Featured Speakers Series

Kent State University at Stark's Featured Speakers Series brings national and international experts in civil rights, politics, education, environmental activism, literature and arts to campus.

The community is invited to attend Kent State University at Stark’s 2018-19 season of the Featured Speakers Series with an impressive selection of personalities. For 28 years, this popular Kent State Stark series has attracted thousands of campus and community members who take advantage of a rare opportunity to be introduced to national and international experts on a wide range of topics and issues that shape our society. 

Notable figures have included Golden Globe-winning actor Henry Winkler, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, national political broadcaster George Stephanopoulos, journalist and National Geographic Explorer host Lisa Ling, tennis star Billie Jean King, rags-to-riches prodigy Chris Gardner, legendary drummer Max Weinberg, ice cream entrepreneur Jerry Greenfield, cinematographer Spike Lee, CNN's broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper, Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, distinguished astronaut Mark Kelly and acclaimed journalists Soledad O'Brien and John Quinones.

The 2019-20 speakers will be announced in August 2019.


2018-19 Featured Speakers Series


  • Programs are free and open to the public.
  • Tickets are required and seating is limited. Limit two (2) tickets per person. Pick up tickets at the Main Hall Information Desk.
  • The Main Hall Information Desk will be open beginning at 7:30 a.m. on the ticket release dates only. Tickets will remain available, while supplies last, during regular business hours: Monday - Thursday: 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. and Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Ticket distribution is first-come, first-served. No phone reservations will be taken nor will tickets be mailed.
  • Programs are held in Timken Great Hall at the Kent State Stark Conference Center. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.
  • ASL interpreters available by request. To request ASL interpretation, please email jspotts@kent.edu no later than two weeks prior to the event date. 


Previous featured speakers

Featured Speaker Sarah ThomasSARAH THOMAS
Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets available Monday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 a.m.

Sarah Thomas changed the game in the world’s most quintessential male-dominated sport — football — when she became the first female NFL referee. Now, she’s inspiring others to dream big and believe anything is possible. Since her addition to the NFL’s roster of referees, Thomas has become a pioneering inspiration to people everywhere, embodying the notion that with a belief in self, inner drive, hard work, preparation, and a mindset of being the best you can be, no barrier or ceiling is impenetrable. Thomas provides key insights on overcoming adversity – and the odds – finding your passion while maintaining work-life balance, decision-making, and not only succeeding as a female in a male-dominated industry, but achieving breakthrough success for men and women alike.

Featured Speaker Mira SorvinoMIRA SORVINO
Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets available on Monday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 a.m.

Mira Sorvino is an Academy Award-winning actress, documentary filmmaker, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, silence breaker and passionate voice of the #MeToo movement and lifelong champion of victims of social injustice. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in East Asian studies, Sorvino’s breakout acting role was in Woody Allen’s 1995 film, “Mighty Aphrodite”, which won her an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Critics Choice for best supporting actress. Raised in a family of activists, her social conscience was ignited by her mother’s participation in the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It served as a catalyst for her own social activism and a lifetime of serving others. A long-time advocate for human rights, Sorvino promotes empowerment of women everywhere as a cause worth fighting for.

Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets available Monday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 a.m. 

For more than four decades, Mary Frances Berry, Ph.D., has been one of the most visible and respected activists in the cause of civil rights, gender equality and social justice. Serving as chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Berry led the charge for equal rights and liberties for all Americans over the course of four presidential administrations. She made history as one of the founders of the monumental Free South Africa Movement (FSAM), for which she received the Nelson Mandela award. In her most recent book, “History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times”, Berry chronicles more than 50 years of progressive victories and the winning tactics behind them. She reveals what works, what doesn’t – and how to achieve positive change in our world.

Thursday, Feb. 21
5:15 - 7 p.m.
Kent State Stark Library

All are welcome to discuss themes, ideas and current events connected to Berry's latest book, "History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times." Prior completion of the book is not required. Participants in the book discussion will receive two reserved seating tickets for Berry's lecture and will be invited to meet Berry following her lecture. Books are available for purchase at the Kent State Stark Bookstore and to check out at the library. Contact Samantha Lee at slee23@kent.edu with questions. Hosted by the Kent State Stark Library Book Club.

Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets available Monday, March 18 at 7:30 a.m.
Following the lecture, there will NOT be a book signing or meet and greet.

Before he was a world-famous novelist, Nicholas Sparks worked a variety of jobs, including real estate appraisal, waiting tables, selling dental products by phone, and starting his own small manufacturing business, which struggled from the beginning. In 1994, at the age of 28, he wrote “The Notebook” over a period of six months, and in October 1995, Warner Books bought the rights. Now, with more than 105 million copies of his books sold worldwide, literary sensation Sparks is the author of 19 New York Times No. 1 bestselling books and is a cultural phenomenon in his own right. Sparks takes audiences deeper into the sleepy towns and poignant relationships that ignite the lines of his romantic page-turners, weaving in his own personal story of hard work, rejection and triumph.  

All are welcome. Prior completion of the books is not required. Participants in either book discussion will receive an exclusive bookmark autographed by author Nicholas Sparks. Books are available to purchase at the Bookstore or to check out at the Library. Note that the lecture on April 17 will NOT include a book signing.

"The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks
Tuesday, April 9
5 - 6 p.m.
Kent State Stark Library
Host: Kent State Stark English Club

At 31, Noah Calhoun, back in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by  images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. At 29, socialite Allie Nelson is about to marry a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. Thus begins the story of a love so enduring and deep it can turn tragedy into triumph, and may even have the power to create a miracle...

"Every Breath" by Nicholas Sparks
Thursday, April 11
5:15 - 7 p.m.
Kent State Stark Library
Host: Kent State Stark Library Book Club

Nicholas Sparks returns with a story about a chance encounter that becomes a touch-stone for two vastly different individuals - transcending decades, continents and the bittersweet workings of fate. Illuminating life’s heartbreaking regrets and enduring hope, “Every Breath” explores the many facets of love that lay claim to our deepest loyalties - and asks the question: How long can a dream survive?

Add Me!

I'd like to receive notifications about Kent State Stark's Featured Speakers Series and campus cultural events.



Tina Biasella
Director, Marketing and Community Engagement