Asking “What If…?” Serves as Fuel for World Change at Conference To Be Held at Westminster College 

2/27/2013 
Campus 

Those who have ever pondered  such life questions as “What if we could live forever?” or “What if there were no religion?” will find themselves in the midst of a curiosity free-for-all by attending the innovative and unique What If…? Conference March 1-2 in the Coulter Science Center on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton, MO.
 
People ranging from middle school students to educators and leaders in the Mid-Missouri startup scene to retirees have signed up to interact and exchange their ideas on such world changing questions in the hopes of opening up new ideas and making connections between ideas that could change the world. What If…? engages all walks of life by establishing an equal grounding for them to interact, learn and share with each other.
 
“Ideas aren’t the end point of What If…?” says Andrew McHugh, Westminster College senior and event co-founder from Kirkwood, MO. “We’re in the business of using ideas as resources to fuel disruptive, transformative change—change that can’t be found through the standard question-and-answer approach. How many world-changing solutions remain stagnant because they aren’t being properly connected to people and situations that could put them into action?”
 
Westminster College student Tyler Haulotte, a sophomore from Round Rock, TX, who attended last year’s conference, says, “What If… inspired me to pursue my passions. It showed me that intellectual curiosity doesn’t have to just be a hobby; it’s something people can dedicate their entire lives to.”
 
“’What If…?’ is an example of Westminster College becoming a leader in what might be called the emerging field of ‘edupreneurship,’” says Westminster President Dr. George B. Forsythe. “It is much more than  just an annual conference. It is a social enterprise created by a professor and student that truly represents not just ‘out of the box’ learning but out of the classroom learning.”
 
The concept for the “What If…? Conference was the brainchild of McHugh and Westminster English Professor Matt Murrie. The concept for the conference actually began when McHugh heard about the Long Now Foundation, an inspiration for the Long Term Thinking Club he helped found on the Westminster campus. 
 
Then, after McHugh interviewed with English Professor Matt Murrie to be a mentor, a common interest in doing something larger and more significant drew them into discussions that ultimately led to the conference. Their pioneer conference held on campus last February was a huge success.
 
“This collaboration is actually a celebration of the past, present and future of Westminster College,” says President Forsythe. “Matt Murrie is a graduate and now a professor here. Andrew is a current student here. And both are seeking to use ‘What If…? as a means to showcase and spread the future potential of the Westminster community educational experience.”
 
Under the structure of the conference, twenty different “What If…?” questions are introduced over the day and one-half of sessions. The first day consists of group problem solving. In the second day, each question is introduced by a presenter in an eight minute presentation. Then breakout sessions are held where conference attendees can share their ideas and ask additional questions of each other. In addition to the talks, there is also installation artwork that furthers active curiosity.
 
“’What If…?’ sets out to democratize ideas by engaging equals and non-equals alike and providing them with a platform to bring this change into individual lives, schools, communities and the reality we all share,” says Professor Murrie. “’What If…? questions are a way to tap into our unlimited potential, pointing us in directions that challenge our thinking, encourage learning and allow us to grow from the experience.”
 
The “What If…? Conference phenomenon continues to grow and network from its first year at Westminster.  Officials involved with local TEDx events (an international idea sharing program that bears some similarities to “What If?...?”), The League of Innovators and teachers in the Gifted Program of the Columbia Public School District have all become involved. The Columbia Gifted Program is now planning its own What If…? event in March and Professor Murrie will deliver a “What If…? related presentation at the upcoming TEDxCoMO event in Columbia this April.
 
McHugh and Murrie have been invited to share their What If....? concept with schools from all over the world this June at the Future Problem Solving Conference in Bloomington, IN.
 
“It took a year of collaboration between other faculty, staff and students within our small community to get our first conference off the ground,” says Murrie. “But Andrew and I have always had a vision that projected far beyond the small, liberal arts college that brought us together. We have global ambitions, not for us as individuals, but for What If…? as a movement. We believe that the larger this community grows, the more thoughts that can be connected, the more actions that can be inspired and the greater our collective existence on this planet will be.”
 
Sessions for this year’s What If…? Conference run Friday evening from 6 p.m.-9 p.m.  and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-3:10 p.m. Three attendance options are available for the conference, ranging from the full conference with meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks and coffee) for $20, one session and one meal for $15, or the conference with no meals for $10.
 
According to McHugh, making the conference a reality would probably have never happened in any college environment other than Westminster where students are able to develop such close personal relationships with their professors, able to contact them on their cell phones and share conversations over meals.
 
“I don’t know of any other place where I not only know my professors on a first name basis but can walk right into their offices at any time and share ideas as intellectual equals,” says McHugh. “This has been a great collaboration between Professor Murrie and me. I also want to thank the many administrators, professors and staff members who have given their support to make this conference possible.”
 
To register for the conference or to obtain more information, people should visit the conference website at http://www.thewhatifconference.com/.