TedX UW: A meeting of individuals, talents, and ideas

Nov 23, 2012 · Science · By Becky Loi

  • This year’s TEDxUW combined two concepts into a guiding theme. The globe represents the power of ideas to transcend boundaries...

    Courtesy TEDxUW
  • ... while the EDGE miniature represents the power of ideas to encourage risk-taking and open-mindedness in furthering one’s ambitions.

    Courtesy TEDxUW
  • Courtesy TEDxUW
  • Courtesy TEDxUW
  • Courtesy TEDxUW
  • Courtesy TEDxUW

One of the recent cultural phenomena to sweep our modern world is TED talks. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is a powerful force to be reckoned with. As of November 2012, TED talks have been watched 1 billion times worldwide, and the number is growing.

Armed with a potent cocktail of stage presence, rear screen projections, and personal anecdotes, notable individuals  such as Google founder Larry Page, director J.J. Abrams, and renowned physicist Stephen Hawking have been on the TED stage. In only 18 minutes, they have the chance to share their thoughts and plant new seeds of “ideas worth sharing” in the minds of their audience.

On the bright Saturday, Nov. 17 morning, the doors of the Quantum-Nano Centre, usually closed to students, were opened to a select few that were lucky enough to be part of TEDxUW, this university’s version of the popular TED talks. According to its website, TEDx events use the same formula to “spark deep conversation and connections,” except that the events are independently organized all around the world.

This year, exploring the concept of passion-driven success and factors that make certain people and ideas remarkable, the TEDxUW team came up with the theme of EDGE. “We’d like our speakers to go a step further…challenge themselves to think critically about their own success…and through their talks explore what defines the significance of this critical point — the point where everything you’ve learned and experienced up until that moment dares you to take a step further — for themselves, their community, our audience, and the world,” said Prashanth Gopalan, founder and chair of TEDxUW.

The organizing committee and event team pushed themselves to carry this out. Walking into the new and sparkling QNC, one was awed by the sophisticated set-up and the buzzing atmosphere at the TEDxUW event. In the lounge area, there was a miniature EDGE-themed installation made out of cardboard that attendees could tinker with and construct into different shapes.

The EDGE-themed furniture and installations, made by School of Architecture students, were located around the venue. On the stage, large cubical blocks of white letters bent in half formed a centrepiece installation, flanked by two rectangular boxes which served as the LED displays. Of course, the stage was suffused with the primary TED colour of red.

From UW alumnus and Olympic gold medalist Heather Moyse to current UW student Andrew Wong, who led a youth delegation to represent the polar regions at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20)  at just 19 years of age, this year’s event boasted a spectacular line-up. Other speakers included Bill Tatham (of Tatham Centre fame), Andrew Maxwell, Ami Richter, Heather Dale, Geoff Fong, Cassandra Cole, Bill Thompson, Michael Litt, Naila Keleta-Mae, and Richard Holmes.

Wong’s talk really resonated with the student audience. “Wong’s talk on urgency inspired me to take more initiative for my future career aspirations,” said Navjit Garcia, a biology student at UW and aspiring veterinarian.

Other speakers did not disappoint. Andrew Maxwell, an award-winning researcher who completed his PhD at UW, spoke about trust and how entrepreneurs can use trust to advance their enterprises and build meaningful relationships with investors. Dr. Maxwell, who is also the chief innovation officer at the Canadian Innovation Centre in Waterloo, shared insights from when he was working on the hit CBC television show Dragon’s Den.


Ami Richter, self-claimed “regular gal” is anything but regular. Rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Oprah and Carrie Underwood, Richter is the founder and owner of travel accessory company, LUG. Her brightly coloured bags can be spotted in O (the Oprah magazine), and on the arms of celebrities. A recreation and leisure studies student back in 2001, Richter shares that her secret to success is by following her DNA, or the intrinsic passions that are within her. Her mantra is, “Once you know who you are and what you like, your choices become much clearer.”

Another notable speaker is Geoff Fong, who gave a very insightful and thought-provoking talk titled Tobacco, Bridges and Global Warming: The Consequences of Focusing on the Short-Term. Some of the principles of Prof. Fong’s main research on the impact of tobacco control policies can be extrapolated to pertinent issues like global warming and under-maintained bridges in the United States.

Other speakers include Heather Dale, a celtic musician whose captivating melodies include the hauntingly beautiful “Mordred’s Lullaby,” which has over 5 million YouTube hits in all of its various incarnations. Richard Holmes’s talk started with a video of himself from a year ago, with a terrible stutter. He then appeared on stage — full of confidence — and enunciating every word clearly. Even though he had a successful career as a professional mountain biker, he was plagued by his stuttering problem which constrained his life as he could never feel fully confident with himself. However, through sheer determination and perseverance, he overcame this adversity, and today he is an award-winning public speaker.

The glue that held everything together is the delightful Denise Donlon, the host of the day who kept the audience entertained throughout the whole event. Donlon’s credentials are equally impressive as those of the other speakers. With her stint as vice-president and general manager of MuchMusic and president of Sony Music Canada, she knew how to keep the audience entertained and engaged.

The a cappella groups Unaccompanied Minors and the Water Boys provided entertainment for the day. One of the highlights was the Water Boy’s wonderfully entertaining rendition of a classic Backstreet Boys number.

In between talks, there were sessions where the attendees were able to mill around and mingle with the speakers. This interactive component of the event where everyone is encouraged to mingle with one another received the thumbs up from the attendees.

“I really attend the TEDx events for the opportunity to have stimulating conversations with anyone about creative or innovative ideas. I feel that the event did a good job of generating the feelings and comfort needed for this kind of open communication between strangers,” said Lucas Rowe, one of the attendees.

However, there were some aspects of the event that could have been improved, for example the half-an-hour delay and technical glitches concerning the power point slides and the sound system. Nonetheless, it was a remarkable effort by the TEDxUW team to pull off an event of such magnitude and class.

Perhaps our university does not have the best football team or a homecoming event that students are aware of, but at the end of the day, events like TEDxUW show the world what our EDGE is. What makes our university stand out is the students’ and faculty members’ intellectual diversity, determination to succeed, and relentless pursuit of knowledge. TEDxUW managed to showcase all that and more. That is something we should be proud of.

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