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Directors of student life organize TEDx event at Notre Dame

| Thursday, December 7, 2017

Notre Dame will host a TEDx event April 28 as part of Idea Week in the greater South Bend area. The event will feature 16 community members, including students, faculty, staff and alumni, delivering a TED talk based on scientific data. The event will be the third TEDx event Notre Dame has hosted in recent years, with previous events held in 2014 and 2015.

Juniors Caitlin Murphy and Tim O’Connell, student government’s co-directors of student life, are in charge of organizing the event. The event is not an official TED event, with the “x” signifying its independence, but they did have to receive licensing from the TED Organization to hold the event.

O’Connell emphasized the importance of student voices when selecting speakers.

“We’re going to be coming from more of a student perspective, trying to make it interesting towards students,” O’Connell said. “Not so, ‘We’re Notre Dame, we’re awesome’ but like, ‘Here are things people at Notre Dame do that are amazing’ and why it’s useful to the community.”

The main goal, O’Connell said, is to select a wide range of speakers.

“We’re going to have students, we’re going to have faculty, and they’re going to have these innovative ideas, things that they’re working on,” O’Connell said. “You’re not going to have someone up there saying, ‘This is my research. This is cool.’ It’s going to be someone saying, ‘This is my research, this is why it matters to you and this is why you’re going to be talking about it tomorrow.’ We’re looking for speakers … who are trying to start a conversation.”

Although all talks need to be based on scientific research, that does not mean the talks all have to relate to science. Murphy and O’Connell explained the scientific research requirement only means any potential talk must be backed up with data, while the research itself can cover any topic area.

The format of TEDx 2018 will closely resemble that of the 2015 event, which “got a lot positive feedback,” Murphy said.

“The format is going to be essentially identical,” she said. “It will be in [the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center], in one of the concert halls there. It will pretty much run exactly the same as that, but with a new set of speakers and new management.”

Murphy said one key difference this year is the number of people who will be in attendance. If organizers want more than 100 people to be in attendance for a TEDx event, the TED Organization requires special certification for this to occur. Whereas the 2014 and 2015 iterations of TEDx at Notre Dame did not have this certification, with the help of Innovation Park, the event has obtained this certification for 2018. Notre Dame’s TEDx event will consist of two sessions: one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with eight speakers in each. There will be separate groups of around 300 attendees for each session, Murphy said.

Despite the independence of the event, Murphy said, the TED Organization still gives strict guidelines the event needs to follow.

“One of their requirements is that all of the live presentations are filmed and then posted on their website,” she said. “Everyone who speaks will ultimately be broadcasted to millions of people, the whole following base of the TED Organization, because it goes straight on their YouTube page.”

Murphy said the University administration has also been involved in the planning.

“We’re working very closely with the office of the provost,” she said. “[Executive director of academic communications] Pat Gibbons has been our advisor throughout the whole process and will continue to be until the end. He’s very heavily involved, and as we get closer to the deadline we’ll be pulling in other administrators, even running it by [University President] Fr. [John] Jenkins … [to] get the go-ahead and make sure it represents the University well.”

Encouraging conversations is the overarching goal of the event, O’Connell said, which he hopes will “become a yearly thing.”

“I think we’re trying to encourage the conversation to start, because … it’s just getting someone to start that conversation is the hardest point,” O’Connell said. “Now, giving the students the opportunity to start that conversation through TEDx and through the conversations that follow, I think that’s what we’re hoping for this.”

Murphy added that TEDx has already drawn a lot of interest.

“I think the more people from our campus community who are aware that it’s occurring, I think that’s definitely for the best,” she said. “ … I think one of the nice elements that we’re hoping is successful in the end is drawing together other parts of the Notre Dame family, or community, whatever you want to call it.”

In many ways, the conversation has already begun, O’Connell said.

“People are already talking about it and asking us to get involved,” he said. “We get emails every day about it. So clearly it’s something that’s already starting a conversation people want to be a part of.”

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