The Course of Reason

The Secular Students and Skeptics Society of University of Colorado at Boulder Wins Best New Group!

July 13, 2011

This year's recipient of the Best New Group award went to the Secular Students and Skeptics Society at the University of Colorado at Boulder!

On June 22nd, I ventured out onto a Colorado interstate and didn’t stop until 26 hours later when I pulled up to the Center For Inquiry’s (CFI) Transnational Headquarters in Amherst, New York. On the drive there, I talked excitedly with my fellow CFI leadership conference attendees about what to expect—yet I was still unprepared. I knew that I would return to the University of Colorado at Boulder with the knowledge to organize bigger and better events through a greater awareness of fundraising, volunteer management, media broadcasting, etc. What I failed to anticipate was the wave of inspiration that would hit me with each passing presentation, each late night conversation, and each new network connection.

Accompanied by my fellow Secular Students and Skeptics Society (SSaSS) members, Trent and Steven, we feverishly took notes and excitedly reached out to each person passing by our dorm room during the long nights “networking.” Already upon returning I have condensed my notes into a presentation, which I passionately delivered to the other leaders of SSaSS, outlining the distance we have yet to travel if we want to be a major mover and shaker within the skeptic’s movement.

During this meeting, I also slyly presented them with a little something we picked up while in Amherst. Slowly, I unwrapped a plaque from a long piece of fabric. Proudly, I displayed the “Best New Group” award to my peers as their jaws audibly hit the table—or so I remember it, like some exaggerated cartoon in my head. That’s because winning this award seems so unreal. We never expected to be acknowledged for any of our work. In fact, walking into CFI late on Sunday and hearing we had won the award, I had a hard time figuring out what we had done that was worthy of the honor. So the following is as much for me as it is for those of you who are unfamiliar with our organization.

John Dewey: The real reason for our success

Our group formed at the beginning of the last school year. After the other two founding fathers hung 70 posters on campus, we attracted around thirty people to our first official meeting. Since then, we’ve managed to stabilize meeting attendance at around 25 people, during which time either a student presents on their favorite topic in skepticism/science or we bring in a professor to educate us on physics, philosophy, astronomy, etc. For one of our weekly meetings we even managed to bring in a former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait.

Yet this was child’s play compared to our year’s first official event, Darwin Week. Modeled after theUniversity of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers' (UNIFI) popular event,event, we worked hard to make our first event something worth noticing. Every academic building on campus had at least one Darwin poster staring thoughtfully at passersby. Our picture appeared on the front page of Boulder's newspaper. The lineup included eight faculty members from CU-Boulder including Nobel laureate, Dr. Vic Stenger, and Dr. Matt Young, co-author of Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails) from the Colorado School of Mines. Throughout the week of lectures on evolution, we had nearly three hundred attendees.

Since then we’ve participated in various interfaith events and, after hearing about Illini Secular Student Alliance’s (ISSA) own interfaith involvement, we plan on expanding our efforts. In fact, the conference has motivated me to expand all of our efforts. And none of this could’ve happened without the help from CFI and all of its supporters. Our weekend with CFI and company provided us with invaluable skills and inspiration which we will apply as readily to our organization as CFI applies icing to their infamous cupcakes.

Infamous cupcake” after six hours in the sun


About the Author: Laura Shiley

Laura Shiley's photo
Laura Shiley is a senior psychology/English double major at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She was one of the three founders of the Secular Students and Skeptics Society and has been an outspoken atheist since middle school, even though she enjoyed infiltrating Bible Camp on occasion (for the horses). She hopes to add to religious psychology literature upon entering grad school.




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