TEDxBerkeley 2013 explores themes of innovation

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Michael Ball/Staff

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While the UC Berkeley campus experienced the excitement of Cal Day, students in Zellerbach Hall participated in the annual TEDxBerkeley conference, designed to spark dialogue over issues ranging from the consumption of organic food to the push toward online education.

The event, independently organized by the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholars Association, was created in the spirit of the widely popular TED conference, an annual event that brings the world’s leading thinkers together to share their passions with the public.

The seven-hour conference explored the theme of “Catalyzing Change” through three 90-minute sessions: “Dream,” “Create” and “Impact.” Each session had four to five speakers and began with an entertainment component that eased the audience into the atmosphere of each theme.

The “Dream” session started with a performance from the campus’s California Golden Overtones, an all-female student-run a cappella group.

Notable speakers during the “Dream” session were Kim Polese, chair of social finance startup ClearStreet Inc., and Erica Wides, the host and co-creator of a popular Heritage Radio Network cooking show.

Polese spoke about the movement to develop online education programs in an effort to make courses more readily available to students and to cut the cost of education. She called for “a revolution in teaching” and said she believes that online classes are a step in the right direction.

Wides, deploying wit and humor, livened up the crowd with her discussion of the organic food movement and the dangers of “foodiness.” She urged the crowd to live a foodiness-free lifestyle.

“Eat chickens, not chicken fingers,” she said. “Don’t drink from a bottle unless it’s alcohol, and eat fruit, not fruit bars.”

The other speakers for the “Dream” session included Eden Full, founder of Roseicollis Technologies Inc.; Curt Tofteland, founder of the Shakespeare Behind Bars program; and Robert Neuwirth, the author of two books on alternative social and economic structures.

Following the “Dream” session was a 90-minute lunch break, during which students could engage with other students and even the speakers about the ideas presented earlier. Outside Zellerbach Hall stood a mural called “Before I Die … ” that was composed of panels of black chalkboard, on which students could write down the things they want to accomplish in their lifetimes.

The mural, which attracted a lot of attention from the crowd, displayed actions such as “save a life” and “make my parents proud.”

The “Create” session followed the lunch recess and began with a performance by famed Emmy-winning flamenco dancer Yaelisa.

Highlights from this session included author of “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain” and UC Berkeley alumna Louann Brizendine. Brizendine won the attention of the crowd with her animated PowerPoint slides and humor, impressing upon the audience that the brain is not unisex.

Dan Millman, author of “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” spoke about a more internal change, addressing how to adapt to change and handle obstacles individually rather than as a bulk of blockages. He said that adversity and stress are sources of wisdom and compassion and that there are “hidden gifts depending on how we respond.”

“Life comes to us in waves and change,” Millman said. “We can’t predict what controls those waves, but we can learn to be a better surfer. We can always handle this moment, and the quality of this moment is the quality of our lives.”

Ananya Roy, a professor of city and regional planning and founder of the global poverty and practice minor at UC Berkeley, concluded the “Create” session with her piece entitled “(Un)knowing Poverty,” disputing the common yet inaccurate notion people have of poverty. Her work addressed the question, “Why do we see the dependent in this way, and why is our own dependency so unknown to us?”

She also addressed what she believed to be a common hole in the motives of many philanthropists who are empathetic to those suffering in developing countries yet “squirm with their encounters with the homeless panhandler of Berkeley.”

The final session, “Impact,” opened with a performance by famed Bay Area pianist Victoria Theodore.

This session featured Alex Filippenko, esteemed campus professor, speaking about the expansion of galaxies as a colossal change catalyzed by dark energy. He explained how, in tracking the galaxies moving away from Earth, one can see a change in patterns in the light of stars moving away.

The event also included 3-D robotics founder Chris Anderson, professor Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, futurist and author Cecily Sommers and media entrepreneur Mallika Chopra, and it concluded with a performance from Ambience, a student-run group that puts on glove lightshows.

Contact Virgie Hoban and Pooja Mhatre at [email protected].

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