According to Wikipedia, a polymath is “a person, with superior intelligence, whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” Leonardo da Vinci is undoubtedly the most well-recognized polymath, and arguably one of the greatest innovators to ever walk this earth. He was fearless in his exploration into every realm of study that intrigued him. His many titles included painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, mentor, anatomist, geologist, botanist and writer. Students should take a hint from Leonardo: Remarkable things happen when we explore beyond the limits of our self-imposed boundaries.

The TED event taking place in April at the University seeks to open people up to this multidisciplinary pursuit. “TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design — three subject areas that are shaping our future. The event will showcase ideas that matter in any discipline.

TED was started in 1984 in southern California. The conference takes place once a year. At it, the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about. The aim is to offer attendees a chance to discover new ideas and push the boundaries of their own intellect. Attendees have called it “the ultimate brain spa” and “a journey into the future.”

In March 2009, TED offered up their name and format for independent organizers to create their own “TED-inspired” conferences through a spinoff organization called TEDx. Since then, events have taken place in every corner of the globe: from Paris to Hyberabad, India to Kibera and Kenya to universities across this country. In this very short period of time, TEDx has emerged as a global phenomena, showing that people everywhere are eager to discover new ideas and spread inspiration.

There is no question that the University is a colossal entity. Imagine the faces of 40,000 students and 6,000 faculty members — it’s mindboggling. The sheer number of highly driven and intelligent individuals in such a small space creates infinite opportunities to realize new possibilities. Think of the University as a microcosm of the world. The University prides itself in its flourishing diversity of ideas. This is why we have decided to bring TED to the University— to unleash the collective talent and creativity it has incubated for so long.

On Apr. 10, TEDxUofM will gather the leading thinkers, makers, and doers from the University for a stimulating day of presentations, discussions, entertainment and art that will spark new ideas and opportunities for all. The audience will be composed of a diverse, yet curated, mix of 300 students, professors and thought leaders from the University and beyond. We see this as the start of a conversation, a preview of profound things to come.

Most conferences give that information about who is presenting pretty early on. Well, where’s the fun in that? We are inviting you to discover. To imagine what’s in the gift-wrapped box. To enter the auditorium with the buzz that tells you something big is about to happen. Because in return for a bit of risk, we promise to showcase 20 of the most fascinating and engaging minds the University and Ann Arbor have to offer.

Over 15 different departments at the University will be represented at the event. Just imagine an aerospace engineering student enabling us to dream beyond our planet, a design professor displaying the incredible things you can do with basic materials, an MBA student discussing the power of simplicity in solving the most pertinent issues our world faces and a Wolverine athlete discussing his brief brush with fame. Now imagine being there, watching this unfold and partaking in the various discussions. Think of all the possibilities that this idea sharing holds. You do not need to travel far to find an incredible pool of talent. The University is your TED universe.

In the words of University President Mary Sue Coleman, “Great universities like Michigan must transcend disciplines to be truly effective in addressing societal needs.” TEDxUofM is the answer to this reality. We invite you to explore beyond your comfort zone. Find a little Leonardo Da Vinci in yourself. To discover the University at its best, go to

Alexander O’Dell and Austin Kronig are TEDxUofM leaders.

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