Curiosity Series

Chicago Ideas is a movement built on the central belief that when a broad array of thinkers and instigators come together with their ideas, they have the power to transform the world. The Chicago Curiosity Series features multiple action events that aim to help attendees not only learn about important issues on a large scale, but also uncover tangible ways to make an impact in their communities, cities and beyond. Chicago Ideas encapsulates a wide range of speakers, looking at topics from a variety of angles.  It promotes inclusiveness and diversity while engaging excellence of intellectual discourse.

Featured Speakers at Chicago Curiosity Series 2017

1Alec Baldwin 
Acclaimed Broadway, Film, and TV Actor

Suavely handsome and prolific actor Alec Baldwin was born on April 3, 1958 in Massapequa, New York, and is the oldest, and easily the best-known, of the four Baldwin brothers in the acting business. Alec attended George Washington University and planned to attend law school, when he auditioned for the New York University Undergraduate Drama Program on a dare. He was accepted, and in 1979 began what would become his professional training. In 1980, he was cast in the daytime TV series The Doctors on NBC and, subsequently, has worked in nearly every venue as a professional actor ever since. Alec is an out-spoken supporter of various causes related to public policy, including environmentalism, the government’s support of the arts, campaign finance reform, animal rights and gun control.

2Wayne Brady
TV Personality and Comedic Actor

After a brief stint in Las Vegas, Brady headed to Hollywood where appearances on episodes of the NBC series I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night helped him make his small screen entry. In 1997, he tried out for the British TV series Whose Line Is It Anyway and impressed producers, who would cast him in four of the season’s episodes. Brady was appropriately quick-witted and fast on his feet and particularly excelled in the very popular singing and dancing events, quickly becoming an audience favorite with this dependably clever and uproarious take on events such as the storytelling “Hoedown” and “Greatest Hits”, an often absurdist spoof of compilation album TV commercials.

3Patricia Churchland
Philosopher; Professor Emerita, University of California, San Diego

Patricia Churchland is a professor of philosophy (emerita) at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Research. As a philosopher, she focuses on the interface between traditional philosophical questions and new developments in neuroscience and genetics. She calls this sort of interfacing “Neurophilosophy” and her 2011 book (Braintrust) links morality with the brain and its evolution. Her newest book is Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, published in 2013. Churchland has been president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and won a MacArthur Prize in 1991 and the Rossi Prize for neuroscience in 2008.

4Arne Duncan
Managing Partner, Emerson Collective

As Managing Partner at Emerson Collective, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan returns to Chicago on a mission to improve the lives of young adults in his hometown. Through partnerships with local business leaders, community organizers and nonprofit groups, Duncan aims to create job and life opportunities for disconnected youth between the ages of 17 and 24. Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position he held from June 2001 through December 2008. In that time, he won praise for uniting education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda that included opening more than 100 new schools, expanding after-school and summer learning programs, closing down under performing schools, increasing early childhood and college access, dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives.

5Joi Ito
Director, MIT Media Lab

Joi Ito is one of the most forward-thinking tech entrepreneurs working today. Whether it’s through his role as the director of the MIT Media Lab or his involvement in dozens of innovative companies, Ito has spent his life working to push culture and society ahead through tech. But he’s far from the stereotypical apathetic Silicon Valley mogul—his work invests itself in the effects of technology as much as it does in creativity. Joi Ito combines exceptional academic and practical experience to offer an unmatched bird’s-eye view of technology. As the director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi knows better than anyone what new technologies are just over the horizon.

6Danielle Sered
Director, Common Justice

Danielle Sered is the co-founder and director of Common Justice, where she leads the project’s efforts to develop and advance practical and groundbreaking solutions to violence that advance racial equity, meet the needs of those harmed and do not rely on incarceration. Before planning the launch of Common Justice, Danielle served as the Deputy Director of Vera’s Adolescent Reentry Initiative, a program for young men returning from incarceration on Rikers Island. She is the author of The Other Side of Harm: Addressing Disparities in our Responses to Violence, and teaches about restorative justice at the CUNY Silberman School of Social Work.

7Neil Stevenson
Executive Portfolio Director, IDEO Chicago

Neil Stevenson is the Executive Portfolio Director of IDEO Chicago, where he has led projects on everything from video game interfaces to digitally enabled education to cutting-edge food and beverage work. He gives regular talks on emerging trends and future scenarios, with an emphasis on the tension between new tech-enabled experiences and our relatively un-evolved brains. Before IDEO, Stevenson studied the human brain and behavior at Oxford University, graduating with Master’s degrees in psychology and social anthropology. At IDEO, Neil has led projects on everything from video game interfaces to digitally- enabled education.

8Jill Tarter
Bernard M. Oliver Chair, SETI Institute 

Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI.

9Bassem Youssef
Comedian and TV Host

Bassem Youssef, dubbed the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World,” was a practicing cardiothoracic surgeon when he became the creator and host of popular TV show Al- Bernameg— the first political satire show in the Middle East. Originally a five-minute show shot from Youssef’s laundry room and posted on YouTube days after protests in Tahir Square unseated Egypt’s ruling elite, Al-Bernameg became the most watched show across the region with 30 million viewers every week. In 2013, Youssef was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People and was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In 2015 Youssef served as a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

10Tricia Bobeda
Nerdette Co-Host and Senior Editor of Digital, WBEZ

Tricia is the Senior Editor of Digital at WBEZ and the co-host of the “Nerdette” Podcast. She leads the team of producers, reporters and editors responsible for WBEZ’s website, apps and social media. Prior to joining WBEZ’s digital team, Tricia reported for its news desk and worked on the “Front and Center” series. After studying journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School, she spend several years as a reporter for the Lansing State Journal. She was a finalist in the KCRW 2013 Radio Race. She makes a mean guacamole and her socks rarely match.

