Getting to Star Island

Getting to Star Island

The main conference boat is the Thomas Leighton, which sails from the dock of the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Click here to see the dock on Google Maps.

If you are arriving or departing at an odd time of the week, another option is to take the Uncle Oscar, a smaller boat out of Rye, New Hampshire.

Information on boats, travel, and parking can be found on the Star Island website.

Financial Assistance

Financial Assistance

IA welcomes applications from all who wish to join our exciting community.

Application forms are available now and are due by April 15, 2024.

Applicants will be automatically considered for grants from the IA Community Fund as well as the Star Island Corp Financial Grants program and MAY receive funding from both sources.  The combined application is online here:

More Details!

  • Financial assistance applications MAY be made for consecutive years.  Please note, this is a change in policy from past years!

  • All financial assistance applications are held in strict confidence.  From the conference only three members of the IA Community Fund Committee, one of whom serves as the Chair, as well as the IA Registrar/Treasurer, who is a non-voting member view the applications.
  • Financial assistance from IA and Star Island  can be combined with discounts and promotions, with an earnest attempt to reach the requested room and board discount.
  • Only full-week conferees (five nights or more) are eligible to apply for financial assistance
  • IA’s Financial Assistance  funds are generated yearly through fundraising activities during the previous year’s conference (including an art auction and a silent auction) and individual donations.

  • The  IA Community Fund is committed to providing financial assistance to  invest in a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.  Individuals and families from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

IA Committee

IA Committee

Each year the conference is planned and organized by a leadership team consisting of the Conference Committee, the Youth Director, and the Registrar-Treasurer.

The Conference Committee is the governing board of the International Affairs Conference at Star Island, a nonprofit corporation (bylaws). Committee members serve for five years: three as members, one as Chair, and one as Chair Emeritus. At the end of each conference, a new member rotates on and the Chair Emeritus rotates off.

The Chair selects the theme and recruits speakers and the minister of the week. Each Committee member has a portfolio of responsibilities, including finding and recruiting program leaders and other volunteers, coordinating with Island staff to ensure a smooth week, and generally being available to attend to the needs of the conference.

Gretchen Donehower, Chair IA 2024

Gretchen Donehower

Gretchen has been attending IA since age 6. She loves Star’s natural beauty and New England quirkiness, and IA’s spot on the calendar as THE not-to-be-missed summer gathering for her parents and siblings (including her sister, the fabulous registrar Kristin Laverty!).  Her favorite Star activities are theme talks, watching softball, and solving the problems of the world with other conferees from a rocker on the porch.

Off-island, Gretchen is a demographer at UC Berkeley helping NGOs, governments, and researchers around the world understand how population affects our economies.  She works from her home in southern Oregon, which she shares with her husband, John, and sons Jack and Bill.  The boys love the kid-freedom of Star, running around with friends for swimming, softball, exploring, and games.  John can’t always get away from his vital work as a craft brewer (hey, it is Oregon after all), but on-island can be found making breathtaking catches in the cemetery during the Pel-IA softball game.

Greg Dixon, Chair Emeritus

Greg Dixon

Greg began attending Star Island conferences with his parents when he was nine years old. He spent a number of summers working on the island as a Pelican, and it was during one of those summers that he met his wife, Kyla. The two began attending IA with their young family in 2013. They fell in love with the conference’s slow pace, it’s good people, the intellectual stimulation and the wonderful children’s program.

On the mainland, Greg is a producer for National Public Radio (NPR). Currently, he works for the International Desk, supporting NPR reporters in 19 bureaus around the world. Prior to this role, he worked for the network’s flagship afternoon show, All Things Considered, for over a decade. Greg has reported for NPR around the world from war-zones, conflicts, natural disasters and, occasionally, places not in turmoil.

Greg, Kyla and their two small children live in Washington, DC.


Deb Nelson, Committee Member

Deb Nelson

Deb began going to IA week with her mom, brother, and sister when she was six years old. It was her favorite week of the year. She took a break from Star after moving to California, started coming back with her sons seven years ago, and feels very grateful to be part of the IA community. On the mainland, Deb is executive director of the Just Economy Institute, a community of practice and leadership development program for financial activists. She’s been supporting, educating and connecting social entrepreneurs, impact investors and nonprofit leaders for two decades. Deb and her sons Sam and Will live in Berkeley, CA.

