Marnie Lahtinen
The GameChanger thinkers gather for a "meeting of the minds" on stage to challenge each other's ideas. (Nicole Johnson)

Brenna Gerhardt shares the GameChanger philosophy with the audience at the beginning of the event. (Nicole Johnson)

Human connections are powerful.

We form attachments to those with similar religious views. We connect with fellow fitness lovers at the gym. We join cooking clubs, take art classes and take up bowling to share in human experiences. Some people just want to meet others to talk about human values and the issues driving modern events. But in the midst of a thorny election season, how do we find and connect with other individuals seeking to reflect on the role of society in making a better world?

The North Dakota's Humanities Council (NDHC) asked this same question and then created an "ideas festival" called GameChanger in response. It is a one-day event, held each year, where North Dakotans gather together and discuss major events or issues shaping the world. Individuals on the "inside" of these topics are invited from across the country to present their perspectives and share their ideas with attendees. In its inaugural year, GameChanger focused on the Middle East; in 2015, the theme was technology. This year, GameChanger is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize.

At the event, to be held at Bismarck's Legacy High School on September 24th, local journalists will interview five Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and historians about their work. The interviews are designed to facilitate interaction with the audience regarding the role of free press and historically significant events. Some of the topics to be addressed are America's nuclear arms race, immigration, the implications of DNA testing and the future of medicine, racism and the accountability and abuse of power.

The guest list is both impressive and varied. Investigative journalist and political writer Seymour Hersch, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his disclosure of the Vietnam War My Lai tragedy, will be interviewed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Grand Forks Herald's long-time journalist Mike Jacobs. Noted Pulitzer Prize winners Elizabeth Fenn and Sonia Nazario and Pulitzer Prize Finalists Eric Schlosser and Jacqueline Jones are all featured guests at GameChanger.

In the months leading up to the event, the Council is asking communities across the state to celebrate Pulitzer Prize winning literature, journalism and drama. "We're asking symphonies to play Pulitzer Prize winning music ... the Empire Theater Company in Grand Forks is putting on a Pulitzer Prize winning play and Crosby is hosting an initiative event," says Brenna Gerhardt, executive director for NDHC. "We are asking individuals to look at different literature or poetry or history because there is something for everybody."

Gerhardt believes GameChanger is a forum for curious people to connect. "So much learning happens in isolation, so this is an opportunity to make it a community event, and to encourage people to actively think through the way they are going to interact with the community," says Gerhardt. "If life-long learning is your passion, this is your intellectual Super Bowl."

GameChanger attendees can email, tweet or ask live questions of the guests, either during the interviews or at breakouts. If passive participation is your modus operandi, not a problem. Attendees are welcome to sit back and soak it all in, or join a guided discussion intended to solicit audience feedback.

The Council is also encouraging attendee interaction through what they call a Book Bar. Attendees are asked to bring their favorite book marked with their contact information. It's a leave-one take-one concept. "The Book Bar is a way to meet someone new and interesting in the community," explains Gerhardt. "You can understand someone through the literature that's had a profound effect on them."

Food unifies as well, so local food trucks will be serving their fares in Legacy High School's parking lot. An on-site catered reception will cap GameChanger, where attendees can mingle, buy books and have them autographed.

"GameChanger is just one day and you can come learn from some of the most inspiring and innovative people that are doing powerful and amazing work with story-telling, with empathy, with history," says Gerhardt. "Issues and ideas are important to people - they may have just never been asked to articulate that."

Until now. Learn more about GameChanger at

Marnie Lahtinen is the mother of five children and a Mandan-based freelance writer. In addition to her family, she loves travel, hiking, skiing, food, knitting, red wine and music.