ORIAS Speakers Bureau

Speakers Bureau

What is the ORIAS Speakers Bureau?

The ORIAS Speakers Bureau is a cohort of graduate students who offer 45-minute presentations specifically geared to students from middle school to community college. Each talk models important Common Core Social Studies skills, such as analysis of texts and use of evidence to build an argument. Many talks include content that dovetails with History Social-Science Content Standards, while all talks offer opportunities for inquiry-based student engagement, as outlined in the new History-Social Science Framework. Most presentations are also appropriate for more than one grade level or subject, because they address broad questions while focusing on specific events and topics.


Climate Change and Decision-Making: how do we plan for an unpredictable future?

Speaker: Christianne Aikins

We often hear in the news how the climate is changing, but what does that really mean for individual people's lives? One of the biggest challenges associated with climate change is actually increased climate variability. If you are a farmer, perhaps you can plan for a wetter climate, but how do you plan for a growing season that has both droughts and floods? This is why increased climate variability is such a problem. Drawing from her experience working in places like Afghanistan, Peru, and Laos on climate adaptation, the speaker will engage students in an interactive game to help them imagine how different communities, including their own, perceive and try to plan for climate risk. How does a community in the mountains compare to an island one, or a rich versus a poor community? The similarities and differences between these groups can be surprising. Through this talk, students will gain a better understanding of the effects of climate change.

About the Speaker

Christianne is a development professional from Canada, currently pursuing a Masters in Sustainable Development at UC Berkeley. Her research on river fish in Trinidad and nesting birds in western Canada during her B.Sc. at McGill University exposed her to the fascinating (and frustrating) complexities of the relationship between humans and the environment. After graduating, this interest led Christianne to Afghanistan, where she focused on environmental education and disaster risk reduction with the UN Environmental Programme. She then worked with the APEC Climate Center in South Korea, implementing agriculture climate adaptation projects and teaching diverse groups about climate risk across the Asia-Pacific Region.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: The speaker will provide the teacher with a short vocabulary list for the students to learn in preparation for her talk. The list will be accompanied by an answer sheet for teachers and a set of video resources for students.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Economics, any
science course addressing the causes and effects of climate change


Sourcing Digital China

Speaker: Chris Chan

Billions of us generate data through our real and virtual activities each day. But what is data, how is it used, and what impacts does it have? Where is digital data stored, and what does it mean to live and work in a digital world? And how are digital innovations and their applications unique in China?

This talk explores these questions through the lens of contemporary China, where the transformation of a digital society is happening in conjunction with rapid urban development.

About the Speaker

Chris is an anthropologist and PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. Trained as an engineer with a background in both sciences and humanities, his research interests include the overlap of new technologies with urban transformation in contemporary China.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 10th – 12th grade and community college
Note: If you teach younger students and opt to book this speaker, there is one instance of PG-type profanity in a short video used in this presentation.

Preparation: The speaker will provide a brief overview of contemporary conditions in China, but some background knowledge about modern China will make this talk more accessible. Teachers may want to ask the speaker to provide a small subset of infographics or maps to look at with students the day before the talk.

Courses: World History, Economics, Human Geography


Sustainable Development: Challenges of Engineering Solutions to Problems of Poverty Using Human Waste

Speaker: Soliver Chè  Fusi

Something is only considered waste if you waste it. So, is urine waste? In the context of both “developed” countries like the US where we have flush toilets and in “developing” countries like Kenya, where millions still practice open defecation, we waste the valuable nutrients found in urine. These nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, are the primary components of most commercial fertilizers. How might we change our systems to treat our “waste” as the valuable material it is? And even if we can engineer a less wasteful process, are there still reasons why people might be reluctant to adopt the solutions proposed by engineers, either in the US or in less affluent countries like Kenya?

This talk uses a case study to introduce students to the methods development engineers use to attempt to solve problems of poverty. The focus is an exploration of the nitrogen cycle – particularly as it relates to human waste. Students are then invited to step outside the traditional engineering process to propose other factors that might affect people’s willingness or ability to adopt new technologies, including cultural and social norms. Through this process, the speaker invites students to wrestle with questions she, herself, is still working to understand: What are the most appropriate applications and limitations of engineered systems to solve problems of poverty?

