April 24, 2015, BY Matt Hughes

Speakers at the inaugural TEDxBucknellUniversity event explored the many opportunities presented by the concept of the crossroads, but also recognized that a crossroads can be a scary place, defined by uncertainty.

In a set of deeply personal reflections, Professor Carmen Gillespie, English, recounted a series of crossroads that have interrupted her life, including a near miss driving her car through an intersection and facing her late husband's diagnosis with kidney cancer.

"All of us have a story, and that story will be interrupted by an event that will change it," said Gillespie, director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies. For Gillespie, those interruptions were marked by fear, paradox, mystery and choice, and tested her resolve before finally teaching her that "love, joy, art and hope, what Emily Dickinson called 'the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,' can survive the crossroads.

"There is a space in the middle of the crossroads that must be followed by the catch of breath," Gillespie said. "In those moments, tenacity and imagination teach us all who we are and who we might become."

Students performed Contact, a short play about racial identity and collaboration, at TEDxBucknellUniversity.

At the TEDx event held March 28 in the Elaine Langone Center, Bucknell students, faculty and alumni examined the many ways a crossroads can teach us "who we might become."

TEDx events are independently organized forums using the Sapling Foundation's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) format of short discussions that prompt deep conversation and connection at the local level. TEDxBucknellUniversity was supported by the College of Engineering and organized by Peter Puleo '16, Alejandro Ramirez '16, Emma Rieser '17, Dean of the College of Engineering Keith Buffinton and Associate Dean of Students Amy Badal.

Puleo and Ramirez, both University Innovation Fellows, said they first proposed bringing TEDx to Bucknell as a way of harnessing the creative potential on campus to increase awareness of the value of innovation and entrepreneurship.

"TEDxBucknellUniversity is an opportunity for the Bucknell community to explore thought-provoking, personal and possibly controversial ideas in the hopes of bringing people together and allowing them to bring bold ideas to life," Ramirez said.

The event incorporated not only individual presenters addressing the crossroads theme, but also a short play and video presentations, including a screening of the talk  Jessica Jackley '00, founder of nonprofit micro-lender Kiva, gave at TEDGlobal 2010 in Oxford, England.

Professor Joseph Tranquillo used students to draw a visual metaphor.

Professor Joseph Tranquillo, biomedical engineering, brought 15 students to the front of the auditorium to illustrate how molecules behave in gaseous and crystal states, providing a visual metaphor for the theme of his talk on how engineers can "dance on the sculpture" of their discipline.

"I want my engineering students to know about the 'sculpture' of engineering: what concepts are connected to what other concepts," Tranquillo said. "But I also want them to be able to dance on that sculpture too, to do something in a new way."

Tranquillo said that the great challenges of today — poverty, clean water, energy, health care — require solutions born at the crossroads of disciplines, by those who "have found a way to build a new sculpture in the interstitial spaces between disciplines."

Jane Maas ’53

Jane Maas '53, a retired advertising executive and author of Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond, shared insights from some of the extraordinary individuals with whom she's crossed paths, including ad mogul David Ogilvy, former Bucknell President Gary Sojka and novelist Philip Roth '54. Maas said she interviewed them and 47 others in order to answer the question: "Can you jump-start creativity?" The answer she found was that you sometimes can, but not without first doing your homework, making the right connections and finally putting in the required hard work.

"Put your head down and do it," Maas said. "From the time he started writing until he stopped writing two years ago at the age of 80, every day of his life [Philip Roth] would get up, have breakfast and go stand at his writing desk and work and write until four in the afternoon. And some days, he said, he would salvage a whole sentence — some days a word, some days a phrase, and some days nothing."

Other presentations included Chris Dunne's '15 explanation of how his semester abroad in Santiago, Chile, gave him a practical lesson in broadening his perspective, and the play Contact, a rumination on race and collaboration devised and performed by 10 student cast members and directed by Gregory Wolf '17.

"If you go into an experience open, curious, bold and committed you can gain an entire new perspective on life," Dunne said.

Puleo said the event was inspiring, and he hopes to bring it back next year.

"We look forward to building a meaningful, sustainable event that will continue to expand and help inspire a community of interdisciplinary thinkers that will make a lasting impact on our world," Puleo said.