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May 27, 2013

Theory in Action at UChicago

By Akshay Sharma '13 and Anadi Misra '14  |  may, 2013, Issue 2
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Presenters at this year's TEDxUChicago Talks.


TEDxUChicago brought the TED-style talks back to UChicago for the third year in a row. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and the conference brings together successful people to give 15 to 18 minute talks about their life's work. This year's theme was Theory in Action, and had 11 speakers in the domains of Culture, Story Telling and Innovation.

The theme for the morning session was Society, kick-started by a rousing talk from Dr. Eli Finkel, a Professor of Psychology at the Northwestern University. Dr. Finkel shared his findings about romantic attraction and conflict resolution, giving the young audience a tool-kit of how to spend 20 minutes every year to build a better marriage. Audience reactions indicated that this talk was one of the highlights of the event, and among the most talked about during the breakout sessions. Next to follow was Thea Klein-Mayer, who narrated inspirational stories that drew upon her past experiences to aid the success of today's student innovators and their insightful solutions as a Design for America fellow. Robert Lipman, a chef and a first year student at UChicago, followed Klein-Mayer, and discussed his experiences related to creating The Hearth, an underground restaurant at UChicago that unites 12 people from all corners of the campus over an elaborate four-course dinner. Through this unique concept, The Hearth also provides an opportunity for students and professors to gather together for lively conversations once every month.

The Storytelling theme started off with Dr. Bryan Pardo, an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University, who talked about his research as the head of the Northwestern University Interactive Lab. Next was Dr. Jo Tyler, an Associate Professor at Penn State University, who emphasized how stories have a life of their own. According to Dr. Tyler, to tell a story, you have to connect to it and live as part of the story. Like a caged lion loses its "lion-ness," a rehearsed story told without any emotional connect fails to convince the listener.

Kambale Musavuli, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a human rights activist, drew the audience's attention towards the plight of Congolese civil society due to prolonged military conflicts and social turmoil. It was surprising to learn that the Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, and its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$ 24 trillion, which also motivates the ongoing political strife. He emphasized how several million Congo natives have lost their lives in a ruthless political struggle and why peace and stability in Congo, a key African nation, is critical for the growth of the African continent and the growth of the world economy. Next up were Daniel Simkin and Ethan Waserman, who talked about Daniel's personal struggle with cancer and how their non-profit is assisting cancer patients with their challenges.

During a brief break after these conversations our very own Kate Hui '14 and Linnea Meyer '14 conducted an improv workshop in the McCormick lounge while the rest of the audience was entertained by a performance from Chicago's Men's A Capella group.

The final session of the day focused on Innovation. Jessica Ladd, founder of Sexual Health Innovations (SHI), shared her very personal story about a sexual assault at the tender age of 16 and how that incident motivated her to dedicate her future to improving sexual health. One of the very first projects of SHI was to develop a website which allows user to notify their partners if they have been diagnosed with an STD in a safe and secure manner. Her message was to encourage the audience to find something they were passionate about, to take action and to find meaning in their own lives. Next was Sue Khim, co-founder of and, who discussed the large need and opportunity to change the educational delivery system so that education can be customized according to the needs of each individual. She stressed the idea that students need a better way to identify their strengths and have better access to knowledge and training. She's working on an online tool to provide this.

Rishad Tobaccowala '82, an active contributor at Booth and in the entrepreneurial landscape in the City of Chicago, delivered the closing keynote. Rishad explained how the evolving future of the world can be seen through three metrics: 1) Demographics – the changing balance in the distribution of young population in the world from developed countries to developing countries, 2) Globalization – the world economies are converging and resource sharing is becoming global and 3) Digitization – the world has been exponentially moving towards a digital age which is changing the entire business paradigm. He dug into his experience of leading transformation at his own company, and had three key takeaways for his audience to go about building a career in the digital age: be active online (e.g., blog) because Google is becoming your default resume, do something new every day to get new ideas and find a job that you enjoy because you will end up spending way too much time there.

Visit to view video of the talks.

Last Updated 5/28/13
Last Updated 5/28/13