The Course of Reason

CFI–GVSU Hosts Neil deGrasse Tyson

November 26, 2013

My organization, Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley, had the amazing opportunity to host Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson at our school, Grand Valley State University. It was about a nine month process that started in late February 2013 when we got in contact with Dr. Tyson's agent to sign the contract, and ended when we finally hosted him on November 13th.

After first talking to Dr. Tyson's agent in February, our first major obstacle was to figure out how to pay for the event. When we presented a funding request to the funding committee of our school's student senate and then brought it before the student senate as a whole, we received $40,000 to cover the speaking fee.

Knowing we would need about another $15,000 to cover transportation, housing, facility etc. we went to several organizations and university departments to try and find co-sponsors to cover the remaining costs. Our group ended up with seven co-sponsors including the Center for Inquiry–Michigan, GVSU's Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, the Frederic Meijer Honors College, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Office of Student Life, and the Physics Club. We worked with our student life office to help organize the actual event, planning sound, seating, promotions, volunteers, transportation, security, and ticketing. Tickets were free, and about 3,300 tickets were available to the students and staff of the university. These sold out in five days, and a week later, 400 tickets were made available to the public online—these were given out in about an hour.

On the day of the event, Dr. Tyson arrived, and there was a private lecture for the co-sponsors of the event. We held a media spot for local media to interview him, followed by a sound check and dinner.

cathy seaver audience degrasse tyson event
Neil deGrasse Tyson pulled an audience of almost 4,000 for his lecture hosted by CFI–Grand Valley State University. (Photo by Cathy Seaver.)

Finally, the public lecture was held. The Grand Valley Fieldhouse was packed full with just under 4,000 people. Dr. Tyson's lecture was titled "Science As a Way of Knowing." He discussed the scientific illiteracy of our country and the value of science. Talking to students and staff that attended the lecture, everyone thought it was very entertaining.

However, talking to fellow group members and a few select others, we were disappointed with the lecture; there was nothing profound about it, I didn't learn anything new, and I wasn't as inspired as I usually am when hearing Dr. Tyson speak. By no means was his visit as a whole a disappointment—for me, the success was in the functionality of the event itself. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I was given.

An event like this is huge, and I wouldn't advise it to any full time student. I put about 20 hours a week into the event, which I was happy to do, but it is difficult to balance academic life, work, and an event of this magnitude. It could not have been done if we didn't have a full time Grand Valley staff member to support us. There were over 100 individuals involved with helping it happen and several months of very hard work.

neil degrasse tyson cathy seaver
Neil deGrasse Tyson's talk was on "Science As a Way of Knowing." (Photo by Cathy Seaver.)

All that being said, I would have made the same choice, and do it again in a second. I can't wait to see what other opportunities this school and organization allow.


About the Author: Maria Beelen

Maria Beelen's photo
A sophomore at Grand Valley State University. Double majoring in Gender Studies and Geology with a minor in Philosophy. Vice President of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley.


#1 Barbara J Frederick (Guest) on Wednesday November 27, 2013 at 6:54am

Tyson is one of my all-time favorite people!




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