Seminar Series

The mission of the L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series is to host stimulating public presentations on topical issues relevant to the university community. 

 A question and answer segment always follows the presentations, allowing the audience to participate in thought-provoking discussions with our guest speakers.


Spring 2022: Dr. Martin Doyle 

Thursday, April 14 at 7:00 pm in Cone Chapel | Floods, Droughts, and Shrinking Cities: The Future of America's Water


Over the past decade, the US saw droughts of record on the Colorado River, toxic algal blooms in Ohio, forest fires devastating Oregon and California and floods inundating Texas and North Carolina. At the same time, drinking water contamination across many communities – from Camden to Flint to Jackson – required residents to regularly boil tap water to ensure their water was safe to drink. Most of these impacts were on communities of color. The effects of climate change are already being felt on our nation’s water, but so are the effects of massive restructuring of our nation’s economy and internal migration. The future of America’s water will be as influenced by deindustrialization and the cost of labor as it will be by global atmospheric circulation patterns. This seminar walked through the environmental and social realities of America’s water and how seemingly unconnected trends and events will shape our hydrologic future. 

Dr. Martin Doyle is a Professor at Duke University. His research and teaching focuses on water science,  policy, and finance. He has held positions in the Department of Interior and the US Army Corps of  Engineers and advised investment funds and multinational corporations on strategies related to water sustainability. He received a PhD from Purdue University and a BS from Harding University.

Fall 2021: Dr. Kristopher Kyle

Monday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Cone Chapel | How to sound smart: Harnessing linguistic big data to investigate readers’ and listeners’ perceptions of linguistic sophistication and language proficiency

This is a photo of Dr. Kristopher Kyle.Dr. Kristopher Kyle is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and the director of the Learner Corpus Research and Applied Data Science Lab at the University of Oregon. His research investigates how language use varies across contexts (e.g., informal conversations versus academic writing) and how particular features of language use affect readers’ and listeners’ perceptions of language proficiency. He develops and adapts natural language processing tools to analyze language corpora (linguistic big data) to make this research possible at scale. This research has particularly important implications for language assessment (e.g., standardized tests of language proficiency) and language pedagogy (e.g., writing courses).

Natural language processing tools are unobtrusively pervasive in our daily online lives, from web browser searches and autofill suggestions to voice-to-text algorithms (e.g., Siri and Alexa). In this presentation, Kyle will introduce some ways that NLP tools and large collections of linguistic data (corpora) can be used to facilitate research in the social sciences. In particular, he will discuss how he develops and uses computational tools to investigate human perceptions of writing quality and speaking proficiency. This research has indicated that, for example, essays that include rarer words (e.g., exquisite versus good) but also more conventional word combinations (e.g., kick the ball versus transfer the ball) tend to earn higher quality scores. He then will outline some important implications of this work for writing pedagogy, language pedagogy and language assessment.

Fall 2020: Jerry Mitchell

This is a photo of Jerry Mitchell at Harding University, receiving his honorary doctorate from Dr. Bruce McLarty.The Honors College and the American Studies Institute co-hosted alumnus and investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell as part of the L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series on Tuesday, Sept. 8. In compliance with the university's COVID-19 guidelines, the event was virtual and open to a small live audience in the Founder's Room.

Jerry's reporting over the last 30 years has helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations, state reforms, and the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. His memoir for Simon and Schuster, "Race Against Time," tells the story of his pursuit of unsolved murder cases from the Civil Rights Era, leading to convictions in some of the nation’s most notorious murders. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, he left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit that exposes corruption, malfeasance and injustices, investigates cold cases, empowers citizens and raises up the next generation of investigative reporters.

The university awarded Jerry the Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree at the end of his presentation.

Spring 2019: Michael Pullara

The Harding University Honors College hosted alumnus Michael Pullara as part of the L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in Cone Chapel. Pullara is the author of the acclaimed book “The Spy Who Was Left Behind: Russia, the United States, and the True Story of the Betrayal and Assassination of a CIA Agent.” The event is open to the public and admission is free.

The book tells the shocking true story of the 1993 murder of CIA officer Freddie Woodruff by Russian KGB agents and the extensive cover-up that followed in Washington and in Moscow.

