TEDxUofM inspires innovation at third annual event

By Alexandra Mondalek, Daily Staff Reporter
and Danielle Stoppelmann, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 29, 2012

Filling nearly all 1,368 seats at the University’s Power Center for the Performing Arts yesterday, attendees and invited guests of the third annual TEDxUofM conference awaited a diverse lineup of speakers who represented the University and other organizations.

The event, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., featured 19 speakers who discussed transforming avenues in justice, universal communication, science and other areas in relation to the event’s theme of “Inform Transform.”

LSA sophomore Kelsey Rhodes, this year’s event’s co-organizer, said TEDxUofM aimed to bring a diverse group of speakers to the event in order to inspire students of all interests.

“What we really made sure to look for this year was people that had a compelling and inspiring story to tell as opposed to just an impressive resume,” Rhodes said.

TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design, began 26 years ago in California as a four-day conference, and has since ventured globally as an initiative to promote inspiration and challenge norms in political, educational and social realms.

At the conference, speakers had only 18 minutes and a PowerPoint presentation to develop and share new ideas with the audience. Speakers often share inspirational stories and typically hail from the backgrounds of medicine, music and the arts.

During the event, Joe Trumpey, associate professor in the School of Art & Design, spoke about his personal sustainability efforts. He described his man-made home composed of straw, rock, dirt and wood, illustrating the use of his materials as he pushed a wheelbarrow containing the eco-friendly building blocks onto the stage.

University alum Lindsey Parrott attested to the impact of speakers like English Prof. Ralph Williams, who spoke of six primary topics — the American Project, American Paradox, religion and civic assent, living through imagination, forming stories with others and the future of the nation.

“I took three classes with Ralph Williams — it was the reason I chose to pursue an English major,” Parrott said.

During his presentation, Williams specifically focused on the idea of America’s plural society as a melting pot, regarding religious and social persecution as the attainment of one binding belief for all.

“We are, as a nation, on my observation, profoundly confused on this matter,” Williams said.

Students at the event explained how TEDx has impacted their lives, including freshman Catherine Tao, who said she viewed the online streams of past TEDTalks, and said she was pleased that her personal experience with the organization has helped yield creative discovery.

“The more creative you are, the more success you can have. I think TED fosters that,” Tao said.

Architecture and Urban Planning senior Sabrina Wang, who has attended two previous TEDx conferences, including TEDxTaipei in Taiwan, said she was also pleased with the event and its ability to allow her to apply its messages to her current academic ventures.

“Combining passion with research and technology together is great,” Wang said.

LSA sophomore Mike Perles, a TEDxUofM team member, said it was his first year at the event.

“(TEDxUofM is) showcasing how incredible people affiliated with U of M are, and how inspiring their ideas can be,” Perles said.

Perles said individuals must complete an application to attend the conference, which is based on a scoring system and reviewed and analyzed by the 2012 TEDxUofM team. Applicants with the top percentage of scores are accepted to participate in the event.

Rhodes praised the work of her fellow team members in organizing the event and said it was gratifying to see such dedication to a transformative cause come to fruition.

Rhodes added that a common sentiment at TEDxUofM 2012 was the promotion of a sense of synergy and community in various public and private sectors — an ideal that student organizations should strive for, she said.

“I think that we have so much power inside of us, and I feel like student organizations foster a sense of competition,” Rhodes said. “The power doesn’t lie in who is in the organization but instead, whom they connect with.”