While security personnel had to turn hundreds of people away at Shriver Hall's door when Seth Meyers kicked off the MSE Symposium speaker series "The Power of the Individual," succeeding speakers Daniel Choi and Wendy Kopp only accumulated an audience of approximately 50 students each.
A nearly empty Shriver Hall can call into question both the advertising efforts of the MSE Symposium and the political activism of Homewood campus. However, the chairs of the MSE speaker series are not concerned.
"[Kopp and Choi] were the two speakers we knew would get the least amount of people...we know for the rest of the events we'll have more, but not as many as Seth Meyers." MSE co-chair Eva Maria Najarro Smith said. "We know that huge events [like Seth Meyers] will fill Shriver to capacity and we know that some of the other ones won't always do that...for us it is never quantity over quality."
"The Power of the Individual" organizers always aim to feature one or two entertainers a year, like Meyers or Aziz Ansari from the 2011-2012 lineup, who will draw in a full house; however, those events are not the norm.
The MSE chairs do not expect to fill up Hopkins’s largest seating auditorium. "We, on average, get about 200 students per event ... we want people, regardless of how many, who are really passionate about [causes] specifically related to the speakers so they can spend time asking one on one questions in a meet and greet. That experience is just as valuable to us as turning away 2000 people from Shriver Hall," Smith said.
MSE books Shriver Hall because that is what they have always done.
"I think it's just a tradition...as long as I can remember the Symposium always had the event there because of the amenities, lighting, staging, and security," Smith said.
However, booking such a large hall can set students up for disappointment.
"Politicians say this all the time: they always want overflow crowds," Political Science Department Chair Steven David said. "There are a lot of rooms for which 50 people would create a sense of energy and electricity and excitement...it would be just fine and the speaker would be a success, but when you take a speaker that's likely to attract a small group and put them in a large auditorium...then you'll have a problem...it all comes down to sensitive planning."
David thinks that Hopkins students may not be as interested in politics and current events as other students, but he does not attribute this to the small crowds.
"The fact that we have so many science and engineering students may mean they're less politically aware, but I don't think that's the problem. I've seen many different students from many different majors who are very engaged, excited and enthusiastic about political issues...students I see at Hopkins tend to be very politically active and very enthusiastic in discussing current issues," David said.
Freshman Political Science major Rachel McCoy agreed.
"I talk to non-poli sci majors all the time about politics; everyone so far seems opinionated, knowledgeable, and fun to debate," McCoy said.
Some feel MSE’s advertising efforts could be improved.
"I'm just speculating but it might be a lack of awareness of the event," David said.
The MSE Symposium has an active Facebook and Twitter page; however, the web pages gather only about 500 followers each, only eight percent of the Hopkins undergraduate student body.
The MSE Symposium volunteers also hang posters and hand out flyers on the Breezeway, however it is unclear if this is effective at all. Some students were also unsure of which speakers were coming versus who already came.
"I knew [Choi] came, but I had no idea Wendy Kopp's speech passed by." sophomore Takiru Kanzawa said.
The Symposium chairs also send out emails, albeit only to students who know to sign up to receive them.
David offerd advice to coerce students to MSE Symposium events.
"My suggestion would be for students to go to large classes, especially those in political science ... [and] announce these talks because you've got hundreds of students who are potentially interested in that type of thing sitting there. I’d be happy to have you take a minute," he said.
Next Wednesday, the MSE Symposium will host their fourth speaker, former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. The Symposium chairs are hopeful for a better turnout.
"I'd say the next three speakers will [have an audience] nowhere near Seth Meyers but nowhere near Choi and Kopp either,” Smith said. “[It’ll be] somewhere in between ... I think they'll better grab people's attention.”