TEDxBuffalo lineup announced

Several UB professors and alumni will speak at upcoming TedX event


Matthew Schwartz has always loved TED Talks. A graduate student in the school of social work, Schwartz watches them in many of his classes. When a friend suggested he apply for Buffalo’s TEDx event, Schwartz submitted a quick pitch on his iPhone and hoped for the best.

Schwartz is now one of nine speakers selected for this year’s TedX Buffalo, an independently organized event held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave.

The lineup features a diverse range of speakers, including several UB community members: professors David Schmid, Kush Bhardwaj and John Atkinson, alumnus Ayla Abiad and graduate student Matthew Schwartz. Audience members will hear about a range of topics from the importance of LGTBQ-inclusive sex ed, to the need for libraries in 2017.

Schwartz will discuss the guiding philosophy behind his mobile food pantry start-up, “Food Gnomes.” Unlike traditional food pantries, Food Gnomes asks only one question of its clientele: are you hungry?

“I’m going to be looking at the notion of how social services are delivered, and how social services can be delivered using members of the community, so looking at how communities can answer their own needs and how we can empower communities to meet their own needs,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz wants others to see that they too can address problems in their community. He will talk about how communities can use trauma-informed care to meet communal needs, without relying on large non-profits.

“It’s very exciting and also a very big responsibility because you’re making a commitment to represent yourself and your ideas, and whenever you’re a UB student, you’re representing UB and your department,” Schwartz said. “But it felt really good to know that a committee thought that I had an idea worth sharing.”

John Atkinson, an environmental engineering professor, applied to speak at TEDxBuffalo on a whim, he said in an email. In his 20-minute talk, Atkinson will present the challenge of “truly living sustainably,” a topic he came across in his first year of teaching at UB.

“Across the board, I realized students self-assessed as being highly sustainable, but they were, frankly, wrong,” Atkinson said. “It was eye-opening. What I learned that semester was that people genuinely want to be sustainable, but they simply don’t know how.”

Atkinson said the event offers a great platform for him to spread an important, timely message.

“Sustainability requires sacrifice; status quo is unsustainable,” Atkinson said. “We must modify our lifestyles to have the impact that our planet and our communities so desperately need. Driving less, volunteering more, and modifying our diets is challenging. Each requires motivation, time, and substantial effort. Therein lies the challenge.

Ayla Abiad, a graduate from UB’s school of architecture and planning, came to the U.S. in 2009 from Syria. Abiad, now a design architect, said she will address some common misperceptions on Syrian immigrants and refugees, sharing her own personal experiences.

“I’m hoping people will leave the room less likely to prejudge immigrants and refugees, especially from Syria,” Abiad said. “We are more than what we look like or what you see on T.V.”

David Schmid, English professor, will discuss America’s relationship to violence, something he calls as “American as apple pie.” Schmid teaches classes on literature and popular culture.

Kush “Dr. B.” Bhardwaj, an African American studies professor, will talk about hip-hop and social issues, a topic Bhardwaj recently turned into a class. Bhardwaj is a three-time Milton Plesur winner for excellence in teaching. His classes are a student-favorite at UB.

Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $20 for general admission.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com