TEDx Georgia Tech conference held at the Historic Academy of Medicine

Photo by Casey Gomez

The 2018 TEDx Georgia Tech conference was held at the Historic Academy of Medicine on April 7, gathering distinguished and knowledgeable people from all niches of science, academics and hobbies for the purpose of sharing those ideas with the world. The “x” in TEDx means that it is an “independently organized TED event,” in this case planned and carried into action by
Tech students. Forming teams for event setup and managing logistics, TEDx Ambassadors worked throughout the past semester and more to make this TEDx conference a success. For this day, these students managed to set up a beautiful building for their event and invite speakers from a variety of backgrounds.

Welcoming guests and hosting the event was Alex Weber, “Motivational Comedian and U.S. Lacrosse Coach of the Year,” who is known for hosting programs for a number of different networks including NBC and FX.

Peppy and high spirited, Weber introduced the first speaker of the day, Will Courreèges-Clercq. Courreèges-Clercq, fourth-year BA at Tech, spoke from his internship experience with SunTrust and shared his insight on what sustainability means, why it is so important and how individuals can use the merits of sustainability to positively impact the world.

During his time at SunTrust, where he will work full time, Courreèges-Clercq’s task was to reduce the company’s carbon expenditure and spending without greatly disrupting the existing system or infrastructure. He realized that revising even one percent of a major source of emissions could lead to more impact than complete overhauls in more minor sources ever could.

“Change one percent to change the world,” Courreèges-Clercq said in his talk, as he explained that reducing one percent of travel, the largest carbon emission by SunTrust, will lead to hundreds of thousands of gallons of reduced emissions per year.

The event had a theme of empowerment, as many of the talks spoke of the impact individuals can have on the world and the ways they can remove limits they place on their abilities.

Deborah Riley Draper, an award-winning filmmaker, was the second speaker of the day. Draper’s talk discussed “greenlight[ing] yourself,” which is to put thoughts to action regardless of opposition or low chances of success and to bring success to yourself by putting in “hustle” in times when a person may otherwise just “wait.”

“As a filmmaker, it’s about spreading ideas and sharing it, debunking myths and misrepresentations,” Draper said. “Sometimes culture impacts us and sometimes we impact culture, but what we create is a gift, and it’s a gift worth sharing and spreading for sure.

“ … the ability to go out there and tell an amazing, compelling story is accessible to everyone, and I want everyone to greenlight themselves to exactly that,” Draper explained about her motivating philosophy.

Following next was Allen Gannett, the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, who talked about the notion people have that creativity is a latent ability that people either have or do not, and why that notion is wrong.

Instead, he introduced creativity as a system and a skill rather than a supernatural trait. The key to it, he claimed, was repetition and hunger; only by devouring massive amounts of content is a person able to produce anything good. Like any other skill, creativity must be practiced in order to form a creative “taste,” and the way to do this is by putting in hours of exposure to whatever your interest may be.

Following the intermission that featured food, mingling and the SympVibes Acapella, was Chris Strouthopoulos, a professor of student success at San Juan University.

His talk related his experience with leading mountain climbing groups to how fear holds us back, especially fear of judgement in social settings, and offered specific strategies to build trust and allow for higher performance.

“When students choose not to ask a question in class because they’re afraid of judgement from peers, they’re actually choosing to get a worse score on their test over being judged by classmates,” said Strouthopoulos.

Strouthopoulos emphasized the importance of taking small initial steps in sharing ideas to get used to sharing more intimate ideas, and the necessity of creating a group where psychological safety is established and high risk questions are asked.

“In my classroom, the experience is about creating a feeling of safety and trust,” Strouthopoulos said. “On day one, it’s about getting [students] talking to each other, so we set the tables up in groups. We’re not in rows and we do activities that build trust in the group. We start with low emotional stuff and each session, I ramp up what I ask them to share so we build up that trust to create a high performing group where they are willing to really ask those tough questions and are not worried about other people telling them otherwise.”

Brian Glibkowski, Ph.D., followed up by discussing the ability of good communication and how American society emphasizes asking questions, but is in fact lacking in knowledge on how to give a proper answer. Glibkowski explained that there are six types of answers which meet the six types of questions; answering with a story, theory, concept, procedure, action or metaphor to the questions who, why, what, how, when and where. These answer types appeal  to either the creative and logical aspects of the brain and can communicate ideas powerfully when used in combination.

Until this point, a ramp, placed during intermission, had gone unused. It had been prepared for Dr. Hammad Aslam, who rolled his way up it on to the stage where he turned to share his experiences of facing unconscious discrimination due to his being in a wheelchair. He started off his talk with a definition, “An impairment is the actual structural or functional abnormality. For me, it’s my spinal injury.

“A disability is the inability to perform a task normally compared to the average population due to that impairment,” Aslam went on. “A handicap is the inability to fulfill a societal or environmental role because of this impairment. We use these definitions to compartmentalize and structure our view of individuals with impairments … Our ideas of what these people can and cannot do are largely already made up. Limits on their abilities automatically surface their minds.”

He spoke of how society is astonished today by individuals with impairments who become successful. The impairment, Aslam told, is often emphasized by society, which unconsciously tries to place limitations on people with impairments. His goal for the day was to let more people realize the restrictions they place on others through a lack of expectation, and he strongly urged becoming conscious of this fact and removing these barriers, which have greater significance than may be felt by the self.

Ending the day was a talk on the contagiousness of courage by Mallory Hagan, a current congressional candidate who had inspired others to action during her time with Miss America. Hagan used her title to create a national momentum for women who were facing mistreatment at work to speak up.

Her initial courage of making public complaints against offensive leaders of the Miss America Organization spread to women who found themselves dealing with similar predicaments, who were then able to speak up on their own situations. “I work with SafeHorizon, and speak on their behalf, testify for them or change laws, or change awareness for the cause,” Hagan told the Technique.

TEDx Georgia Tech provided a rare setting where TEDx speakers could interact with the audience, making future TEDx Georgia Tech Conferences something to eagerly anticipate.