Anthony Silva, Committee Member

Anthony Silva

Anthony first came to Star Island during IA week for an overnight in 2014 with his wife JoAnn to honor the memory of their close friend George Brandenburg. They’ve returned annually since that first visit.  Anthony retired from CBS in 2015 after a 37 year career at WBZ Radio and TV in Boston where he was the afternoon radio news anchor and New England Business Editor. He created a quarterly breakfast meeting series that attracted a wide range of business and technology experts including Richard Branson and Jack Welch. He also founded the Me&Thee Music series at the UU Church in Marblehead that is now in its 53rd season. Anthony has been a dedicated UU for 55 years and has held a variety of leadership positions in two congregations. Anthony and JoAnn live in Marblehead, MA.

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, Committee Member

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel

Rev. CTC (a UU parish minister currently serving in Arlington, VA) simply loves STAR. She’s been coming to the island for several years. Her first on-the-rock experience was in 2015 as a newly ordained UU Minister. “The week was magical. I felt the layers of stress and the weariness of spirit that often comes at the end of a church year just peel away the closer I got to STAR.”  Her journey from the Washington DC area to IAC includes several modes of transportation: Uber, Plane, Bus, and Uber to the Dock, all before finally boarding the Thomas Laighton. CTC enjoyed a few different SI conferences and then settled into our community in 2022. “IA is my place. Y’all are my people.” 

Off island, her ministry work focuses on Social Justice and Community engagement. She loves contemporary poetry, PBS mysteries, and Craft Beer. Her collection of NW Coastal Peoples Art continues to grow. What else? ” I couldn’t live without travel” (Paris, Prague, Normandy and NOLA in 2023). CTC has two adult children, a doodle pup named Prescher, and steals kisses from her two grandsons as often as possible.

Kristin Laverty, Registrar and Treasurer

Kristin Laverty

As Registrar/Treasurer, Kristin Laverty handles many things that make IA run smoothly, including room assignments and travel arrangements for conferees and overnight guests. A third-generation Shoaler, she began attending IA in the 1970s and is a current member of the Star Island Corporation and active on the Nominating Committee.

A highlight of her lifelong devotion to Star were the five seasons she lived and worked on the Island as the Island Registrar, from 2006-2010.

The proud Mom of a fourth-generation Shoaler, Kristin lives with her family in Plymouth, Massachusetts where she is a middle school substitute teacher and active in school and youth sports organizations.

For questions regarding registration, Kristin may be reached at

Katie Bender, Youth Program Coordinator

Katie Bender

Our Youth Program in 2022 is directed by Katie Bender, who has been an early childhood educator for nearly two decades. She is a life-long IA conferee and former Pel. Katie lives in Medfield, Massachusetts, with her husband Marc, their three children (Abby, Brooke, and Lilla), three cats, and their dog Bailey. In her spare time Katie loves to take walks in the woods with Bailey and relishes the rare opportunity to curl up with a cup of tea and a new book.

Past Themes and Speakers

Past Themes and Speakers

2023 – The State of Democracy Abroad and at Home

Chair: Greg Dixon


Nicole Bibbins Sedaca is the Executive Vice President of Freedom House, a non-governmental organization that works to expand and defend freedom globally, where she oversees the organization’s strategy and programs.

Gabrielle Bardall, Ph.D is an educator, advisor and activist who has worked to advance democracy and human rights in over 60 countries over the past two decades.

John Carey is the John Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences and the Associate Dean of Faculty for the Social Sciences at Dartmouth.

Vasu Mohan currently serves as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) senior global advisor for conflict, displacement and minority rights.

Dhanaraj Thakur is Research Director at the Center for Democracy & Technology, where he leads research that advances human rights and civil liberties online.

2022 – Systemic Racism and What We Can Do About It

Chair: Laura Espinosa


Robert Trent Vinson is Director & Chair of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American & African Studies at the University of Virginia and a Research Associate at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Maria Estrada has years of experience as a community leader and change maker, a strategic planner and implementer of JEDI initiatives, and an academic and trainer of trainers to advance equity work in education and the environment.

Al Race was Deputy Director and Chief Knowledge Officer at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University for 15 years, until his retirement in 2021.

