Convention sweeps the College: Students, faculty put together TEDx conference

“Historically innovative.”

That is the almost paradoxical theme of TEDx’s event at the College of William and Mary, set to happen in Brinkley Commons in Alan B. Miller Hall March 30 at 5 p.m. The event will feature nine live speakers affiliated with the College who will each have 15 minutes to present their ideas before an audience of over 100 people.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design — three topics that have expanded to include numerous disciplines since TED’s conception over 26 years ago. Once a four-day conference in California, TED is now a large nonprofit organization devoted to asking the world’s leading thinkers, doers and inventors to showcase their groundbreaking ideas.

The results include a variety of talks such as “The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain, “The History of Our World in 18 Minutes” by David Christian and “Your Brain is More Than a Bag of Chemicals” by David Anderson. These ideas stretch from science to history to sociology and even to economics. If there’s a subject worthy of discussion, then TED has probably covered it. Even Bill Gates has made a few appearances at events, talking about innovations in energy use and the nature of education in the United States. TED posts all of the talks for public viewing on TED Publicity Chair Bailey Kielarowski ’13, who is responsible for the promotion of the event around campus, described the organization that made it all possible.

“TED is an organization whose goal is to promote ideas worth spreading,” Kielarowski said. “They cover any number of disciplines, from mathematics to physics to humanities, you name it.”

What makes TEDx a regular TED event is the fact that it’s independently organized, as the “x” at the end of TEDx indicates.

“While we are overseeing it all, this TEDx event at William and Mary has been all planned by William and Mary students and faculty as well,” Kielarowski said.

According to co-curator of the event Anna Mahalak ’12, the event planning began in the fall of 2012. “Ginger Ambler was key to ensuring we’d be set up for success, and then we also picked up a remarkable group of student leaders to set up and serve as chairs on our steering committee,” Mahalak said.

The speakers were selected through a grueling process, which involved narrowing down a list of 50 possible speakers to only nine.

“Speakers were asked to describe what their talk would be about. Then a committee comprised of students and faculty selected the final speakers,” Mahalak said.

All nine speeches will approach the theme from different perspectives, expanding on such subjects as “Storytelling in a Digital World,” “Using Crowd Sourcing Technology to Change the Way We Save Lives” and “The Importance and Societal Benefits of Educating Women.”

The presenters, both professors and students, have their own stories to tell. William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Humanities Tamara Sonn, for example, has collaborated with TED in the past and will be presenting on the topic of “Myths and Religions” at the event. Her exhibition will focus on misperceptions about religion that she said can likely be corrected through scholarly study.

“It takes real skill to be able to present the material in an engaging and meaningful way for people to get the point of it,” Sonn said. “Some people do PowerPoints. Some people bring props or that kind of thing.”

Sonn, however, will not use either in her presentation. She explained that the event’s format also does not allow for much communication between speakers and members of the audience during the presentations.

“You don’t interact with the audience. We kind of perform it,” Sonn said.

Another speaker, sociology Professor David Aday, is going to be presenting on the topic of “Owning Change: Community, Knowledge, and Development.”

“My topic is social change and the role students and faculty members can play in promoting knowledge-based efforts to reduce inequality, injustice and disparity,” Aday said.

Unlike Sonn, this is Aday’s first time speaking at a TEDx event. Also, he will not  attempt to present his views on social change for 15 minutes without guidance — instead, he will use PowerPoint to illustrate and emphasize key points.

Sonn noted bringing the TED forum to the college level will provide a unique opportunity for both participants and students.

“People wait in lines for years to get invited to attend a conference,” Sonn said. “TED talks are designed to demonstrate the importance of topics that many people might otherwise not have a chance to explore.”

Kielarowski looks forward to seeing the event unfold, explaining how she views TEDx as a representation of the College itself.

“It might sound like a bit of a paradox, but we thought it really encapsulates what William and Mary is known for, and that’s the history of innovative thinking,” Kielarowski said. “We have been really appreciative of all the interest and enthusiasm from the campus so far, and hopefully we’re just really working to not only make the next event worthy of the TED name, but the William and Mary name as well.”


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