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TEDx Comes to La Sierra University


Have you seen the TED Talks video by the 15-year old who discovered a new way to screen for pancreatic cancer that has revolutionized the cancer world? Or the presentation by the Nigerian writer about the danger of the single story? That’s really my favorite.

As a fan of the TED Talks Radio Hour featured on National Public Radio, and someone who has dreamed of attending the famous TED conference where world thinkers and doers give the talk of their life in 18 minutes or less,  I was intrigued when I learned that a TEDx Event was scheduled to be held at La Sierra University.

The nonprofit organization that began with the world famous conference now licenses independently organized events. And the first such event, that I know of, to take place on an Adventist university campus, was scheduled for April 24, at the LSU Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business. At the last minute I applied to attend, booked a flight south and arrived at the conference center housed in the new School of Business building at La Sierra on Thursday morning.

With “the possible” as the theme, the day’s schedule featured talks by local voices, videos of talks from past TED international events, and live music. This combination of three contrasting elements kept the program moving and interesting. Three was also the number of sessions spread out over the day. In the morning, the first session presentations were on imagining the possible.  The second was on designing the possible and finally proving the possible. Physicians, artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, designers, political scientists vividly brought these aspects to life.

While TED Talks are formulaic, it is a compelling formula. A short illustrative story grabs you in the beginning and is followed by three important elements that lead to the significant point to be made by the speaker. Following the formula, I should now give you the three things that inspired me at the conference, but I don’t know if I can limit it to three.

Jeff Rosenblum caught my attention with his question, “Can advertising save the world?” which he admitted sounded ludicrous. But with stories of Crayola and Patagonia he described the process of using empowerment as a new way to build a brand. And he had me as I pondered the application of that idea within the nonprofit world where my professional life is lived.

Elementary music teacher Czarina Kaye Francisco’s contrast between the “I can’t” story and the “I can” and how mentoring can move a child in a positive direction was captivating.

Simply THREE took to the stage with their instruments late in the morning and had the audience snapping their fingers to a jazzy rendition of “Summertime”, and finally on their feet cheering for a mashup rendition of two Coldplay songs. Later they came back, played more, and told their story of classical music training, but a desire to perform more than just orchestral music. Violinist Alex Weill, cellist Zack Clark, and bassist Nicholas Villalobos make up the group that is now a favorite for me.

Sterling Spence told the story of the local band Coyote Bandits and how they raised money for Canvasback Missions by playing gigs up and down the West Coast. He also told how Canvasback had transformed itself as a non-profit from one that utilized sailboats and medical volunteers to take medical assistance to small islands, to an organization that worked with the government of Micronesia to address the public health issue of diabetes in a significant fashion. After lunch, the Coyote Bandits kicked off the afternoon with a lively set of songs.

Those were my favorite elements. But it really is hard to narrow it down, because there were so many great things: Azalea Lehndorff and her personal story about running away from home to get an education and her efforts to help provide classrooms for the girls of Afghanistan, Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein on how art transformed her life, Sean Corcorran on designing a better chair for students, Dr. Jacek Kugler on the politics of Ukraine and Russia, Dr. Warren Peters on the obesity epidemic, Eric Rajah on tackling the root causes of poverty, Dr. Leslie Martin on taking charge of the patient side of health care, Dr. Mark Abdollahian on data driven decisions.  

Attendance by over 300 people surpassed organizers’ hopes at this first time event. Scholarships from the Edward C. Allred Center made it possible for over a hundred high school and college students to attend. Students came from Orangewood Academy, Loma Linda Academy, La Sierra University, and other area universities.

“I don’t know how they are going to top this next time,” one attendee said on the way out. Organizer John Razzouk did suggest that there would be a next time. Videos of the presentations will be posted on the Tedx web site.

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