TEDx urges students to ‘Rewind, Rethink, React and Respond’


Tedx Kent State

Session One

by McKenna Corson     

TEDx Kent State kicked off its first session, focusing on the theme of “Rewind,” with four speakers sharing personal stories of their past and focusing on how others could better their future. Videos of past TED Talks and a dance performance were shown between speakers.

Before the first session started, guest speaker Bertice Berry, a best-selling author and award winning lecturer, introduced the event. Berry’s speech taught the audience how to come together to find their own power, using personal anecdotes and song. 

“We all need each other,” Berry said as a tear fell down her cheek. “Iron sharpens iron. I reflect you, and you reflect me, but until we are willing to just look at each other and learn from one another, we can’t get to the stuff that’s within us. And when we do, we evolve and become.”

Gregory King, an assistant professor of dance at Kent State, was the first speaker of the session.

King spoke of race, gender and sexuality issues, sharing his personal experiences with all three. He started his speech with a question: “What makes me black? Am I black because of the color of my skin or the practice of my people?”

King talked of family struggles, cultural differences and the question of beauty. He ended his speech with: “Who are we? We are all pieces of each other, vessels of triumph if we choose to embrace the struggles of the person sitting next to us … We are pillars of promise, denouncing inequality, kissing the lips of liberation, because in this moment, we should start tasting a new tomorrow knowing that hatred, intolerance and tyranny can be pruned and discarded.”

King then tore his speech, letting the pieces of paper fall onto the stage. 

Taylor Fulton, a sophomore environmental conservation and biology major, was impressed with King’s speech. 

“The first speaker was very cool,” Fulton said. “He had a great message about his beauty and other people’s views of beauty.”

Keri Richmond, a senior public relations major at Kent State, was the next to speak. Richmond spoke of her background and how she grew up in foster care. 

Richmond discussed the hard work that enabled her to go to the White House, where she worked alongside other interns who grew up in foster care. She fought to help children growing up in the system, so they could reach their full potential. 

“I think a lot of the time we find ourselves ashamed of some of our past experiences or where we came from or where we grew up,” Richmond said. “We don’t always want to share or shed any light on it.”

The third speaker, associate professor Phil Kim of business at Walsh University, spoke of the beauty of failure and second chances.

Kim, a high school dropout, talked about how his failures also led to his success.

“It doesn’t matter how far you’ve fallen,” Kim said. “Today is an opportunity to get back up … Don’t dwell on your past mistakes. Everyone learns through failure. Be yourself. Everyone has constraints. Everyone deserves a second chance, and it’s time to start living yours.”

The final speaker, Jennifer Kulics, Kent State associate vice president and dean of students, spoke on strategies to improve self-worth and the others around us.

“Today I challenge you — and I challenge myself every day — to think about what it is that we can control, not what we can’t control,” Kulics said. “It is about the power we have in the can. What can we control?”

Kulics said that by using six tactics – self-talk, gratitude, compassion, smile, befriend, be well — “We can improve our own life and we can improve the lives of others.”

Lauren Distelhorst, a freshman pre-nursing major, said she came to the event to hear other’s experiences.

“Hearing how people have pushed through the dark times in their lives and have grown stronger is very interesting to learn,” Distelhorst said. “I’m able to put their experiences into my life and learn from them.”

Session Two

By Cameron Hoover

The second round of speakers sought to motivate listeners to Rethink their current situations.

Popular cultural topics such as the U.S. education system, refugees, social stigma and climate change were discussed throughout the round of five speakers.

The first to speak was Jeffery Huston, a senior lecturer of health sciences at Kent State. He conveyed the main point of the U.S. education system failing students, parents and teachers alike. Throughout his 15-minute speech, Huston outlined some of the main problems.

“The Industrial Age saw the rise of the factory assembly line, which increased efficiency and created a system in which management aimed to keep workers submissive and controlled,” Huston said. “This model was applied to K-12 education and eventually to higher education as well. Today’s education continues to follow the same model of teaching and learning.”

