No Tests or Essays — Just Fun Learning
Nearly 40 Dornsife Dialogues events have explored a wide range of topics, including stand-up comedy’s historic influence on society. (Composite: Letty Avila; Image Source: iStock.)

No Tests or Essays — Just Fun Learning

Launched early in the pandemic, the Dornsife Dialogues virtual event series — which features USC scholars and other experts engaged in fascinating live discussions — remains enormously popular.
ByJim Key

If you don’t see the connection between black holes, the economics of happiness, and Los Angeles’s troubled history with water, it’s probably because you’re not yet familiar with the monthly, virtual event series known as Dornsife Dialogues.

The hour-long discussions among scholars, policy makers, journalists and opinion leaders — regarding a wide range of timely and interesting topics — skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic and continue to draw thousands of viewers.

“Unless you’re a student, you’ve got few opportunities to hear our brilliant scholars share their expertise on a wide range of interesting and topical issues,” says USC Dornsife Dean Amber D. Miller. “Dornsife Dialogues changes that dynamic, offering our alumni and others the opportunity to not only hear directly from our faculty and researchers  and other notable individuals  but to ask them questions.”

Launched in 2017 as a limited series of in-person forums, Dornsife Dialogues was revived in early 2020 as a series of live Zoom events that can be replayed on USC Dornsife’s YouTube channel and can now be heard via the Dornsife Dialogues podcast, which streams on all popular podcast platforms.

There have been 39 virtual events since the April 2020 discussion with the leaders of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future regarding the impact of the pandemic on the election. Participants have included scholars from the USC Price School of Public Policy, Keck School of Medicine of USC, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, USC School of Dramatic Arts and USC Davis School of Gerontology.

Hunger to Connect

“We sensed there was a hunger among our alumni, particularly early in the pandemic, to not only connect with their alma mater, but to hear from experts on timely and interesting topics,” says Sarah Sturm, senior executive director of USC Dornsife alumni relations. “What we didn’t know was how intense the interest would be and that nearly three years later, it would remain so strong.”

Ben Wong ’78, who has a PhD in cellular and molecular biology, says he has watched about 20 Dornsife Dialogues. “I truly enjoy learning new things,” says Wong, “especially since there are no quizzes, midterms or final exams.” His favorite event was titled “How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.”

“I trust the information to be current, accurate, reliable and presented without an agenda, other than to inform,” Wong says. “Certainly, speakers have their own viewpoints, and frankly if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be very interesting. But USC Dornsife does an excellent job of providing balance.”

The politically themed events were some of the most popular for Larry Goodkind ’84, who says he watches to enjoy “a discussion that’s well-rounded and thoughtful on ways forward.” But the double major in political science and broadcast journalism says he has also enjoyed some of the discussions that “were lighter in nature,” including one regarding the history of the Olympics, hosted by a student.

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