Experts available to address community groups

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If you’re a member of a local civic club, professional group or retiree organization, or if you spend much time at almost any public library in Rhode Island, then chances are you’ve seen a presentation by a member of the URI Speakers Bureau.

Maybe it was Dennis Hilliard, director of the State Crime Lab, talking about forensic science in the popular program he called “CSI:Rhode Island.” Or perhaps you saw one of the dozen different topics that marine scientist Bob Kenney speaks about, including seals in Narragansett Bay, the history of whaling, the mystery of whale strandings, and snakes in Rhode Island. Or maybe it was the very entertaining program called “Speaking Rhode Island-ese” by URI alumnus Roberta Humble that encourages Rhode Islanders to laugh at themselves by discussing the funny way we sometimes talk.

More than 175 faculty and staff members have volunteered to occasionally make free presentations to local organizations as a community service and as a way of spreading the word about the important and interesting work that takes place on campus. And every year, about 100 different groups in the state schedule more than 200 presentations by URI speakers on such wide-ranging topics as Internet safety, exercise for seniors, gardening for the birds, art controversies, Rhode Island history and climate change.

“Almost every day I hear from a community group seeking a speaker for their weekly or monthly meeting, and they often tell me how difficult it is to find local experts who are willing and available to address them,” said Todd McLeish, the Speakers Bureau coordinator who works in the Department of Communications and Marketing. “They are always tremendously grateful that we have so many speakers available on such interesting topics.”

McLeish said that he is always seeking new speakers to add to his roster, so faculty and staff members who have expertise on a topic that would be of interest to the general public and who would be willing to occasionally speak to a community group are encouraged to contact him at or 874-7892. Participants must be willing to speak at least once a year, though some, like Dennis Hilliard, make themselves available to speak several times each month.

McLeish notes that the Speakers Bureau roster also includes alumni, Master Gardeners, and students as well. Anyone with a URI connection and a willingness to speak as a member of the University community is welcome to participate.

Typical speaking venues include Rotary Clubs, AARP chapters, libraries, churches, historical societies, senior centers, garden clubs, assisted living facilities, and professional associations.

Those seeking speakers for their community groups are encouraged to visit the URI Speakers Bureau website at to browse the long list of topics available. Then tell McLeish the topics of interest, the meeting date and time, and the meeting location, and he will line up the appropriate speakers.

“Once a group schedules their first speaker, they tend to call me again and again for more speakers year after year,” he said. “That’s surely a sign that the Speakers Bureau is a valuable resource and our speakers are informative, educational and entertaining.”