About the Speaker

Soliver’s theories about the unsustainable approaches to development engineering are rooted in her immigration to the states from Central Africa at an early age. Her home country of Cameroon is defined as insufficient and incapable of self-lead progress – that is, it is defined as a “developing country”. Her concerns about certain approaches to engineered solutions caused her to shift from her undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, a field that often defines ‘sustainability’ from a very narrow, technical framework, into environmental engineering in her current PhD program. Her ideas continue to be refined by the civil war currently going on back home, between French and English Cameroon. The war increases her awareness of external factors that hinder a country's ability to sustainably develop and pushes her to challenge the mainstream definitions of “progress,” “sustainability,” and “development.”

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: No preparation is necessary, but students would benefit from prior exposure to the nitrogen cycle and information about how and why the world currently produces so much nitrogen fertilizer. The speaker can provide a short list of links to videos and/or articles.

Courses: Engineering, Global Studies, Human Geography, Economics, Environmental Science, any other science course addressing the causes and effects of climate change


Global Vikings: the untold history of the world's greatest travelers, from North America to the Arab World  

Speaker: Sara Ann Knutson 

The people from Scandinavia known as "Vikings" were infamous male raiders, pirates, and pillagers-- or so popular culture has led us to believe. But who were these people in reality? And what can the untold history of the Vikings and their global travels teach us about our own world today?

Students will explore the travels of the Scandinavian Vikings, from their settlements in North America, to the migrations of Vikings down the Volga River in modern-day Russia, to evidence of the Vikings riding camels to trade with Arab merchants in Baghdad and throughout the Abbasid Caliphate. This presentation also includes an investigation into the work of modern-day archaeologists, what they do, how they gather and interpret evidence to understand the past, and why their work matters.

Through this experience, students will explore how the past can help us better understand issues that affect our own lives, including race and ethnicity, social networks, human migrations and migrant narratives, and modern appropriations (and misuses) of history.

This presentation has great flexibility to address different levels of students, beginning with exploring what material objects can tell us about the world and the people who created them, the impressive and little known global connections between Vikings and the Abbasid Caliphate, to increasingly complex concepts of how history can be (and has been) distorted and appropriated for different social and political agendas. 

About the Speaker

Sara Ann grew up in Michigan and has lived in three countries abroad during her adult life. First trained in History at the University of Michigan, she became an archaeologist to study the travels of the Scandinavian Vikings and the people (from at least four continents!) that they interacted with. She holds an MPhil in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge and is currently working on her PhD in Anthropology at UC Berkeley. When she is not conducting research and teaching, Sara Ann enjoys learning languages, public speaking, traveling to new countries, training for the next big triathlon race, and sharing her passion for the global history of cultural interactions with communities around the world.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary, though the talk will be more meaningful to students who have studied one or more of the following: the spread of Islam and the Abbasid caliphate, Medieval Europe, the European colonization of North America.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Global Studies


Soviet Communism and the Movies

Speaker: Dominick Lawton

Ironically, many of the techniques used in modern advertising and Hollywood films were developed in the Soviet Union as part of the broader propaganda project of politically educating the Soviet masses. Working for the newly created Soviet state in the 1920s, film-maker Sergei Eisenstein developed many of the techniques of modern filmmaking, which have now become standardized worldwide. This talk connects students' pre-existing familiarity with the vocabulary of cinema (via film, TV, or YouTube) to the particular — and, probably, unfamiliar — Soviet historical moment in which these techniques were actually developed. The historical connections between our modern media environment and early Soviet culture and politics lays the groundwork for further conversations about the power and place of art in society.

About this Speaker

Dominick was born in Australia and raised first in the United Kingdom, then in St. Louis. He learned the Russian alphabet in high school in Missouri, then started studying Russian literature, culture, and the Russian language after his first exposure to Sergei Eisenstein as a student at Yale University. He has taught English to middle and high school students in Russia, and worked in environmental advocacy in New Mexico. He is now working towards a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Berkeley. Besides Russia, his other interests include music and politics.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. The concepts presented are accessible for younger students, though chronologically the information will be unfamiliar.

Preparation: Students would benefit from background knowledge of the Russian Revolution.

Courses: Art History, Film History, Film/Video  Production, 20th Century US History, World History


Wutong Art Village in Shenzhen, China

Speaker: Annie Malcolm

China has changed significantly in the last three decades, undergoing urbanization and industrialization on a scale never seen before. How do social scientists make sense of such radical changes? This talk explores creativity, art and urbanization in China through the lens of ethnography. Spaces like Wutong Art Village, on the edge of the huge city of Shenzhen, are portholes into understanding how artists work around changing conditions of life. This presentation uses examples of Chinese contemporary art, photos, prose, and accounts of interviews to show how a handful of Art Villages can be interpreted to better understand contemporary China. Students will develop a more nuanced and interesting understanding of modern China while learning how ethnographic research is conducted.

