With a lineup of speakers that reads like a spy novel’s cast of characters, a free conference focusing on the United States’ role in the world will be the first of its kind at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg this week.
The St. Petersburg in the World Conference, which takes place Thursday and Friday in Harbor Hall, includes nine seminars, with topics ranging from the global recession and the Arab Spring to renewable energy and digital media.
“What we’re trying to do is kind of parse the world and say ‘These are the kinds of issues you should know something about,’
McElhaney said he hopes the broad range of subjects lends itself to a deeper understanding of the United States in a global context.
Speakers include former Central Intelligence Agency official Charles Campbell, Republican media strategist Thomas Edmonds, Ethiopia-based anthropologist Kathryn Arthur, and travel writer Douglas Rogers, who was raised on a farm in Zimbabwe.
McElhaney, who lives in St. Petersburg these days, knows many of the panelists. For those working in international affairs, it’s a small world, he said.
“I think they’re all in a position to tell it like it is – not necessarily with an ax to grind,” he said.
This time around, panelists are not being paid to travel to St. Petersburg to speak. Organizers of the conference, which they hope to hold every year, are trying to set up a nonprofit to pay speakers in the future.
He hopes the caliber of panelists will help cast Tampa Bay, a place known largely for its sports offerings, in a more cerebral light, McElhaney said.
“The Greeks were right: You have to exercise your body, but you have to exercise your mind.”
All sessions are free and open to the public both days.