Speaker: Laurie Mulvey

World in Conversation

Dr. Laurie Mulvey creates classroom spaces that revolve around students rather than lesson plans, where individuals can discover their own questions and respond fully to the challenges of divergent views. Because she is fascinated by the quality of learning that occurs in these spaces, she has been refining a pedagogical approach that builds on this process for more than twenty-five years. Her passion for cross-cultural dialogue and collaborative critical thinking has emerged directly out of what she has observed in this kind of student- rather than lesson-driven classroom: Listening changes minds and sharing personal stories changes hearts. In combination, these kinds of experiences transform perspectives.

Dr. Mulvey is co-founder and Executive Director of World in Conversation, a student-driven center for true public diplomacy at Penn State University that is dedicated to facilitating radically open dialogues that expand perspectives and invite greater understanding between people. Founded on the vision that facilitated dialogue will revolutionize cross-cultural relationships by transforming conflict into collaboration, the center trains undergraduates to be facilitators who can deftly navigate exchanges on contentious topics ranging from U.S. race relations, climate change, faith, gender and culture. Each year, undergraduate facilitators lead more than 1200 face-to-face dialogues with over 8,000 of their peers on campus. Students join in these dialogues as part of a major course requirement for over 100 different courses in colleges across the university system. These are 90-minute one-time dialogues that invite personal stories, experiences, and divergent views about the topic. Undergraduate facilitators also use technology to leads hundreds of virtual dialogues between students around the world, including from universities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt and Qatar.

Dr. Mulvey found her life’s calling when she and her husband, Dr. Sam Richards (a sociologist at Penn State University) learned to embrace the seemingly irreconcilable differences between them. Conversation was the centerpiece of their personal odyssey, and it became the foundation of the World in Conversation Project. The Project challenges people of all ancestries to examine the biases, the rumors, and the inherited scripts… and to listen to the stories of people who appear to be on the other side. This kind of engagement has the power to build real alliances.

Dr. Mulvey’s vision has infused every aspect of the Center. Under her leadership, World in Conversation has become the largest university-based cross-cultural dialogue program in the United States. In addition, her innovative Social Conflict course inspired the Center’s global (virtual) dialogues which have attracted the interest of partners such as UNDP and NATO, along with local and regional organizations in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Afghanistan, Denmark, Bulgaria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Germany and Thailand (and the list is growing).

Dr. Mulvey has a Master's degree in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Human Development—which means she is devoted to how people navigate, grow and heal throughout the lifespan, and how all of this occurs in the context of relationships, family, small groups, cultures and societies.

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