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TEDx event brings audience to the precipice

Jeff Haase, an associate professor and interior design coordinator with the Department of Design, talks to an audience at TEDxOhioStateUniversity: Precipice. Credit: Courtesy of Jacob A. Katz

TEDxOhioStateUniversity hosted its sixth annual event on Saturday at the Ohio Union. This year’s installment of the speaking series, TEDx: Precipice, which drew more than 1,000 people, included 12 talks, with topics ranging from a lecture about rural america to a magic act to a talk on the power of Shakespeare and autistic children.

TED stands for technology, entertainment, design and is a non-profit organization that features and hosts different talks and posts them online, according to the organization website. The TEDx Program is an opportunity for independent organizers to create TED-like events within their own communities. Alex Cochran, a fourth-year in material science and engineering, is the TEDx co-director of content and said he is a strong proponent of the TED mission.

“TED as a platform is something that is accessible to not just academia, not just to professors and students, but people everywhere can look at these and view these really important, possibly life-changing, ideas,” he said.

The 55-member student organization is responsible for all that goes into the annual event, including the planning, marketing, fundraising and final execution.

Sam Lechner, the director of marketing and a third-year in public affairs and strategic communication, said that this is a unique aspect to OSU since most college TEDx programs are hosted by the university faculty or staff.

“The way our event works is (that) it’s completely student-run,” Lechner said. “Every

single part of (this event) is completely run by Ohio State students which is really cool.”

Lechner said the team chose “Precipice” as the program’s overarching theme because of the word’s ambiguity.

“(The) precipice google definition is to be on the verge of a steep or rocky cliff … the way we see it is it’s being on the verge of something amazing,” Lechner said. “Precipice to us is (when) you’re at this point where you can either go for it, or retreat, and we’re saying you need to go for it. Now’s the time to really explore so many amazing opportunities you have.”

Brandon Muschlitz, the OSU TEDx curator and a fourth-year in marketing, said the process the speakers go through from the initial interview with the organization to their final delivery is a long process. Students take a one-on-one approach with each speaker and help develop their performances over the course of three months. Muschlitz said he hoped attendants would come into the event with an open mind and eagerness to hear a variety of viewpoints.

“It’s a day to break down a lot of the stereotypes that we come to the table with,” Muschlitz said. ”When you come to a TED event you never really know what you get, so the goal of our lineup is to break you out of your comfort zone.”

The opportunity to showcase different voices is what Chanan Brown, a co-director of content and a fourth-year in comparative ethnic and American studies, said he found so compelling.

“Giving a platform to voices that are typically underrepresented or aren’t as loud as other voices in society is a really important part of what we do,” Brown said. “Most of our speakers are professors but they come from lots of different backgrounds.”

In her talk, Brenda Chaney, a senior lecturer in sociology, spoke of giving a voice to the voiceless and her Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The national program came to Ohio in 2006 and OSU in 2012. Chaney leads 15 college students and 15 prisoners at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in a discussion-based course on globalization and social issues.

“(On) the theme of precipice, I talked about the first night of the class when they have the OSU students here and the insiders there and they stare at each other,” Chaney said, “(But then) how we move from two separate groups into being one group.”

Elizabeth Reagan, a participant in the Inside-Out program, called it “life changing,” and said she was surprised to find more similarities than differences with her prisoner classmates. Chaney is expanding the course to include a fall offering at the Marion Correctional Institution.

Another featured speaker shared the often unheard voice of rural America. Mikayla Bodey, a fourth-year in public affairs and self-described aspiring farmer and public servant, spoke of the rural brain drain — the flocking of skilled and educated workers to cities and away from farms where they grew up — which she called the “great silent tragedy of our time”.

“For me, it was a really cool opportunity to work on an issue I care deeply about but also move it to something that’s presentable to other people. The event itself far exceeded expectations,” Bodey said. “It’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention … I was really excited about the opportunity to have that platform.”

The chance to present a rich mix of stories and viewpoints is one thing Rania Khamees, a fourth-year in neuroscience and biology, enjoyed about her role as an emcee for the program.

“We’re too big of a university to overlook the stories of students and professors, especially faculty,” she said. “You really don’t ever get to hear faculty stories, if you do it’s from a very staged presence where they’re very focused on research or asking a specific question in their own expertise … this is a huge way to engage people without necessarily going into a culture shock.”

One such faculty member and alum is Jeffrey Haase, an associate professor of interior design with a graduate degree in architecture. He shared some of his insight on what he called the “messy path of knowledge and problem solving.” Rather than pursue the bullseye, he encouraged audience members to design really big targets.

“Don’t think of that hit as a failure but as a re-navigation tool,” he said.

Cochran said the event was a success.
“It’s aimed at encouraging you to change your perspective on something,” he said. “We’re not supposed to be a soap box organization. We’re not here to be activists for things. We’re here to promote you gaining a new perspective.”


  1. I did watch on Ted some great talks! You can find there a lot of interesting topics. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. That’s what I was looking for.

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