Christina Rivers, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Political Science at DePaul University and has written about ballot access for pretrial detainees, felony disenfranchisement laws and prison-based gerrymanders.

Penn Loh is Senior Lecturer and Director of the Master of Public Policy Program and Community Practice at Tufts University’s Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.

2021 – Women in Leadership: Why it Matters

Chair: Iyabo Obasanjo


Jeanne Dietsch is a former state senator and three-time tech entrepreneur who led startup MobileRobots Inc to become the world’s leading manufacturer of intelligence research robots.

Linda Leehman  has focused 20 years of political energy on videotaping, producing and airing a weekly cable access program called “Down By The Riverside”.

Gretchen Donehower is a demographer at UC Berkeley researching the role of age and gender in shaping how people produce, consume, share, and save resources.

2019 – Human Migration: Law, Policy and Human Rights

Chair: Dan Hotchkiss


Pardis Mahdavi has recently become director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University after many years at the University of Denver.

Maddalena Marinari is an Associate Professor in History, Peace Studies, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Daniel Kanstroom is Professor of Law and Thomas F. Carney Distinguished Scholar at Boston College Law School.

Julie Dahlstrom is Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law.

Mónica Ortiz Uribe is a freelance multimedia reporter specializing in issues on the U.S./Mexico border.

2018 – America’s Place in the World: Power, Influence, and World Order

Chair: Lucia Green-Weiskel


  • Barry Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT and the director of MIT’s Security Studies Program.
  • Charles Maynes is an independent radio producer based in Moscow.
  • Patrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer.
  • Jendayi E. Frazer is a visiting professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, a former US Ambassador to South Africa, and the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2005-09.
  • Syaru Shirley Lin teaches political economy at the University of Virginia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

2017 – The World’s Oceans: Protecting an International Resource

Chair: Brian Williams


2016 – Education

Chair: Becky Miller


  • Andy Calkins, Deputy Director, Next Generation Learning Challenges at Educause
  • Elizabeth Suneby, Author – books for children and teens
  • Sameer Honwad, Assistant Professor of Education, University of New Hampshire
  • EK Cho, Associate Professor of Education, University of New Hampshire

2015 – Climate Change

Chair: Beth Miller


  • Stephen P. Hamburg, chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund
  • Kate Sheppard, senior reporter, environment and energy editor, Huffington Post
  • Keya Chatterjee, executive director, Society of Environmental Journalists
  • Dale Jamieson, professor of environmental studies and philosophy, New York University

2014 – Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities

Chair: Ted Trainer


  • Marvin G. Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Fawzia Afzal-Khan, professor of English at Montclair State University
  • Khan Hussan Zia, writer and former Pakastani Naval Officer

2013 – Europe and the Eurozone

Chair: Lisa Braiterman


  • Heather Conley, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • Dr. Vello Pettai, professor of comparative politics at the University of Tartu in Estonia
  • Dr. Catherine L. Mann, International Business School at Brandeis
  • Dr. Thomas Wright, fellow in the Managing Global Order project, Brookings Institution

2012 – Arab Spring and Beyond

Chair: Maria Getoff


  • Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya Television
  • Jillian Schwedler, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • Michele Dunne, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
  • Jon B. Alterman, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director, Middle East Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

2011 – Water: A Human Right and Resource

Chair: Nick Dempsey


  • R. Allyn Clarke, Bedford Institute of Oceanography
  • Dr. Christopher L. Kukk, Western Connecticut State University
  • Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, Pacific Institute
  • Dr. Shimon C. Anisfeld,Yale University
  • Patricia Jones, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

2010 – Empowering Women and Children for Global Health

Chair: Suellen Peluso


  • Jennifer Prah Ruger, core investigator for the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS
  • Susan M. Davis, president & CEO of BRAC USA
  • Scott Hansen, American Institute in Taiwan’s Economic Section
  • Lisa Adams, assistant professor in the department of medicine, Section of Infectious Disease and International Health, Dartmouth Medical School, and Director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI).
  • Richard Waddell, assistant professor of medicine in the Section of Infectious Disease and International Health at Dartmouth
  • Ann Cotton, founder of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED)

2009 – Global Justice

Chair: David Cummiskey


  • Joel H. Rosenthal, president, Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs
  • Janice Bially Mattern, associate professor international relations, Lehigh University
  • Linda Bishai, senior program officer, Education and Training Center/International, United States Institute for Peace
  • Dr. Lee R. Schwartz, director of the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, US Department of State
  • Allen Springer, professor of government, Bowdoin College

