UB hosts first ever TEDx conference

Conference consisted of six diverse speakers and two performances


Devashish Agarwal was lying in his bed while watching a TED talk video over spring when he asked himself, why not have a TED conference at UB? He reached out to his connections through the Honors College and within 10 days, he had all of the speakers for the conference.

The TEDx conference, held Saturday afternoon in the Student Union, was themed “Reborn” and featured six speakers with 18-minute talks and two performances. Preet Desai, a graduate student, performed on the piano and the Enchords, UB’s only co-ed a cappella group, closed the conference. The event budget was under $700 from university funding, according to Agarwal.

Roughly 100 tickets were sold but an additional 50 students were let into the conference because they lost count of the students coming in, Agarwal, a junior computer science major, said.

Agarwal reached out to Dr. Tara Jabbaar-Gyambrah in the Honors College and she referred him to people in Buffalo who have done something innovative in their field.

“Me being an international students and rediscovering myself, all the rebirth happening in Buffalo and the latest rebranding at UB, all these together gave me the idea of having ‘reborn’ as the theme,” Agarwal said.

James Bowman, coordinator of the LGBTQ program and UB international student advisor, was the first speaker who jumped around speaking about sexual orientation, breastfeeding, culture and the binary system.

Bowman is not sure what the term “reborn” means for LGBTQ communities.

“Reborn for me means that maybe we were at a really good place and something happened and now we’re revitalizing that space to bring it back to its former glory,” Bowman said.

Bowman said in terms of rights, the LGBTQ community is still working on “full inclusion within our society.”

“As we’re coming to a point of better understanding of our own gender identities, sexual orientations and gender expressions, we’re reconstructing the ways in which we come to know what this means for each one of us,” Bowman said.

Brittni Smallwood’s powerful speech about the human elements in news was a favorite among students. Smallwood, an anchor and reporter for News 4 Buffalo WIVB, spoke about the “ebb and flow” of emotions in reporting.

Harshita Girase, a sophomore computer science major, said she got goosebumps from Smallwood’s talk and was honored to introduce Smallwood to the audience.

“One day you have to bottle [emotions] up, the next you have to open your heart in order to empathize with the person in front of you,” Smallwood said.

While most speakers stood at the podium during their talk and kept a monotonous tone, Smallwood walked across the stage and began her speech with a dynamic tone and used hand motions to emphasize her speech.

“In news, every day is different,” Smallwood said. “One day you’re reporting about a crime, the next a feature story about someone going above and beyond, doing great things in the community. Both deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Smallwood said when covering a murder or crime, she has to gather the facts and report on air and anchor her emotions.

One of the hardest stories Smallwood ever had to report on was the death of a 10-year-old boy who was beaten 70 times with a rolling pin by his stepfather.

She said she still envisions the images of “his lifeless” body.

“It hurt my heart to know that people can be so cruel, but I had to push in my emotions because people wanted to know what happened in court and if there would be justice,” Smallwood said. “In that moment, my emotions didn’t matter.”

In an interview with The Spectrum, Smallwood said the people in her work motivate her and she wakes up each morning for them.

“When it comes to journalism, we have to ask the tough questions- we have to get the facts, but in the midst of it all, it’s more important that the people don’t get lost in the copy,” Smallwood said.

Dr. Samina Raja, associate professor in the department of urban and regional planning, later took the stage and spoke about sustainable food system and argued something is “wrong” with the American food system.

Sam Magavern, an adjunct law professor and director of the Partnership for the Public Good spoke about poverty in the U.S.

“Education is the single-best way for an individual to avoid being poor,” Magavern said.

Colleen Heidinger spoke about her career path. She worked for the special events team at DreamWorks Animation and resigned her job after fulfilling her “life’s dream” by visiting Africa. Heidinger returned to Buffalo after 12 years to work for 43 North as director of events and programming and is on the founding board of advisers for Teach for America of Buffalo.

She spent the first 10 minutes of her speech talking about the Los Angeles weather to the frozen yogurt flavors her last job had and she showed a picture of the dream car she owned.

“Force yourself to spend time with yourself and I bet you’ll find something you never knew was there,” Heidinger said. “Let something or someone throw you in the deep end and not know where you are going to get your lifesaving device – something that will keep you up at night.”

Drew Kahn is a theater professor at Buffalo State, a mentor to teachers across the globe and the founding director of Anne Frank Project. Saturday’s conference was his third Ted Talk.

Kahn warmed the audience up by doing a clapping exercise to be in the present moment and greeting them with a Rwandan phrase to “celebrate their presence,” which he made the audience recite it to each other.

“Tell your story, you matter. Silence is a crime,” Kahn said in an interview with The Spectrum.

There were 18 student volunteers for the conference and roughly one third of the audience left early during a 10-minute intermission.

Agarwal said even though the event planning was “hectic,” he was dazzled by the conference. Agarwal said it was “gratifying” for him to have Dr. Chunming Qiao, an adjunct computer science and engineering professor, as the Chief Guest of the conference who helped Agarwal plan the conference.

TEDx talks will be available on YouTube over the next week.

Hannah Stein is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at hannah.stein@ubspectrum.com. Follow her on twitter at @HannahJStein