Billed as an opportunity to get “a real taste of the intellectual brew that is stimulating the campus,” the Alumni-Faculty Seminar launched on April 11, 1970. About 500 alumni filled classrooms in the Technological Institute to hear faculty lecture on the changing standards of masculinity and femininity, an account of the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial and other national and international issues, the arts and sciences and news from the University. There were 40 talks in all.
Since that inaugural event, alumni have returned to the Evanston campus every year for what is now known as A Day with Northwestern. On Saturday, April 13, A Day with Northwestern will celebrate a half-century of bringing alumni back for a day of learning.
“It’s like the best parts of Northwestern in one day,” says Kimberly Weisensee Brown ’08, ’09 MS, planning board chair. “This event brings together lifelong education — with faculty and alumni talking about their passions with a community of learners.”
The program, which is open to the public, features more than a dozen lectures and two keynotes that showcase the breadth and depth of scholarship and expertise among prominent Northwestern faculty and alumni. It’s the mix of speakers on a wide range of topics that has kept people coming back year after year, says Barbara Hague ’70, ’71 MA, who served on the planning board from 2003 to 2015 and has attended the event since its early days. “There’s something there to appeal to everyone’s interests,” she says.
Speakers have included former communications professor David H. Zarefsky ’68, ’69 MA/MS, ’74 PhD on the rhetoric of the modern presidency in 1974 and ovarian biologist and dean of the Graduate School Teresa K. Woodruff ’89 PhD on addressing the needs of cancer survivors in 2006. Jazz musician and music professor Victor Goines jammed with students in 2010. A year later former economics professor Dale Mortensen spoke after winning the 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics.
Among alumni, foreign correspondent Georgie Anne Geyer ’56, ’93 H offered insights on the aftermath of the Iran hostage crisis in 1980 and on the Persian Gulf War in 1991 while economist Brian Wesbury ’89 MBA has shared views on the economy every year since 2002.
“It’s like getting VIP access,” Brown says. “We’re part of Northwestern, so we’re getting world-renowned experts who are doing cutting-edge research or diving deep into areas that they have the brain power to explore.”
In recent years the planning board, which comprises volunteers for the NAA, has sought to diversify speakers and bring the sell-out event to a broader audience by sponsoring students to attend and posting videos of keynote talks online.
The event is a Northwestern highlight that should not be missed, Brown says. In addition to the access to incredible speakers, she says, “it feels like coming home.”