The presentation can work as a stand-alone experience, or as the introduction to an assignment in which students use what they learn to conduct an ethnographic research project within their own communities.

About the Speaker

Annie Malcolm has been learning Chinese since middle school. Having the opportunity to engage such a different language and culture from a young age formed her interest in anthropology, which she studied at Barnard College and continues to pursue as a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley. She has been to China eight times  - most recently for 18 months - and finds that, as a writer and researcher, Chinese art worlds and their relationships to Chinese cities are the most valuable muse with which to wrestle. Her ethnographic research incorporates photography, video, and interviews (which she translates from Chinese into English).

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. Some of the more abstract ideas may be difficult for 7thgraders, but the imagery and exploratory nature of the presentation would be interesting for engaged younger students.

Preparation: An introduction to Daoism and Buddhism in China would deepen student understanding of parts of the presentation, but is not necessary. Teachers should discuss with the speaker whether or not they plan to follow this talk with an ethnographic research project.

Courses: World History, Visual Arts or Art History, Mandarin, Geography, Anthropology 

Note: This talk is suitable for a Mandarin classroom and can be presented in Mandarin or a mix of Mandarin and English (depending on the proficiency of the class).


Archaeology and the Landscape: examining the past to protect our future  

Speaker: Anna Nielsen

How can knowledge of the past help us understand and prevent water-related natural disasters today?  

The Japanese archipelago, with its rugged landscape of mountains and rivers, is prone to many unexpected catastrophes involving water, including floods, typhoons, and tsunamis. On the other side of the world in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, water plays an equally critical role in the desert setting.  In these two seemingly opposite environmental contexts, ancient cultures developed complex societies and the mechanisms to prevent or mitigate natural disasters that threatened them. 

Archaeologists use both traditional and cutting-edge techniques to peer into the past and explore unsolved mysteries. This talk invites students to consider several questions: How did ancient people develop new technologies to control water and build the first “kingdoms” in the Japanese archipelago or the elaborate rock-cut cities of Petra? In what ways can we see traces of the past in the modern landscapes of Japan and Jordan? How can we apply what we learn to environments we see around the world or at home in California? And most importantly, how can knowledge of the past help us understand and prevent water-related natural disasters today? Students will be invited to analyze images and share their observations and deductions. They’ll also come away with an understanding of how archaeology can be used to address climate change and other issues.

About the Speaker 

Anna Nielsen is a PhD student studying Japanese archaeology at UC Berkeley. Ever since she was a child, she planned to become an archaeologist, but she first became interested in Japan as a high school student when she saw the effects of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster. The question “What can I do to help?” started her on a journey that would take her to several new countries, immerse her in Japanese language, and make her feel profoundly grateful that she is lucky enough to study one of the coolest subjects in the world. 

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: Preparation is not necessary, but students of all ages might benefit from some brief contextual information. This would include a brief description of the Kofun period and a few minutes of class time looking at a map to understand where Japan is located and some of the characteristics of its physical geography. See Asia for Educators for a geography lesson you might use for this purpose.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Environmental Science


Tibet, China, and the United States: An LGBTIQ lens

Speaker: Tenzin Paldron

In 2011, LGBT experiences were spotlighted on the highest global stage, in remarks delivered from the United States to the UN on World Human Rights Day. Movements for equity around sexual orientation and gender expression have been in sharp focus ever since. This talk invites consideration of how growth takes place in different communities through three sets of stories. Audiences may learn of particular skills, obstacles, and conditions that shape the people in these stories, and how even simple choices of interpretation and language can reshape broader forces.

About the Speaker

Born to Tibetan parents in New Delhi, India, Tenzin immigrated to the United States and attended public schools in Colorado and Washington State. His higher ed studies began in community college, and he is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley's Rhetoric Department. He writes on the limits of ethics and understanding and questions of speech, silence, and social change, with regional emphasis on the United States, China, and Tibet.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th-12th grade and community college. Concepts are accessible for younger students, with increasing complexity provided to older students.

