The Converse community celebrated the 134th Opening Convocation on Friday, September 22, 2023, in Twichell Auditorium. Opening Convocation is our traditional event when the Converse community comes together to celebrate the formal opening of the academic year.
Clear blue skies and 70-degree temperatures set the tone for the 2023 Opening Convocation as students, faculty and alumni processed into the iconic Zimmerli Performance Center in Twichell Auditorium.
Rev. Eliza Smith DeBevoise gave the Invocation, reminding guests that we are embarking on a journey together as the new academic year begins. She reminded guests of one of Converse’s core values, community, and how a balance of work and play nurtures the abilities of one another, and ultimately establishes a better world.
Jasmyn Williams ’24 (Nisbet Honors), President of the Student Government Association, welcomed guests on behalf of the student body. She spoke of her first, very unique Opening Convocation, which was held over Zoom in the fall of 2020.
Jasmyn spoke to the many transitions she’s seen throughout the last few years, from the official name change to Converse University to welcoming male undergraduate students on campus, to the increased ethnic and cultural diversity with the Converse student body. Currently, our student body represents 24 states and 35 countries.
“In the past three years, I have been able to witness the evolution of Converse, as we enter a renaissance period,” Jasmyn said. “A period of renewal, rebirth, and reawakening as a university, and speaking in a broader sense, as a society.”
President Hopkins took the stage and was met with enthusiastic applause. His introduction acknowledged Converse’s unique campus where “ideas converge, knowledge is shared, and connections are forged.”
Hopkins then stunned the audience by telling them his introduction was actually composed by ChatGPT.
Hopkins addressed the technical precipice the world is experiencing and how this kind of power warrants significant responsibility as artificial intelligence begins to affect all areas, from healthcare to data to communications.
President Hopkins said, “Using this tool responsibly requires a commitment to our core values, a commitment to open, honest dialogue, and a willingness to hold ourselves accountable for the impact that such advances can have, intended or unintended, on individuals and on society as a whole.”
Converse is ready for this journey of exploration and discovery. Faculty have met to discuss artificial intelligence and its effects on higher education in both teaching and learning. In the works are AI workshops, educating students on the ethical use of technology, and developing AI guidelines for the classroom. Converse has recently established a new Data Science minor and a general education course on Data Literacy.
Inaugural Presentation of the Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker Academic Excellence Award
During Opening Convocation, President Hopkins presented the inaugural Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker Academic Excellence Award to Dr. Neval Ertürk, Associate Provost for Research and Engagement, and Professor of Biology.
The Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker Academic Excellence Fund was established in remembrance of Dr. Barker and his passion for academic excellence at Converse University. The award supports Converse faculty, who exemplify the teaching and learning relationship by broadening students’ horizons and by challenging themselves as educators, particularly through travel and experiential learning experiences.
President Hopkins spoke to Dr. Ertürk’s passionate mentorship to both students and faculty and the impressive two million dollars in grants she has secured for faculty and undergraduate research.
Dr. Ertürk said, “I am honored to be the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker Award for Faculty Excellence. Dr. Barker was not only the quintessential teacher, an accomplished researcher, and a well-respected Provost, but he was also a dear friend and a mentor. He believed that scholarly and creative experiences enhanced the classroom experience and provided students with key skills for further education and future careers. He was a champion of faculty-mentored scholarly activity for undergraduate students. His support was instrumental in the successful establishment of the Office of Research and Engagement and the RISE Symposium at Converse.”
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Joe Wilferth welcomed the Converse community and presented the Class of 2027 Academic Recognitions.
The Carol McDaniel Petrie STEM Scholarship was established by the Carrol and Milton Petrie Foundation to support scholarships for out-of-state students planning to study a STEM-related subject, business, or the humanities. This year’s recipient is Lucy Tester.
The Paddison Arts & Sciences Scholarship, created in 2007 through a trust established by Ruth Paddison ’47, supports scholarships for students majoring in the arts or sciences. This year’s Paddison Scholars are Christopher Bailey (Nisbet Honors), Sianna Davidson, Shamya Hudson, Pedro Landeros-Hernandez, and Keith Rogers (Nisbet Honors).
The Simpson Scholarships were established by an anonymous donor to support scholarships for female students whose performance in academics, extra-curricular activities, and community involvement merit recognition. This year’s Simpson Scholars are Ashleigh Austin and Sloan Kinley (Nisbet Honors).
The Weisiger Outstanding Scholar-Athletes, established in 2008 by Agnes Binder Weisiger ’63, and her husband, Edward Weisiger, recognize exceptional athletes with a proven academic success record and exhibit strong leadership and community-building skills. This year’s winners are Madison Davis and Karly Driscoll.
2023 Opening Convocation Keynote Address
Dr. Joe Barrera, Associate Professor of Mathematics, began his keynote with the quote, “That which is not good for the beehive, neither is it good for the bee.”
Dr. Barrera acknowledged the recent loss of Dr. Shannon Martin, Associate Professor of Psychology, and the loss of Dr. Jeff Barker in July of 2021. Barrera reminded guests of the importance of self-care as we navigate challenging times.
He surprised the audience by saying his keynote would not be about math, but instead about society and education. Yet, toward the end of his keynote, he revealed it really was about math concepts all along.
Barerra said, “So I want to know: what is good for the beehive? What are some things that are a net positive for the community? So, as with most things, I let math guide my thinking. Yeah, that’s right, this is a math talk.”
Dr. Barerra emphasized that education is our way through and forward — it bridges gaps. Bringing the talk back around to his opening quote about the bee and the beehive, Barerra said he’s hopeful as he looks out at the current students in attendance at the 2023 Opening Convocation. “Because you’re here, doing one of the greatest goods you can do for yourself—you’re getting an education,” Barerra said. “In the context of education, the beehive quote also means now committing yourself to a lifetime of learning and implementing those lessons throughout your life. Treat the education you receive here as an act of social responsibility as we all, together, find our way through this still relatively uncharted territory.”
Dr. Barerra received thunderous applause for his inspiring and heartfelt talk.
The Converse Chorale performed “Things That Never Die” (words by Charles Dickens; music by Eleanor Dailey), followed by the reaffirmation of the Converse Honor Pledge led by Emily Ingle ’25, Chair of the Honor Board (Nisbet Honors).
Those in attendance enthusiastically performed the Converse’s Alma Mater, followed by the Benediction by Anna Patterson ’24, President of the Religious Life Council.
As the ceremony wrapped up, the Converse community proceeded to the front lawn to enjoy lunch in Johnson Plaza, wrapping up an annual tradition in the life of our campus community.