According to Huston, standardized testing is one of the main reasons for America’s educational missteps, despite being fourth in the world in per-student funding.

He said that a possible solution to the educational crisis is through systems thinking, which he defined as “the belief that an organization is a system, meaning that there are organizational properties in an interrelated whole.”

Huston’s speech ended with a call to arms, encouraging everyone at the event to push for more systems thinking.

The next speaker, communication studies graduate appointee Daniel Socha, focused on the concept of cultural humility in order to effectively welcome refugees.

As Socha has spent much of his life researching new approaches to intercultural communication through his experiences with refugees, he gave humorous examples of cultural assumptions.

Socha explained how refugees he was teaching asked about basketball and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trip to the NBA Finals in 2016.

“Some of the members of the class were really curious about this,” Socha said.

“They started hearing about this big hype around the Cavs and they asked me, ‘Hey, how does this game work?’ I could only name LeBron James. I know absolutely nothing about basketball.”

“Something that really stuck with me is when one of my students said to me, ‘But Daniel, aren’t you American?’”

After the crowd’s spell of laughter dissipated, Socha used the anecdote to put a serious spin on these assumptions.

“Although this instance was humorous and lighthearted, the problem is that sometimes the assumptions can be very presumptuous and fraught with racist notions,” he said.

He then recognized that generalizations will naturally occur, and there is nothing we can do to truly deter them. Rather, he challenged the audience to use these generalizations to challenge stereotypes about people, and to focus on individuals, rather than groups.

“This introspective approach, looking inside ourselves, lets us focus less on culture, and more on individuals as human beings,” he closed.

The third speaker, graduate student Jess Krieger, spoke to the crowd about how animal agriculture was one of the main causes of global climate change, and how her work and research at Kent State were helping fix this problem.

She began with the fact that animal agriculture causes 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than global transportation. She also showed that animal agriculture was responsible for nine percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of methane emissions and 65 percent of nitric oxide emissions.

As global demand for meat rises, she explained, so too will the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere from animal agriculture.

However, rather than attempting to convince everyone to become vegan, Krieger worked on creating an alternative to meat produced from animal agriculture.

She is currently a scientist at Kent State who is working on creating in vitro meat, which means that the meat is grown in cell cultures rather than within an animal. This way, the greenhouse gas emissions that arise from animal agriculture can dissipate with the growing scientific basis of in vitro meat production.

“In my introductory biology course, I learned about a field called tissue engineering,” Krieger explained. “As soon as I learned about this, I started geeking out. It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard of. I started thinking to myself, ‘If we can grow human tissues for medical reasons, can we grow animal tissue for food?’”

Krieger sees in vitro meat as the next step for human consumerism when it comes to food if we want to save our planet.

“I was so energized by the idea that I could grow the foods that people know and love without hurting the environment,” she said. 

The penultimate speaker was Gary Myers, who spoke about a new way for people to eliminate social stigma: virtual leadership.

Virtual leadership curriculum is a game that participants play while learning about others’ personalities through completion of tasks. The only way for these tasks to be completed is through group cohesiveness and taking on leadership roles.

“I am very passionate about discovering a way that can simultaneously teach leadership development and develop social bonds,” Myers said. “I believe that each of us are desperate to find these connections.”

Myers continued by saying virtual leadership curriculum was more important now than ever because some people feel current leaders don’t have their best interests at heart.

“Virtual leadership development provides a virtual representation of every individual participating in the program, called an avatar,” he said. “It is through this avatar that participants are challenged with tasks that none of them can complete alone and they are placed in situations in which they actually have to lead.”

The TEDxKentState event saved the showstopper for last, when 11-year-old sixth-grader Krish Mehra brought the house down with his inspiring speech about getting schoolchildren excited about coding.

