Ming DeMers/Sun Staff Photographer

Nathan Laurenz '22 persuades the audience to start including insects in their diets. Other speakers covered storytelling, autism and romantic relationships.

April 21, 2022

Speakers Talk Edible Insects, Storytelling at TEDx Cornell Conference

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Hailing from the Cornell community and beyond, seven speakers shared talks on topics ranging from edible insects to storytelling at TEDx Cornell’s April 16 conference.

This year’s conference was the organization’s first time holding the event in person since 2020, when the conference was canceled after the University sent students home mid-semester due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference’s theme, Unmuted, represented the general return to in-person events following more than a year of virtual events, meetings and classes.

Nathan Laurenz ’22 gave the conference’s first talk, “Save the World: Eat a Bug,” in which he persuaded audience members to include insects in their diets. Insects, he said, are a protein-rich and more sustainable alternative to traditional agricultural products. He explained how integrating insects into current food systems can help alleviate several of their issues.

“They don’t produce enough food for everyone on Earth, they contribute a lot to greenhouse gas emissions and they just use a lot of space and resources,” Laurenz said. “If we eat insects instead of our traditional livestock, we can solve a lot of those problems and still get meat and protein — all the benefits.” 

The next speaker was Karin Sternberg, a child development lecturer at Cornell, researcher and entrepreneur. Sternberg’s talk, “Your Love Stories: The Secret to Happiness in Romantic Relationships,” introduced themes of psychology and behavior as tools to foster healthy romantic relationships.

Following Sternberg was Prof. David Shmoys, operations research and information engineering. His talk, “Fairness Through Algorithmic Thinking: Designing Better Congressional Districts and Elections,” detailed the algorithms he has developed in a project to more fairly structure congressional maps. 

“If we think outside of the box, there are ways of structuring how we think about running congressional elections, so that a lot of the heavy partisan divide that we see in today’s society can be mitigated,” Shmoys said. “Just setting up the rules better would allow for better outcomes overall for both sides.”

Shmoys first began developing these algorithms four years ago with an undergraduate student who graduated in 2020. He continues to work on the project with both current and former Cornell students.

Next, Dydine Umunaya Anderson talked about finding healing and comfort throughout her life through storytelling in her talk, “The Power of Cultural Storytelling.” 

A survivor of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, Umunaya Anderson spoke about visiting a museum with a memorial of children victims of the genocide and feeling an emotional connection to their stories. Sharing her narrative with other women survivors helped her to heal from this experience, she explained.

“Storytelling provides hope, and hope is stronger than pain and fear,” Umunaya Anderson said. 

Umunaya Anderson founded a non-profit organization, Umucolove, to help others process difficult moments in their lives through storytelling, as she did. Storytelling, she said, fosters a cultural connection among people from diverse backgrounds. 

Carson Taylor ’23 spoke next. His talk, “How I Learned to Accept My Autism Diagnosis,” chronicled his experience receiving his autism diagnosis upon transferring to Cornell from military college last year. 

When Taylor was first diagnosed, he felt as if he had to fix his autistic traits. However, he learned to accept his neurodiversity rather than trying to hide it.

“Neurodiversity is a part of you. It’s part of your identity, but it doesn’t determine your worth,” Taylor said. “It’s something that you can appreciate, that you can understand about yourself, and that can be a positive part of how you identify.”

Following Taylor was Raj Suchak, who, in his talk, “You Are More Than Your Resume,” explained his nontraditional process of recruiting employees for his first startup.

With little funding and no staff, Suchak had to widen his search for employees. He wanted to give all applicants a fair chance at employment, regardless of their previous job experience. He developed a series of tests and exercises to measure applicants’ grit: their power to persevere, exhibited through life experience rather than resumes or cover letters.

The final speaker was Matthew Dicks, who traveled to Ithaca from Connecticut to give his talk,  “You Are Your Best Audience.” A competitive storyteller, Dicks has used stories to look at his past with meaning.

“When people think about storytelling, they think about the stories they’re going to tell other people, but the first audience for any story we tell is ourselves,” Dicks said. “Through telling our stories we change the way we look at our lives, perceive our lives and think about our lives.”

President of TEDx Cornell Jessi Schlewitt expressed excitement at providing a space for the speakers to share their ideas.   

“TED as well as all the TEDx chapters, our main mission is ‘ideas worth spreading,’ so that’s really what our conference is for today,” Schlewitt said. “It’s just really fulfilling to be able to give a platform for ideas that we find really valuable.”