"Yes, this is a book of international espionage and intrigue, but it is saturated with connections to Harding and Searcy,” said Dr. Mike James, dean of the Honors College.

Woodruff, a native of Stillwater, Oklahoma, was an alumnus of the University where his father, George, was a biology professor. At the time of his death, Woodruff was serving with the CIA in the country of Georgia.

A trial lawyer by training, Pullara has pursued the case of Woodruff for more than 20 years. Using redacted FBI documents, a barrage of interviews with FBI special agents and CIA operations officers, witnesses from the soldier’s criminal trial, and previously unreported eyewitnesses to the murder, he constructs a convincing case that Woodruff was the casualty of a larger geopolitical game between a crumbling Soviet empire, KGB assassins, and an aggressive U.S. moving in to influence this previously held Soviet territory.

“For me, the story is important to tell because it is such a hopeful story,” said Pullara. “It is a modern day recount of the Good Samaritan in the context of murder, intrigue and treason. It is both inspirational and worth retelling.”

The L.C. Sears series was named after the University’s first academic dean and was designed to contribute to his quest for academic excellence. The mission of the Series is to host stimulating public presentations on topical issues relevant to the university community. The goal of each seminar is to encourage public dialogue on important topics, thus bringing together the entire Harding intellectual community.

Capt. Ryan Scott graduated from Harding in 1998. After graduating, he and his wife, Brook (’97), worked with the Avanti Italia program in Florence, Italy. Upon returning to the states, Ryan was a high school band director in Bee Branch, Arkansas. He enlisted as an Army Bandsman in 2005 and served as a guitarist for four years. 

He attend Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a Field Artillery lieutenant in 2009. As an officer, Ryan has served with the 82nd Airborne, with whom he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2010 and as an instructor at the Field Artillery Officer School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. His most recent assignment as the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery of the 428th Field Artillery Brigade. While in command, Ryan completed his MBA through Harding University. He currently serves as the Executive Officer and an instructor in the Military Science division in the Department of Military Instruction at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He is pursuing an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership through Abilene Christian University. Ryan and Brook have been married 20 years and have two daughters, Lily (15) and Sadie (11). 

Spring 2017: Mark Moore

Mark Moore is the CEO of Mana Nutrition in Fitzgerald, Georgia, one of the leading global suppliers of peanut-based, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to UNICEF and the United States Agency of International Development. Mana has proudly produced enough RUTF to treat nearly 3 million malnourished children. 

Mark spent nearly 10 years working in eastern Uganda serving in rural communities. After returning to the United States, he earned a Master’s degree at Georgetown University. He has served as legislative fellow and Africa specialist in the United States Senate for Senator Mary Landrieu, as an Africa analyst for the Science Applications International Corporation, and as policy director for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. He was a White House Fellow finalist and an Unreasonable Institute Fellow in Boulder, Colorado in 2013. 

Prior to co-founding Mana, Mark co-founded Kibo Group, a development organization that houses numerous Africa projects. He is also a co-founder of Calorie Cloud, an effort to harvest excess calories in the U.S. and send them to malnourished children who need them in the developing world. The Calorie Could platform houses UNICEF Kid Power, which was named one of Time magazine's 25 best ideas of 2016. 

He has spoken widely at events ranging from college lectures to TEDx Charlotte and the Summit Series at Powder Mountain, and he is the author of "Nourish: A God Who Loves to Feed Us," a book about global hunger and faith. 

He and his wife Marnie and their four children live in Charlotte, North Carolina. He and Marnie are proud graduates of Harding University, and their two sons Ben and Grady are current students there.

Spring 2013: Richard Beck

On January 29, 2013, professor and author Dr. Richard Beck gave a talk entitled "Winter Christians and Sick Souls: Spirituality in an Age of Doubt." He addressed the ways in which we view doubt and spiritual questioning from a psychological perspective, commenting on current directions of study as well as on historical trends. He offered a rebuttal to the Freudian idea that religion is always simply a comforting illusion.

Dr. Beck is the Chair of the Psychology Department at Abilene Christian University. He has published two books, Unclean and The Authenticity of Faith, both of which deal with a field that Dr. Beck terms "Experimental Theology." He writes primarily about the psychology of religion.

