Hinckley Institute Forums: Broadened Horizons, Transformative Experiences and Free Lunch


Ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich addresses students (Courtesy of the Hinckley Institute)

The Hinckley Institute offers weekly forums for students, staff and community members to stay informed on current social issues and learn from interesting and successful public figures. A calendar of upcoming forums is here.


Pizza and Politics

The Hinckley Institute holds approximately 100 annual forums. These forums feature innovative thinkers, industry leaders, politicians and social activists. Forums are generally held in Gardner Commons in the Hinckley Institute, Room 218. Past forum guests include politicians Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney, Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, businessman and philanthropist Bill Child, child-soldier-turned-peace-activist Emmanuel Jal, Nobel Prize winner Susi Snyder and ski mountaineer and social activist Caroline Gleich.

“Hinckley forums expose students and community members to different perspectives on the most pressing social, economic, and political policy issues locally, nationally and internationally,” says Molly Wheeler, Managing Director of Community Outreach for the Hinckley Institute. “In a time where we are becoming increasingly siloed in our own political beliefs, it is important to have political discussions with not only those that we agree with but those we disagree with as well.” The Hinckley Institute also incentivizes participation by serving free pizza during lunchtime ⁠— over 637 pizzas were ordered for students last year.


Scott Paul and Andrea Prasow spoke to students and others in the Hinckley Caucus Room. (Courtesy of Abigail Barney.)

What Students Are Saying

“I was lured in by the extra credit and free pizza,” confessed first-time Hinckley Forum attendee Sean Goff, “but once I got here, I really enjoyed the forum.” Goff is a Japanese major, and showed up on Oct. 14 to listen to Midori Takeuchi, Consul-General of Japan in Denver, speak on U.S.-Japan relations and Japan’s commitment to global security and the economy.

“It was interesting to hear about ‘Abenomics,’” Goff said. “It sounds a little like ‘Reaganomics.’ I wrote down the website information so I could learn more. I came away much more impressed with Japan in general. I knew Japan was doing well, but I didn’t realize how well, or in how many categories. After this, I would definitely be interested in attending future forums.” Student Nick Cartwright, who attended the same forum, added, “I’m used to seeing Japan from a U.S.-facing point of view, but today I gained insight on the Japan-facing-the-global-community point of view.”

“I’ve been studying Japan for a long time, but a lot of the information was new I now understand more about what Japan is doing on a global scale,” Cartwright, who will be graduating this spring with a double major in history and Japanese, said. “I wasn’t aware how much Utah did with Japan, or how many trade policies Japan has with the rest of the world.” U student Hailey Searcy, who lived for a time in Japan, added, “I know the Hinckley Forums get advertised, but I’m usually so busy I don’t notice. I was glad my professor mentioned it so I knew about it and was able to come.”

Ravi Sharma, a political science student graduating in 2021, estimates he’s already attended close to 30 forums. “It’s great to learn in greater depth from the foremost experts on so many issues,” explains Sharma. “They’re able to take their years of expertise and boil it all down to useful applications and advice relevant to me as a student. The Hinckley Institute is able to facilitate that through their numerous connections both here and in D.C.,” he continued. “A lot of unique perspectives have helped inform my own opinions.”

One favorite forum of Sharma’s was about homelessness this spring. “Pamela Atkinson, an advisor in the governor’s office, has been an advocate for homeless issues for a long time. I feel like it’s a topic that gets mentioned a lot but not necessarily covered in depth. She addressed some misconceptions on homelessness, and provided advice on how to engage with the homeless community in positive ways — things I can actually go out and do to help people in that situation.”


Going Deeper in the Forum Series Class

Taught by Wheeler and Dr. Jennifer Lynn Robinson, an adjunct assistant professor in the political science department, the course is a good fit for busy schedules. Class requirements include attending a Friday class weekly plus ten of the many Hinckley forums available throughout the semester. Attending additional forums provides extra credit. “The Hinckley forums expose students to important ideas and perspectives,” says Robinson. “The forums add to students’ knowledge of our political system and help them become more informed citizens. Topics this semester included election security, affordable housing, U.S. trade policy, education funding  and more.”

Conner Mayer, a political science major who will graduate this semester, said, “I originally began attending forums because of my Forum Series class, but I kept going back because I realized what a great opportunity it is to go deeper into any topic or current event. It’s so much more meaningful and educational than a Google search.” Mayer estimates he’s now attended around 25 forums.

One of Mayer’s favorite forums was one discussing the Iranian revolution. “If I want to know more about Iran, I can actually go listen to someone who addresses Congress on that same topic. The fact that we can get that too as university students is great.”


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