Last Friday, TEDxUniversityofTulsa continued a tradition of bringing TU students and professors’ ideas to the public eye.
Katie Snyder and Hannah Hutchinson, two students in the NOVA Fellowship, founded and organized the first TEDxUniversityofTulsa in 2014. The event, now in its third year, is intended to bring great minds together in the Lorton Performance Center to share their ideas. It’s mostly composed of short talks around 10-15 minutes in length, modeled after the TED talks that have become popular in recent years.
When Snyder and Hutchinson founded TEDx, they did so because “[TU] had great ways to showcase research, but not a lot of ways to show other things that people are doing on campus,” Sam Beckmann, one of this year’s organizers, shared. “We think it’s incredibly important to have an event like this.”
TEDx events differ from TED events in that they are independently organized using a TED license. TU’s event gives students, professors and other TU affiliates the chance to share their ideas on a public platform. 100 tickets were sold for this year’s event at $10 apiece.
Beckmann contends that TEDxUniversityofTulsa is uniquely important in that it’s student-led and not faculty-advised, giving participants and organizers an opportunity to lead an event that they might not receive in college otherwise. “We’re proud of being entirely student-run,” he said.
The 2017 TEDx effort was lead by Beckmann and Aaron Krusniak. “It takes a team. This year we had a core team of six,” Beckmann said.
Beckmann explained that an incredible amount of planning went into the event. “Aaron [Krusniak] and I met to look at themes last May.” He said that speakers auditioned from August-October 2016, interviews were held and speakers were selected before Thanksgiving break and the speakers turned in outlines of their speeches before Christmas break. The venue was booked an entire year in advance. They had to arrange for videographers and photographers, “…plus the gift bags, getting the food, and I think it was like 36 total hours of laser engraving,” Beckmann continued.
The organizers also met several times with the speakers to go over their talks. Speakers practiced four times per day in the weeks leading up to the event. “We can conservatively estimate that the speakers have given their talks 100 times before giving them onstage [at TEDx],” Beckmann said.
The event began at 11 a.m. with empanadas from MASA food truck. Attendees were given a notebook and laser-cut name tag.
Emcees Haley Anderson and Reeza Redzuan kicked off the talks around 12:30 with a welcoming video about TED and TEDx.
For Anderson, emceeing was a great opportunity to get involved with TEDxUniversityofTulsa for the first time. Anderson said that the emcees were given a lot of creative freedom, which she liked. “Most of the talks are pretty serious, so it was nice to be able to incorporate humor as emcees,” she said, pointing out that the dialogue between the emcees was meant to emanate a late-night vibe, similar to SNL. “Reeza [Redzuan] is hilarious and I sort of act as an anchor,” she joked.
The first speaker, Deborah Bradshaw, led the charge with a talk about the possibility of being able to prevent Down’s Syndrome. Bradshaw urged the audience to think carefully about what a world without people with Down’s Syndrome would be like. She used her own son as an example, saying that while she helped her son become the best he could be, he also taught her how to be her best self.
President Clancy shared his research on the health disparity in North Tulsa. He began by asking the audience two questions: “Can you improve the health of an entire community?” and “Can you improve the MENTAL health of an entire community?” According to Clancy, Oklahoma leads the country in percentage of the population with serious mental illness. Clancy and his colleagues managed to raise life expectancy in North Tulsa by three years over a period of 10 years. He emphasized that prevention is key in changing the way we treat mental illness.
The talks were interspersed by a video of a TED talk by podcaster Roman Mars, who explained the principles of flag design and showcased some examples of good and bad flags (one of which was the current Tulsa city flag, which is due to be redesigned this spring). A well-designed flag is important because it’s something for people to rally around, Mars concluded.
Zachary Fullingim spoke on the importance of coaching kids. Children in Oklahoma are at an educational disadvantage due to budget cuts and a lack of resources. “True coaches are educators,” Fullingim said. He explained that youth sports are an outlet for teaching children valuable lessons in determination and self-efficacy. “Children will believe in themselves until someone tells them not to,” he concluded.
