Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

The TEDxCornell event, held in Statler Auditorium, featured a variety of Cornell speakers.

May 8, 2018

First TedxCornell Event in Three Years Kicks Off Plans for Future Expansion

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On Sunday, students and community members gathered at Cornell to experience the first TEDxCornell event in three years, featuring eight speakers, two performances and one pre-recorded TED talk.

The speakers talked about a range of issues, focusing on topics within their expertise. Prof. David Pizarro, philosophy and psychology, discussed how people are perceived based on the decisions they make and the length it takes them to decide and Prof. Susan S. Fleming, hospitality, spoke about reducing gender bias in the workplace.

Fleming herself began working on Wall Street in 1992 and noted the lack of significant change in the amount of women in leadership positions even today.

“Back then there were only two women CEOs in fortune 500 companies. Today, two and a half decades later, there are still only 23,” Fleming said. “Those 23 women represent 4.6 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.”

Prof. T. Colin Campbell,the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, Emeritus, spoke about nutrition and its role in modern medicine.

Dr. Renee T. Alexander, associate dean of students and senior advisor to the dean, spoke about campus climate and how to “engage across difference” with her Breaking Bread series, where community members come together for a facilitated discussion and dinner.

Prof. Itai Cohen, physics, followed up with a talk on the flight of flies and how they use their wings to stabilize themselves in flight while Prof. Shimon Edelman, psychology, discussed what it means to be human.

The final two speakers, Prof. Drew Margolin, communications, and Prof. Ifeoma Ajunwa, ILR, discussed the rise of “fake news” inquiries and the field of epistemology and job discrimination through employer’s algorithms, respectively.

The Men of Last Call acapella group and the Yamatai performance group both gave dynamic performances in between speakers. This was a unique feature that a lot of TED events do not have, according to Uzair Butt M.S. ’16, licensee and curator for the event.

The last TEDxCornell event was held in 2015. According to head student organizer Christine Cho ’18, logistical issues hindered holding a conference in the last few years.

“There was a brief hiatus for the organization because of logistical issues with the previous organizing teams,” Cho told The Sun in an email. “As a result, a small group of students and I decided to reorganize the organization with Cornell and essentially re-start the event from the ground up.”

A integral idea in bringing the conference back to Cornell was to inspire students, according to Cho.

“I think that Cornell is a really unique place, in that the students here can be so intensely focused but also intensely passionate,” Cho wrote, “I think that at a place like this it’s really important to have a conference where students can come and find this wellspring of inspiration.”

Each TEDx event requires a license in order to be affiliated with the organization. There are certain specifications that must be met in order to obtain a license, such as attending a TED conference, according to Butt.

Butt has been organizing TED events for the past seven years since his time as an undergraduate student in the United Kingdom and plans to retire from organizing soon.

“Hopefully I can pass on the license to team members for future events,” Butt told the Sun. “We are hoping to send one of the team members to TED hopefully if we can get some funds.”

Butt was a part of the team that organized the last TEDxCornell conference and was excited to get the event back to campus. In the future he hopes that the Cornell team will expand the event by bringing international speakers and diverse topics.

“Especially in the upstate New York area there are no large TEDx events,” Butt said. “There’s a lot you could do with an event like this. This was just an opportunity to get it started again. Hopefully in the future this can become one of the premium TEDx university events in the U.S.”