An international lawyer, a biomedical engineer and the author of the children’s book “The Polar Express” will collaborate in one place in town come April.
These people — Law School alum Jared Genser, president of the law firm Freedom Now, Kathleen Sienko, an assistant professor in medical and biomedical engineering, and University alum Chris Van Allsburg, writer and illustrator of “The Polar Express” — will gather with many other members of the University and Ann Arbor community on April 8 for the second annual TEDxUofM.
TEDxUofM — a conference designed to encourage the sharing of ideas and innovations — is a spin-off of the original TED conference series. Established in California in 1984, the initial event was meant to bring people together from technology, entertainment and design careers, which form the organization’s acronym.
Since its founding, TED has inspired unaffiliated TEDx offshoots at universities across the nation. This year’s TEDxUofM will be the largest in the history of these spin-off events.
Independently organized and targeted specifically for a University audience, this year’s TEDxUofM event will bring between 12 and 16 speakers together from a variety of fields to give presentations and performances throughout the day.
Genser, one of the speakers, works to legally free international political prisoners and has helped prominent figures like 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu, who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, was imprisoned by Chinese officials for his human rights activism and is currently serving an 11-year sentence.
Also a speaker at this year’s TEDxUofM, Sienko recently received the Grand Challenges Exploration grant of $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for her team’s work with medical technology in developing countries.
Perhaps the most well known of the presenters is School of Art & Design alum Chris Van Allsburge, who in addition to “The Polar Express,” wrote and illustrated the book “Jumanji.”
Prospective speakers either apply or are sought by TEDx organizers. A group of 40 student volunteers then pick the best lineup of presenters.
Engineering junior Laura Willming, a member of the TEDx marketing team, said the success of last year’s conference on campus is one of the reasons she got involved with the project.
“The passion and stories that come from the TEDx stage are what drew me to it,” Willming said. “The idea of people from all walks of life coming together is one of the greatest parts of the TED brand in general.”
TEDxUofM also includes student presenters. LSA and School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Madeline Huberth, who is studying physics and cello performance, will speak about her senior thesis on the relationship between auditory feedback and sound quality.
“The research should provide insight into the extent to which musicians use auditory feedback to adjust their sound quality and help us understand the intimate relationship between performer and instrument,” Huberth said.
She added that she thinks she was chosen to speak at the event because of her work in “what seems to be, at first glance, two unrelated fields.”
Due to the high level of interest, prospective event attendees are required to apply beforehand. Last year’s TEDx showcase which was held at the Biomedical Science Research Building had about 350 people in attendance but received about 600 applicants. To accommodate a bigger audience this year, the event organizers sought a larger venue — the Michigan Theater.
In the coming weeks, the TEDxUofM team will announce the rest of the event’s speakers. Willming said she hopes the event will inspire participants.
“This event will hopefully give innovators and creators that spark of passion and excitement they need to bring their visions to life,” she said.