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TEDxYCP, a student-organized TED Talks event, puts York College in national spotlight


York College of Pennsylvania took another step onto the national stage last month by sponsoring TEDxYCP, an independently organized TED event completely put together and presented by students.

TED, which is owned by a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation in New York City, launched its conferences more than 30 years ago as a vehicle for sharing ideas through short lectures. Originally, the topics focused on technology, entertainment and design, hence TED, but today they cover any subject and are presented around the world.

Felix Diaz of York saw the need for such a gathering at the college.

“I always wanted to go to one,” says the junior Computer Engineering major. But he found the TED conferences to be expensive. He learned that anyone can organize a TEDx talk, an independent event licensed by TED.

“I thought, there haven’t been any TEDx events in the local area, and it’s hard to make it to one,” he explains. “I have yet to have a professor who doesn’t assign work based on some TED topic. I thought, rather than look up the topic it would be lot more fun to have a talk.”

He went about securing the needed permission from TED, and three months later, he and his organizing team pulled the conference together.

The event, which featured three short talks, reinforces York College’s presence in a broader realm, Felix says.

The college is “creating a lot of initiatives to put York on a national stage, such as the hackathon,” he says, referring to the annual YCP Hacks event at which individuals and teams from the college and beyond can develop their own tech ideas or tackle assigned challenges to earn prizes.

The college’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship business incubator, where Felix had been involved in YCP Hacks, helped by sponsoring the event as part of their Henry D. Schmidt Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

But the event also brought a fresh approach to the lecture series.

“The J.D. Brown Center aims to uncover new and innovative programs that can attract student participation while promoting the entrepreneurial mindset,” says Oscar Winters, associate director at the JDBC. “As the idea was developed, we thought it would be a great fit. The idea incorporated student participation, both in the planning of the event and the event speakers, while promoting innovation through the creation of a forum for students to speak on topics they are passionate about.”

Independent ideas

Felix put out a call for potential speakers and their ideas for topics. All applicants were interviewed following TED protocol.

“TED is very strict and specific that organizers cannot have any bias concerning any ideas for topics, outside of the fact that talks have to be based in solid theory and science,” he explains.

Felix and his team chose three speakers. Their topics: how good storytelling led to the death of listening; how you can improve yourself by applying project-management ideals used in software product releases; and attempting to change the world.

The latter topic was presented by sophomore Eric Ottman of Herndon, Virginia, an Intelligence Analysis major, who contended in his 10-minute talk that change on a grand scale must start with the individual.

“A lot of reading I’ve been doing got me interested, and watching news of kids protesting, trying to bring about radical change,” he explains. “You can’t really make lasting change unless you make lasting change for yourself.”

Eric has a long association with TED Talks.

“Growing up, I watched a lot of TED and TEDx Talks,” he says. “I thought I’d be interested in giving my own insights, maybe help someone out that way.”

He’s also been reading books by Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, deepening his interest in sociology and philosophy.

After each talk, there was a question-and-answer session.

“I got a lot of questions about where to start and contingencies in changing yourself and others around you,” Eric says.

Felix says having the talks spark discussion was one of his goals. Members of the audience offered their perspectives on the topics, with some telling their own short stories.

A global stage

The event, held April 20 at the Waldner Performing Arts Center, drew about 60 people. But that audience should grow significantly when the three TEDx talks are uploaded to the TED website, www.ted.com/talks, where the world can see them.

Felix structured his organizing team so the talks will continue, perhaps occurring every semester, with students as young as freshmen helping to plan the events.

He says the TEDx Talks are an important way to put York College student ideas in the spotlight.

“One of the major things is recognizing that students have these ideas and that they have the ability to get on stage and be heard,” he says. “I don’t think that a lot of students recognize that people want to hear their ideas.”

Eric says the talks underscore the TED slogan about presenting “ideas worth spreading.”

“It’s a large platform that allows people from different walks of life to discuss topics seen as important to them,” he says. “This is a great way to get these dialogues going.”