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Northwestern TEDx Event Inspires Global Dialogue

Forum attracts 300, explores community outreach, benefits Nepal earthquake relief

  • TED Talks feature 12 speakers, including students, faculty and alumni
  • Ponderous questions spark contemplation, discussion and buzz
  • Expanded community engagement aspects, both local and global
  • This year’s conference theme, ‘Beautiful Chaos,’ a resounding success

EVANSTON, Ill. --- After discovering the movie “Burn After Reading,” Northwestern alumnus J.C. Kibbey was fascinated by the question, “What drives humans to alternately be so cruel and so kind to one another?”

Kibbey examined this reality in his TEDxNorthwesternU 2015 talk, part of a daylong event held May 9, which featured 12 Northwestern speakers and attracted hundreds of attendees to the McCormick Foundation Center Forum on the Evanston campus.

“We’re driving ourselves to extinction in slow motion, but a huge chunk of the public doesn’t know or doesn’t care that climate change is happening,” Kibbey said in an interview. “We evolved to avoid getting eaten by tigers; our brains aren’t wired for slow-moving problems. We’re often very irrational.

“But, we’re starting to better understand how and why we’re irrational through the study of behavioral economics,” Kibbey said. “In this talk, I applied what I know about climate change, behavioral economics and politics to figure out how we can talk to people about climate change so they care.” 

Like the original TED talks, each speaker was given 18 minutes to present a polished speech and spark a dialogue about matters large and small that impact the global community.

This year’s conference theme, “Beautiful Chaos,” was a resounding success, said Peter Civetta, director of the office of undergraduate research and a lecturer in American studies at Northwestern University.

He describes the theme choice as “a mash-up of molecules, politics, ideologies, art, psychologies, expression and much, much more. As we dive deeper into the universe's mysteries, life becomes surprisingly simple and simultaneously more complex.” That dichotomy is what speakers attempted to harness at this year's TEDxNorthwesternU.

The speakers “explored a spectrum of topics, from innovations in cancer research to how theater provides enrichment opportunities for those with cognitive differences,” Civetta said. The event also featured performances by student music groups and explored community outreach.

To make this year even better, event organizers expanded their community engagement initiatives by hosting 40 students from the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools as well as donating 50 percent of ticket sales to the disaster relief in Nepal.

Kibbey, a graduate of Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies, is a public policy researcher with Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 1, where his work includes political strategy, advocacy and policy analysis on behalf of nearly 50,000 workers across six states.

Previously, he worked as a digital strategist in the private sector, for the online advocacy group, on the 2008 Obama campaign and for a government affairs firm.

Professor Karl T. Muth, who has taught at Northwestern since 2012, also created some buzz by asking, “what if we kept track of time like money?”

“We often talk about how people use time like it’s money: saving, spending, wasting time,” Muth said. “But we don’t keep track of time like we do money; economists and public policy experts generally don’t analyze where we invest time. What could we learn if we did?”

Muth designed and taught courses in economics, organizational behavior, public policy, and statistics, including undergraduate and graduate coursework. This fall, he will lend his expertise to the Northwestern University School of Law’s master’s of science and law program.

Not to be outdone by Northwestern faculty was Daphna Weinstock, one of only two undergraduates selected to speak at TedxNorthwesternU 2015. In her speech, titled “Difference, Not Deficit,” Weinstock explained the goals and techniques used in Seesaw Theatre -- which creates theater for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other cognitive differences, and uses theater as a means of embracing the beauty of difference and learning from each other.

Weinstock, one of the founding members of Seesaw Theatre, was this year’s past director of Seesaw’s production, “In The Game.”  She is an undergraduate senior studying theater for young audiences in Northwestern’s School of Communication. She has particular interest in theater education and using dramatic means in and out of the classroom to promote diversity and inclusion among youth. She is also a proud member of Kappa Delta Northwestern sorority and Purple Crayon Players.

Founded in 1984 and run by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, TED is devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. The conference originally focused on technology, entertainment and design, today covers an expansive range of topics from science to business to global issues in more than 100 languages.

Emilie Greenberg, a junior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Nikita Ramanujam, a senior in the School of Education and Social Policy, organized the 2015 Northwestern event.

TEDx speakers included: Ricardo Rosenkranz, Feinberg School of Medicine, faculty; Helen Wong, School of Education and Social Policy, alumna; Brian Aguado, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, graduate student; Karl Muth, School of Professional Studies, faculty; J.C. Kibbey, School of Professional Studies, alumnus; Daphna Weinstock, School of Communication, undergraduate student; Steve Reed, Northwestern Law School, faculty; Umang Jain, Feinberg School of Medicine, graduate student; Emily Gipple, Kellogg School of Management, graduate student; Scott Ely, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, alumnus; Archit Baskaran, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate student and Aymar Jean, School of Communication, faculty. Watch videos of their talks on YouTube.

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