Harpur Featured Stories
Each year, Binghamton University plays host to a large number of fascinating lectures and presentations. Joining the list in spring 2012 was TEDx, an event conceived, organized and executed by students.
TED is an organization that began in 1984 as a series of conferences focused on discussing and presenting ideas about technology, entertainment and design. TED went on to create an award-winning video site featuring clips of speaker performances, or TEDTalks. The popularity of the site fostered major growth in the organization and now each year TED holds three global conferences, in both the United States and the UK, that aim to bring together some of the world’s most inspiring thinkers for 18-minutes-orless “talks of their lives.”
The mission of TED is “Ideas worth spreading,” and the goal of TEDx events is to circulate this maxim as independently organized TED conferences with a diverse range of topics and speakers.
Undergraduates Lenny Simmons, Henry Baughman and Jonathan Prosperi are responsible for bringing TEDx to Binghamton University, putting in a great amount of time and effort to organize the TEDx event — the second year the group has played host.
University President Harvey Stenger, who gave his own TEDx talk for the event, calls the work of the young organizers “incredible.”
“Typical of Binghamton students, though: They get an idea and they don’t say no; they run with it and make a great event,” Stenger says.
Many students and faculty are familiar with TED due to the TEDTalks videos’ widespread popularity. Matt Roi, a student who attended Binghamton’s TEDx, says that he had developed a keen interest in TED via the Internet. “I had watched a couple videos online,” he says, “and I was really excited that there was going to be one here.”
Max Pensky, a philosophy professor at Binghamton University and faculty advisor to the TEDx organizers, was impressed by the dedication and organizational skills of the organizers – and by how many students chose to take time out of their weekend to listen to the talks.
“This year’s event was completely student-driven,” Pensky says. “It’s not something that the grown-ups gave them; they have done it themselves.”
Each of the organizers put in at least 10 hours a week throughout the year engineering TEDx Binghamton. All of that, of course, came on top of the demands of their academic programs.
“TEDx is a launching point,” Baughman says. “You can hear a presentation and think that something is so interesting that you are then compelled to go out and find further information on your own initiative.
I’m really hoping that in the weeks after TEDx people are interested and do pursue further research.”
All of the event’s speakers expressed excitement over the opportunity to participate in such a heavily branded, popular and growing franchise. Al Biles, one of Binghamton’s TEDx speakers and the creator of GenJam technology (an interactive algorithm that learns to improvise jazz) says he was enthusiastic about speaking. “I’ve given a lot of talks in a lot of contexts,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of things, but not exactly this scale. You know, a TED talk. That’s very special.”
Other speakers included meditation specialist Sharon Salzberg, University associate professor Leigh Ann Wheeler and Binghamton alumnus and prominent attorney Owen Pell ’80.
Prosperi believes that a TEDx event is important to have on campus, and that the content of such an event can engage both students and the community-atlarge. He insists that Binghamton students use their ideas toward effecting positive change all the time.
“Learning about the world around you is a thing that I think everyone has an invested interest in,” Prosperi says. “We have to learn about the sort of people we are, and about the sort of things we can do. And I think it’s not just a Binghamton thing. Although I do think that Binghamton students exemplify it.”
Simmons hopes to keep TEDx around to excite students and faculty members alike for years to come.
“We’re hoping to set things up,” he says, “that way the legacy that we leave behind is enough that anyone on campus who really has a passion for this can take our spots and jumpstart it in their own way, and still have a completely unique event that expands for as long as this University remains here.”
Last Updated: 6/3/15