Scott Tavlin’s experience as a ULS moderator

Scott Tavlin had the opportunity to meet Josh Peck when he moderated his University Lecture Series last week. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Hundreds of students gather in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) three to four times a semester, eagerly waiting in excitement for the University Lecture Series (ULS) to bring out their favorite actor, author, musician or celebrity.

However, for the ULS moderators, that anticipation is paired with a bundle of nerves.

Scott Tavlin, a student at USF, got to experience these nerves first hand when he moderated for Josh Peck to a crowd of 900.

Tavlin is well known around campus for his high-energy segments on Bulls Radio, being an orientation leader, and a Master of Ceremonies (MC) for various events on campus.

The student-run ULS executive board decides on the list of moderators that they feel would best connect with the speakers. This could mean similar personality traits, organizations or interests.

When Tavlin received the call from ULS, he said he was stunned, to say the least.

“I was doing homework in my apartment and I checked my email, like a good student, and I see an email from the ULS office saying if I would be okay with moderating the event,” Tavlin said. “To be completely honest, I thought it was a mistake, I thought they emailed the wrong person.

“People were telling me that I might have been picked because of my high energy level when I get around people.”

To this point, he was correct.

According to Sabrina Alt, the graduate assistant for CSI (Center of Student Involvement), Tavlin was chosen by the ULS board because he was an MC for homecoming and USF Week as well as his frequent involvement on campus.

“We knew he would do well speaking in front of an audience and there would be some similarities when it comes to being high-energy for a TV or radio show,” Alt said. “Knowing Scott’s personality, we thought it would mesh well with Josh (Peck’s).”

This is not the first time a student was chosen to moderate for ULS.

In 2017, the ULS executive director at the time moderated the lecture for actress Viola Davis.

“It depends on who the (ULS board) thinks could moderate well on stage,” Josh Wilson, the associate director for CSI, said.

This semester, ULS began posting who the moderator is before the event, along with a biography and picture.

Alt said this was created to give students an idea of what they are getting into, as well as show appreciation to the moderators who took the time to prepare for the event.

“For Scott (Tavlin), students saw that one of their peers were moderating and they were more excited to attend the event,” Alt said.

Tavlin said as soon as he heard the news, he began his research immediately. He looked up Peck’s filmography, such as Drake and Josh, social media and his YouTube.

“Everyday (leading up to the event) I would watch his vlogs and I probably read his Wikipedia like 20 times,” Tavlin said.

The moderators have the responsibility in creating the list of about 15 questions with the help of the ULS board. The questions are then sent to the speaker’s agent to be approved, according to Alt.

Tavlin said he reached out to students on his social media to hear what kind of questions they had for Peck to ensure that he could cover every area of the speaker’s life.

In some cases, the speakers will review the question beforehand.

“It is up to the speaker if they want that in their preparation or not,” Alt said.

The speakers also decide if they would prefer a regular lecture style or a moderated conversation.

Wilson said the moderated style has been a recent trend for the speakers.

“It kind of shapes how the speakers carry their conversations because they might be more comfortable being asked a series of questions rather than doing a presentation by themselves,” Wilson said.

Alt said the moderated style creates a better flow and allows ULS to be able to steer the lecture in a direction where students will be able to enjoy.

“If there is something that students really want to hear about, we are able to craft our questions in a way to get (speakers) to talk about certain topics,” Alt said.

The weekend before the event, Tavlin said he spoke with Peck’s agent to create a guideline for the questions. The main concern was making sure the questions were well-rounded and not all about the show ‘Drake and Josh’ because it ended nearly 12 years ago.

Typically, the speakers do a sound check with the moderators the day of the lecture but in Tavlin’s case, Peck was directed to meet the VIP students instead. Tavlin was not able to meet Peck until five minutes before the lecture started, but he used this to his advantage and practiced his questions.   

He said he was more nervous about answering all the questions that the crowd wanted to hear. However, after joking with Peck on stage, Tavlin said he was able to calm his nerves and comfortably interview him.

According to Wilson, students are able to reach out to the ULS board if they have interest in moderating a lecture. Although it wouldn’t be guaranteed, he said it could be used for consideration.

“If we know their involvement on campus, that might give us an opportunity to select them,” Wilson said.

Tavlin said he was grateful to be given the opportunity from ULS and that it went better than he could have expected.

“It was such an honor to even be asked to do it and have it go so well, it was a great way to close out my time here at USF,” Tavlin said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to end.”