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A view of the Osterhout Concert Theater before the 2014 TEDxBinghamtonUniversity conference began. This year's event will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 15.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
TEDx speakers to ‘Walk the Talk’
March 10, 2015Tweet
To the student organizers of TEDxBinghamtonUniversity, the annual conference is more than just seven people coming to campus to talk.
“It’s an experience,” senior Stephanie Izquieta said. “What other event gets the president, provost and all of the people on campus to come together to hear different ideas? That’s the beauty of it. It is exposure to something you may never have otherwise heard of. … The whole mission of TED is ‘ideas worth spreading.’”
The fifth TEDxBinghamtonUniversity conference will return to the Osterhout Concert Theater at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 15. This year’s event will feature speakers who will “Walk the Talk.”
“With ‘Walk the Talk,’ all of the ideas have had some sort of basis before,” said senior Gina Kim, who is organizing the event with Izquieta, senior Stephen Prosperi and sophomore Sofia Degtyar. “They’re not new or radical. (The speakers) are growing with their ideas and making those ideas bigger.”
This year’s speakers and topics are:
• Christopher Fix ’86, CEO of the Dubai Mercantile Exchange: “Oil in the Middle Eastern Markets and What It Means to the Rest of the World.”
• Sunny Hostin ’90, attorney, journalist and CNN host: “A Possibility Model.”
• Jack Fischer, Binghamton University sophomore: “Porn: The New Tobacco.”
• Adam Eskin, founder/CEO of Dig Inn Seasonal Market: “Fast Food Revolution.”
• Lisa Lottie, hula hoop artist: “My Weapon of Choice.”
• Maria Santelli, executive director of the Center on Conscience & War: “Witnessing the Power of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in a Voluntary Military.”
• Zephyr Teachout, professor, author and former candidate for New York governor: “What is Corrupt?”
Quimbamba, a Latin-dance student group, will perform during intermission.
Unlike some TEDx conferences, the Binghamton University group picks its speakers first and then decides on a theme, Prosperi said.
“Why would we want to limit ourselves?” he said. “This is a huge university with students and professors in diverse areas. If we can get a diverse lineup of speakers and find a way to tie them together later, it’s the most successful strategy.”
Prosperi, in his third year, and Kim and Izquieta, now in their second year of organizing the conference, all stressed the importance of including alumni speakers.
“We have cool alumni from every sector: entertainment, industry, non-profit,” Prosperi said. “There is talent out there and part of this platform is to bring them back to the University and re-connect them with their roots.”
Fix, for example, was someone that Prosperi had heard about as a member of the men’s rugby team. Fix was a founding member of the team during his years at Binghamton.
“I met him at a networking event that the team had and I realized that this guy is great,” Prosperi said.
TEDxBinghamtonUniversity will also feature an undergraduate speaker for the first time. About 70 students applied and the organizers narrowed the list down to six finalists. Those students then made their pitches before the organizers decided on Fischer, a computer science and math double-major who will discuss the effects of pornography consumption and their parallels to realizations about tobacco use a generation ago.
“There wasn’t a single person among the six who we thought: ‘No, they can’t do it,’” Prosperi said. “It was a hard decision. We got lucky with Jack.”
Giving a TEDx talk is a great way for an undergraduate to gain public-speaking and networking experience, Izquieta said.
“How many people under the age of 21 can say they’ve given a TED talk on their campus?” she said.
Organizing a TEDx conference is also a valuable experience. Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi all said that they have acquired networking, organizational and communication skills that will transfer to their post-graduation jobs.
“This is all student-run,” Izquieta said. “We have a (faculty-staff) committee helping us, but it’s really all on us. We are trying to get the speakers, engaging them and setting up deadlines. It’s months of work – and it’s cool that students are doing it.”
Prosperi noted that some students are still surprised to learn that Binghamton University is hosting a TEDx conference.
“I can’t stress it enough: TEDx talks aren’t coming to Binghamton; they’ve been at Binghamton,” he said. “We have one of the largest and most successful TEDx (conferences). The University is doing great things and our TEDx program is doing good things, too. They work together and show where we are and where we can be.”
For Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi, TEDx will not end on Sunday evening. The trio will spend the rest of the semester working on “sustainability efforts.” TEDxBinghamton, a Student Association-chartered club, now has for-credit internships as part of the New Student Programs in Student Affairs. Fifteen to 20 student volunteers were added this year and Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi believe that some of them will join Degtyar in leadership positions next year.
“I’m excited to graduate, be an alum and see what the program looks like in five years,” Kim said. “I want to come back for Homecoming and see what TEDx is up to.”
For the student organizers, TEDxBinghamtonUniversity has had a great impact on their college lives.
“I transferred here and on my first day of classes, I went to a TEDx meeting in the Harpur dean’s office,” Prosperi recalled. “On my fourth day, I went to a meeting with the president of the University! It’s just awesome. I still see President (Harvey) Stenger and he says ‘Hi, Steve’ to me. It’s great that he knows who we are.”
“I wasn’t enjoying my freshman year,” Izquieta said. “Then I met (former director) Lenny (Simmons). He told me what TED was and asked me to (participate). This is what I’m going to remember from college, not the grades or tests. I will remember the experiences I had with TED and the opportunity I had. I hope others get to enjoy it as the program grows.”