Autumn Slaughter performed two works of poetry about mental disorder in a talk entitled “Stuck Between Here and There.” Her work is based on her own depression and years of research in psychology. “I am not okay … I can be smart and beautiful and not okay,” she declared.
Gunsmith Grayson Lynch cleared up some common misconceptions about gun ownership and use. He explained that guns are actually very safe, addressed the differences between military assault rifles and similar civilian-legal models and explained the legal importance of open carry as a buffer between closed carry and potential brandishing charges.
Dr. Denise Dutton explained that she had discovered the words “MY GPA DOES NOT DEFINE ME!” written on the chalkboard near her office, which made her think about how GPAs are actually a barrier to some of our most important work. She contended that grades enforce the wrong relationship with coursework and with professors. They end the learning conversation and reaffirm the idea that we should look to an external authority to determine the value of our work. Dr. Dutton referred back to the title of her presentation and cheekily suggested that everyone say “F Grades.”
The group Dance Everywhere, led by Luis Eduardo Garcia and Deena Burks, wowed the crowd with native African dancing and drumming.
After a brief intermission, Lauren Miller spoke about Tulsa’s response to the shooting of Terence Crutcher by a TPD police officer last fall, praising the police department’s transparency and the public’s peaceful protest. She lauded those two responses as the standard to which other cities should aspire in the future in order to reduce police/civilian conflict.
Luke Crouch explained the many ways in which corporations track your online activity, buying habits and even your location. Though the situation seems dire, you shouldn’t resign yourself to it, he said, providing a list of websites and resources internet users can use to disguise their online activity. This included private browsing, Adnauseum, Trackmenot and 10 Minute Mail.
Asura Oulds demonstrated vocal performance on a loop pedal. He performed a piece entitled “Mama’s Proud” which incorporated countless layers of vocal effects to create one seamless body of music.
Katie Hoffman spoke about mindfulness as a tactic for sustaining healthy relationships. She explained that practicing mindful thinking involves making yourself aware of what’s going on and how you’re feeling before you react. Mindfulness results in non-judgemental awareness, clearer communication and healthier relationships.
Hoffman, who has been researching romantic love for the entirety of her time at TU, was an emcee for the first TEDxUniversityofTulsa event in 2014. As an emcee, she said, there was more of an opportunity for “fun improv.” Speaking required “a lot more practice because there was a very powerful message I wanted to get across.” She says she would definitely recommend speaking at TEDx to other students. “If you have a topic you’re passionate about, it’s an opportunity to inform … [The speaker process] allows you to learn about your topic on a deeper level.”
Dallas Elleman used a Swiss army knife as a metaphor for the question “Why Am I Here?” He explained that you should take this question with you everywhere in order to address life’s most pressing issues, much like a Swiss army knife is a tool that you can bring everywhere to solve a variety of problems. Elleman contended that the question relates to finding meaning and answering it well can lead to clarity and a happier, more fulfilling life.
Another video of a TED talk was shown featuring Derek Sivers, who used an analogy about how addresses are based on streets in the US and on blocks in Japan to explain that “Whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, the opposite may also be true.”
The final presenter, Ellen Emeric, spoke on public transportation as the solution to many of the public’s problems. A case study she conducted in Dayton, Ohio indicated that decline issues (such as poverty, hunger, and crime) decrease the closer you get to a bus station. Transportation is treated as an individual issue, but it should be treated publicly, Emeric said.
Beckmann and Krusniak wrapped up the show around 4 p.m. by thanking a long list of contributors. Every speech, Beckmann explained, included a “call to action.” He and Krusniak urged the attendees to use the knowledge they gained during the event. “We hope that you take this experience with you,” Beckmann said.
Attendees were given a gift bag at the end of the event with various TEDx-themed souvenirs like coasters, stickers and a t-shirt.
Student Viviana Abrego commented that she enjoyed the experience as a productive forum for sharing ideas and current social issues. “It brought up a lot of different societal issues … In a setting like this, it’s very accepting because it’s more about learning. We’re all trying to learn,” she said.