TEDxUVA conference to feature multiple alumni speakers

The conference will be held at the Rotunda for the first time since its inception


The conference will be held at the Rotunda for the first time since its inception

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

TEDxUVA will host its annual conference at the Rotunda for the first time Saturday and will include several presentations on a wide variety of subjects by alumni speakers and guests. The theme of this year’s conference is “5 Seconds of Courage.” The event will be open to students and the University community.

TED is a nonprofit media organization that began in 1984 with the purpose of discussing various topics related to technology, entertainment and design with empowering speakers who often share personal stories to emphasize their point. 

TEDxUVA was established in 2013 and is a program designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. The TEDxUVA conference is independently organized for and by the local Charlottesville and University communities, including sponsors such as the McIntire School of Commerce, the Inter-Sorority Council, the Graduate Hotel and the U.Va. Parents Fund. 

Although the TEDxUVA program has held conferences at the University in the past according to Zane Homsi, a third-year Commerce student and co-curator of the TEDxUVA program, this year’s conference will be the first time it has been be located in the Rotunda. Due to its location, TEDxUVA expects there to be a more competitive demand for tickets. 

Homsi said the Rotunda allows for students to have a better experience during the conference.

“One of the things we talked about was [getting a bigger venue],” Homsi said. “But then we made the decision that this conference is for students to open their eyes a little bit … what’s more central than the first library we have at U.Va, the Rotunda.”

There will be seven talks at this year’s event, with speakers from different backgrounds addressing a variety of issues that are often of personal importance. At last year’s conference, titled “Therefore I am”, speakers gave their specific talks after which filling in the statement, “I am …’therefore I am’”.

Sarah Corning, a second-year College student and the speaker selection co-chair of TEDxUVA, said this year’s speaker lineup is more diverse than ever before.

“We have a lot more women and a lot more diversity,” Corning said. “I wanted to make sure we had a really strong speaker lineup, and I really think we do.”

Through extensive research, Corning has been developing the speaker lineup for the upcoming conference since June 2017. Corning said many of the speakers at the conference are University alumni who will be discussing their research and other projects.

Speakers at Saturday’s conference will include Colston Carr, a Class of 2002 University alumnus and account executive at Google; Frank Stephens, a member of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Virginia and the 2016 winner of the Quincy Jones Excellence in Advocacy Award by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation; Tim Davis, a professor of psychology at the University and executive director for Resilience and Leadership Development. 

Carey Albertine and Saira Rao, University alumni and founders of In This Together Media, an organization which aims to increase diversity and representation in multiple forms of media, will be speaking at the event as well. Partha Unnava, CEO of BWHealth — a company founded by Unnava which works to provide affordable and innovative products to benefit the fields of sports medicine and healthcare — will be also speaking, in addition to Bradford and Bryan Manning, who founded Two Blind Brothers, a charitable clothing label.

As with previous conferences, this year’s event will feature a student speaker from the University who was selected through an application process to the TED program.

Every year, the conference features student speakers from the University who compose their own TED talk on a specific topic. Students apply to be a speaker and after undergoing a review process, several students are selected to compete in the student speaker competition at Boylan Heights on the Corner. During the competition, each student delivers a talk on a subject of personal importance, and one individual is then chosen to speak at the conference. The student speaker competition for the 2018 conference was held in November 2017. 

First-year College student George Messenger was selected to deliver a talk at this year’s conference and will discuss the connection between hip-hop music and classic epic poetry. Messenger said he looks forward to giving his TED talk and changing the perspective of how music is interpreted.

“I’ve been waiting to give this out forever,” Messenger said. “It’s not something that I should just be experiencing because it really enhances the music-listening experience. And it enhances a world experience as well.”

Homsi said the speakers for this year’s conference all have a personal connection to this year’s theme, “5 Seconds of Courage.” 

“This year’s ‘5 Seconds of Courage’... it really came down to the fact [that] a lot of us...love a good story and oftentimes the best stories come from being a little uncomfortable sometimes,” Homsi said. “And so, a lot of the speakers we sourced, all for the most part had a degree of courage that enabled them to push themselves out of their comfort zone in a way that has fundamentally changed the way they are today.”

Augusta Durham, a third-year College student and chair of Logistics for TEDxUVA, said there are many activities planned for those who attend the conference.

“We try to engage the audience with the speakers during intermission,” Durham said. “This year we’re going to be doing challenges, since every TED talk has a theme.”

Durham added that the conference will provide a venue for students to engage with topics of conversation and discussion they are not typically exposed to in daily life. 

“TED…is a way for people to step outside their comfort zone and go to a real life conference,” Durham said. “A lot of people don’t get to do that in college and engage in material that…you aren’t engaged with in your everyday life [and] you can really only conceptualize ideas when you’re talking with people about them.”

Durham said the conference also allows for engagement and interaction between the local and University communities and enables listeners to develop a deeper connection to a generally broad topic.

“TED is a way for people to step outside their comfort zone and go to a real-life conference,” Durham said. “You can really only conceptualize ideas when you’re talking about them..TED is a way for people to really grapple with these ideas.”

Homsi also said that TEDxUVA allows for exposure of new ideas within the University community.

“...By being TEDxUVA, and being half-University-and-half-TED organization, we are in a really interesting position where we can be the gateway for a lot of external ideas and thoughts to come and interact with the U.Va community,” Homsi said. “TEDxUVA is a platform to allow the rest of the world to see U.Va in a different light and to let U.Va do something about it.”

related stories