Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien Headline 2014-2015 Speakers Series


Southeast Missouri State University will continue its tradition of hosting fascinating presenters who share their experiences, knowledge and stories during its 2014-2015 University Speakers Series.

Among this year’s lineup are Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°”; Mara Liasson, political correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and FOX News contributor; Richard Picciotto, chief of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and the highest ranking firefighter to survive the World Trade Center collapse; Soledad O’Brien, an award winning journalist, producer and television personality; Hill Harper,actor, author, health and wellness ambassador, educator and philanthropist; and Ozzie Smith, former St. Louis Cardinal and Baseball Hall of Famer.

“I consider this to be one of the finest compilations of speakers ever offered by the University. These speakers are prominent in their respective fields, and they will engage our students in intellectual conversations on a variety of social and cultural topics,” said Dr. Debbie Below, vice president for enrollment management and student success and dean of students.

Jessica Mues, a Southeast senior exceptional child education major from St. Peters, Missouri, says the Southeast Speakers Series is a tremendous asset to the campus. During her years at Southeast, she says she’s heard several major cultural and political icons speak.

“I would never have had the opportunity to see (General) Colin Powell” in 2012, Mues said, without being a Southeast student.

“It’s really cool that I got the opportunity to see him,” she said. The Speakers Series “is definitely something I’d like to see (the University) keep doing for a long time.”

She says she’s especially looking forward to Ozzie Smith’s appearance at Southeast next spring.

“I’m a big baseball fan,” she said.

Ryan Rhodes, a Southeast junior public relations major from Sparta, Illinois, says he has long admired Anderson Cooper and is anxious to hear him speak in conjunction with Southeast’s Family Weekend activities.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for someone like him to come speak at Southeast,” said Rhodes, College of Liberal Arts representative on Student Government and former Sparta High School newspaper editor. “I’m so excited. I’ve looked up to him since high school.

“So many of my friends at other schools are jealous that we have these opportunities to get to meet and greet” these speakers, he said.

Dr. Tamara Zellars Buck, assistant professor of mass media, said she is thrilled about Cooper’s upcoming appearance at Southeast.

“He’s so recognizable and has been on the ground for every major story in the last five to 10 years,” she said. “The students will be excited about him coming,” particularly since Cooper got his start at Channel One News, a school television network seen in thousands of American classrooms. “He has been delivering news to young people for so long, so there’s a connection.”

Click the names below for more information each speaker in the series.

NYC Fire Department Chief and Battalion Commander Richard Picciotto

Picciotto R-Photo (High Res HEADSHOT 2011)Kicking off this year’s series will be Richard “Pitch” Picciotto, chief and battalion commander with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and the highest ranking firefighter to survive the World Trade Center collapse. He will be the keynote speaker for Patriot Day on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Southeast, with two flag ceremonies to follow Sept. 11. His address is titled, “Last Man Down.”

Picciotto will speak at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 10 in Academic Hall Auditorium. The University will commemorate the anniversary of the attacks with a flag raising ceremony at 7:46 a.m. and a flag lowering ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11.  Both ceremonies will be at the flag pole in front of Academic Hall.

The last fireman to escape the devastation, Picciotto was on a stairwell between the sixth and seventh floors of the North Tower when it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

That morning, Picciotto answered the call heard around the world. In minutes he was at Ground Zero for the worst terrorist attack on American soil, acting boldly to save lives as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center burned. Already a veteran of terrorist attacks, Picciotto was present fighting a similar battle after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Picciotto’s book, “Last Man Down,” is a tribute to the 343 firefighters and 2,400 civilians who lay dead in the rubble that surrounded him on that day. It is a heartfelt remembrance of a day of infamy and profound humanity. The book was an immediate New York Times bestseller upon its release in May 2002.

Chief Picciotto is also a former New York City police officer and has served as a fire marshal, an arson investigator and a lieutenant prior to becoming chief in 1992. He is a 28-year veteran of the FDNY, and for the past nine years, he has presided over the department’s Battalion 11, covering Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is the recipient of departmental awards and commendations for his bravery and meritorious service.