2008 – Religion and International Politics, Now and into the Future

Chair: Rosemarie Smurzynski


  • Stanley R. Sloan, author, educator, visiting scholar at Rohatyn Center for International Studies, Middlebury College
  • Jayakiran Sebastian, director of Multicultural Mission Center, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
  • Emmanual Twesigye, professor of Christian studies, Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Emran Quereshi, author, educator, Wertheim Fellow at Harvard University
  • Paul Beran, director for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
  • Hilary Rantisi, director, Middle East Initiative, Kennedy School of Government

2007 – Island Opened Late – No IA Conference Held

2006 – Power Shifts: Regional Hotspots Confronting the U.S.

Chair: Josh Spero


  • Jeffery Taliaferro, associate professor of political science, Tufts University
  • Sean Kay, associate professor of politics and government, Ohio Weslyan University
  • Alan Stolberg, assistant professor of national security studies, U.S. Army War College
  • Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, Washington DC
  • Eric Budd, associate professor of political science, Fitchburg State College

2005 – Food Security: Global Challenge to People, Cultures and Nations

Chair: Lloyd Yanis


  • Ellen Messer, visiting professor of international affairs and anthropology, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Sara Sievers, director for research, advocacy and policy, Association Francois Xavier Bagnoud
  • Mark McPeak, deputy director, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
  • Brian Tokar, author, educator, faculty at Vermont’s Institute for Social Ecology
  • Jim Slama, founder and president of Sustain and

2004 – The World’s Largest Democracy: India

Chair: Joann O’Hara


  • Harry G. Barnes, Jr., former United States ambassador to India
  • Anne E. Monius: professor of South Asian Religions, Harvard Divinity School
  • Kilaparti Ramakrishna, senior associate for international environmental law, Woods Hole Research Center
  • Katharine Sreedhar, director, UU Holdeen India Program
  • Dr. Prabhakar Tamboli, executive director, international training programs, University of Maryland

2003 – Islam: One-Fifth of the World’s People

Chair: Karen Mathiasen


  • Dr. Hibba Abugideiri, professor, George Washington University
  • Dr. Anthony F. Lang, program officer, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs
  • Dr. Azza Karam, director, Women’s Program at the World Conference on Religion and Peace
  • Heather Gregg, Ph.D. candidate in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2002 – Contemporary China: Challenges of Global Engagement

Chair: Anne Howe


  • Brantly Womack, professor, University of Virginia
  • Yasheng Huang, associate professor, Harvard Business School
  • Dan Hai Mu Esquire and Dr. Rong Yi, Boston University
  • Xiaorong Li, research scholar, University of Maryland (presented by Helena Cobban)
  • Harry Harding, dean, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

2001 – The U.S. and the Challenges of International Leadership and Cooperation

Chair: Ross Fenster


  • Stewart Patrick, Center on International Cooperation, New York University
  • Michael Klare, Hampshire College
  • Aaron M. Knight, chief of staff, World Federalist Association
  • Joshua Spero, Dartmouth School of Government
  • Rose Gottemoeller, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

2000 – International Ethics

Chair: Caren Yanis


  • Valora Washington, executive director, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
  • Joel Rosenthal, president, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs
  • Sherman Teichman, director, Institute for Global Leadership, Tufts University
  • Lawrence Grossman: president, NBC News from 1984 to 1988 and of PBS from 1976 to 1984
  • Lori Knowles, professor, University of Wisconsin Schools of Law and Medicine

1999 – Reaching Beyond States: The Role of International NGOs

Chair: Helena Cobben


  • Ann Florini, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Heather Foote, UU Service Committee
  • Ricky Goldstein, Human Rights Watch
  • Xiaorong Li, University of Maryland
  • Susannah Sirkin, Physicians for Human Rights Campaign against Land Mines

1998 – People, States, and Globalization

Chair: Tom McNaugher


  • Stephen Blank, Pace University
  • Bridget Rosewell, Business Strategies Ltd. London
  • Ed Lincoln, Brookings Institue
  • Michael Berlin, Boston U. School of Journalism
  • Shibley Telhami, Univ of Maryland

