TEDxCWRU 2021 sparks conversations on what we can all do for change


Courtesy of tedxcwru.com

TEDx comes back to CWRU to discuss how small actions can result in big changes.

Shreyas Banerjee, A&E Editor

On March 27, TEDxCWRU held its fifth annual event. An independent, self-organized version of the famous TED conferences, which are committed to “ideas worth spreading,” TEDxCWRU allows students to come together and spark discussion.

This year, of course, deviated greatly from the typical talks, with the event moving to an entirely digital format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After ten months of planning and a delay from the typical November date, TEDxCWRU 2021 finally came to fruition with a theme of “The Butterfly Effect.” With this theme, the event promoted how small changes can go a long way.

“We always want our students to find some ‘ideas worth spreading’ in our talks … This year we wanted each talk to focus on easily doable action items that can act as a first step towards large change,” third-year biology major Shruti Narayan, who was the curator of the event, remarked. “Unlike with many TEDx talks, we wanted the audience to leave knowing that they, themselves, are capable of making a difference through simple steps.”

This theme was best exemplified in the speakers and topics chosen. With second-year computer science major Vishnu Polkampally starting off the event with a talk on sustainable drug prices, each talk continued the idea of taking small steps towards large goals. Other speakers included Sejal Thakkar, founder and chief civility officer of workplace consulting group TrainXtra, who spoke on changing workplace culture, Michelle Smith, a mental health counselor who spoke on recovering from alcohol addiction, and Vivian Glyck, the founder of the Just Like My Child Foundation, which focuses on increasing acceptance of human rights around the world, particularly in the area of female education.

Of the ten speakers, two were students, opening and closing the event. TEDxCWRU has many applicants, but just because someone isn’t chosen doesn’t mean that they weren’t good talks. Second-year computer science student and TEDxCWRU Head of Public Relations Sanhita Kumari explained: “A lot of times student speakers are rejected simply because their talk does not fit into our event theme. These are the speakers we hope to see reapply the following year. The application pool for students is separate, so students need not worry about competing with seasoned professionals. Instead, they can just enjoy the excitement of the application process.”

The transition to a digital event came with its pros and cons. Kumari explained: “A lot of changes had to do with the logistics of the event. Since in-person attendance was not an option, we decided to host it online through a Zoom meeting.” Various options were considered, including a livestream, posting a YouTube video or having the TEDx team film the videos of the speakers themselves. “In the end, it was decided that the speakers could shoot their videos in a casual background at home, keeping it safe,” Kumari concluded.

Due to the digital nature of the event, a lot of traditional aspects were omitted, from the stage design to the interaction and networking that usually happen. 

“On the other hand,” Narayan countered, “What we did get to do was provide free access to our event to everyone, no matter where they lived! That was the beauty of an online event: connecting people around the world, not just those who could make it to Cleveland.”

In the end, TEDxCWRU is meant to provide intellectual stimulation to the student body and give them a space to talk about topics they believe in while training them for public speaking. All those aspects were retained in this year’s online format.

“We learned that sometimes you have to go the extra mile to make an event you are proud of,” Narayan said. “Sometimes that means putting in a lot of effort and not getting recognition for it, sometimes it means people assuming your job is easier than it is. But it’s all worth it when you see it all come together.”

Videos of the talks will be available at https://www.tedxcwru.com.