April 25, 2016, BY Maddie Bertschmann '16

2016 TEDxBucknellUniversity speakers
TEDxBucknellUniversity speakers included alumni Pete Kadens ’00 and Muyambi Muyambi ’12; Carmen Henne-Ochoa, diversity & inclusion fellow; students Anthony Scrima ’18 and Matt Giordano ’17; Professor Kelly Knox, theatre & dance; and Professor Michael Johnson-Cramer, director of the School of Management.

In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. At the second annual TEDxBucknellUniversity event, however, speakers more deeply explored how catalysts can be applied to everything from personal growth to race relations.

TEDx is an opportunity for independent organizers to host their own TED-esque event, based on the Sapling Foundation's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) format of short discussions that prompt deep conversation and connection at the local level, all under the mission of "ideas worth spreading." TEDx was first brought to Bucknell's campus in 2015 — an initiative pioneered by University Innovation Fellows Peter Puleo '17 and Alejandro Ramirez '17. Both remained involved with planning this year's event, while Tom Grigg '16 and Annie Oldakowski '16 took over as head coordinators.  

"I believe the TEDxBucknellUniversity organization has an opportunity to help shape a culture of positive change on campus," said Grigg. "This year's event aimed to present ideas of how individuals, organizations and communities can effect change in a positive way. We chose the theme 'catalysts' as a means of orienting our talks toward this notion of positive change."  

The event took place Sunday, April 10, at the historic Campus Theatre, where speakers included Pete Kadens '00 and Muyambi Muyambi '12; Professor Michael Johnson-Cramer, director of the School of Management; Carmen Henne-Ochoa, diversity & inclusion fellow; Professor Kelly Knox, theatre & dance; and students Anthony Scrima '18 and Matt Giordano '17. They addressed catalysts for change on a wide scale — from individual to societal.  

In his speech titled "From Mainstream to Marijuana," Kadens discussed his decision to pivot his entrepreneurial career from solar energy to legal marijuana for the sake of civil rights. He noted the racial bias evident in marijuana-related incarcerations, citing statistics that African-Americans are four times as likely to be incarcerated for these crimes as whites, despite both races using marijuana in approximately equal proportions. By making this career transition, Kadens strives to catalyze social justice and economic change.

Knox incorporated a performance into her session to demonstrate how dance is a catalyst. Five students from her Introduction to Modern Dance class formulated a dance on the spot based on a set of five criteria.    

"They learn to put their bodies in the space between their bodies, and they learn to synchronize their timing so that they can be together," said Knox. "They are practicing real-time problem-solving as they make these dances. It's a beautiful balance between thoughtfulness and action. They've created for themselves this compassionate and empathetic community, and they're engaged. Imagine what would happen if we could all have an environment like that."  

Giordano, environmental engineering, spoke about the power of body language. After struggling with his self-confidence for years, he decided to make a change in himself by researching how to appear confident. He found that 70 percent of the way we communicate is nonverbal, and that by adjusting your posture, speech pattern and eye movement — "the Big Three," as he refers to them — people will perceive you in a different way.   "You can be the kind of person who mesmerizes people, intrigues them during conversation and radiates confidence — just by the way that you present yourself," Giordano told the audience. His presentation was a case in point.  

"In 2015, the first TEDxBucknellUniversity event formed a foundation for ordinary Bucknellians to share extraordinary stories," said Puleo, mechanical engineering. "This year, that legacy evolved far more than I could have imagined as leaders within the Bucknell community dared to break conventional roles, introduce controversy and truly challenge us to catalyze change within our own communities."  

"The energy from the audience and the speakers was incredible," said Oldakowski, psychology and Italian studies. "I can proudly say without doubt that it was the coolest project I worked on during my time at Bucknell, and the one of which I am most proud."  

Maddie Bertschmann '16 is a 2015-16 undergraduate executive intern in Bucknell's Division of Communications.