Dr. Beck's lecture is part of an ongoing effort to bring speakers to campus through the L.C. Sears Series who will promote critical thinking in such a way that students will be empowered to constructively engage their faith in an increasingly secular world.

Fall 2012: Elizabeth Bettina

On Thursday, August 30, 2012, Elizabeth Bettina gave a presentation based on her book, "It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust." 

Ms. Bettina graduated from Smith College with a degree in Economics and Italian Literature. Her varied career has taken her from advertising and marketing to retail and on-air television broadcasting. Her focus since 2006 has been the research and writing of the book "It Happened in Italy" which was published in 2009. Ms. Bettina has spoken around the country about this little-known story of how approximately 80% of the Jews in Italy survived the Holocaust while approximately 80% of the Jews in the rest of occupied Europe perished. She is presently the Co-Executive Producer of a documentary on Jews surviving in Italy during the Holocaust.

Fall 2010: Andrew M. Mwenda

The L.C. Sears Collegiate Seminar Series hosted a presentation by Andrew M. Mwenda, Ugandan journalist and founder of Uganda's The Independent, on September 30th at 7:00 p.m. in the Heritage Auditorium.

Mwenda, a long-time advocate of economic empowerment and free speech throughout Africa, has been honored with the International Press Freedom Award and named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of 2009's top global thinkers. Mwenda is a Yale fellow in African Studies and has emerged as a leading voice for empowerment in Africa, appearing on CNN, BBC, and the global stage at the TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania in June 2007.

Mwenda addressed African development, economic empowerment and the dangers of foreign aid.

Fall 2009: Sasha Dmochowski

On Sunday, September 27, Sasha Dmochowski eloquently spoke on the topic: "Exploring how the human body expresses narrative and emotion through dance, in particular within the rich tradition of classical ballet."

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Sasha Dmochowski studied dance with Klara Koenig and at the Boston Ballet School. She danced with Boston Ballet from 1994-2001 where her repertory included Cunningham’s Breakers, Taylor’s Company B, Balanchine’s Serenade, and world premieres of Christopher Wheeldon’s Firebird and Twyla Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles. Dmochowski joined American Ballet Theatre in August 2001 where her repertoire with the Company included Graham’s Diversion of Angels, Tudor’s Dark Elegies, De Mille’s Rodeo, Morris’s Gong, and featured roles in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, and Mozartiana, Kylian’s Sechs Tanze, and Tharp’s In the Upper Room.

Dmochowski has taught ballet and pointe to adults and children of all ages at the Boston Conservatory and Boston Ballet School and currently teaches pilates at Equinox Fitness clubs in Manhattan. In addition to guest engagements with American Ballet Theatre and other ballet companies, she is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology at Columbia University.

Dmochowski spoke on exploring how the human body expresses narrative and emotion through dance, in particular within the rich tradition of classical ballet. Drawing upon her almost twenty years as a professional dancer, she will shed some light inside the world of ballet, and help to demystify and dispel some preconceived notions about what it means to be a physical artist.

Fall 2008: Holly Root

After learning to read at age one and a half, Harding graduate Holly Root was "kicked out" of preschool at age three for reading "Little House on the Prairie" aloud during quiet time. But her childhood days have long passed, and Root has brought her instinctive abilities to New York City where she now works as a literary agent for the Waxman Literary Agency.

Overcoming her life-long battle with math, Root started her literary-driven Harding career at age 15 and graduated in '02 with a degree in English.

On Dec. 2 in the Reynolds Recital Hall, Root returned to campus with her husband, Jonathan, a Harding graduate and Broadway actor. In an effort to illustrate the challenges and triumphs of a career in publishing, Root explained the process of bringing a book from a computer screen to publication as part of the L.C. Sears seminar series.

As a literary agent, Root provides the essential link between a writer and an editor in a personal and intricate process. A writer contacts Root through a query letter that contains who the author is, why they should write, what the book is about and why the book matters. This letter provides the basis for Root to decide whether or not to take on a writer's work.

But simply liking the concept of a book is not enough motivation for Root to take on a project.

