As the world becomes ever more interconnected, the ways we relate and learn and share are changing. Since the first TED talks were made available for free, I have been intrigued by them. And I wondered, can TED be a relevant tool for relating and learning and sharing at Penn State?
Part 1: TED Talks and Pizza
Shortly after I started working at Penn State University, I was invited to join a prestigious innovation team. Our charge? To explore ways to make our organization more innovative.
Immediately I suggested watching TED talks together and then having conversations about them. We found this experience very inspiring and soon were inviting colleagues in our office building to watch TED talks over lunch. (We supplied pizza and soft drinks.)
We watched TED talks about topics relevant to the culture of our organization—higher education, youth, teaching, personal growth, problem solving, and others.
I served as moderator at these events by presenting the theme, introducing the talk, and stimulating the follow-up conversation.
These events became so popular that we needed to move to a venue that could accommodate several hundred people.
Part 2: TEDx PSU, 2010 to 2012
But my passion for TED talks did not stop there. When I saw a small poster in early 2010 calling for volunteers to help organize a large TED event at Penn State, I was excited to get involved.
We were to organize a “TEDx” event (“x” stands for “independently organized TED event) under the direction of and licensed by the TED organization.
As we set out to organize such an event, TEDxPSU, for the first time at our university, I joined the communications group and soon found myself leading volunteers and spending many nights getting the related design work done: event design, program design, stage design, websites, invitations, advertisements, an iPhone app, and many other big and small projects. More than a thousand people showed up at our event.
One of our speakers, Sam Richards, Penn State sociology professor, presented A Radical Experiment in Empathy, and his talk has since been featured on TED.com. The video has been viewed 1,380,357 times as of this writing and it definitely has transformed the life and career of the speaker.
In 2011, we did it again, learning from the previous year’s experience. We decided to make this an even bigger event, taking over a central building on campus and making sure we had an experienced and dedicated executive team.
I again served as Director of Design, still recruiting and working with volunteers.
In 2012 I was asked to step in the red circle on the TEDxPSU stage and give my own TED talk – Water is One, telling a very personal story about the importance of meditation and finding the true meaning of my life by using the metaphor of finding a well while stuck in the desert.
Part 3: TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar
2012 brought a huge shift in the emerging global TEDx community when many of us TEDx organizers got invited to attend the first TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar. Many of us now look back to this event as the emergence of a global TEDx tribe that since has swept the world like wildfire, resulting in more than 10 TEDx events each day happening somewhere on this planet.
Here is the fascinating opening video which started our gathering in Doha, created by the Amsterdam agency WE ARE Pi:
The weeklong TEDx Summit 2012 was rife with inspiring conversations, incredible experiences, and fantastic entertainment. I found myself immersed in a huge group of absolutely like-minded people. Ideas were exploding all around me, and I knew I was making connections that would last a lifetime.
Coming back from this conference was not easy, watch my experience (1:27 minutes). With a heavy heart, we all returned to our homes vowing to stay connected through the technologies that brought us together in the first place.
Several new projects were born there including a project I’m now working on with people in Zürich and Dubai, another with a woman living in the Amazon rain forest, a team from Greece, a man from Sudan, and a growing group of supporters of our global environment.
A whole new world has opened for me, and I now find myself in a position where I believe anything is possible.
We all are here to work together.
And together, we definitely can change the world!
Check out Hans Rosling's Shortest TED Talk ever (0:52 minutes), spontaneously given in Doha.
Part 4: TEDxPSU 2013 to 2020
In 2013 I took over as the TEDxPSU licensee, shouldering the overall responsibility for our yearly TEDxPSU events and acting as mentor and advisor for the passionate student team that is working for the better part of one year to put these events on the stage.
As the student teams change every year we have by now developed an intricate system of capturing every detail, and we make these data available for next year's team.
By now our TEDxPSU events at our university are well recognized as must-attend opportunities to not only hear from inspired speakers throughout the day but also to connect and make friends with passionate fellow attendees.
In 2016 two of our speakers got selected to be featured on TED.com, bringing the total of featured TEDxPSU speakers to five, three in 2010 and two in 2016 – quite likely a record for any TEDx event:
Penn State professor Sajay Samuel – "A solution to student debts in America."
"Once upon a time in America, going to college did not mean graduating with debt. Today, higher education has become a consumer product — costs have skyrocketed, saddling students with a combined debt of over $1 trillion, while universities and loan companies make massive profits. Samuel proposes a radical solution: link tuition costs to a degree's expected earnings so that students can make informed decisions about their future, restore their love of learning and contribute to the world in a meaningful way."
Julia Galef's – "Why you think you're right ? - even if you're wrong."
"Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a scout, spurred by curiosity?" Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information, interweaved with a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: "What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?"
Part 5: TEDSummit 2016 in Banff, Canada
The last week in June 2016 marked yet another defining moment for the global TEDx movement as Chris Anderson, CEO of TED, decided to bring together the many parts of his organization – TED speakers, translators, TED Fellows, members of TEDEd, as well as 350 TEDx organizers from around the world – for the first ever TEDSummit.
We enjoyed each others company in the stunning surroundings of this Canadian mountain resort. We listened to delightful, passionate and smart TED Talks, we conducted, and attended, workshops on hundreds of different topics – and we helped define "the future of TED", as Chris Anderson put it in his opening remarks.
Old connections were renewed, new ones added – it's very gratifying to be part of this truly global tribe of passionate change makers.
Part 4: TEDxPSU 2021 onwards
In 2021 I handed over the TEDxPSU license as well as the day-to-day mentoring to one of my colleagues, and I joined the newly formed TEDxPSU Advisory Board.
Way to go, TEDxPSU! ♥️