Graphic by Glorianna Noland
For more than 20 years, International Programs at Washburn University has organized the Brown Bag Lecture Series as a way for students, staff and the community to enrich their lunch break.
The series has the name “Brown Bag” because the lectures always begin at noon, when most people are eating lunch, historically being in a paper bag.
After inconsistently hosting the Wednesday lectures for the last two years, the series returned for the 2021-22 school year with 10 lectures spread across both semesters.
Most topics and presenters are planned the semester before the lecture, while others can pop up suddenly in response to real-world events.
“We have a set of faculty and staff who are happy to share their international experiences and perspectives,” said Baili Zhang, director of International Programs. “It’s all-in an effort to increase awareness of international global understanding and international education.”
As the organizer of the series, Zhang is in charge of finding those people, typically faculty members, to share their stories and knowledge. One presenter Zhang relies on is Professor and Chair of History and Geography, Tom Prasch, who has been giving presentations at the lecture for over 20 years.
“I teach World History. And this is kind of more teaching of world history with a slightly different audience. I’m engaged in the kinds of things that go on in the world. And I like to kind of connect it to the present moment,” Prasch said.
Prasch enjoys the opportunity to present, especially when he can use his own experience and research abroad as the topic for his presentation. A sabbatical to Sicile, Italy with his wife resulted in the two of them giving one of Prasch’s favorite presentations about the history and culture of the city based on their visit.
These presenting opportunities and panels on current events, such as a prior lecture on the invasion of Ukraine,, make him appreciative of the platform.
“I think it’s a really valuable program, partly because it’s a way for different people that are engaged in work with overseas students and work with international topics to connect with each other,” Prasch said. “There are really strikingly few real interdisciplinary sites on this campus where scholars from different fields talk about their work, and this is one of them. So, I think it’s a valuable thing.”
As the series goes back into full swing with lower attendance than before the pandemic,Zhang and Prasch hope that more students will come to the lectures in the future.
“Besides being there and experiencing it, the second-best way to learn is to hear from other people and how they experience something and their reflections on the experiences,” Zhang said. “So that is a valuable learning resource in my view that the students can take advantage of.”
Zhang also believes that the experience is good for those who do not have the time or money to travel abroad. For those who are able and interested, it could be an opportunity to learn before going.
“It’s part of our effort to internationalize the campus by bringing different perspectives and opinions,” Zhang said. “I’m encouraging people to come and listen, and interact in person … students in particular to take full advantage of this series. It really broadens your views.”
Over the summer, Zhang will solicit volunteers to present in the fall 2022 iteration of the Brown Bag Lecture Series as it returns and continues as a mainstay event at Washburn University.
Edited by: Glorianna Noland, Simran Shrestha