TEDx Conference at Pomona’s Seaver Theatre

Since 1984 TED has brought world-famous speakers, thinkers, scientists, and artists to speak before crowds around the world. Now, students and faculty at the 5Cs will converge on Pomona’s Seaver Theatre to attend TEDxClaremontColleges, the Consortium’s first foray into the platform designed to promote “ideas worth spreading.”

Jason Soll CMC ’12, the driving force behind Friday’s conference, first thought to bring the medium to the Claremont Colleges after being invited to TEDGlobal 2009 at Oxford University, where he spoke about and performed a favorite pastime of his, card flourishing. TED, which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” was founded 27 years ago but has only recently begun issuing licenses to third parties seeking to host their own conferences under the TED brand. The conferences are most famous for their “TED Talks,” where renowned speakers from all disciplines share their ideas and passions.

But after experiencing a TED conference for himself, Soll said he realized “there was a lot more behind TED than just the talks.” Soll said he thought the atmosphere of collaborative learning suited the 5Cs perfectly.

“TED is so interdisciplinary in its nature,” he said. “It’s all about bringing together members of different intellectual groups. You have that diversity of ideas and personalities and backgrounds and cultures…. The Claremont Colleges [are] the perfect fit…The diversity of focus within [them] is amazing.”

The conference will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the video presentation of two talks from previous TED conferences delivered by Eli Pariser and Deb Roy, who spoke about Internet “filter bubbles” and language development, respectively.

The first live speaker, Gordon Zacks, served as an advisor to President George H.W. Bush and will speak about the notion of leadership. Immediately afterwards, Harvey Mudd professor Karl Haushalter, notable for his efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, will challenge conventional philosophies behind curing disease. The third speaker, Allen Proctor, who has overseen budgeting in the state of New York and served as Chief Financial Officer of Harvard University, his talk will focus on his passion—nonprofit organizations.

Following the speakers, proctor, Paul Zak, founder of the discipline of neuroeconomics, will be interviewed by a conference curator. Next, the founder of agricultural initiatives Farmscape and Agrisaurus, Jesse DuBois, will discuss the role of gardening in daily life. Finally, Grammy-winning composer Mateo Messina, whose music was most famously featured in Juno and NBC’s “The Office,” will reflect on his path to success.

Soll and the other coordinators of the conference recruited these six speakers through preexisting connections as well as a search for visionaries making inroads in Southern California. The session adjourns at 10:30 p.m., but attendees will be invited to stay in the theatre courtyard late into the night to discuss ideas and interact.

The principal benefactors behind TEDxClaremontColleges are Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) development office, the Claremont University Consortium (CUC), the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance at CMC, and Harvey Mudd professor Arthur Benjamin. Soll emphasized, however, that he and his fellow organizers have “managed to keep the cost very low,” and that he hopes next year’s conference will garner “financial support from all 5Cs as the event scales up in both magnitude and size.”

Some students complained that the screening process for potential attendees was too selective because a mere 300 people were chosen from the countless solicited applications. Soll declined to specify the number of people who vied for seats, but noted that the conference “sold out with an amazing group of applicants within a number of days.”

Soll justified the selectivity of the conference by explaining that, when he attended the Oxford TED Conference, “the attendees [were] just as interesting as the speakers,” and that “it [would create] a much better environment for the conference itself.” The 300 people chosen to attend TEDxClaremontColleges will be able to do so free of charge, as opposed to paying the typical $6,000 price for tickets to official TED conferences.

Many students have raised eyebrows at the lack of women or minorities on the list of speakers. Soll expressed this as a regret and explained that two female speakers initially on the roster withdrew at the last minute.

“This year is not going to [have] a perfect execution of the event,” Soll said. “This is just to lay the foundation. Next year, I really want half or more than half of the speakers to be women….[and] we should have a student from every college and a professor from every college giving a talk.”

“This is an incredible opportunity for the colleges to market themselves,” he added.

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