TEDx features speakers on 'ideas worth spreading'

Does Pluto care if it’s labeled a “planet?” Is any child ever born bad? What insight can you gain from spending 12 years at a university? These were just a few of the issues addressed at TEDx NorthwesternU 2014, a day dedicated to ideas worth spreading.

Attendees packed the McCormick Tribune Center Forum on the Evanston campus Saturday for three separate sessions featuring speakers from the Northwestern community. Students, faculty members and alumni presented polished 15-minute talks on a range of topics, from interdisciplinary teaching to tackling issues of human rights. A livestream of the sessions was viewed in nearby Fisk 217 by scores of registered guests.

“I thought of my talk as sort of a tribute to Northwestern,” said speaker Marissa Jackson (WCAS06).

Jackson, who spoke about how her family roots in Ghana inform her work as a human rights attorney, said, “For me to be able to come back, that speaks to the work the university has been doing. I think it should serve as an encouragement.”

Other presenters included: Northwestern faculty Eli Finkel (professor, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences); Shane Larson (professor, Astrophysics/CIERA, Weinberg); Linda Van Horn (professor, Feinberg School of Medicine) and Xavier McElrath-Bey (clinical field interviewer, Feinberg). Alumni speakers included Ayesha Chowdhry (WCAS04), Zack Johnson (Comm10) and Stephen Dowling (Bienen '13). Student peakerss included  Parag Gupta (Ph.D candidate, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science); Jackson Walker (WCAS17); Michael Silberblatt (Comm14) and Neha Reddy (WCAS16).

Event organizers, including 11 student members on the executive board, selected the roster of 12 speakers from more than 100 submissions received earlier this year.

“We worked deliberately and intentionally to make sure there was a diversity of voice,” said Michele Weldon, TEDx co-director and Medill assistant professor emerita-in-service. “Throughout the day we had representations from science, medicine, law and elsewhere and different gender representation, racial representation and ideology to make sure that the many voices of Northwestern were heard.”

Weldon teamed up with Nikita Ramanujam (SESP15) as co-directors to organize the event, the first of its kind for the university.

TED, a nonprofit devoted to Technology, Entertainment and Design, operates national conferences covering a wide scope of issues. The organization also encourages and licenses independent self-organized “TEDx” events around the country, combining video and live speakers to spark discussion and connection.

Contributions to Northwestern's event came from multiple corners of the campus community, further illustrating the day’s theme, “Crossing Paths.” Student volunteers from several academic schools pitched in. Performances punctuating each session highlighted student groups Thunk A Capella, Brownsugar, Treblemakers, Mee-Ow comedy group and Mariachi NU.

Alumni and student hosts served to introduce each speaker as well as the student performers.  Jenny Fukumoto (BSJ09), Janesh Rahlan (WCAS14) and Daphna Weinstock (Comm15) made sure the transitions went smoothly.

Weldon and Ramanujam expressed gratitude to several Northwestern departments and community partners that helped make the event possible. Sponsors included the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Deloitte, the National Notary Association, AlumTalks, Medill, Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), RVue and the Northwestern Panhellenic Association. Provost Dan Linzer and Medill Dean Brad Hamm attended sessions as sponsors and special guests.

Audience member Mark Grant, a graduate student from New York, said he was excited the Northwestern community could get involved with TEDx.

“I like that people here are thinking about these issues and that TED is able to facilitate it in such an inspirational way,” said Grant.

Speaker Jackson Walker (WCAS17), whose talk was about returning to India recently to the orphanage from where he was adopted as an infant, said TEDx is an appropriate venue for the many ideas that abound within the diverse Northwestern community.

“It’s all about looking at things through a new lens,” Walker said. “There are a lot of common experiences here at Northwestern that, if you get up and talk about them in a different way, you get people to look at them a different way.”

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