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A reading from the 2021 U.S. Poet Laureate along with presentations about Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine development, gender equality and the meaning in life in troubled times are among the many topics to be explored by 25 international experts during Westminster College's upcoming Hancock Symposium.

The symposium, Sept. 14-16, will feature numerous speakers, including Justin Sperry, Ph.D., — vice president of Technology and Innovation for Biotherapeutics and Vaccines and head of Pfizer's St. Louis R&D operations — who will discuss "Past, Present, and Future Insights into the COVID-19 Vaccine."

Others include Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors, LP, and former chief economist for the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, along with Laura King, Ph.D., a curators' distinguished professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who will speak about maintaining "Meaning in Life During Difficult Times" even during a global pandemic.

St. Louisan Liberty Vittert, Ph.D., an expert on data, disinformation, election polling and the refugee crisis, is a visiting scholar at Harvard University and professor of Data Science at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. She will discuss "Finding Opportunity in Disruption by Fighting Fake News."

A number of Westminster alumni will give presentations on a variety of topics, including graduate Shauna Aminath, now Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology for the Republic of Maldives, who will discuss "Environmental Policy Where it Matters Most."

These are just a few of the guest lecturers who will address audiences during the symposium from Westminster's Champ Auditorium, various lecture halls and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, which is part of America's National Churchill Museum on Westminster's campus.

A special event designed to highlight the importance of creativity in challenging times will feature U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who will perform music and poetry to a virtual off-campus audience Wednesday evening, followed by a socially distanced book signing at America's National Churchill Museum.

As in past years, this year's symposium will be free and open to the public, but it will be a hybrid of in-person lectures and virtual presentations due to COVID-19 restrictions. Only students, faculty, staff and guest lecturers masked and socially distanced will be allowed to attend in person. Most of the lectures and workshops, however, will be streamed live online for local, regional, national and international audiences.

"Each year, the Hancock Symposium allows students, faculty and staff to learn together," said Donald P. Lofe Jr., Westminster's president and chief transformation officer. "We are pleased to offer the wider community the opportunity to join us safely via livestream for these exciting events."

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: finding the upside during troubled times caused by the pandemic.

"2020 was a year of critical disruptions in public health, education, race relations, and politics, to name a few, and they remain with us today," said Dr. David Jones, chair of the 2021 Hancock Symposium Committee. "We have invited speakers from around the world to help make sense of what happened and, more importantly, to help us find opportunity in the challenges to move forward with creativity and innovation."

For a complete schedule, visit

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