Sparking Ideas With “Innovation and Tradition”


Some of the world’s greatest innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders have spoken at TED, a nonprofit organization that holds a yearly conference about “ideas worth spreading.” Since its launch in 1984, TED — Technology, Entertainment and Design — has introduced a series of miniature TED events called TEDx. In hopes of inspiring others, organizers all over the globe are hosting TEDx in their communities, including the upcoming TEDxUCSD event.

TEDxUCSD became a possibility when Revelle College senior Jody Mak and Earl Warren College junior Jack Goodwin recruited a team of UCSD undergraduates to help organize the event. 

After a year of planning, TEDxUCSD will finally become a reality for Mak and Goodwin this Saturday, May 11 at the Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall. 

The initial idea for TEDxUCSD took hold last spring when Mak attended TEDMED, a live broadcast TED event in Sorrento Valley. At the event, he had the opportunity to apply in becoming a TEDx organizer. Three weeks later, and after some persistence on Mak’s part to receive approval before the end of spring quarter, TED granted Mak a license to organize TEDxUCSD.

“TED brings global awareness to the amazing things that happen at UCSD, given its universal platform,” Mak said. “More importantly, TED just announced having one billion views online, and I think UCSD should have a presence there.”

Mak noted that TED is unique because anyone can have access to the TED events without actually attending one. For every TED conference, videos of each speaker featured are available on the TED website, so poor college students can afford to be inspired by TED talks as well. However, Mak insisted that attending a TED conference or even a TEDx event is an experience worth paying for. 

By the beginning of summer 2012, Mak had assembled a team of 10 undergraduates devoted to bringing the TED experience to UCSD. He was then contacted by Goodwin, his soon-to-be planning partner, over the summer while he was studying abroad in England. 

In early August, Goodwin attended the National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Alliance training conference in Connecticut, where he was introduced to TED. For the same reasons that motivated Mak to request a TEDx organizer’s license, Goodwin was compelled to organize a TEDx event for UCSD as well.

“After attending the weeklong training conference that inspires innovation and entrepreneurial-ship, I started to research TED and how to organize a TEDx event,” Goodwin said. “I found Jody’s name on one of the websites, and, seeing that he was from UCSD, I Facebook stalked him and eventually sent him a message about doing TEDxUCSD together.”

With Goodwin on board as Mak’s co-director, together they decided the theme for TEDxUCSD,  “Innovation and Tradition.” They both agreed that the theme fits well with UCSD’s values and the research being done on campus.

“All TED themes are supposed to be kind of ambiguous and open to interpretation,” Goodwin said. “So innovation and tradition fits, because it is the spectrum in between. For example, in this changing world, some problems need to be solved through innovation and others through tradition.”

Mak added that the ambiguity of the theme allows them to incorporate a broad range of speakers. All 18 speakers were selected through a nomination process and represent a mix of UCSD Ph.D. students, alumni and faculty from all disciplines. The lineup also extends to Californian and national leaders like Guy Kawasaki, who was the chief evangelist of Apple Inc.

Out of the 70 UCSD student applicants, three Ph.D. students were chosen to speak at TEDxUCSD, representing the cognitive science, biology and electrical engineering departments. 

Although Mak had wanted at least one undergraduate to speak at the event, he highlighted the importance of what each Ph.D. student had to offer in describing his or her line of work and its global impact. 

According to Mak and Goodwin, over 500 people will attend TEDxUCSD. Tickets have already been sold out to both students and the local public. 

“For how big we wanted to go, the hardest thing was to raise enough money,” Goodwin said. “And we have barely been able to meet our goal of $32,000, mostly because we are using Qualcomm as our venue, which has cost us $10,000.”

Unlike TED, TEDx is an “independently organized event” (that’s what the x stands for), meaning the organizer receives no funding from TED. Therefore, the choice of a venue depends largely on the entire event’s budget. 

Mak and Goodwin explained that Qualcomm had actually allowed them to use the space free of charge, but the catch was that Mak and Goodwin would have had to hire 11 Qualcomm employees to run their own equipment. 

As the event date approaches, the main concern is to continue raising money. Some of the sponsors of TEDxUCSD include the UCSD Alumni Association, the UCSD Office of the Chancellor, UCSD Office of Research Affairs and other UCSD associations. Mak also pointedly stated that the event received no funding from A.S. Council throughout the year because TEDxUCSD would be held off campus.

“We didn’t pick Qualcomm on accident,” Mak said. “It was because Irwin Jacobs was one of the founding faculty members of the Jacobs School of Engineering that we wanted to have that connection to UCSD.”

Mak added that he is happier that the event will be held off campus, joking that it’s more novel for students to go off campus and not have to experience TEDxUCSD in Price Center. 

The next step for the TEDxUCSD team is to make its platform as sustainable as possible by recruiting new organizers, especially since Mak will be graduating in June. 

Both Mak and Goodwin hope to speak at a TED event one day, whether it’s at the big TED conferences held in Long Beach, Calif. and Edinburgh, Scotland, or the smaller TEDx events.

“It’d be really cool if we spoke at TEDxUCSD five years down the road,” Mak said. “But, it’s ultimately not about the speakers, it’s about the audience and the conversations that happen after the event. It’s the cross-cultural, cross-generational and cross-disciplinary collaboration that make TED events unique.”

Videos of the speakers at TEDxUCSD will be made available on the TEDx YouTube channel.

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