"There are lots of books in the universe that I love, but I wouldn't say, ‘I would give my left arm to represent that,'" Root said. "The things that I take on usually hit me in a very visceral way."

In selecting literature, Root becomes the gatekeeper of what will make it into the hands of readers. Because of this role, she feels a sense of duty to make meaningful selections.

"With young adult fiction, I feel more of an obligation because the books that really changed who I am as a human being, I read before I was 16," Root said. "I have passed on young adult projects before because I felt like publishing them would be irresponsible. I like young adult novels to have some value beyond just being fun."

The reaction that Root has to a book becomes the foundation of the bond Root will share with the author.

"I jokingly compare an agent-client relationship to a marriage ... but it has to have that sort of ‘meant to be' about it," she said. "In order for me to go through all of the hoop-jumping of actually selling a book, I have to feel so passionately about it that I feel like if this book gets published, and I'm not a part of it, I just won't be able to live with it. You really have to connect with something on a very strong level."

Once a book passes the initial "yea or nay" read, Root goes to work by selecting which editors and publishing companies would be an appropriate fit for the work.

With hundreds of editors in each publishing house, it becomes her job to know who is best suited for a particular book, make contact with that individual and put the book into his or her hands.

"I am constantly making connections with editors, and figuring out people's likes and dislikes and what they're interested in," Root said. "If you hit at somebody with exactly what they're looking for no matter how crazy [the book] might be, you can really get a great reaction from people, which is why it's such a big part of my job to know who is looking for what."

Yet finding a place for the book to be printed is not Root's only task as an agent.

"From the author's point of view, I'm there as their protector, their guardian and hand-holder," Root said. "I'm part psychologist and part extremely critical reader so that I can help them get their work in the best shape it can be in before I send it to publishers, and [I'm] also there when they freak out because the editor sounded a little upset on the phone. I'm there to calm them down."

As the fuel that launches a book into the right hands, Root is privileged to have a feeling of accomplishment as her clients succeed.

"There's an incredible amount of responsibility and joy [in publishing]," Root said. "If you love books, what is cooler than being able to say, ‘I made that happen. I showed people that that book was worth buying.' The ability to share books with people and get paid for doing it, that's what it's all about for me."

Fall 2006: Dr. David Rosand

Dr. David Rosand, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University will present a seminar on the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Professor Rosand is a world-renowned expert on the Renaissance tradition and Venetian art, and is the author of Titian and the Venetian Woodcut (1976), Titian (1978), The Meaning of the Mark: Leonardo and Titian (1988), Painting in Sixteenth-Century Venice: Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto (1982, rev. ed. 1997), Robert Motherwell on Paper (1997), Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a State(2001) and Drawing Acts: Studies in Graphic Expression and Representation(2002). 

Spring 2006: Rabbi Elliot Gertel and Dr. Nabil Bayakly

Peace in Palestine: The Arab-Israeli Conflict and U.S. Foreign Policy. On Thursday, March 2nd, 2006, three religious scholars came together to share their views on the continuing conflict in the Middle East. Rabbi Elliot Gertel of Chicago and Dr. Nabil Bayakly of Memphis presented differing views after an introduction Evertt Huffard, Dean of Harding University's Graduate School of Religion. Student questions followed. The event was attended by approximately 300 students, faculty, and members of the community, as well as representatives of local TV, radio, and print media outlets. A DVD of the Peace in Palestine seminar is available for $5 through the Honors College. 

Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel, a native of Springfield, MA, attended the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, earning a B.A. in philosophy and a B.H.L. in Bible. He received a M.H.L. from the Seminary, where he was ordained in 1981. Rabbi Gertel has been spiritual leader of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago since 1988. In Chicago he has been chairman of the Joint Television Commission of the Jewish Federation and the Chicago Board of Rabbis, President of the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council, and a board member of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society.

On the congregational level, Rabbi Gertel has been an innovator whose programs have won Solomon Schechter awards for music and publications and "unique programming." He has pioneered in outreach to synagogue alumni and in joint ventures with other communal agencies, such as Jewish Family Services.

