Thomas Colloquium tries new approach with speakers

By Hannah Werle 

The board of the Thomas Colloquium on Free Enterprise, a business lecture series hosted by Youngstown State University and the Williamson College of Business Administration, hopes to attract larger audiences with diverse speakers.

Jackie LeViseur, director of University Events, said the board of the colloquium wanted to change its approach when the series returned after the pandemic. According to LeViseur, the board wanted to find distinct lecturers who’d attract larger audiences. 

“The business series doesn’t garner that big of a crowd because it’s kind of a targeted audience. So, we were like ‘how can we change that?’ Instead of just the two speakers for this past year,” LeViseur said. “We came up with four [speakers].”

The board hired skateboarder Tony Hawk, entrepreneur John Hope Bryant, former CEO of PepsiCo Inc. Indra Nooyi and Olympic athlete Allyson Felix. 

In addition to attracting an audience, LeViseur said the board hired lecturers who could show how business interacts with different fields, such as Hawk’s skateboarding or Felix’s athletics.

So far, the lectures have garnered interest from students as Hawk’s show sold out LeViseur stated. 

Kelly Wilkinson, dean of the WCBA, said the board was looking for lecturers who could reflect the population of YSU. 

“We had the opportunity to look for impactful speakers that not only are entrepreneurial but also reflect the population of the university in diverse ways,” Wilkinson said. “The whole idea was to bring a diverse set of people on campus that would attract a variety of constituents.” 

The college will welcome Nooyi on March 23. According to Nooyi’s speaker agency, Harry Walker Agency Inc., Nooyi is an acclaimed businesswoman and is credited for growing PepsiCo’s revenue from $35 billion to $63.5 billion during her tenure as CEO. 

Nooyi has also been featured in Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and TIME’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

LeViseur said she believes Nooyi’s accomplishments will encourage students and promote female empowerment.

“[The board] picked her because of her platform as a woman CEO. She talks about diversity and while she was at Pepsi, sustainability was a big issue and also getting nutritional foods into the communities that Pepsi served,” LeViseur said. 

Wilkinson said she believes Nooyi, along with the other lecturers, will promote diversity and equity in business. 

“I think there needs to be a difference in perspective and a difference in where we’re coming from, particularly from women,” Wilkinson said. “This town is full of strong, successful women and they are willing to help, to guide, to mentor and we need to take advantage of that.”

Wilkinson also said she wants these lectures, specifically Nooyi and Felix’s, to serve as inspiration to students. 

“I want to empower the women of this college — of this university — to understand that they’re not just a girl,” Wilkinson said. “It’s not about being aggressive, it’s about being determined.” 

The Thomas Colloquium is one of three lecture series hosted by YSU. Founded by Paul and Marguerite Thomas, the colloquium was created to educate students and community members about jobs and opportunities in the business sector.

The colloquium consists of two sessions. The first, hosted in the WCBA building, allows students to speak directly with a lecturer through question and answer sessions. The second event is the official lecture and will be hosted at Stambaugh Auditorium.

The next speaker is Allyson Felix, the most decorated female track & field athlete in Olympic history. Felix will visit the university Sept. 14, tickets will be available Aug. 8.