Preparation: No background knowledge necessary, though teacher is welcome to confer with speaker ahead of time about topics.

Courses: US History, Ethnic Studies, World History, Sociology, Psychology, Media Studies


Agroecology in the Arctic: how ecology, technology, and social action cultivates food sovereignty 

Speaker: Mindy Price

“You are what you eat,” we’ve long been told. Politicized foodies increasingly implore us: “Vote with your fork.” But what kinds of food and agriculture methods should we vote for? This talk explores the journey of the global food system from farm to table. Students will learn about ecology, technology, and the socio-economic context of farming under a climate change scenario and consider how different groups of people unequally access, produce, and consume food. The speaker will unpack the concepts of agroecology, food sovereignty, and hunger. Using a case study from her ethnographic research in Canada’s Northwest Territories, she will show how agroecology empowers individuals to not only grow food in the challenging and rapidly changing environment of the Arctic, but also to resist the global corporate food regime and develop food sovereignty.

About the Speaker

Daughter of fifth generation farmers on her maternal side, Mindy is a rural sociologist studying agrarian change in northern Canada with a specific focus on indigenous food sovereignty and sustainable subarctic/arctic agriculture. Her doctoral research is based on on-going ethnographic fieldwork and archival research conducted in the Northwest Territories. Her previous work considered women’s empowerment and nutrition in livestock systems in East Africa, and she has also studied local food systems in the southeastern US.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college. Middle school is possible, but students would need preparation in terms of vocabulary. This talk would work particularly well at a middle school with a garden program.

Preparation: The teacher may want to request a vocabulary list to help prepare students ahead of time.

Courses: Biology, World History, Human Geography, Ethnic Studies, Government, Environmental Science. This talk would be especially relevant for students who are learning about the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century, the nitrogen cycle, or climate change.


Studying Primates and their World

Speaker: Gustav Steinhardt

When people think about primate societies, they often imagine a small group organized around a dominant Alpha Male and his many females. But in some species, the central figure is a dominant female with many males.

How did that system evolve, and what can it tell us about social behavior in other primates, including humans? This talk explores the differences in primate societies, with a special focus on the scientific process - how we frame questions, the differences between lab work and field work, and how researchers draw on different domains of science in their work.

About the Speaker

At age 7, Gustav Steinhardt had a close encounter with a tamarin monkey at the National Zoo. He never recovered; now, as a fourth-year PhD student in Biological Anthropology, his interests lie at the intersection of behavior, neuroscience, and ecology. Before coming to Berkeley, he earned a BA from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands, then an MA in interdisciplinary humanities from the University of Chicago. After finishing the MA, he switched into STEM and now works on the behavior and ecology of tamarins. His 20-year-old self would be surprised by his current career; his 7-year-old self would not.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college, though more accessible to students in high school and above. Middle school students will need preparation in terms of vocabulary.

Preparation: Students would benefit from prior learning about evolution and natural selection. The teacher may want to request a vocabulary list to help prepare students ahead of time.

Courses: Biology or AP Biology, Environmental Science, Psychology, Sociology


What is Nature?

Speaker: Joel Thielen

On March 11, 2011, a grove of 70,000 pine trees in a coastal Japanese city was swept away by a massive tsunami—except for one single eighty-eight-foot-tall pine tree. However, eighteen months later, salt in the soil killed this "Miracle Pine", prompting the city government go to extraordinary lengths to preserve the tree. While the Miracle Pine is understood as a symbol of hope and resilience, the response of the local government to eternalize the tree raises questions about the intersection between technology and ecology. This seemingly simple story about a tree, and the forest it was once a part of, raises an interesting question about our rapidly changing world: Are landscapes built by human activity "natural"?

This talk uses historical images of pine trees in Japanese art to show how what we think of as "nature" is often constructed by human activity.

About the Speaker

Joel was born near Denver, Colorado and studied biology in college before becoming interested in Japanese art. He moved to Japan in 2012 and stayed for three years teaching English in public elementary and junior high schools while learning the Japanese language. It was during his time living in Japan that Joel became fascinated with depictions of nature in Japanese art. Now, he is working toward a PhD in the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley where he uses both ecology and art history to examine how landscape paintings and memorials produced in Japan help us to understand human-altered landscapes as "natural."

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: No preparation is necessary for this talk.

