Innovative Students Launch Mason’s Own TED Talks Event
By Beth Pullias
Nervous? Yes. You are about to give the talk that could change someone’s life in 18 minutes. You want your talk to be extraordinary and not only change the audience but change the way they view the world.
Thousands have given these 18-minute talks, and eight Mason professors joined this growing number in May as part of the first-ever TEDxGeorgeMasonU.
TED (technology, entertainment, and design) is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. What began as a four-day conference 25 years ago has grown into a platform for speakers to share their ideas with the world. Public figures who have taken this stage include Al Gore, researcher Jane Goodall, author Elizabeth Gilbert, and chef Jaime Oliver. The conferences are held in Long Beach, California, and Edinburgh, Scotland, each year. Since its beginnings in 1984, TED and its topics have expanded and become broader. These world-class lectures are available to the general public via the Internet.
Now, thanks to Mason organizers Andrew Hawkins, BA English ’09 and Theater ’09, and rising senior Joe Renaud, a physics major, Mason has its own version of the famous TED talks. Often called TEDx, these self-organized events are affiliated with TED and mirror the TED conferences. They provide the opportunity for organizations to promote their own ideas worth spreading locally, in this case in Innovation Hall on the Fairfax Campus.
Hawkins and Renaud had been e-mailing each other their favorite TED talks for the past two years. One day, it hit them–they should host a TEDx event at Mason.
“Georgetown University had one and George Washington University had one, so we were joking around about having one at Mason. But then we got to thinking and realizing, wait, we really should do that,” explains Renaud.
“If they could do it, we could do it,” says Hawkins. “We are both theater people, so we both love producing things, bringing people together, and sharing their stories.”
Hawkins and Renaud are passionate about sharing the ideas that the movers and shakers of the academic world at Mason have. The two surveyed their peers and professors for recommendations on speakers and finalized the list early this year.
Among the topics offered at this year’s TEDx were When TMI Kills: Cognitive Overload in the Age of I-Devices, Astrobiology and the Search for Life beyond Earth, and Women’s Stories, Human Rights.
The speakers for this year’s event included
- Rick Davis, executive director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center
- Paula Gilbert, professor of French and women and gender studies
- Bassam Haddad, assistant professor of political science
- Kristin Johnsen-Neshati, associate professor of theater
- James Olds, director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and University Professor of Molecular Neuroscience
- Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, associate professor of mathematical sciences
- Michael Summers, professor and director of the School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences
- Susan Trencher, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Hawkins and Renaud took on all aspects of the planning process–marketing, scheduling, and building a website—but they were not the only two involved with organizing the event.
In February, two graduate students from the master’s degree program in arts management joined the preparations. Jessica Teaford served as production manager and took charge of scheduling, coordinating volunteers the day of the event, and working with the speakers. Serving as event coordinator, Janet McGraw began marketing the event to the Mason community and acted as the liaison to the TED community. Kathleen Willis, a sophomore neuroscience major, directed a small team and all of the livestreams and filmmaking aspects of the production.
When the website, TEDxGeorgeMasonU.com, launched in February, more than 500 people requested tickets in just the first week. The organizers never expected such a huge interest in the event. While the interest was great, it presented a dilemma for the organizers. They were restricted by the TEDx licensing agreement to allow only 100 people to attend the event in person.
About half of the audience were students, and the other half were community members and Mason faculty and staff. U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia was on hand to welcome attendees and introduce the program.
“There are always two components to a good TED conference—really good speakers and really interesting ideas that can engage the audience,” explains Renaud. “The whole point of a TED conference is having audience members who come in, listen, and then go out and change their world.”
Renaud says the videos of the talks are currently in postproduction. Volunteer student editors have been working to polish the videos during the summer months, and Renaud expects to have them available on the website later this month.
As for plans for another TEDx event on campus, Renaud says, “We would love to do one and are talking to different departments about the possibility, but currently nothing is official.”
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.