College announces TEDx speakers


Staff Photographer

College announces TEDx speakers

By Campus Reporter

Students interested in using their creative disciplines to create change can learn to do so at the college’s first ever TEDx event, a Columbia student-led,education-themed conference.

TEDx Columbia College Chicago, which takes place April 4 at the Sherwood Music Center, 1312 S. Michigan Ave., is an independently organized event licensed through TED, a nonprofit organization that combines video and live speakers to spark discussion.

The theme of the TEDx event is “Creative Momentum,” which means using one’s area of expertise to create change, according to Renee Rock, a graduate student in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department and speakers chair for TEDx Columbia College Chicago.

“[To] some people [creative momentum] is how to change your community, think outside the box with that, build momentum of change and momentum of curiosity with people,” she said. “[To] some of them, it’s literally changing science, changing our understanding of the world, how you do that and share that excitement and innovation with the younger generation. Taking super left-brained things [and] bringing a whole lot of right-brain [things] to it.”

There will be 11 speakers at the TEDx event, according to Rock, including local artist Matthew Hoffman, dancer and business owner Roger Lee, author Megan Stielstra, nonprofit founder John Edwards, professor and community leader Charles Alexander, journalist Jackie Spinner, scientist Sliman Bensmaia, writer and nonprofit director Luvvie Ajayi and storyteller Parker Stockman. The last two speakers have yet to be announced, as of press time.

It was important to form a group of speakers that is diverse in terms of subject matter and demographics—specifically gender and race—to show how “Creative Momentum” could be applied to various fields and groups of people, according to Brontë Price, a senior photography major and the license holder for Columbia’s TEDx.

“That was a conversation I had originally with [Rock] when she came to me to clear the first round of speakers,” Price said, “I said no because I said ,‘This is a lot of white men.’”

Among the speakers are Stielstra, the associate director of faculty development in the Center for Innovation in Teaching Excellence, and Spinner, assistant professor in the Journalism Department, who both currently work at the college.

Spinner, who was asked last month to participate in the event by the student team, is a former war journalist who speaks nationally about the value of conflict reporting and said she plans to discuss that at TEDx. 

“A lot of journalists die reporting stories so people have information about what’s going on in the world,” Spinner said. “I value their work when I talk about them and the risks that they take and why it’s important. Whenever I talk about combat photography or reporting, I’m never looking to encourage a journalist to do that. It’s more explaining to people why this kind of coverage is important. When journalists get hurt or killed in war zones, the public tends to ask, ‘Why are they there in the first place?’ There’s a reason we go into the hurricane when everybody else is leaving.”

The list of speakers includes visual artists, scientists and community leaders. Price said  they may speak about their disciplines but are not limited to those topics.

“It allows people on stage to say something that might not be what their image is,” Price said. “With TED it’s awesome because you don’t have to give a thesis about your whole body of work. You can talk about something that you really believe, which might not necessarily be your profession.”

Rock said she hopes attendees will be inspired by the speakers’ accomplishments and challenges they have overcome.

“They all have experienced difficulty or failure in some way or another,” Rock said. “They have overcome that in very unique and inspiring ways, and a lot of them have triumphed in untraditional fashion.”

The team’s ability to create a diverse list of speakers in subject matter and personal background was aided by being a diverse group of Columbia students themselves, according to Phillip Cheng, a senior cinema art + science major and one of the event’s co-organizers.

“It was a really interesting background the team brought in, which I think helped curate that list,” Cheng said.

Columbia’s TEDx event is also a chance to change people’s perspective of the college, Cheng said.

“We’re not just a school of artists—we’ve kind of coined the term ‘creative intellectuals,’” Cheng said. “There are people here who aren’t just making art, but there are people here who are thinking about the art that they make and its impact on the rest of the world.”