A Night Discussing New Events

UM’s 7th Annual TEDx Event Brings Conversation and Community

Photo courtesy: HG Biggs

On February 22, 2022, UM hosted its seventh annual TEDx event. Incoming students, faculty, and UM community members gathered to hear experts share new ideas under the theme of “New Avenues.” While TEDx events follow the nonprofit TED organization’s guidelines, they are independently organized with the intention to bring together live speakers that are leaders in their field to facilitate discussion amongst local, national, and international communities. This year’s TEDxUniversityofMississippi student-led team had planned for the past year to curate an evening of eight 10-15 minute Talks from competitively-selected speakers across multiple disciplines. 

Music, conversation, and art also contributed to the community feel and theme. The packed audience enjoyed a pre-show of live jazz by The Mississippians, a special musical performance by the Rising Stars Fife & Drum Band, and personal conversations with the speakers in the aftershow reception. “Our goal is to get within the UM community and bring people together,” said Landon Bradley, sophomore and chair of the Public Relations Committee. 

Prior teams have involved the community in numerous creative ways, including partnering with the TEDx program at Oxford High School and bringing in speakers from around the country.

This year’s speakers included Michelle Hanlon, Co-Director of UM Center of Air and Space Law; Michael Fagans, UM multimedia journalist; Dr. Meagan Rosenthal, Associate Professor in UM Department of Pharmacy Administration; Dr. Richard S. Balkin, UM School of Education Interim Chair; and Dr. Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons, UM Professor of Classics. 

Topics ranged from research on lead poisoning and finding forgiveness in oneself to exploring Pompeii’s graffiti and protecting the discoveries of space. 

Speaker and musician, Sharde Thomas, of the Rising Stars, performed at the intermission and finale. She also spoke about the African-American slavery and Civil War history behind fife-and-drum music, a tradition she carries forth from her grandfather. While each talk stemmed from vastly different disciplines, these separate strands weaved into one large conversation about the new ideas and perspectives brought forth in each field. “It’s not just different talks. It’s one continuous story,” said Bradley.

Because of the implications of its community impact, event planning was extensive. Bradley briefed the preparation timeline: summer to build the student team, September to book the venue and define the theme, October to select speakers, and November to run speaker practices and orientation. Meanwhile, committees work throughout the year to fundraise and promote the event on social media. Putting on the event took preparation on many fronts, but the challenge helped the students in charge to develop valuable leadership skills. “I had really no idea how to lead a team before,” said Head of Fundraising Morgan McCann.

Speakers also valued the chance to improve their skills in presenting their stories and research. Thomas was accustomed to playing fife-and-drum on stage, but speaking about it was new. Though nervous, she was excited to have a platform in order “To share my tradition. To share my story. To give others a peek into my lifestyle,” she said.

“I feel like all the coaching has made me a better speaker,” said Dr. Richard S. Balkin, who presented his research on intrapersonal forgiveness. “It’s been a real challenge to take what I have to say and put it out there in a fifteen-minute or less platform that is thoughtful and inspirational.”

According to Balkin, the hardest part of planning for such an extensive project was “Keeping a team motivated when you are a year out from an event and you don’t know what that final project will look like.” Speakers had to focus on how they were “making a difference in being able to do something that is bigger than themselves.” 

Despite these obstacles, the team pulled through together. “All of the team members and committee heads did such a  great job of taking care of what needed to be done, ” said junior Anna Reese Couhig, UM TEDx Chief of Staff. She could not have been more proud of “having a team as committed.”

Their year of commitment produced a powerful evening of conversation for the community, where participants brought with them a unique mixture of stories, new ideas, and expertise. “We have experts in their field talking about things you have never even thought of before,” said McCann. “TED Talks offer conversation in a different light.”