Student Post By: Michael R.
There are people running back and forth walkie-talkies in hand, pages for people left and right. Tons of posters line the table to my right, bananas and coffee being handed out to everyone for the morning pick-me-up. Walking through the area there are lights lining the stage, sound equipment with tons of technicians working them. To my right stands: Dean Kamen, the creator of F.I.R.S.T. Robotics; Yuri Lane, a beat boxer and dancer who earned his fame from homemade YouTube videos; and then I sit down next to…Wes Craven?!? What do these famous group of people, and myself, have in common? Well, the TEDx Youth @ Midwest conference, that’s what.
On Saturday, October 15, 2011, I was invited with nine other students and staff members to the TEDx Youth @ Midwest conference at the Oriental Theater in downtown Chicago. TEDx is a branch from the TED (Technology, Education, Design) conference. TEDx conferences are organized everywhere from California all the way to places like Russia and Australia. The TEDx Youth @ Midwest conference is a non-profit event that is independently organized that shares TED-like experiences to high school students and educators throughout Chicago.
The six and a half-hour conference, with two 30-minute breaks which gave us time to stretch and mingle, was filled with tons of different talks and speakers about their experiences in the TED world. Some of the speakers included Dean Kamen, who is the F.I.R.S.T. (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics creator as well as the inventor of the Segway; Wes Craven, the godfather of horror whose movies include Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream trilogy, and Project Exploration’s very own Dr. Paul Sereno, one of the world’s most renowned paleontologist who discovered the dinosaur Nigersaurus in Niger, Africa.
I was lucky enough to be able to work backstage at the event where I was Gabrielle Lyon’s right-hand man; well I guess I would be considered her left-hand man since I’m left handed. The conference was located in downtown Chicago’s beautiful Oriental Theater. Being on the stage where some of the best plays and musicals, like Wicked and Chicago, have taken place and seeing how all of it runs was a dream come true. Behind the scenes I got to view the first part of the conference from the wings of the stage. The speakers spoke about their jobs and some of the different aspects that come with having this job. Wes Craven talked about how he is scared of cats and that “being scared is part of the story.” The students and educators at the event were also reminded that “teachers are a big part, [and that] none of you would be here without your teachers.”
Throughout the event emcee, Brian Babylon, and DJ Niena Drake, got the crowd hyped up by playing music and having everyone get up and dance to make sure that the energy stayed up. We also got breaks for lunch and everyone got to go across the street into the Block 37 Mall and network with each other and the speakers of the event.
After lunch, and getting some awesome pictures and autographs from the speakers, the second half of the event I watched from the audience view. The second part included more speakers like Sandra Day O’Connor, who talked about her life from being a small farm girl to becoming the first female member of the U.S. Supreme Court. She also talked about how people need to “learn to disagree, agreeably” because most situations people can’t agree and things take a turn for the worse. Another speaker was Phil Zimbardo, a renowned psychologist from Stanford University who had the entire PE family conducting his experiment about not conforming. The experiment asked for us to draw a dot somewhere on our forehead and see how long we can resist not wiping it off when people asked us to. The day was almost over even though it felt like it had just begun.
After another short break, where snacks were provided to keep us audience members awake and energetic, emcee Brian and DJ Niena Drake once again got us up and moving with more music and even a dance battle between the sections of the audience. The last session was starting and some of the speakers included the salsa dancing computer hacker, Pablos Holman. Pablos talked about how easy it is for hackers, like him, to crack computer system codes and change up how computers find and filter information. He also showed the audience how he created a new defense mechanism for killing off mosquitoes with lasers so that no mosquito could enter the area around a house where they are hosts for malaria, like places in Africa. We also got a comedy filled talk from *Ecko Unltd founder and creator Marc Ecko. He told us about how he came from a kind of awkward kid in high school, to making t-shirts for his friends in his garage, to being a successful clothing and video game designer. Marc Ecko told us how “school comes to you” because everywhere you go and everything that you do in life is a learning experience, which is what school is here for, to give us students a place to learn and experience new things.
Finally, during this last session, PE’s own Dr. Paul Sereno came on stage. Our section of the crowd went crazy, screaming and cheering Paul the moment he came on stage. Paul gave the audience his view on science and where he had come from in his life. He never believed that he was born to be a scientist; he considered being an artist because it was something that he loved at the time. But soon he found his love for science saying that “some of life’s best discoveries come when you least expect it,” which is what happened to Paul and science. From here he talked about how he has gone and excavated dinosaur fossils all over the world from Africa to Montana. He explained how science and paleontology is science with a purpose, which you go out and try to find these fossils and bones and often times not finding anything or finding the world’s next big discovery. Paul went on to explain how he and his wife, Gabe Lyon, went on to find and create Project Exploration. I compare Paul to a modern John Dewey. He wants students to have a hands-on experience with science and for us to be more interested in science because all students do not all learn the same way. Project Exploration implements this idea with all of their programs that they have for us students.
The day was a huge success for everyone who was able to come out and participate. At the end the event they had drawstring bags for us that contained a couple of books and we also got free t-shirts, as well as free Ecko hats and skull caps from Marc Ecko. TEDx Youth @ Midwest gave students and educators a place outside the classroom setting where we could all connect and get to know each other and hear people’s stories on a different level. This event really helped everyone in finding out what they want to do and how we should go about looking at things within our life. I can’t wait for next year’s TEDx event and thanks Project Exploration for taking us students to have this experience.