College of Liberal Arts celebrates 20 years of Great Conversations

By Rachael Johnson, as appearing in SOURCE

High Park. Waldo Canyon. Black Forest. These fires elicit strong emotions in Colorado residents. As the state eases out of an unseasonably warm and dry late summer and fall, the western United States is still grappling with an incredibly destructive wildfire season.

The last decade has seen fires that are breaking all of the rules and burning hotter, brighter and faster than what was previously thought to be possible. Despite the immense amount of resources that are devoted to fighting these fires, they remain difficult to control.

Given the evidence, Dr. Jason Sibold, assistant professor of geography in the Department of Anthropology, opened the night at Great Conversations by asking, “Should we rethink our relationship with wildfire?”

The relevance of timely conversation

Great Conversastions
John Gravdahl, professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and Art History, created a special poster to pay homage to the Hixons’ long-time support and dedication to the arts

The changing nature of wildfire was the topic of the night at Great Conversations, a College of Liberal Arts speaker series featuring outstanding faculty who facilitate conversations about some of the most engaging topics in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The series connects liberal arts to the wider community while raising awareness of faculty research and artistry at the university. The thought-provoking questions Sibold raised about humankind’s relationship with nature are just the first of many exciting topics this year as Great Conversations enters its 20th year.

The Great Conversations speaker series was created in 1996 by former CLA Dean Loren Crabtree and community members. The idea for Great Conversations originated from the salon, a gathering that gained popularity in Italy and France during the 16th through 18th centuries. Salons were at the center of important philosophical conversations that took place leading up to and during the French Revolution. The often lively conversations were hosted in homes and played an integral role in the Age of Enlightenment.

Two decades of impact

photo of poster
Gravdahl’s poster was presented as a gift to Gary and Carol Ann Hixon during the opening event of the 20th anniversary season of Great Conversations.

Like the salons of the past, the Great Conversations series is hosted in the homes of friends of the college. Community members gather to eat, drink and

discuss important topics. The 20th anniversary event was hosted in the home of Gary and Carol Ann Hixon, longtime supporters of the College of Liberal Arts, and hosts of the first ever Great Conversations event. To honor the special occasion, John Gravdahl, professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and Art History, created a special poster to pay homage to the Hixons’ long-time support and dedication to the arts.

Through membership proceeds, Great Conversations members sustain the program while benefitting the Ann Gill Faculty Development fund. The

endowment provides funding for College of Liberal Arts faculty who are engaged in making a difference in communities through research, creativity and advocacy.

Department of Anthropology chair Mica Glantz, College of Liberal Arts Dean Ann Gill, and Assistant Professor of Geography Jason Sibold stopped for a photo before the conversation.

“We enjoy Great Conversations the most when we go home stimulated by the intellectual conversation,” said Dave and Paula Edwards, Great Conversations members for more than 10 years. “Then there’s the bonus of knowing we are supporting faculty development in the College of Liberal Arts.”

Having raised over $500,000 for the fund, the College of Liberal Arts is grateful to Great Conversations members for their unwavering support throughout the years. The memberships provide opportunities for College of Liberal Arts faculty to engage in research and artistry that ultimately benefits CSU students.

A season worth talking about

The 20th anniversary season of Great Conversations will include the following presenters:

From Silver Screen to Stage:
Creative Projection Technology Advancements in Live Performance
Roger Hanna, Assistant Professor of Set Design
Price Johnston, Director, Theatre and Dance
Oct. 29, 2015

The Arc of Exploration
Robert Hernandez, Naturalist, Wildlife Ecologist, Editor, National Geographic
Nov. 18, 2015

Firefighters’ Literacies: Knowing, Communicating, and Risk
Timothy Amidon, Assistant Professor, English
Feb. 9, 2016

Miracle in Fort Morgan: Immigrant and Refugee Integration in Rural Colorado
Eric Ishiwata, Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies
April 21, 2016

Summer Soiree
Including entertainment from the CSU Dance Program
June 16, 2016

For more information about Great Conversations, please visit the Great Conversations website. Those interested in membership can contact Assistant Director of Development Marilyn Bistline at or (970) 491-4030.