Anderson Cooper

cooper_anderson(300)2Anderson Cooper’s nightly newscast, “Anderson Cooper 360°,” goes beyond the headlines with in-depth reporting and investigations, airing weeknights at 7 p.m. Central on CNN. Cooper’s presentation is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 21 as part of Southeast’s Family Weekend and is titled “A 360° Look at World Events.”

Since the start of his career in 1992, Cooper has covered nearly all major news events around the world, often reporting from the scene. Most recently, he has covered the conflicts in Syria and Egypt, the NSA surveillance programs, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shootings.

Cooper has also played a pivotal role in CNN’s political and election coverage, anchoring political conventions and moderating several presidential debates. Cooper is a regular correspondent for CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

At CNN and “60 Minutes,”Cooper has won numerous journalism awards. He helped lead CNN’s Peabody Award, winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and the DuPont award-winning coverage of the 2004 tsunami. Additionally, he has been honored with multiple Emmy Awards, an Edward R. Murrow Award, a Silver Plaque from the Chicago International Film Festival, a Bronze Telly, a Bronze Award from the National Educational Film and Video Festival and a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Journalism for his “20/20 Downtown”report on gay high school athlete, Corey Johnson.

“Dispatches from the Edge,” Cooper’s memoirs about covering wars and disasters, topped the New York Times’Best Seller List and other best-seller charts. Before joining CNN, Cooper was an ABC News correspondent and host of the network’s reality program “The Mole.” Cooper anchored ABC’s offbeat overnight newscast “World News Now,” and was a correspondent for “World News Tonight”as well as “20/20.”

Cooper joined ABC from Channel One News, where he served as chief international correspondent. Channel One News was a school television network seen daily in more than 12,000 classrooms nationwide.

Cooper graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. He also studied Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi.

Mara Liasson

LiassonMara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and FOX News, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Show Me Center.

Liasson will speak at Southeast one week before the mid-term elections and will provide an election preview, including potential impacts for the next presidential race and on the U.S. House and Senate. Her presentation is titled “Let’s Talk Politics with Mara Liasson” and will be moderated by KRCU Host and News Editor Jacob McCleland.

The Office of the President at Southeast Missouri State is presenting this event.

KRCU is accepting submissions for questions to be asked of Liasson during her presentation at Southeast. Questions must be submitted in advance to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." rel="noreferrer">'+addy_text75706+'<\/a>'; //--> . For more information, visit or call (573) 651-5070.

Liasson’s reports from NPR’s Washington, D.C., desk can be heard regularly on NPR’s award-winning news magazines “All Things Considered and Morning Edition.” Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, D.C.  — focusing on the White House and Congress — and reports on political trends beyond the Beltway. Liasson also serves as a contributor to FOX News Channel and is a panelist on “FOX News Sunday,” FOX Broadcasting Company’s public affairs program that airs nationwide each Sunday morning.Each election year, Liasson provides key coverage of the candidates and issues in both presidential and congressional races. During her tenure she has covered six presidential elections, and prior to her current assignment, she was NPR’s White House correspondent during the entire Clinton administration. She won the White House Correspondents’ Association Merriman Smith Award for daily news coverage in 1994, 1995 and 1997. From 1989-1992, Liasson was NPR’s congressional correspondent.

Liasson joined NPR in 1985 as a general assignment reporter and newscaster. From September 1988 to June 1989 she took a leave of absence from NPR to attend Columbia University in New York as a recipient of a Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism.

Prior to joining NPR, Liasson was a freelance radio and television reporter in San Francisco. She was also managing editor and anchor of California Edition, a Public Radio nightly news program, and a print journalist for The Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Liasson is a graduate of Brown University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American history.

Soledad O’Brien

OBrien S-Photo (High Res HEADSHOT 2014)Soledad O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, documentarian, news anchor, producer and television personality, will present the keynote address at Southeast Missouri State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner Jan. 21 in the Show Me Center.

