Photographed by Abhijit Srirangam
TEDx club hosts first annual conference
“People look at high school kids and think they don’t care about learning, but it’s just the opposite...We just don’t give them the kinds of things they want to learn.” Chris Holmes, veteran teacher at Hazelwood West High School
March 7, 2018
Ever since he was young, Vinai Kumar, senior, has spent car rides listening to TED talks rather than watching television. He has always had a dream of one day being a part of a conference either as a speaker or an organizer.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, this dream came true. Kumar organized the first annual TEDxMarquetteHighSchool conference with Akash Sarkar, senior, and other members of the TEDx club.
Kumar said TED conferences focus on giving people a space to share ideas to inform and inspire.
“I really wanted to bring the conference to a community like Marquette because I just think there are so many people here who are interested in learning and would just be so receptive to this sort of thing,” Kumar said. “I saw a great opportunity and an even better audience.”
The event consisted of eight different speakers, most of whom Kumar and Sarkar were personally familiar with. They spoke about a wide variety of topics including STEM education and research, the socioeconomic divide in St. Louis and preservation of the arts.
Chris Holmes, a veteran teacher at Hazelwood West High School, spoke at the conference about reforming the current education system.
Holmes said the main message of his speech was the necessity to rethink the classes currently required for graduation in high school.
“The classes we have are outdated and they don’t pertain to the changes in the world for a teenager that have happened in the past twenty years,” Holmes said. “They don’t take into consideration what teenagers need psychologically, emotionally and frankly what their brains need.”
Holmes said every school should have a TEDx conference because it’s the essence of his message. It gives students the opportunity to think about things deeply and to have a dialogue.
“People look at high school kids and think they don’t care about learning, but it’s just the opposite,” Holmes said. “They crave learning. We just don’t give them the kinds of things they want to learn.”
Aarushi Boinepally, freshman, said the conference was a great way to expose students to issues in the world today, and the more people who experience it, the greater impact it has.
Boinepally said her biggest takeaway was hearing about the achievement gap from speaker Gina Watkins, guidance counselor at Crossroads College Preparatory School. Watkins spoke on bridging the socioeconomic divide in St. Louis.
“I think it’s so important for everyone to have an equal opportunity to succeed,” Boinepally said. “The achievement gap was something I didn’t know about and now is something I will definitely think about.”
In the future, Boinepally said the conference would be even more meaningful if students could choose the topics that are discussed.
“I think hearing about things you really love and are interested in is such a powerful thing,” she said.
Kumar said he hopes the conference not only leads to more conferences among high school students, but also a change in mentality. The conference had a limit of 100 people in attendance, which filled up rapidly.
“We want people to find what their passion is and what captivated them and run with it,” Kumar said. “We want people to run with their ideas and understand other perspectives.”
However, Kumar said putting the conference together was a lot of late nights and hard work. While most people have six to eight months to put on a conference, he and Sarkar only had three to four.
The process began with a TED application that, after multiple revisions, was finally approved. It then became a lot of event planning such as choosing speakers, planning the schedule, reserving the Theatre and arranging for audio and visuals.
“It took a lot of work, but it definitely came into fruition, so I’m really happy with it,” Kumar said.
Nicole Scherder, TEDx sponsor, said one of the most challenging aspects of organizing the event was technology related tasks that needed to be handled.
“There’s a lot more behind the scenes than I ever even realized,” she said.