Nancy Hinten heard talk at the water coolers, around offices — nearly everywhere she went — about the presidential election in 2008.
It was the kind of public engagement she realized she had heard all too seldom in recent years.
"I thought, 'Why don't people have these kinds of in-depth conversations about other topics that effect their lives?' " said Hinten, director of university relations for Friends University.
Hinten began researching ways to give people the opportunity to engage in those kinds of discussions. The result was the Great Conversation, a scholarship fundraiser for Friends on March 9 at the Scottish Rite Center.
The event will include dinner and a discussion on 30 topics ranging from poetry and travel to politics and education conducted after dinner.
"We started out with 100 topics, and then narrowed it down and started contacting experts in all the fields," Hinten said. "The response from the community was just overwhelming."
Participants can purchase a seat at a table for one of the conversations. A moderator will lead the discussion on a particular topic. There are nine seats at each table.
Some already have sold out, including a discussion on writer C.S. Lewis and travel expert Devin Hansen.
"All of the moderators met a few weeks ago, and we were all afraid that nobody would want to come to our table," said Hansen, president of Sunflower Travel.
Hansen said he's impressed by the scope of the topics available.
"I think it's an awesome idea, and I would like to see it happen a couple of times a year or more," Hansen said. "I'd like the opportunity to go sit at another table and listen."
Hinten said the idea is new to Wichita but grew from a similar event at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
"We went there a year ago and thought it would be such a great idea to bring to Wichita," Hinten said.
Money raised will benefit Friends' Presidential Scholarships for academics.
"We're really excited about this because it's not been done here before, and it's a way of building engagement and action in the community," said Gisele McMinimy, communications director at Friends. "And it's also one of the first events we've tried to do that's communitywide."