Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2012


Former Dean of the College Jewel Plummer Cobb with Beverly Clark Prince '72 in Cobb's lab at Connecticut College. Photo courtesy of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.

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The power of big ideas

The power of big ideas

Students organize College's first TEDx conference

by Monica Raymunt '09

In a single afternoon, the College community grappled with war and peace, a cure for cancer, stereotypes of women, the future of cities, sustainable communities, and cult religions, all in the name of “Rethinking Progress.”

That was the theme for TEDxConnecticutCollege, a daylong conference of speakers, music and video in April.

TEDx programs are independently organized spinoffs of the internationally renowned TED events that invite industry leaders and thinkers from around the world to speak about “ideas worth spreading.” TED, a nonprofit organization, provides general guidance for TEDx events but leaves planning and execution to their organizers — in the case of Connecticut College, its students.

The idea to bring TEDx to the College took root more than a year ago, when Aditya Harnal '13 met one of the student founders of TEDxUChicago at a business conference in Texas. When he returned to campus, Harnal energized a group of nine student organizers and started the TEDx application process.

“They ask what your motivations are, what you hope to achieve, what themes you're considering,” Harnal says. “It's sort of like an application to college.”
After submitting their proposal and list of speakers, the group received permission from TED to hold the event.

“When I met (the students), saw their enthusiasm and learned about all of their efforts to put this event together — a completely student-run event — I was amazed and impressed,” says Afshan Jafar, assistant professor of sociology, who spoke at the conference about the language of progress and its connection to women's bodies.

TEDxConnecticutCollege featured 12 speakers from academia, the arts, business, science research and medicine. Each was allotted 18 minutes to expound upon an idea, project or event related to “Rethinking Progress.”

Professor of Philosophy Lawrence Vogel opened the conference with a review of how humankind has conceptualized progress over the centuries, comparing cyclical views to more linear, post-Enlightenment ideas.

Cancer researcher Ehsan Sarafraz-Yazdl explained the progression of cancer treatment and the revolutionary potential of a new targeted therapy, and architect Daniel Winey P'15 came from Shanghai to propose breaking the boundaries between cities and buildings with sustainable skyscrapers.

Other presenters included Eugene Gallagher, the Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies, who discussed Millennialism in religion; photographer Keoki Flagg '87, who recounted a paralyzed athlete's expedition to the South Pole; sustainability entrepreneur David Barber '88, who spoke about sustainable communities; a Brooklyn-based theater group, Overground Movement; and filmmaker Ayda Erbal, who examined genocide and the politics of progress.

Breaks throughout the day offered speakers and audience members a chance to mingle in sunny Castle Court and chat about the presentations.

“The power of these ideas can inspire people to have great enthusiasm about the things they do while they're at Conn — while they're a physical part of the College,” Barber says.

The organizers want to include student speakers in next year's program and support TEDx projects in the fall that will be presented at the main event in Spring 2013.

“With our successful pilot year, I see TEDxConnecticutCollege becoming an annual event that transforms the discourse in our community,” Harnal says.

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