Students collaborate with MU to bring TEDx to campus

Licensing allowed only 100 participants to attend the event, but three streaming events were held around Columbia.
One hundred people file into the Fred W. Smith Forum in the Reynolds Journalism Institute on Saturday to attend the TEDxMU event. Three streaming sights were set up around Columbia for other viewers. Courtesy of TEDxMU

The idea started before freshman Cale Sears even set foot on campus last fall.

While preparing for his first year of college, Sears worked to bring the world-famous TEDx program to Columbia’s entrepreneurial community.

“Because of how connected we are in the Missouri area with the journalism school, Newsy right down the road and the entrepreneurial program here, I thought a TEDx event here would thrive,” Sears said.

TED is an international organization that hosts conferences around the world, featuring speakers who specialize in technology, entertainment and design.

“(At events like this,) you get to meet people in your community who you might not already know who are doing things that could either help you with something you’re working on or just (mention) something that you’d never thought of before,” Sears said. “There’s something special about how these events come together.”

The original TED program began 26 years ago in California and has become famous for its patented “TEDTalks,” according to a TEDxMU news release. Famous speakers have included Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“The idea is that all the talks at their conferences are recorded and put online so that people can watch these talks, be inspired by them and then apply those ideas to affect our communities or the world,” Sears said.

TEDx is a three-year-old program with organizers in countries around the world, Sears said. It is independent from TED programs, and has local organizers that utilize video programming and live speakers.

“It really gives a platform for local speakers to filter out their ideas into the community,” he said.

This past weekend, months after first developing the idea, Sears and six other co-workers, including graduate students Curtis Roller and Aamer Trambu, were able to see the product of their work at Saturday’s TEDxMU 2012 conference.

The conference was the product of a team effort, Sears said.

“This event isn't happening because of me at all," Sears said. "It's all because of my team. Each member of the team is innovative in their own way, and it was this collaborative environment that made this event happen.”

After working as part of TEDxSMU, the TED chapter of Southern Methodist University, Sears said he knew he wanted to bring the world-famous TED program to MU in some capacity. He began to pursue the idea in June.

“When you talk to the entrepreneurial community and you ask them, ‘What are some issues you’re facing?’ they’ll tell you there’s no connection within our great community,” Sears said. “There are a lot of groups doing the same thing, but they aren't working together as efficiently as they could in the community.”

The idea allowed Sears to interact with several different organizations on campus.

“The support originally started within the Department of Student Activities,” Sears said. “Using their expertise organizing events really helped us to get our foot in the door.”

Roller, one of the curators of TEDxMU, said he hopes the event continues every year.

"Working with the team has been a blast,” Roller said. “Everyone brings something new or interesting to the table, and have the same passion and drive to put on a successful event.  Working with a freshman isn't an issue. We're all in this together, and what year someone is in school isn't really a factor."

TEDxMU was able to curate this weekend’s conference through the commitment and help of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Missouri Students Association, Graduate Professional Council and the MU Crosby MBA and executive MBA programs. Speakers ranged from Newsy founder Jim Spencer and astronaut Linda Godwin to autism advocate Tim Miles and storyteller Dan Oshinsky.

The event would help foster collaboration within the innovative community at MU, said Keith Politte, manager of the Technology Testing Center in RJI and TEDxMU collaborator.

“It’s really about sharing ideas worth spreading,” Politte said.

Licensing allowed only 100 participants to attend the event, but three streaming events were held at The Shack, in the Museao Building and in the Columbia City Council Chambers.

“We are trying to use the stream of the event to convene collaboration beyond the (event’s) room,” Politte said. “We want to see if we can connect these groups so we can grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area.”

Sears said the event has been a great learning experience for him and will help him as he continues to contribute to the local community.

“There’s not a lot of events just to connect people,” Sears said. “We’re trying to create a community of people with ideas who want to share them so that it reflects back on TED and the innovative spirit of Columbia.”

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