It was five hours of new ideas and pushing envelopes at the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Library Friday, as TEDxUGA hosted its inaugural conference.
The speakers were drawn from UGA students, faculty and alumni who talked about new ideas ranging from off-shore farming to the rhetoric of social truths.
Mark Anthony Thomas, who graduated from UGA in 2001, was the first African-American editor-in-chief for The Red & Black. He is now the director and publisher of City Limits, a civic investigative journalism organization in New York City.
Thomas said media have undergone dramatic changes in the past 10 years – staff numbers are the lowest they’ve been in 35 years, which means less coverage in small communities.
He also said that only one in five eligible voters do go out and cast ballots.
“I truly believe that media, which enables us to be an informed democracy, creates stronger citizen engagement which improves our overall democracy,” Thomas said.
He said he couldn’t say no to coming back to Athens when he heard from TEDxUGA.
“We’re in the middle of a transition, so we’re really busy, but I couldn’t miss a TED Talk,” he said.
Other speakers included Susan Fonseca, a 1996 graduate who is now the Founding Architect for Singularity University and the founder of Women@TheFrontier – a series of forums featuring female leaders.
Her presentation focused on the “silent roar of female game-changers” and making sure there is always a female voice “at the table.” She pointed out that while women are 50 percent of the population – and 58 percent at UGA – they are rarely politicians, CEOs or presidents.
“Why are we not 50 percent of the conversation?” she said.
She said her organization is dedicated to identifying female game changers such as Nichelle Nichols, who played Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series who had the first interracial kiss on television with William Shatner.
“These women didn’t wait for a place at the table, they build their own table,” Fonseca said. “Perhaps it’s time to consider if the voices at the table actually represent the collective us. Imagine what we’re missing out on – in imagination, creativity, ingenuity, potential opportunity – when half of us are not part of the conversation.”
TEDxUGA’s parent organization TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – started in 1984 to promote ideas worth spreading. There are two annual conferences every year in Edinburgh, Scotland and on the West Coast. TEDxevents are independently organized, local talks approved to use the brand by TED.
Scott Shamp, the director of the New Media Institute and TEDxUGA’s faculty adviser, said the event went even better than he expected – his only problem was that he got so involved in the talks, when he need to keep track of times and handing off microphones.
“I’ve never done anything at UGA that got students as excited as we were able to do with TEDxUGA,” Shamp said. “And what amazed me was how many of these students put in volunteer time and came up with the ideas and went above and beyond the call of duty every time to make it happen.