic and culinary events at local businesses Sunday through Friday.

Parkshore Grill, The Hangar, 400 Beach and 400 Annex will serve international menus Monday through Friday to guests who mention their attendance at the conference.

Seligsohn said the additions are part of a larger initiative to make the conference more accessible and inclusive.

In November, St. Petersburg in the World hosted a mini-conference on artificial intelligence at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Research and Education Building. The featured speaker, Nicholas Sabouret, also spoke to students attending Lakewood High School and Shorecrest Preparatory School.

This year, two conference speakers — Bellamy and Pierre Guerlain, professor emeritus of American Studies at Université Paris-Nanterre, France — will also speak to teachers at Countryside High School in Clearwater on Monday during the school district’s professional development day.

“Because the (conference) events are mostly during the day and during the week, you tend to have an older, retired audience,” Seligsohn said. “If we can’t get the students to the conference, maybe we can bring at least some of the conference to the students.”

Since 2013, when the conference began as a one-day, 10-panel event that drew 200 attendees, it has sought to contextualize international affairs across the political spectrum.

“If we don’t make people at least a little bit uncomfortable, then we’re not doing our job,” Smith said. “What we don’t want to see is people simply coming to the conference, expecting to have their preconceptions reaffirmed.”

Emily Wunderlich is editor-in-chief of The Crow’s Nest, the student newspaper at USF St. Petersburg. Reach her at (941) 224-1526.

• • •

If you go

  • The St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs is free and open to the public Feb. 18-21; advance registration is encouraged.
  • For registration, schedule and list of speakers, visit
  • Parking available at the nearby Mahaffey Theater, 100 Fourth Ave. S, for $10 (cash only). Guests with disabilities can park in any handicapped space on campus with a visible handicap tag. They also can park in any non-handicap spot for four hours with a handicap tag.
  • There are a number of metered parking spaces around campus and downtown, and guests can take the downtown Looper from the Sundial, South Core and MAACH parking garages.
  • Keynote address: 5 p.m. Tuesday, Carol Bellamy, Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N
  • Post-keynote concert: 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Chuchito Valdes Trio, Palladium Theater. Tickets:
  • Panels and other events: 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, University Student Center and Kate Tiedemann College of Business, USF St. Petersburg, 200 Sixth Ave. S
  • Closing address: 7 p.m. Friday, retired Army Gen. John Nicholson, Fox Hall at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S
  • Closing reception: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Horse Soldier Bourbon Distillery, 2232 Fifth Ave. S, with performances by Elona Krasavtseva and Nina Wegmann


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