New SMPA Conversation Series Aims to Promote Civil Discourse

The Frank Sesno Newsmaker Conversation Series, supported by alumni Ted Segal and Meredith Perla Segal, will showcase leading voices in politics and culture.

October 18, 2022

Frank Sesno speaks in Jack Morton Auditorium

This article first appeared in GW Today

A new conversation series connecting the George Washington University community with influential newsmakers and thought leaders will debut this spring at the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA), part of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Alumni Ted Segal, B.A. ’03, and Meredith Perla Segal, B.Accy. ’05, created the endowed fund to honor the contributions of former SMPA director Frank Sesno. These annual events aim to promote critical civil discourse, public understanding and the enrichment of student experiences at GW.

The series will examine trends in media, highlight compelling public figures and provide insightful analysis of current events, such as national elections and foreign policy.

“I am honored beyond words by this remarkable gift and the series it will support,” said Sesno, who currently serves as SMPA director of strategic initiatives. Throughout each conversation, “we will explore the ideas that shape our world. We’ll probe the opportunities and challenges confronting our democracy. We’ll ask tough questions in pursuit of edifying, fact-based civil discourse. This is what GW stands for.”

With the political arena increasingly defined by rancorous partisan divides, the series is designed as a platform for enhanced civil discourse. “If we can do a small part to broaden the perspectives of our audience, to elevate the dialogue, it will be of great service to our GW community, to the D.C. community and to the national conversation,” said Ted Segal, founder and president of the EJS Group, a real estate development and financing company. 

Longtime supporters of numerous GW initiatives as well as causes such as Type 1 diabetes research, food insecurity and veteran service organizations, the Segals proposed the series in honor of Senso’s more than three decade career in journalism and his 11 years of service as SMPA director. They also hope to expose students throughout the university to thought-provoking and respectful conversations across political and cultural spectrums.

“Whether a student is studying in SMPA or engineering or anthropology, I hope they can take away positives from these discussions and perhaps even expand the perspectives through which they approach a given topic,” said Segal, a member of the SMPA National Council.

“This new conversation series showcases the SMPA community at its best, giving SMPA students, alumni and faculty the opportunity to interact directly with leading and influential voices of our time,” said SMPA Director Silvio Waisbord. “My sincere thanks to Ted and Meredith Segal for this generous gift, which recognizes the contributions of Frank Sesno as a stellar convener of public conversations.”

An Emmy Award-winning journalist, Sesno’s diverse career includes 21 years at CNN where he served as White House correspondent, anchor and Washington bureau chief. He has covered a range of subjects, from politics and conventions to international summits and climate change, and has interviewed five U.S. presidents and thousands of political, business and civic leaders. In 2009, he founded Planet Forward, an SMPA project that rewards creative environmental storytelling by college students, and promotes sustainability and action on topics such as energy policy, green jobs and food production.