Beyond Successful: World-Renowned Experts Showcase Talents During Westminster’s Signature Program

Take a leading Pfizer scientist on the front lines of COVID-19 vaccine development, the current U.S. Poet Laureate, a former chief economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, and 22 other innovators, transport them to a small but bustling college campus for three straight days, and you might conclude you have a winning formula for a streaming reality series.

And yet this is not the latest in Hulu entertainment or a TED Talk conference: It’s what happens each year at Westminster College during Hancock Symposium.

From Sept. 14-16, Westminster once again formed its own dream team of accomplished professionals during the 16th annual Symposium: “Beyond 2020: Finding Opportunity In An Age of Disruption.”

The College’s signature event fostered the deep, thought-provoking discussions that exemplify the best of a liberal arts education, said Dr. David Jones, Hancock Symposium 2021 Committee Chair.

“We were gratified to see the amazing level of engagement between our speakers, students, and other audience members in all of the Symposium sessions, including plenary, executive, and breakout sessions, workshops, lunches and dinners, and informal gatherings,” he said.

The event ― which took place both in person for students, faculty, and staff and virtually for a global audience ― examined how 2020 affected our lives as well as how the year strengthened us as a society.

September 14

Hancock Symposium 2021 began with a series of workshops. Janice Mathews-Gordon, ’81, Westminster’s first female graduate, conducted an “Express Yourself!” art workshop in the foyer of Champ Auditorium.


Mental health therapist Ann Rulo simultaneously led a workshop in Hermann Lounge that discussed how to improve our overall well-being following the pandemic.


At the same time, Dr. Therese Miller, Professor of Health and Exercise Science, held a “Yoga on the Hill” workshop designed to set the tone for the three-day event.


September 15

Pfizer scientist Justin Sperry, PhD, served as the first plenary speaker of Hancock Symposium. The Vice President of Technology and Innovation for Biotherapeutics and Vaccines and head of Pfizer’s St. Louis R&D operations discussed the behind-the-scenes tensions during the development of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Sperry carefully outlined both the urgency and accuracy demanded during the process, which took place as Pfizer employees experienced the same pressures as the rest of the world, including illness, school closures, and erratic work schedules.


Other speakers on Sept. 15 included alumna Shauna Aminath, ’08, Minister of Environment, Climate Change, and Technology in the Maldives. Aminath explained how climate change is adversely affecting her country and how to engage with others on topics pertaining to the environment.


Education expert Jonathan Starr, founder of the Abaarso Network, detailed various ways education continues to evolve with advances in technology.


Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing, discussed housing insecurity and innovations that will improve housing options for many.


Julie Davidson, ’86 ΚΑΘ, Market Chief Financial Officer with UnitedHealthcare, examined how her company met the challenges of COVID-19 and ways in which the workplace was forever changed by the pandemic.


Roberta Guerrina, PhD, Professor of Political Science at the University of Bristol, discussed feminism and planetary politics.


Abbie Heppe, Director of Live Service with Media Molecule, outlined what her company did during the pandemic to bring virtual gaming experiences into people’s homes.


Hassaan Sipra, ’11 ΦΔΘ, Climate Finance Fellow with the Research Society of International Law in Islamabad, Pakistan, examined holistic climate sustainability.


Dakota McMahand, Founder and Executive of Budding Artists, conducted a process-based art experience to help explore grassroots problem solving.


Olympic medalist and world wrestling champion J’Den Cox briefly discussed his wrestling career. He then focused on how authentic communication plays a significant role in educating others about the Black Lives Matter movement.


Janice Mathews-Gordon, ’81, Visual Artist and Owner of JMG Art, Inc., examined the ways art can inspire us during times of uncertainty.


U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo offered a relaxing evening of poetry and music in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, capping off the first full day of Symposium events.

September 16

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist with First Trust Advisors, LP, kicked off Hancock Symposium on Sept. 16 by emphasizing just how unprecedented these “unprecedented times” have been on the nation’s financial well-being.

Wesbury outlined how the pandemic adversely affected the national economy, explaining how actions taken by the Federal Reserve during the height of COVID-19 will potentially affect the economy in the future.


Lynn Rossey, PhD, Executive Director of Tasting Mindfulness, LLC, revealed how mindfulness can help us during stressful times.


Amy Laurel Fluker, PhD, ’08, the Robert W. Reeder Professor of History at Youngstown State University, examined how history is important to our identities, culture, and politics.


Matthew Thimgan, PhD, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Missouri S&T, discussed the importance of sleep in our self-care.


Gordon Pennycook, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Regina’s Hill/Levene Schools of Business, revealed how unreasonable behavior on social media can be fixed by individuals interacting more deliberately with the platforms.


Rev. Colin Kerr, ’06, Rev. Mahogany Thomas, ’13, and A.R. “Flanny” Flanigan, MDiv, ’12, formed a spiritual panel, joining with the Center for Faith & Service for a guided conversation on spirituality, justice, and connection during the pandemic.


Laura King, PhD, the Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, examined the meaning of life in difficult times, citing her research that reveals fulfillment and meaning take place for many despite extreme hardship.


Donald Wood, ’00 ΣΧ, founder of One Eight CREATE ended the three-day event with a dinner discussion for students on how to create a shared vision to lead institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.


At the end of Hancock Symposium 2021, Jones concluded that this particular Symposium, which was livestreamed and can be found on Westminster’s YouTube Symposium playlist, was one of the most engaging in the event’s 16-year history.*

He reflected, “This was exactly what we hoped for … a time for all of us to listen and learn, to critically evaluate, to discuss, and to reflect on the events of 2020 and how we move forward into a brighter future.”

Browse our complete Hancock Symposium 2021 photo gallery to learn even more about the event.

Launched in 2006, the Hancock Symposium is the College’s signature event, offering a highly diverse group of guest lecturers, panel discussions, and workshops on a particular subject of global interest. The Symposium is funded in perpetuity by a generous gift from alumnus David Hancock, ’67 FIJI, of Kansas City, MO.

*Some presentations were unavailable for posting at the time this article was published. A few speakers’ contracts prohibit Westminster from saving their presentations on the College YouTube page.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.