Rutgers Doubles Down on TEDx Programming

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers students who find their 80-minute classes too long will be able to attend a different kind of lecture this year: one that spans eighteen minutes and addresses a single topic of concern to the modern world.

Based on the "TED talk" model, the short presentations are named for the Technology, Education, and Design conference started in 1984.

The talks have grown sharply in popularity with the advent of online streaming video, and in recent years independently run "TEDx" events have sprung up all over the world, including at Rutgers.

While student groups led by Sohaib Iqbal, Martha Farag and Taha Najmuddin have hosted "TEDx " lectures on campus since 2010, the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Deans wanted to establish an official TEDx Rutgers Chapter to increase funding that was difficult to acquire in the past.

Thomas Papathomas, Busch Campus Dean and professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said 45 students have expressed interest within a single week of recruitment.

“I thought that somehow we should have a single student club to organize such an event year after year such that there is continuity,” he said.

Akash Mitra and Anisha Reddy, two undergraduates with previous experience in organizing TEDx, will serve as co-presidents for the upcoming school year.

Papathomas said no theme has been established yet, but he is hoping that students will take the initiative to pitch ideas and run the group independently.

With such a large number of volunteers, the club is planning to elect four vice-presidents and establish committees for each task. These include marketing, logistics, speaker selections and website development and maintenance.

Mitra, a junior in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said he was inspired after watching a TED talk by Vilayanur Ramachandran on phantom limb pain. 

"That was my starting point with TEDx," Mitra said. "I saw TED talks before that, of course they were impressive, but this one really stood out." 

Mitra, a researcher who works with fruit flies at the Human Genetics Institute at Rutgers, said TED talks inspire him with creative and new methods that people often don't think of. 

Reddy, a biotechology major, said her favorite TED talk was by Manu Prakash, who invented a 50-cent microscope that folds like origami, useful in countries that are underfunded in resources. She finds encouragement in the lectures that show how research and learning have real-world benefits to people. 

"It's not just about science and technology," she said. "You need to be creative." 

The biggest challenge, the co-presidents said, will be interacting with a large staff, many of whom are new to TEDx and to the planning process.

One factor that makes the task easier is that TED has already developed its own brand, with a large following and the number of Rutgers students who are passionate about it, Reddy said. 

"The biggest thing is word of mouth," Mitra added. "Every single person who's expressed interest would probably love to tell their friends about it, and nothing is more important than what you friend says when compared to a flyer." 

They plan to promote the program through Facebook and other types of online social media, as well as posters, flyers and ads in The Daily Targum, the Rutgers news publication. They feel that many people are happy to hear that TEDx is coming to Rutgers, especially those who can't travel and attend a conference themselves. 

The co-presidents feel that the support of Dean Papathomas will also be a major driving force during the year. 

"He is a great motivator and he is the major reason this is happening," Mitra said. 

Funding will be provided partly through the Rutgers University Student Assembly, which has contributed to TEDx talks in the past. In order to host an official TEDx lecture, organizers must get a license by attending an official TED conference at the cost of over $4,000. 

This year, with the deans’ support, additional funding will come from the budget that the School of Arts and Sciences deans have to allocate at their discretion for programs which they think will contribute to the cultural enrichment of a large population of undergraduate students.

Papathomas is inspired by Ted talks because of their brevity. The time limit forces a speaker to focus their ideas and deliver engaging, digestible material on a single topic. He hopes to reach a target audience of 500 students.

“They focus on one thing and they keep them short, just eighteen minutes,” he said. “Therefore you can attend them without getting bored and the focus of the speaker gives you a gist of their talk.”