At the forefront of many of the biggest breaking news stories of the past two decades, O’Brien is one of the most sought-after journalists of today.  In June 2013, O’Brienlaunched Starfish Media Group (SMG), a multi-platform media production and distribution company dedicated to producing stories that take a challenging look at the often divisive issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity through personal stories.

O’Brien was the originator of the highly successful CNN documentary “Black in America” and “Latino in America” which Starfish Media Group is continuing to produce. Through SMG, O’Brien contributes programming to CNN and segments for Al Jazeera America. O’Brien took over the reins in 2014 as executive producer and moderator for The National Geographic Bee.”

O’Brien recently entered into a partnership with HBO and joined the “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” team, giving her the opportunity to delve into the compelling storytelling she is known for, through the vast prism of sports. The HBO deal also allows O’Brien the opportunity to pursue scripted projects and long-form programming concepts with Starfish Media Group.

Earlier in her career, O’Brien co-anchored for “Weekend Today” and contributed to the “Today Show” and “Nightly News.”  In 2003, O’Brien transitioned to CNN where she was the face of CNN’s morning news shows, and in 2011 she won an Emmy for “Crisis in Haiti Report” on Haitian orphanages, following the massive earthquake. In 2013, she won two Emmy awards for reporting on “Kids and Race” and for the network’s reporting of the 2012 presidential election. Her coverage of Hurricane Katrina earned her and CNN a George Foster Peabody award. She received another Peabody Award for her coverage of the BP Gulf Coast oil spill. Her reporting on the Southeast Asia tsunami garnered CNN an Alfred I. duPont award. In 2013, “Latino in America 2,” the story of a Latina boxer who dreams of Olympic glory, won the celebrated Cine Award for documentaries. Her documentary “Gay in America: Gary and Tony Have a Baby” and “Unwelcome, the Muslims Next Door,” also won numerous awards. O’Brien was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and one ofNewsweek magazines “10 People who Make America Great.”

In 2013, O’Brien joined Harvard University as a Distinguished Fellow and was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the National Archives.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, O’Brien and her husband, Brad, created The Starfish Foundation to help disadvantaged young women get to and through college. This year they will award scholarships to 25 deserving young women.

O’Brien lives in Manhattan with her husband and four children.

Hill Harper

Harper H-Photo (High Res HEADSHOT 2011)Hill Harper,actor, author, health and wellness ambassador, educator and philanthropist, will present the University’s annual Michael Davis Lecture as a component of the Speakers Series at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Academic Hall Auditorium.

The Michael Davis Lecture recognizes the contributions of African-Americans in the media. The event also honors the late Michael Davis, a journalism student at Southeast who died as a result of a hazing incident. In 1997, the then Department of Mass Communication held the first Michael Davis Lecture to honor his memory as part of the University’s Black History Month activities. The Michael Davis Lecture continues each year, with a special invited guest from the mass media.

Harper starred in the hit television drama, “CSI: NY,” in which he played eccentric Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from 2004 until early 2013. During that time, Harper won three NAACP Image Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.  He currently stars on USA Network’s “Covert Affairs” as CIA Station Chief Calder Michaels. Prior to “CSI: NY,” Harper co-starred as an ambitious undercover FBI operative on the CBS series, “The Handler,” which earned him a 2004 Golden Satellite Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Harper also has authored four New York Times best sellers, including “Letters to a Young Brother,” “Letters to a Young Sister,” “The Conversation” and “The Wealth Cure,” which chronicled his diagnosis with thyroid cancer and his journey to health. “Letters to a Young Brother” won several awards and was named “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association in 2007. To date, his collective writing and acting work has been recognized with seven NAACP Image Awards. Harper’s latest book, “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother,”released to critical acclaim.

