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Monday, March 04, 2024

TEDxUF shares illuminating ideas in its 14th annual conference

Audiences enjoyed live music, performances and talks from UF alumni

<p>Dr. Sarah Jayasekaran, an assistant engineering professor at UF, shares her educational and personal journey as a Indian immigrant during TEDxUF’s 14th Annual Conference Saturday, April 1, 2023.</p>

Dr. Sarah Jayasekaran, an assistant engineering professor at UF, shares her educational and personal journey as a Indian immigrant during TEDxUF’s 14th Annual Conference Saturday, April 1, 2023.

With passion, humor and dedication, the student team of TEDxUF is bringing bright ideas to the spotlight. This year’s conference title and theme was “Illumination,” and speakers were encouraged to shed light on topics they cared about. 

The student organization rolled out the red carpet for seven speakers, mostly academics, April 1 to speak their minds and present their ideas to an audience of about 460 people. 

TEDxUF is a student-run and independently organized event affiliated with the international nonprofit media organization TED Talks. About 50 students, distributed across eight teams, worked for 11 months to put on this event.

Norman Bukingolts, a 20-year-old UF engineering junior who hosts the organization’s podcast and was the master of ceremonies, said he feels proud to be a part of the team. 

“I think it is something that a person could tell to their kids,” he said. “It's super duper cool.”    

As attendees walked in, Swazz Band, a jazz band of UF students, filled the room with the sounds of saxophone, trombone and piano filled the room, setting the tone for a night full of music. Between speakers, UF acapella group the Sedoctaves and UF’s JiaTing Lion & Dragon troupe kept the audience entertained. 

For UF 22-year-old alumna Maria Lakdawala, these intermittent performances were a highlight of the evening, enhancing the experience of the talks, which she found to be engaging.  

“It's just such a large variety of ideas that you're hearing,” she said. 

Dustin York, an adjunct professor in UF’s online mass communications master’s program, said standing on a TEDx stage’s red dot had been a bucket list item for years. 

York’s work focuses on digital transformation and has experience working in public relations for Obama’s 2008 campaign, Nike and more. 

His talk, “Childhood Curiosity Will Unlock Digital Transformation,” stressed the importance of technological change and remaining curious when it comes to understanding the power it holds. 

“The audience that listens to TED talks is open-minded and wants to learn and be curious about things,” he said. 

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York made the audience laugh by infusing humor into his slides. He included a slide where his visuals team said he doesn’t pay them, and made a graphic of an Amazon Alexa roast him. 

To drive home his point about AI and curiosity, York pulled examples from Travis Scott’s virtual Fortnite concert and the TikTok algorithm. 

“Change is good, digital transformation is great,” York said. “But curiosity is revolutionary.”

UF microbiology and cell science professor Jamie Foster spoke about the language of microbes. She’s conducted research focusing on microbial communities and their environments.

Inspired by the TED Talks she watches on her frequent flights, Foster wanted to give a presentation on her research.

“It’s important for scientists to know how to present complicated ideas to the public,” Foster said. 

“I think right now there's a lot of fear of science — a lot of misunderstanding of science,” she said. “So, if I can have a small part in helping improve communication and understanding of that science, then I am happy.”

Ron Chandler’s talk, “The Role of Human Dignity in Sustainability,” advocated for humanity in sustainability practices. The UF psychology professor discussed the role of human dignity in his organization, the Conservation Initiative for the Asian Elephant. 

During intermission, attendees walked around the venue and engaged in activities, including making lightbulbs to give to someone who brings light into their life and taking a quiz to find out which speaker they were.. 

Eleni Bozia, a UF associate professor of classics and digital humanities, advocated for increased interactions between AI and the Humanities in her talk, “How to Predict the Future With Classics and AI.”

“I felt that it would be the ultimate venue to reach college students,” she said. “You are the next generation, you are the ones who are going to go out there and change the world, and I wanted to give you a piece of my mind before you do that.” 

Biologist and UF professor Constance Rich spoke on harnessing failure and fear and turning it into something good. 

Rich’s father, Bill Persyn, was in the audience to support her and said he was excited to see his daughter on stage.

“I'm bursting with pride,” he said. 

As the sun set and the auditorium darkened, the TEDxUF team joined together and reflected on the theme of the conference. They thanked the audience for coming and reminded them that ideas are only worth sharing if there are people to share them with. 

Contact Ceci at Follow her on Twitter at @CeciEdelberg.

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