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Presenting TEDxDrewUniversity: A Student Production

Event features a student, professor, trustee, alumni.

April 2018 – Imagine a world where women have true autonomy over their sexual lives. Where schools focus less on test scores and more on helping kids discover their passions. A world where the secret to your success is following your gut.

TEDxDrewUniversity explored those possibilities, among other heady ideas, during a half-day conference at the Concert Hall. The brainchild of student organizers Gabriel Lima and Indrajit Joyosumarto, the event’s theme was “Life as We Don’t Know It.”

TED is a nonprofit that started hosting conferences on technology, entertainment and design in 1984. Since then, TED has evolved into a global brand and a clearinghouse for “ideas worth sharing,” available for free on the organization’s website and YouTube channel.

Adopting TED’s distinctive format, speakers at Drew’s conference used narrative and multimedia to distill often esoteric concepts into 18 minutes of digestible, thought-provoking information. These were stories, more than lectures, about “life lived in the gray,” in the words of the event’s host, Robert Franek, a Drew alumnus (C’93), university trustee and editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review.

For Olivia Blondheim, that gray zone is the habitat of pyrosomes.

A type of jellyfish normally found in the tropics, these gelatinous organisms recently began showing up in alarming concentrations off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, where they pose a growing threat to commercial fisheries. A senior majoring in biology and Spanish, Blondheim is doing field research on this phenomenon, one of numerous jelly blooms happening around the world.

“My job as a scientist,” she said, “is to find out why these jelly blooms are occurring, and what our oceans may look like if they continue to persist.”

The #MeToo movement is spreading rapidly. But there’s still a long way to go before the human dignity of women and girls is recognized and safeguarded around the world, noted speaker Kate Ott, an associate professor of Christian social ethics at Drew Theological School. That, she said, will require fundamental shifts in cultural and moral attitudes.

“Consent is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ related to a sexual behavior,” said Ott, a catholic feminist, “(but) consent relies on the power to make that decision enforceable, which means you have to have access to that power. Otherwise, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is a gamble of luck—one that can have death-dealing consequences.”

Drew alum Ulcca Joshi Hansen C’98 also called for foundational change — in education.

An educational consultant, Hansen championed “learner-centered” schools that embrace the notion that a student’s emotional well-being is more important to their future success than good grades. Such schools provide students with relevant, experiential learning opportunities that counter the profound sense of isolation and disengagement that Hansen warns is epidemic among young people today.

“Our current system of education produces young people whose heads are stuffed full of knowledge,” she said, “but far too many of them lack a capacity to cope, to deal with the intensity of their emotions, to fail and get back up again, to be vulnerable and ask for help.”

Another alum, music producer Ross Michaels C’08, wanted to discuss emotions, too. His 18-minute talk could be further distilled to three words: Follow your gut.

Michaels, the founder of Park Avenue Artists in New York City, sees that maxim as the key to leading a fulfilling life. It’s also been the secret to his professional success. Yes, the conventional wisdom may be to play it safe, he said, but adopting that attitude will only produce conventional results.

“We begin our lives with optimism and wonder,” Michaels observed, “but the contradiction of reality strips (that) away and leaves us normal and comfortable and uninteresting.”

Going forward, TEDxDrewUniversity aspires to be none of those things.

A core team of six students produced TedXDrewUniversity, with help from some 50 others. Here’s who did what:

  • Lead Organizer: Gabriel Lima C’20
  • Creative Director: Indrajit Joyosumarto C’20
  • Speakers Director: Maïmouna Kanté C’20
  • Sponsorship Director: Bongiwe Bongwe C’20
  • Logistics Director: Fabiana de Oliveira Rocha C’19
  • Communications Director: Soniya Patel C’18