11Kim Foxx
State’s Attorney, Cook County

Kimberly M. Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country. Kim was elected to the top prosecutor post, after claiming victory in a historic election, during a critical time for the criminal justice system in Chicago. Kim’s message of reform, restoring trust, and working with the community to increase public safety, resonated with the diverse citizens across the county who want to see a more balanced criminal justice system. Kim took office on Dec. 1, 2016 with a vision for transforming the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office into a fairer, more forward-thinking agency focused on rebuilding the public trust, promoting transparency, and being proactive in making all communities safe.

12Marcelo Gleiser
Professor, Dartmouth College

Marcelo Gleiser is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He currently directs the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth College. He graduated from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and obtained his Ph.D. from King’s College London in 1986. After postdoctoral appointments at Fermilab and The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, he joined the faculty at Dartmouth College in 1991. In 1994, he received the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House.

13Greta Johnsen
Nerdette Co-Host, Weekend Anchor and Reporter, WBEZ

Greta anchors weekends and reports on everything from Pi Day to innovative ways of saving endangered ferrets. She also co-hosts WBEZ’s “Nerdette” Podcast. Prior to joining WBEZ in 2014. Greta hosted “Morning Edition” at WCQS in Asheville, North Carolina and at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Greta has a BA in English from Saint Olaf College and a MS in Journalism from Northwestern University. In her abundant free time, Greta enjoys reading, knitting, and walking her corgi.

14James Vincent Meredith
Actor, Steppenwolf Theater Company

James Vincent Meredith has been working on Chicago stages for almost 20 years. His recent credits include Blues For An Alabama Sky (Court Theatre), Roz and Ray (Victory Gardens) and Othello (Chicago Shakespeare). Meredith recently completed a three-year national tour as Mafala Hatimbi in The Book of Mormon. He’s also an ensemble member at Steppenwolf, where some credits include Between Riverside and Crazy, Clybourne Park, The Crucible and Superior Donuts, which also played at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.

15Johnny Perez
Safe Reentry Advocate, Urban Justice Center

Johnny Perez is the Safe Reentry advocate at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project (MHP), a nonprofit law firm providing pro bono legal services to underserved population in NYC. Specifically, he works directly with people with mental illness and histories of incarceration to connect them to the services in the community that will assist them to attain better measures of recovery and gain the stability necessary to avoid further contact with the criminal justice system. Johnny also works to change unjust policies and practices in the criminal justice system through his participation as a newly appointed member of the NY Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission. Johnny is also a member of the NYC Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee and a member of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC).

16Jamil Smith
Senior National Correspondent, MTV News

Jamil Smith is a senior national correspondent for MTV News. Previously, he was a senior editor at New Republic, as well as the host of the magazine’s first podcast, “INTERSECTION.” He also served previously as a producer for MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Melissa Harris-Perry, and won three Sports Emmy Awards during his six years with NFL Films. A skilled and principled journalist, filmmaker, and storyteller with a keen ear and eye for the audio-visual elements needed to complete the telling of a story.  His goal has been to put that training and skill set to use at a national network or publication.

17Julia Stasch
President, MacArthur Foundation

Julia Stasch is President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropies with assets of more than $6.3 billion, and offices in Chicago, Mexico City, New Delhi and Abuja, Nigeria. With a broad background of leadership in the business, governmental and philanthropic sectors, she has served as the Foundation’s President since March 2015. Stasch joined the Foundation in 2001 as Vice President for U.S. Programs, responsible for major work in the United States, including strategies related to justice, housing, education, community and economic development and social and economic policy.

18Nick Turner
President, Vera Institute of Justice

Nick Turner joined the Vera Institute of Justice as its fifth president in 2013. Under his leadership, Vera has identified core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s growing minority communities. Recent major initiatives at Vera include leading a delegation of policymakers on a tour of German prisons to learn from a system rooted in human dignity, working with corrections officials to shrink the number of people held in solitary confinement and defining the role local jails play in mass incarceration through a first-in-kind data tool and related publications.

19John Wetzel
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

In December of 2010, John Wetzel was selected as the 11th Secretary of Corrections for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Governor-elect Corbett. His tenure there saw an elimination of a 24-year average growth of 1500 inmates per year, presiding over the first population reduction in Pennsylvania in more than four decades. Additionally, he oversaw the restructuring of the Community Corrections system, the mental health system and a re-engineering of internal processes to yield a more efficient system of program delivery. Secretary John Wetzel is widely recognized as one of the thought leaders in corrections today.

For inquiries about booking one of these speakers from the Chicago Curiosity Series, or other global thought leaders for your next event, please contact us.


All American Entertainment (AAE) is a full-service talent booking agency dedicated to representing the interests of meeting and event planners. AAE has helped thousands of the most respected companies, organizations, and universities identify and secure high-profile keynote speakers and celebrity talent for personal appearances, speaking engagements, promotional campaigns, and a wide range of other functions. AAE’s talent base includes professional business and motivational speakers, best-selling authors, top athletes, award-winning comedians, TV personalities, musicians, celebrity chefs, and many others.


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