Futurists will celebrate past and look ahead

While it may sound counterintuitive, futurists actually spend a fair amount of time contemplating the past, and the reason is fairly obvious: Where we're going is inescapably tied to where we've been.

In recognition of the important role the past has played in creating its own future, the University of Houston will celebrate the more than three decades of future studies that have been offered at its institutions. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m., Friday at the Rockwell Pavilion in the M.D. Anderson Library on campus.

"The purpose of education is to prepare students for the future, yet we do not teach them about the future we are preparing them for," explained futurist Peter Bishop, an associate professor of strategic foresight at UH's College of Technology. "But we are changing that at UH, which has offered the world's leading graduate degree in futures studies for 35 years. And, now, we are beginning to teach undergraduates as well."

Not sure what a futurist actually does? Well, it doesn't include crystal balls.

Since long-term predictive forecasts are rarely correct, futurists describe alternative plausible and preferable futures, in addition to the expected future. Graduates of UH's program go on to have careers helping clients and employers anticipate significant changes that lie ahead and influence those changes to achieve long-term goals.

"In the far future, we believe that every student will have one or more courses on how to anticipate and influence the future as a basic part of the core curriculum," Bishop said. "Today, we teach them about the past in history classes, as we should, but we should also teach them about the future, because that is where they will live and be successful."

UH will hold a prominent place when the history of the field is written, Bishop added.

The future studies program was founded in 1974 at UH-Clear Lake.  By 1983, it had been ranked as one of the largest and most comprehensive graduate programs in the nation. It moved to the UH campus in 2005, and it also now offers professionals continuing education credits in strategic foresight.

On Friday, the celebration will include personal narratives from the program's first faculty members.

At the program's inception, participants studied and debated the major issues of the day, including whether Houston should continue its exponential growth or take steps to control it. While the popular opinion was to manage growth, Dr. Jib Fowles, one of the speakers, became quite well known for his pro-growth, no-regulation stance.

Another speaker, Harvard University's Christopher Dede, always has been fascinated by emerging information technologies, their implications for our society and its economy, and their potential to improve education.

Oliver Markley and Bishop also will give talks.

For more information about future studies, contact Bishop at pbishop@uh.edu. 

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WHAT: "Celebrating the Future!" event recognizing the University of Houston's future studies program
WHEN: 5 p.m., Friday
WHERE: University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library, Elizabeth Rockwell Pavilion