Rabbi Gertel has been a contributing editor of Conservative Judaism and Jewish Spectator magazines. He has contributed many essays and reviews to popular and scholarly publications in the fields of Jewish thought, Jewish literature and American Jewish history, and, since 1979, has been the media critic for the Jewish Post and Opinion, American Jewry’s longest-running national English-language weekly. His recent books include What Jews Know About Salvation, which prodded the Library of Congress to list "salvation" as a Jewish concept, and Over the Top Judaism, which discusses the depiction of Judaism in film and on television.

Nabil A. Bayakly was born in Kumasi, Ghana in West Africa to Lebanese parents of Turkish descent. During his youth in Tripoli, Lebanon Bayakly graduated from Tripoli Evangelical School and attended the Tripoli Institute for High Islamic Studies for two years. After arriving in the United States in 1979, he earned a PhD from the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Memphis. Dr. Bayakly is currently Assistant Professor of Biology at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis as well as Adjunct Professor for Islamic Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary. Bayakly is a cofounder of the Memphis Multireligious Association, serves as Chairman of Muslims in Memphis, and is a member of the Peace and Justice Center for the Midsouth, Diversity Memphis, and the Mayor’s Committee (of Memphis) for Multireligious and Multicultural Affairs. He also holds a Certificate of Achievement from the FBI for Civil Rights Training.

Bayakly has published numerous scientific, religious and sociopolitical papers and has been a guest speaker on Islamic and Middle East issues at many prestigious institutions, including Sewanee, Rhodes, and Columbia. Bayakly was the American-Muslim representative for the Second Asia Pacific Business Conference on Cultural Diversity at the Workplace in Putrajaya, Malaysia in 2005. Dr. Bayakly and his Ethiopian wife have four children, all US citizens.

Evertt W. Huffard is Dean/Executive Director and Professor of Missiology at Harding University Graduate School of Religion, in Memphis, Tennessee. He has been teaching leadership and missiology for 20 years. In 1997 he received the Distinguished Teacher Award from Harding University. His cross-cultural experiences began as a teenager when his parents moved to Jerusalem, Jordan in 1963. He returned to the USA in 1967 and after graduating from Lubbock Christian University (A.A.), Harding University (B.A.), and Harding University Graduate School of Religion (M.A. and M.Th.) he served a church in Nazareth, Israel and taught Bible at the Galilee Christian High School for five years. He completed a Ph.D. in Inter-Cultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1985 with a focus on the Muslim-Christian encounter. In addition to his ten years of urban ministry experience in Los Angeles and Memphis, Dr. Huffard frequently lectures on the Muslim-Christian encounter.

In June, 2000 he served as a co-leader of a delegation of 12 theologians visiting the Israeli and Palestinian delegates in the peace process in Jerusalem. For the past 20 years he has hosted tours to the Holy Land. Since 9/11 he has spoken to over 120 churches and schools on understanding our Muslim neighbors. His most recent trip to the Middle East was in December, 2004. Evertt and his wife, Ileene, have three children, and five grandchildren.

Called to Care: AIDS and Christian Compassion

On November 15th, 2005, Dr. Bruce Smith and Dr. Anna Griffith shared their views on the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the approaches churches should be taking in order to combat it. The event was an encouraging success, with over two hundred concerned students and faculty present. After presenting for an hour and a half Dr. Smith and Dr. Griffith answered many more questions from those present. The promotional video for the seminar as well as an audio recording of the event are available below.

Bruce Smith is a Christian HIV physician with training and experience in Family Practice, International Health and Public Health. He is an elder of the Redlands, California, Church of Christ and works for the Public Health Department of San Bernardino County. He is a graduate of Harding and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio, and spent eight years in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala as a medical missionary. Most recently he has made two trips to Africa to learn from church leaders what should be done about the HIV crisis there and to lead church leaders in choosing courses of action.

Anna Griffith was born and raised in Levelland, TX. After high school she attended and received a professional certificate from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Along with numerous other degrees, Dr. Griffith holds the Doctor of Ministry from Abilene Christian University. She is the author of Balance: A Modern Christian Challenge and From Paul to Philippi, With Love, along with numerous articles in "Wineskins," "Christian Chronicle," and other publications. She became involved with AIDS when she learned that a family member was HIV+, who then challenged her by stating (truthfully) that the church at the time was doing nothing about AIDS.


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