1997 – Trouble in the Neighborhood: Co-Existence in North America

Chair: Susan Rak


  • Marilyn Halter, Boston University
  • Betty Haskins, United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • William LeoGrande, American University
  • Susan Purcell
  • Monique Simard, deputy leader, Parti Quebecois

1996 – The Impact of Political Decisions on World Health

Chair: Burt Jaffe


  • John Hammock, director, Oxfam America
  • Elizabeth Reed, director, AIDS Program, WHO
  • Leonard Marcus, M.D., Tufts University Medical School
  • Ellen Chesler, author
  • David Cummiskey, professor of medical ethics, Bates College

1995 – Competing Interests in the Global Village: The UN at 50

Chair: Margaret Noel


  • Franics Deng, Brookings Institution and special envoy to the UN
  • Jane Holl, Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict
  • Kemal Kurspanic, Oslobodeniye, Sarajevo
  • Lorenzo Morris, Howard University
  • George Moffett, Christian Science Monitor

1994 – Religion, Race & Ethnicity: Sources of Conflict in International Affairs

Chair: Ken Cummisky


  • Stanley Heginbotham, Ford Foundation
  • Adrien Wing, University of Iowa Law School
  • Ian Lustick, U. of Pennsylvania
  • Ann Mayer, U. of Pennsyvannia
  • Karen Dawisha, U. of Maryland

1993 – Transitions to Democracy: Implications for War & Peace

Chair: Ellen Brandenburg

1992 – Japan, China & Pacific Basin Challenges for the U.S.

Chair: Don Zagoria

1991 – End of the Cold War: Challenges for the U.S.

Chair: Jean Hay

1990 – Exhausted Earth: Environmental Threats and Questions

Chair: Bill Maynes

1989 – U.S. in a Changing World

Chair: Richard Weinert

1988 – Is There a New Soviet Union?

Chair: Des O’Hara

1987 – China: The Next Superpower?

Chair: Sam Frieberg

1986 – The Middle East: Societies and Schisms

Chair: Judy Williams

1985 – Africa

Chair: Eleanor Jaffe

1984 – Latin America: Dilemma on Our Doorstep

Chair: Gordon Noel

1983 – The Nuclear Dilemma: Security Without Annihilation

Chair: Sam Zagoria

1982 – Leadership in a Troubled World

Chair: Phyllis Claus

1981 – Confrontation – and the Alternatives

Chair: Dave Stanley

1980 – The Causes of War

Chair: Ron Buck

1978 – Our Shrinking World

Chair: Naomi Yanis




In addition to the morning theme talks, a number of workshops and activities are offered in the afternoon. Here are some examples of what has been available in the past:

Music Workshop and IA Choir

Music at IA takes many forms. A surprising number of talented musicians attend the conference and we happily exploit their talents. A choir has been held each afternoon made up of anyone in the conference who likes to sing. Experience is not required, nor is the ability to read music, although experienced music readers are enthusiastically welcomed. Traditionally, the choir sings in the chapel every morning and we often appear in the IA Follies, our all-conference talent show.

The IA Choir has been a wonderful place to sing, whether you have never sung in your life or do it all year long. Music has ranged from simple hymns to folk music to classical rounds to short anthems to African freedom songs to Broadway tunes to original songs about Star to just about anything else you can think of.

Art Barn Workshop

Last year’s IA Art Barn workshop focused on re-purposing and transforming everyday materials that were produced for one-time use. Since our environment can’t afford to absorb single-use items into landfills, we gave paper products, twine, metals, and plastic new lives by making functional and aesthetically pleasing objects and wares. We incorporated other “found objects” on the island into projects and made drawings using charcoal from the remains of the bonfire. Art supplies are always available in the Art Barn for conferees to borrow and use for making art at any time!

At the end of the week, we hold our annual Art Auction that raises money for the IA Scholarship fund.  We auction art made on the island, but conferees are also invited to bring art for the auction.

Yoga Workshop and Morning Stretch

We often include a yoga workshop and morning stretch, both of which are open to all bodies and abilities. Morning stretch takes place on the front porch and starts off your day with energy and community.  Yoga workshops are usually held inside in the large, bright space of the Brookfield building several times throughout the week.

Writing, poetry, book clubs and others

Past conferences have included many other activities, including writing and poetry workshops, book discussions, and many others.