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World Affairs on Display at St. Petersburg Conference

Feb 9, 2016

For the fourth year, diplomats, military experts, media and academics from around the globe will gather at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs.

It's the biggest conference so far, with more than 60 speakers and 30 panel discussions taking place February 17 through 19.

“As we’ve grown, it’s gotten easier to bring people in because they’ve heard of us and we find it serves a great need in the community, that people are genuinely hungry for this kind of information,” said Dr. Thomas Smith, director of the USFSP Honors Program and member of the conference's board of directors.

conference logo
Credit St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs

Topics to be covered include what to do about Syrian refugees, U.S. relations with Cuba and Venezuela and China's strength as a world power.

The conference will also look at areas of concern that know no borders, such as healthcare, which will be the subject of one of the first panels at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"We're going to have representatives of several different countries talking about how they do healthcare," Smith said. "We're going to do the same with gun control and gun rights."

The gun control discussion, which takes place at 2 p.m. Wednesday will feature one of the more eclectic panels: Maria Butina, the founding Chairman of The Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, Howard Simon, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida and writer / documentary producer Meg Moritz.

And, with 2016 being an election year, presidential politics will certainly be of great interest.

"We're kind of trying to get at the question of is there a foreign policy vision that presidential candidates have," Smith said.

In addition to international experts, local speakers will be featured, including Dr. Peter Betzer, President of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez and Al Tompkins from The Poynter Institute.

“We also have a panel of people coming from SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base) who are going to talk about terrorist financing, so we’ve got some really smart people who work on these topics every day,” Smith said.

Ambassador Douglas McElhaney, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Wole Soyinka, USF Professor Thomas Smith and National Payment Corporation Chairman George Hamilton at the 2015 Conference.
Credit VideoWork / St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs

Students are encouraged to attend the conference, and not just for what they can learn - they might just be able to jumpstart a diplomatic career.

“We’re going to have a recruiter from the Peace Corps and one from the State Department who will probably put on some free lunches for students,” Smith said. “We want students to think of this both as an intellectual exercise but also something that’s practical and could find them a job in the field.”

WUSF Public Media is serving as a sponsor for the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs. While the conference is free and open to the public, reservations are strongly suggested.