Mehra established the importance of coding with a quick survey of the audience, asking the crowd if they had ever searched for something on Google or bought something online. 

“Most digital things we do involve code,” he said, “but only a small percentage of the world actually knows how to code.”

Mehra went on to explain how this small percentage of coders affected a growing job market.

“Last year, according to code.org, 43,000 computer science students graduated into the 494,000 open computing jobs,” Mehra explained. “If that wasn’t clear enough, there were still 451,000 open computing jobs.”

“According to International Data Corporation, also known as IDC, only 25 out of every 10,000 people know any coding in the world.”

Mehra asked the audience to get involved. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a computer software engineer he said.

“How many of you have changed a lightbulb?” he asked. “I’m guessing it’s a fair majority of you. But are we all electricians?”

He ended with a call to get more schoolchildren invested in coding, not just in economically-established countries, but in developing countries as well, such as Kenya, Nepal and Brazil. 

“Imagine how much we could get done if every kid right now learned just the basics of code,” Mehra said.

Session three

by Nicholas Hunter

The third session was themed “React.” Each speaker demonstrated how they have worked to react to an issue they have encountered professionally.

The first to take the stage was Amanda Leu, the coordinator for the office of academic diversity outreach for the College of Communications and Information.

Leu centered her talk around the idea that, instead of creating new ways for students to overcome barriers to getting a good education, there should be an effort to get rid of the barriers set up by school systems.

Leu later spoke about what she called “high-impact learning experiences,” specifically, university study abroad programs and internships. She said that while universities offer a variety of different programs, many students do not take advantage of them for reasons that range from financial issues to simply not having a car to get to an internship.

The solution to that, Leu said, is to focus on “study away experiences … where you can go study in another part of the United States, which is so much more cost-effective than study abroad, but is just as beneficial.”

Another solution for this problem is to make sure to “find local internships that are within walking distance to campus or having enough on-campus internships so all students … can engage in that experience.”

The next speaker to take the stage was senior visual communications design major Will Scharlott. He spoke about his time working on an app for people in India, where “80 percent of people who rely on (cellular) data in India rely on 2G data,” which he explained is two generations behind what we tend to use in the U.S.

“Someone’s ability to use an app shouldn’t be based off something that’s completely out of their control,” Scharlott said. He explained that designing an app like this deviates from the norm for U.S. app designers, who are encouraged to utilize the newest technology, not the most common.

Scharlott explored how he created a ride sharing app — like Uber — for an Indian market that can operate differently depending on what level of data a person can use. For 2G phones, the only features of the app were location input, payment options and app history.

The 3G version expands some by adding graphics, icons and profile images to make it more visually pleasing, and the 4G version incorporates animations and navigation maps that include live-tracking, weather info and traffic notifications, on top of the previous features.

“These features enhance your experience, but by no means do they make it,” Scharlott said.

The third speaker was Aaron Bacue, an assistant professor at Kent State. He explored the idea of active listening. He said we need not simply choose between listening intently or thinking about a response, but “reality suggests that we should really focus on both.”

He suggested different ways that people can focus when others are speaking, such as touching a piece of jewelry to help focus. Focusing on what someone else says is important, so that we don’t just hear the words people say, but “verify that we understand that person’s intended meaning,” Bacue said. 

Next up was associate professor Keith Lloyd, who began his talk by stomping down three times on the stage. He told a story about Alexander the Great’s encounter with Indian philosophers, who rejected his attempt to take over their land by stomping on the ground.

Lloyd moved on to a story about his family trip to the Kentucky wilderness, where they all stopped to admire the scene. As he stood looking as everyone else began walking to the car, he said that his daughter turned back to him and said “’If you hold onto it too long, you lose it.’

“I think there’s something in what she’s saying there: that to hold onto your two square feet means to speak your truth,” Lloyd said.

The final speaker of the session, Regis Coustillac, a poet and teaching artist at the Wick Poetry Center, began his talk with ten seconds of silence. 

