Campus & Community / Magazine

TEDxDU spotlights radical collaboration

Students and others watched the sold-out TEDxDU event at TEDxDU Active, a satellite viewing event in the Driscoll Ballroom. Photo: Justin Edmonds

A paralyzed woman walked across the stage, a pair of poets rapped about making their voices heard, and four masked men created a world of sound on an enormous marimba.

As emcee Hilary Blair said, “It’s a very TEDxDU kind of day.”

Scientists, inventors, spiritual leaders, students and teachers dazzled the crowd May 13 at the second annual TEDxDU, a celebration of “ideas worth spreading.” Underscoring the theme of “Radical Collaboration,” speaker after speaker took the stage at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts and detailed their own accomplishments and the teamwork necessary to achieve them.

Ramona Pierson had the crowd holding its collective breath as she described going for a run, getting hit by a car and waking from a coma 18 months later. After 50-some surgeries, the hospital was out of options and sent her to a senior center in Denver.

“The senior citizens held an emergency meeting,” Pierson said. “They asked each other, ‘What skills do we have? This kid needs a lot of work.’”

The seniors taught her to speak (and curse), walk with a cane and generally get on with life. “It was people working with people to rebuild me,” Pierson said. “People working with people to re-educate me.”

Now a successful entrepreneur and inventor, Pierson is developing new education approaches focused on differentiated and personalized instruction. She’s working with DU’s Morgridge College of Education to develop an “educational ecosystem” that applies an algorithm to match individual learning needs and instructional materials in real time in a technology-rich environment.

DU student Andrew Steward earned a tearful standing ovation when he related his journey out of mental illness and implored people to have compassion.

“When someone breaks an arm, we write all over the cast. When someone has a mental problem, we run the other way. Why is that?” he asked the audience.

Steward said he wanted to bring the issue of mental illness into the light. “If you’re out there and you’re going through what I went through,” he said, “you are not alone.”

Science took center stage when DU roboticist Richard Voyles shared his vision of robots of the future, which he said will come in the form of structural computational polymers — “smart rubber and thinking gel.”

Biology Assistant Professor Todd Blankenship explained how cells collaborate, lining up in the correct places to turn a basic round cell into a form as simple as a fruit fly or as complex as a human.

Amanda Boxtel, a former ballet dancer and skier who suffered a spinal cord injury 19 years ago and hasn’t walked since, walked on stage wearing bionic eLegs designed by fellow TEDxDU speaker Eythor Bender.

Amputee Lacey Henderson, a DU cheerleader, told of the doctors, prosthetists, friends and family who made her active life possible on one leg. “I am radical collaboration,” she said.

Based on the global TED conferences — the acronym stands for technology, entertainment and design — TEDxDU is an independently organized event licensed by TED.


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