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The Scarlet & Black

College welcomes TEDx conference


On the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 21, Grinnell will bring seven select alumni back to campus to talk about ideas that they believe are, to paraphrase the mission of the TED Conference circuit, “worth spreading.” As the inaugural TEDxGrinnell event, Saturday’s lecture series will be the product of a project organized by Meghna Ravishankar ’17 and Professor Janet Davis, Computer Science.

The event is licensed by the TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) organization as a local version of the well-known conference. Speakers will present from 1 to 5 p.m. in Roberts Theatre on topics ranging from political empowerment to language development, all organized around the theme of “Speak Out!”


The organizers hope that the diversity of topics will provide the Grinnell community with an interdisciplinary view on the main theme, and that the presentations will challenge listeners to think critically about the issues at hand.

“I think it is a good platform … it is refreshing to see different perspectives in one place, and get all these minds in one place to discuss these kinds of things,” Ravishankar said.

Ravishankar was responsible for conceiving the idea of TEDxGrinnell, as she had helped run a similar TEDx event at her high school. After coming to Grinnell, Ravishankar was surprised the College didn’t have its own version of the program, so she asked around to see if she could start one.

“She was very persuasive,” Davis said of Ravishankar. “[She] persuaded both Doug Hawkins and me, and we spoke with other stakeholders on campus … it was agreed that TEDxGrinnell would bring in alumni speakers to draw on the expertise in our own community, and the Wilson Program agreed to fund the conference.”

The theme of the conference, “Speak Out!,” was inspired by the work of speaker Wadzi Motsi ’12, who received a Watson Fellowship after graduation to study youth political engagement in various countries.

“We were brainstorming about who we would like to bring to campus, and she came up as … someone who would be exciting to bring back, a young alum who has done really interesting things, and also the topic she might speak about was really inspirational,” Davis said.

After the theme of the conference was established, organizers began searching for other alumni who they thought could speak on related issues. To generate ideas, they decided to post on the Grinnell alumni Facebook group Everyday Class Notes, and they soon received several responses from Grinnellians eager to nominate their peers.

“One thing that was really cool about that crowdsourcing was that certainly we weren’t able to invite everyone who would be a wonderful speaker, but we’re considering the possibility of a second TEDxGrinnell in 2017, and perhaps this even becoming a biannual series, and so then there would be many other opportunities for alumni to come and speak on different topics,” Davis said.

Ravishankar hopes the conference will begin a “TEDx culture” on campus in the coming years, as she views Grinnell as a perfect place for TEDx to become a tradition.

“It’s sparking curiosity and challenging preconceived ideas … and Grinnell is basically a place for all of that, and we’re doing that constantly, every day,” Ravishankar explained. “Everyone has such interesting perspectives and cool things to say, so I was surprised that something like TED didn’t already exist here.”

While tickets to the event have already been distributed, the talks will be live-streamed in Bucksbaum 152 and all videos of the speakers will be posted online after the conference.

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