TEDxPSU celebrates five years of delivering ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’

Bill Zimmerman
January 22, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Last year, TEDxPSU speakers told attendees to “Go Further.” Now in its fifth year, TEDxPSU is doing just that -- progressing with the most high-profile speaker lineup yet, a revamped format and a new stage setup.

The theme of the March 1 event is “Push to Start” and 16 speakers, including Penn State football coach James Franklin, Penn State biologist David Hughes and ESPN analyst Jemele Hill, will deliver calls to action, in keeping with the TED mission of promoting “Ideas Worth Spreading.” (A complete list of speakers is available at https://www.facebook.com/TEDxPSU.)

The student-organized event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Schwab Auditorium on the University Park campus of Penn State. Registration has expired for free general admission tickets, however ticket packages remain at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tedxpsu-2015-push-to-start-tickets-11594187527. TEDxPSU also will be live-streamed on YouTube, shown on campus cable TV and aired in the HUB-Robeson Center.

“This is part of our identity as a university,” said TEDxPSU curator Ebony Turner, a senior journalism and political science major from Laurel, Maryland. “This is equivalent to a football game. This is a part of what Penn State is all about.”

TEDx events are local versions of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences that have spawned numerous notable talks, some viewed millions of times online.

One of the founding members of TEDxPSU, Herbert Reininger, said Penn State has produced a quality product since the first event in 2010. The proof, he said, is TEDxPSU’s rising profile on campus, the dozen or so watch parties organized nationwide and the handful of Penn State talks featured on TED.com. (Penn State sociologist Sam Richards delivered a talk in 2010, garnering nearly 1.2 million views online. The fact that TEDxPSU is presented annually by a new team of student organizers makes it more impressive, he said.

In 2013, Reininger, director of creative services for Penn State Outreach and Online Education, gave his talk, “Water is One," a deeply personal account of finding inner peace through meditation.  

“At the end of the day you should walk away inspired and then go and do some cool stuff with it -- not just be inspired and move on but do something with it,” he said. “Ideas to action is really at the core of our motivation.”

Chad Littlefield speaking at TEDxPSU

Chad Littlefield, who spoke in 2013, called TED events a "marketplace for ideas that really can impact people."


Chad Littlefield delivered a TEDx talk, “Positive Social Risks,” in 2013. Now a graduate student in learning, design and technology, Littlefield is one of the few undergrads who spoke at TEDxPSU.

“It was incredibly rewarding to listen to people share what it brought up for them,” he said. “In particular, one student who came up to me shared his struggle with social anxiety and offered that my talk really inspired him and shifted his perspective.

“The fact that he took the social risk of even coming up to me was immediate evidence that the words spoken at TEDx change peoples' lives in one way or another.”

Susan Russell speaking at TEDxPSU 2014

Susan Russell spoke at TEDxPSU 2014 around the time she was named Penn State Laureate for 2014-15.


Associate professor of theater Susan Russell said TEDx has the potential to transform and unify an audience. She delivered her talk, “Dancing with Chaos,” in 2014, around the time she was named Penn State Laureate for 2014-15. “Chaos” urges living in the moment to “simplify, clarify and focus.”

“Having the privilege of speaking comes with the responsibility of making your ideas something anyone can understand and practice,” she said. “Turning concepts and principles into strategies and actions creates change, and change is what human beings do. We change our hair, our relationships and our cultures, and all of this begins by changing our mind. The TED events offer opportunities to test out changes by talking about new ideas.”

This year’s TEDxPSU has been streamlined with fewer breaks and fewer videos of classic TED talks interspersed among the live talks, resulting in an event 90 minutes shorter than last year. The stage has been redesigned as well.

TEDxPSU is one of several events aligned with the inaugural Thaw Festival, running from Feb. 25 to March 1 on campus and in downtown State College.

Jeanine Staples speaking at TEDxPSU

Jeanine Staples gave her talk, "How to Die Peacefully" in 2014. "I didn't realize, when I began as a TEDx speaker, that sharing my research would prompt people to share their most private stories so readily in such a public way," she said. "It was a gift."


Curator Turner and other student organizers started a public conversation in November with the Five Days of TEDxPSU celebration, featuring a discussion titled “Why We Haven’t Cured Racism Yet” led by former TEDxPSU speaker Jeanine Staples, associate professor of literacy and language, and African-American studies.

“Being a part of the TED universe is thrilling,” Staples said. “The community of thinkers, educators, coaches and activists who live in its sphere are deeply sensitive, enthusiastic, focused visionaries. I feel honored to be among them.”

Also in November, Penn State Berks hosted the inaugural TEDxPSUBerks.

Turner manages the nine TEDxPSU directors and oversees logistics, among other duties. The experience, she said, has been a lesson in leadership, teamwork and the ability of Penn Staters to rally behind a cause.

“All we want to do is put out ideas that people can take on in their studies and in their future when they graduate,” she said. “We learn so much just from being involved.”

TEDxPSU is presented with support from the World Campus as well as Smeal College of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Education and the College of Information Sciences Technology.

Last Updated February 17, 2015