Harper was born in Iowa City, Iowa, the son of two doctors – his father a psychiatrist and his mother an anesthesiologist. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude with a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School and a Master of Public Administration, with honors, from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Law School. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Howard University, Winston-Salem State University, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Westfield State College, Dillard University and Tougaloo College. During his years at Harvard, Harper was a full-time member of Boston’s Black Folks Theater Company, one of the oldest and most acclaimed African-American theater troupes in the country.

Harper made his television debut in 1993 with a recurring role on the FOX series, “Married … with Children,” and his film debut in 1996, in Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus.” He has appeared in many award-winning television projects and several more films.

Harper is dedicated to social justice and engages in significant activities to carry out his philanthropic vision. In an effort to stop the high school dropout rate and improve the life chances of underserved youth, he created the Manifest Your Destiny (MYD) Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering, inspiring and guiding youth toward a better future, as well as developing the leadership capacity young adults need to serve as mentors.  MYD works to fill future college classrooms instead of prison cells. Harper has recently visited correctional facilities, where he delivers powerful and motivational messages of hope and self-empowerment to hundreds.

Ozzie Smith

Smith_CAASpeakers_PhotoClosing out the 2014-2015 Speakers Series will be Ozzie Smith, former St. Louis Cardinal and Baseball Hall of Famer. He will speak at 7:30 p.m. April 20 in the Show Me Center. His presentation is titled, “An Evening with Ozzie Smith.”

Smith is affectionately known in baseball as “The Wizard” and the best defensive shortstop of all time. He was a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Smith retired from baseball in 1996 after playing 19 years in the major leagues, the first four years with the San Diego Padres and the final 15 with the St. Louis Cardinals. His nickname describes the way he played shortstop—he performed magic with his glove and performed in the infield with amazing acrobatic agility.

He has contributed to many charitable endeavors benefiting children and has spent countless hours assisting various charities in the St. Louis area, including the American Heart Association and St. Louis Effort for Aids Dining Out for Life program.  He is currently president of the Gateway PGA Foundation, an organization that reaches out to inner city youth via mentoring and golf programs. He also serves as the education ambassador for the Baseball Hall of Fame and headlines a fundraiser, “Play Ball with Ozzie Smith,” every year in Cooperstown, New York, during Induction Weekend.

Since retirement from baseball, Smith has hosted “This Week in Baseball,” was the color analyst for Cardinal broadcasts in 1997-1999 and served as the baseball analyst for CNNSI, a joint venture between CNN and Sports Illustrated from 1999 to 2002. He operated Ozzie’s Restaurant and Sports Bar at Westport Plaza in St. Louis.

In 1998, 1999 and 2001, Smith was cast in three theatrical productions at The St. Louis Municipal Theatre. He had a cameo role in “Damn Yankees” in 1998. In 1999, he sang and tap danced in “The Muny Goes British,” a musical revue based on songs from various Broadway musicals, and in 2001, he starred as The Wizard in The Muny’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

In 2005, the CD, “Oh Say Can You Sing,” was released featuring Smith singing the Sam Cooke song, “Cupid.” The CD includes 10 other major league baseball players singing their own versions of popular songs. Proceeds from this project go to the players’ designated charities.

Smith has three children and makes St. Louis his home because he feels a deep responsibility to give back to the community that has so enriched his life.


Tickets are required for the Cooper, Liasson and Smith events and are $10. They can be purchased at and the Show Me Center Box Office. Current Southeast faculty, staff and students can use a valid Redhawks ID to pick up a free ticket for these three events in the University Center Room 204 or the Show Me Center Box Office. Tickets for the Cooper and Liasson events will be available Aug. 25. Tickets for the Smith event will go on sale Jan. 20.

Admission to the Picciotto and Harper events are free and open to the public.

Tickets for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner, during which O’Brien will speak, will go on sale in early December.

More information on the series is available at


All events except for the Picciotto and Harper events will be held in the Show Me Center. The Picciotto and Harper events will be held in Academic Hall Auditorium.

VIA - Southeast Missouri State University News Bureau

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