Winter Park Institute Returns with Nov. 10 Speaker Event

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Winter Park Institute will kick off a new speaker series with an event on Friday, Nov. 10, that will focus on business and higher education. “Empowering Voices, Building Futures” will feature authors Ryan Craig and Stephen Shedletzky with moderator, Gerald Hector. The 7 p.m. event at Bush Auditorium at Rollins College will be the Institute’s first since January of 2022.

Founded by Rollins College in 2007, the goal of the Institute was to foster scholarly discourse through events dubbed the “Speaker Series.” Operations ceased in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ownership was transferred to the Winter Park Publishing Company. Winter Park Institute achieved 501(c)(3) status in 2021 under the leadership of GladdeningLight founder, Randall Robertson. In 2022, leadership transferred to Lauren Zimmerman, owner of Writer’s Block Bookstore and Winter Park Library Trustee. A new Board was elected to represent the diverse Central Florida community with Zimmerman serving as co-executive director alongside architect and business developer, Jeffrey Blydenburgh.

“The inspiration to bring (the series) back is the need to build community through knowledge and information,” Blydenburgh told the32789. “We will expand from being a speaker series to a program that focuses on community dialogue about issues that matter to Winter Park and Central Florida.”

The list of past speakers includes Paul McCartney, Dr. Jane Goodall, Gloria Steinem, Jeb Bush, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Billy Collins and Martin Luther King III, to name a few. An event featuring NBA All-Star Grant Hill was held in June with proceeds benefitting Winter Park Institute.

The 2023-24 series will examine opportunities for positive change in the business and higher education sectors with “Empowering Voices, Building Futures” as its opening discussion. Craig’s book, Apprentice Nation: How the “Earn and Learn” Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America, tells the story behind America’s college system and discusses the importance of apprenticeships.

Shedletzky’s book, Speak-Up Culture: When Leaders Truly Listen, People Step Up, explores how leaders at every level can create safe environments that validate every voice and welcome all contributions.

“Guests of our November 10 event are in for a treat,” said Zimmerman in a prepared statement. “Ryan and Stephen have unique perspectives on the extremely timely and relevant topic of higher education, and their expertise will be on full display at WPI’s inaugural event.”

According to Blydenburgh, the Institute will partner with Dr. Phillips, Rollins College, Winter Park Library, All Saints Church, and the City of Winter Park to access venues that meet a range of capacity needs.

“We are currently planning four to six events for 2024,” he said, adding that the January speaker will be retired Disney Senior Vice President, Lee Cockerell. “And we are a partner with UCF for an event about artificial intelligence at its Spring Arts Event at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.”

Tickets for the November 10 event are $20 each and can be purchased here. For more information on Winter Park Institute events and ways to donate, visit

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