The conference is named for explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran and a founder of the National Geographic Society who joined Illinois Wesleyan University's faculty in 1865. He was a pioneer in using field work to teach science. In 1867 Powell took Illinois Wesleyan students to Colorado's mountains, one of the first expeditions of its kind in the history of American higher education. Later, Powell was the first director of Bureau of American Ethnology, which today is part of the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology.
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Read about the 20th anniversary of the conference in 2009