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TEDxQueensU brings the spark to campus

Aditya Varambally, Artsci'14, shares a memento of this year's TEDxQueensU event, a lightbulb stress ball representing the theme “The Spark.”

By Andrea Gunn, Alumni Relations

About 200 people spent their Sunday at Theological Hall broadening their horizons as participants in TEDxQueensU. The goal of the one-day event is to be a catalyst for the sharing of creative and profound ideas. TEDxQueensU is a sanctioned offshoot of TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design), a non-profit organization that invites innovative leaders and thinkers to speak at events hosted around the world and online – but each only for 18 minutes – on “an idea worth spreading.”

The theme of this year's TEDxQueensU, the fourth on campus since 2010, was “The Spark.” Each of the speakers presented a short talk on his or her interpretation of that theme. The first speaker was Heidi Mack, a psychotherapist and PhD candidate (Education) who introduced the audience to the concept of the “querencetic life” -- a term she coined to encapsulate the meaning of creating and living one’s life in alignment with one’s inner beliefs and values. (In Spanish, one's querencia is a place from which one draws strength.)

The final speaker of the day was Vincent Sacco, Sociology professor at Queen's, whose talk, “Warning: snake oil may be hazardous to your health,” challenged members in the audience to be aware of pseudo-science and to learn more about evidence-based science and public policy.

In between, speakers talked about a wide range of topics, from disability and ability, dark matter, and the Ontario healthcare system, to the role of humour in education, the future of computers (and how they could be more like books), and the pursuit of the perfect sandwich (and how it led to a new career). The common thread among all speakers was the notion of challenging preconceptions and exploring new ideas. Speakers with spark were Queen's students, alumni, faculty, and others.

Adam Beaudoin, a third-year Queen's student, spoke about his life after a cycling accident caused a serious brain injury and about his own spark, which involved facing serious challenges, and flourishing, not in spite of, but because of them. “Forget success and failure,” said Adam. “Look at everything from a growth perspective.” Rachel Wayne, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology, who is hard-of-hearing, challenged delegates to examine their own discomfort with disability. “Lack of shared knowledge about disability means that the responsibility for advocacy falls on the shoulders of the most vulnerable,” she said. Jon Pharoah (Associate Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering) talked about his work in nature-inspired mechanical engineering and the very real potential to create zero-emission communities.

Throughout the day, delegates were encouraged to keep the spark of the day alive, by exploring ideas, both with speakers and with each other. Delegates tweeting and taking photos also took advantage of the on-site battery-charging station set up by the Charge Centre, the student-run business that evolved from the 2013 Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative.

Aditya Varambally, Artsci'14, and the director of this year's TEDxQueensU event, hopes that delegates left the day engaged, challenged, and inspired by the day's speakers.

“We try and provoke thoughts,” he said. “A delegate who is really engaged will go out and build on ideas, whether it's a collaboration that happens through conversation [at TEDxQueensU] or one that happens post-event, at Queen's or in the Kingston community. They'll become leaders in whatever field they go into, rather than just following in others' footsteps. We also hope that delegates will be truly engaged with one another, and that they see the value in others' ideas.”

In keeping with the philosophy of sharing ideas broadly, the day's talks were livestreamed online by Queen's TV. (They are now available at http://new.livestream.com/tedx/TEDxQueensU2014). The TEDxQueens talks will also be posted on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel. You can learn more about this year's event on the TEDxQueensU website