Buffalo hosts seventh annual TEDx conference

UB faculty, students and alumni TED Talks


Dr. Kush Bhardwaj, a UB instructor of African American Studies, walked on stage Thursday night and opened with a few bars of beat-boxing before starting his TED Talk on the importance of African American Studies in society.

Buffalo’s Asbury Hall hosted a sold-out TEDx conference that covered topics ranging from Syria to sexual education. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization that holds conferences and posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx Conferences are local, independently organized events that foster a “TED-like” experience, according to the TED website.

Among the nine TEDx speakers three of them were UB faculty members: Bhardwaj; John Atkinson, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; and David Schmid, an associate English professor. Two UB graduate students, Christopher Culp, a Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology and music theory and Matthew Schwartz, a graduate student in the social work program, also presented.

Host Edreys Wajed said the goal of each speaker’s talk was to “make connections.”

Bhardwaj described his talk as the “greatest hits”from his years of being a professor because the TED talk format only gives the speaker 12-16 minutes on stage. He believes everyone can benefit from studying African American Studies.

“You don’t have to be black to learn about African American Studies any more than you have to be from England to learn English,” Bhardwaj said. “Just as you don’t have to be from Mexico to eat at Taco Bell or Mighty Taco.”

Brenda Lin, a junior English major said she learned about the event through Facebook and found Dr. Bhardwaj’s talk to be the most interesting.

“He was so engaging and a lot of what he said is very thought-provoking too,”Lin said.

Schmid, who gave a talk on the role violence plays in American life, said he had been practicing his talk sparingly for the past month to avoid sounding over rehearsed, but he said he was still nervous about giving the talk.

“I've given dozens of talks all around the world but usually I have notes or the text of the talk in front of me, whereas this time I'm relying on my memory,” Schmid said. “Also, I rarely get to talk in front of crowds this size.”

Schmid talked about how Americans live in a constant state of “ambient fear.” He described this as a “constant low level anxiety that so many of us feel about potentially being a victim of violent crime.” He feels we’ve accepted this kind of fear as a part of our every day lives.

“I do believe if we consume and think about violence differently we could not only reduce our levels of ambient fear, we could also improve our lives and the lives of others,” Schmid said.

Atkinson talked about a new way to approach sustainable living. He said he was tired of trying to convince people that climate change is real as he thinks it was not a productive use of his time.

“Sustainability, much like the new me, doesn’t care if you believe in climate change,” Atkinson said. “A sustainable life might mean saving money, it might mean improving your personal health and wellness, it might mean improving your community or cleaning up your parks, and yes, there is a chance if we all convert to a sustainable lifestyle we can even prevent the imminent destruction of our planet.”

Culp discussed reimagining sexual education and Shwartz highlighted his experience starting a traveling food pantry.

Other speakers included Chris Fritton, former studio director for the Western New York Book Arts Center who talked about his experience as a traveling printer; Jaclyn McKewan who works for the Western New York Library Resources Council and discussed the importance of libraries; entrepreneur Robert Collier, who emphasized the importance of intimacy in business; and local architect Ayla Abiad, who discussed what it is like to be a Syrian living in America in 2017.

Abiad reflected on her childhood fear of the U.S. because of aggressive military action in Lebanon. She explained how she overcame misconceptions about the U.S. and how Americans should do the same for Syria.

“This is very important for the American people to understand—immigrants and refugees are not terrorists, they are not ISIS, they fled ISIS,” Abiad said.

Kyle Herzegovina, a 2008 UB alumnus, said he was not exactly sure what to expect from the event, but thought the speakers and their topics were “eye-opening.”

“I feel like a lot of education when you are kind of growing up is almost like forced education, where it’s like this is what you learn, you’re in school, you do this,” Herzegovina said. “[TED Talks] are more like educating yourself, it’s like things you want to learn rather than things you have to learn.”

TEDx Director Alex Opiel said she was “thrilled” with how the event turned out and is already looking for ways to improve next year’s event.

“Looking back, maybe [we need] some more activities,” she said. “We try to think about how we can expand our attendance numbers, even though we sold out, we do have a license that allows for like 1,000 [attendees].”

Opiel and TEDx founder Kevin Purdy are both UB alumni.

Opiel believes the most difficult part of planning the event is the logistics. She said planning takes roughly a year, starting immediately after the completion of the previous event.

“We have a lot of people working together, whether it’s the companies we contract out to do our videos, the parking lots, the chair rentals, the vendors,” Opiel said. “So that all has to come together at the end and a lot of it’s really just up in the air until the day of.”

Haruka Kosugi is a staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com