Courses: World History, Visual Arts or Art History, Geography, Ecology or Environmental Science


How Mud, Trash, and Poop Reveal Ancient Climate Changes

Speaker: AJ White

Understanding climate change that occurred hundreds to thousands of years ago is difficult, so scientists turn to some unusual, and sometimes stinky, places to get paleoclimatic data. Feel how mud contains valuable information about former rainfall, evaporation, and temperature conditions at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels. See how trash left by ancient people lets archaeologists discover the impact of humans on the environment. Finally, smell how poop molecules can tie paleoclimatic and archaeological data together to assess the impact of climate change on civilizations of the past. 

About the Speaker

AJ was particularly impacted by the book "Everybody Poops" in the early 1990s and found an academic release for his interests during his master's work in geology at Long Beach State assessing the use of fecal molecules as indicators of population change. He continues his research in the Anthropology Department at UC Berkeley with an emphasis on how fecal molecules can unite paleoenvironmental and archaeological data to more effectively understand the complex relationship of humans and the environment.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: No preparation is needed ahead of time.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Earth Science, Biology


"Made in China"

Speaker: Patricia Yu

How do objects tell their stories? This talk uses objects of the early China trade (17th to 19th centuries) to demonstrate how movement across boundaries and between cultures can produce creative transformations—in objects and in people. "Made in China" may be seen as a mark of cheap, low-quality, mass-produced goods today, but in previous centuries, objects "made in China" were highly desired luxury goods, inspiring voyages around the world. One of the first goals of the new American nation was to send a ship to China and the relationships formed among the cosmopolitan group of merchants in the port city of Canton would shape not only the formation of the American nation, but also lay the foundation for our own global age.

About the Speaker

Patricia J. Yu was born in Los Angeles, California and studied history at Pomona College. As an undergrad she completed paid summer museum internships at the Chinese American Museum and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, eventually leading her to pursue a doctoral degree in the Department of the History of Art at UC Berkeley. Her research specializes in Chinese art history, cross-cultural translation and exchange, and cultural heritage. She has just completed a graduate curatorial fellowship at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where she participated in the exhibition planning for the museum's gallery of Asian export art.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. 

Preparation: There is no preparation required, but students will benefit most from this talk if they have some familiarity with interactions between China and European powers in the mid-19th century, including the Canton system and the Opium Wars.

Courses: World History, US History, Ethnic Studies, Art & Architecture History



How are talks prepared?

Graduate student speakers underwent a multi-step process in designing their talks. The presentation topic was identified through discussion with ORIAS, to draw out the elements of their research that were most aligned with content standards, the new social studies framework, and Common Core skills.

Speakers presented draft talks to experienced teachers and made revisions based on teacher suggestions and questions. Teachers who engage speakers in their classrooms are asked to complete a short written follow-up review, as well, so that speakers are able to improve and adapt their talks.

How much does it cost to bring a speaker to class?

Presentations are currently free to schools, though speakers are paid for each engagement. The ORIAS Speakers Bureau is generously funded by area studies centers and institutes at UC Berkeley and by the California Global Education Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects: 

California Global Education Project

Center for Latin American Studies

Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Center for Southeast Asia Studies

Institute of East Asian Studies

Institute of European Studies

Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

How do I request a speaker?

Each presentation description includes a "Book This Speaker" link. Your request will be sent to the speaker(s) you request via email and scheduling will be dependent upon speakers' personal availability and transportation. For best results, please try to schedule several weeks in advance. You must submit a separate request for each individual speaker.

What are the teacher's responsibilities?

ORIAS asks three things of teachers who engage speakers.

(1) Help the speaker work with your class.

Give the speaker a sense of class size, composition, and atmosphere. Let speakers know about presentation-related technology and be ready to copy paper materials ahead of time, if applicable to the presentation. If your class period is longer or shorter than 50 minutes, let speakers know so that they can adjust accordingly. Last, please work as partners with them, remaining in the room at all times and helping with classroom management as appropriate.

(2) Prepare your class to engage with the speaker.

Some talks require a bit of pre-teaching of vocabulary or concepts, while others simply require guidance about behavioral expectations. All talks include some element of student engagement, so please let your class know that speakers will appreciate positive participation. If you feel a talk will be challenging for your students, please help set their expectations appropriately.

(3) Complete the short post-presentation review.

After a speaker comes to your classroom, you will be asked to complete a short review. This review will help individual speakers improve and will enable ORIAS to improve the Speakers Bureau as a whole. Your review is very important.