Student organizes ideas conference

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Good ideas are worth spreading.  This principle inspired and guided Cloe Shasha ’11 to spend more than half a year organizing the College’s first TEDx Conference, which will be hosted on campus Oct. 2.

Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) is a global set of conferences organized by the non-profit Sapling Foundation in an effort to promote constructive dialogue between minds from the three fields of its name. TED was founded in 1984 and grew in scope and recognition until 2006, when its enormously popular audio-video podcast, “TEDTalks,” made TED conferences openly available to the public. TEDx, a new program of local, self-organized events that aim to “bring people together to share a TED-like experience” have expanded TED even further. In October, that expansion will find its way to Middlebury.

Shasha has dubbed Middlebury’s TEDx event “How We Started: From Idea to Impact.” She hopes to explore the journeys various accomplished professionals have taken to achieve their current successes. Whether authoring books, hand-cycling Mount Kilimanjaro or starting world-changing online movements, the speakers will focus on their present achievements and talk about life events they feel played an important role in accomplishing them.

“A storytelling approach is encouraged,” Shasha says, “and the topics of speakers’ anecdotes may include anything — big events or small, from strange to moving to funny, so long as they weave those events a compelling narrative.”

The talks will be held in McCardell Bicentennial Hall, starting at 12 p.m. on Oct. 2 and continuing into the evening, with lunch and snacks provided in the Great Hall. They will be divided into four sub-themed sessions with three to four speakers each, and between each speaker’s 18-minute talk, short discussions among presenters and attendees will occur. The event will be photographed, filmed, uploaded onto the TEDxMiddlebury website (http://community.middlebury.edu/~tedx/) and eventually linked to the TED website.

Shasha explained that her motivation behind choosing the event’s particular theme arose from a desire she shares with the majority of other college students: to understand how successful professionals discover their career paths, from tiny strokes of luck to lifelong ambitious persistence.

“After talking to many Middlebury friends and acquaintances about what they’re interested in understanding when it comes to careers, I have gathered that many college students, including myself, have a strong desire to understand how people find their career paths, from the small details to the bigger picture,” observed Shasha.
She applied for a license from the TED website to host the event last winter. After obtaining approval, she began a long and challenging nine-month period working in cooperation with Director of the Projects on Innovation in the Liberal Arts Elizabeth Robinson, along with several others, to come up with the theme for the event, choose and invite speakers, research venues, build a website, hook sponsors through the TED organization, apply for funding, plan a post-conference dinner for the speakers and organizers and much in between.

“The spirit of TED does not differ much from what we are trying to do here at Middlebury,” Robinson notes. “Both aim to offer knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers to a community of curious souls so that those individuals can engage constructively with each other.”

Shasha has 17 speakers slated for the event.  For a full list of attending speakers, she encourages students to check out the event’s website. As per TEDx rules, only 100 tickets will be available for the conference. They will be up for sale at the box office on Sept. 15, and Shasha encouraged any students, faculty, staff and alumni interested in the event to buy them early, because demand will be high.

Shasha is also currently working on setting up a live-stream for the event, so that those without tickets who wish to attend may watch the event on video in a separate room.

“Clear your calendars and expect a day filled with excellent talks and discussions,” says Shasha.