By Laura Willis, The Daily Iowan 
Dinner-table conversations at the Kjaer house centered around politics and ideas. Growing up near her Danish grandparents and a father who taught world history, life for Joan Kjaer revolved around diverse cultures.
“I never thought the world was a scary place,” she said. “I just wanted to know more.”
Her curious nature about international issues and lifestyles led Kjaer to create “WorldCanvass,” a monthly International Programs discussion and radio show broadcast on KRUI and available on the Public Radio Exchange. Each month, she interviews various experts about topics with global scopes.
At 5 p.m. Friday, a new topic will be discussed live in the University Capitol Centre: the global water crisis and its effect on food and health. Admission is free and open to the public.
The program will examine how water relates to global health, the environment, and human rights around the world; the speakers will include filmmakers and professors. Kjaer, who has been planning the program since November, believes that discussing the global-water crisis will fit well with an upcoming conference by the Global Health Studies Program.
Kjaer says her career in radio was an accident. As a student at the University of Iowa in the early to mid-1970s, she majored in anthropology and religious studies and thought about joining the Peace Corps after graduation.
“I never thought the world was a scary place. I just wanted to know more.” – Joan Kjaer
During that time, she worked as a waitress at the University Athletics Club (which at that time had no connection with the UI), and one day, a customer asked Kjaer what she planned to do after college. The man, Hugh Cordier, turned out to be the general manager of the university’s public-radio stations. He offered Kjaer a position at the stations WSUI and KRUI — a move that would help the stations obtain a grant that encouraged women and minorities to take up careers in radio.
“If you try too hard to plan your career, you might miss out on the things that fall in your lap,” Kjaer said.
She landed the position without having any previous broadcast experience, and finding her place in the new environment proved to be a challenge. She didn’t understand the blinking lights and felt that the turntable setup looked more like the cockpit of an airplane.
Most intimidating, she said, was playing classical music for an audience well-aware of how the titles on KSUI’s programs of compositions were pronounced, many of which were in foreign languages.
After approximately 32 years of hosting programs on KSUI, she became an executive at Iowa Public Radio, and then, in the fall of 2009, she accepted a position with UI International Programs and created “WorldCanvass.”
“I think ‘WorldCanvass’ is absolutely beneficial for the radio station,” said KRUI general manager Dolan Murphy. “It strengthens our UI connection and gives us a high-quality program to which our student DJs may aspire.”
Sometimes ideas for topics come to Kjaer in dreams; at other times, she picks up on conversations she finds intriguing. She hopes that “WorldCanvass” encourages people to be culturally aware.
“The more we can do to encourage to be a part of the world these days the better off we are,” she said.