Coustillac spoke about his work as a teaching artist for the Wick Poetry Center and how silence was one of his most effective tools in teaching. He is currently working with both children and adult refugees that have settled in the greater Akron area; many of whom have little grasp of the English language.

With children, silence is used to get students to hear one another; after 30-minute sessions of multiple teachers working with students reading and writing poetry, they ask for five minutes of silence, so they can share their work with each other.

With the adults, silence is used differently: over a two-hour session, they aid students by teaching them language as well as poetic skills, and provide them tools to help those who have less of a grasp on English. Then, they leave the students in silence with their writing materials.

“If you put a person in a room, take away their phone, and make sure it is silent, that person will look for an outlet. Now, if you give them a paper and a pen, they will write,” Coustillac said. “Some people will take 15 seconds to pick up that pen; some of them will take 15 minutes. But they all pick it up.”

Coustillac’s goal is to use this idea in the realm of political discourse. He said that adding silence to discourse means leaving space open to hear one another’s opinion without immediately rejecting it.

“It gives us a chance to know not only what issues are important to people, but why those issues are important to them,” Coustillac said.

Session four

by Caelin Mills

Session four was titled “Respond” and featured speeches about exercise helping those with Parkinson’s Disease, the importance of an undergraduate degree, the role of theatre in political discussion and Harry Potter.

Angela Ridgel, associate professor in exercise science and physiology, discussed her hobby of cycling and her research on how it can potentially help people with Parkinson’s Disease strengthen their physical function.

Patients cycled on a tandem bicycle with a trainer, or on a motorized bicycle with a computer and controller instead of a trainer. After sessions with the motorized bicycle, a patient successfully walked down stairs by himself for the first time in three years.

“A lot of data suggests that exercise is indeed medicine for the brain. So I encourage you to take that prescription and get moving. Your brain will thank you,” Ridgel said.

William Ian Auld, a theatre professor, spoke next about why a bachelor’s degree is important, even though 60 percent of graduates will not be employed in their field.

“It is the single largest indicator of how successful you will be, how much money you will make, how you will rate your job, is if you get that piece of paper,” Auld said.

He explained the changing world graduates step into, with millennials averaging four career changes by the age of 32.

The third speaker, Marianne Martens, assistant professor in library and information science, described the success of the Harry Potter series and the cultural impact it had on the youth, especially through a site called Pottermore, where fans can engage one another through activities and communication relative to the series.

Fans took to Twitter after many of the website’s original functions were taken down, such as the original games and activities, as well as the ability to communicate with other users.

“The fact that the site owners couldn’t ignore the negative tweets shows the fans were really able to get the owners to sit up and listen to them,” Martens said.

The site eventually relaunched, with some of the original components back in place.

“Fans are totally capable of shaping the content of a site, they are able to go on social media and continue the conversation with a hashtag,” Martens said. “These online friendships are worth fighting for.”

The final talk of the day was given by Amy Fritsche, assistant professor of acting and musical theatre, about her experience directing Irena’s Vow for the university in 2016.

“It’s about hope, change, how one person can make a difference and how it is our job as humans to take care of each other,” Fritsche said.

She reflected on the social impact the play had on the political discussion regarding the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 presidential election.

“Theatre has the power to be a mirror of society, to question the actions of government, groups and individuals, to give voice to the voiceless,” Fritsche said.

Fritsche’s talk left students feeling empowered and hopeful, especially Emily Williamson, sophomore medical technology student.

“I actually saw the play. It was really impactful,” Williamson said. “Actually getting to hear the director talk about how it impacted her was just really empowering and helped me to realize that I can actually do something to change things in this world.”

McKenna Corson is a diversity reporter, contact her at [email protected].

Nicholas Hunter is a general assignment reporter, contact him at [email protected].

Caelin Mills is the student politics reporter, contact her at [email protected].

Cameron Hoover is general assignment reporter, contact him at [email protected].