TEDxNJIT returned for their tenth annual event this past weekend, consisting of students, faculty, administration and speakers from the broader communities that spoke on their work and ideas seeking to improve the future. This year’s featured talks centered around the theme of “Intersections,” defined as ever changing issues that change paths as we all maneuver through societies, and how to keep moving forward.
Raja Roy, organizer of the event and assistant professor in NJIT’s Management department, spoke on the reason why the theme “Intersections” was chosen. “We decided that the way this world is going with artificial intelligence, and the different medical technology that is coming up, there is an intersection of knowledge that is becoming more and more important. That is how we first decided on the topic.”
Michael Ehrlich, long-term organizer of TEDxNJIT and associate professor of Finance explained that speakers were chosen on two factors: 1) people with ideas worth sharing and 2) speakers that represented NJIT’s surrounding community. “We don’t require them to say anything in particular, so the talks typically come together organically. This year the focus naturally came together around health care and social needs.”
Planning, however, began in February, before it was understood the impact COVID-19 would have on events and life as we know it. But Roy says the choice “Intersections” was serendipitous considering the massive changes that ensued. “Later on, it became even more important to us. There was an intersection of expertise to find a cure for COVID-19, the vaccines and so on, to spread knowledge, etc. There was an additional driving force that knowledge is not limited to one field anymore. It’s building the bridge from one field to another field that has become more important.”
The speakers proved just as much, many indeed touching on the intersections of different fields, especially applied to the health field.
Speaker Jennifer D’Angelo, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Healthcare Division of NJII discussed the need for various sectors of data and technology to merge to produce a proper arsenal to fight COVID-19, including testing, contact tracing, treatments, and resource planning.
Similarly, Linda Schwimmer, President and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute spoke on the use of data analytics to improve public health, applied to a range of different health issues, including C-sections and other complications of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Namas Chandra, Distinguished Professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department spoke on his research surrounding the impact of mild traumatic brain injury as a major public health issue.
However, speakers outside of the health field also took to the online stage to share their insight, particularly about the sharing of ideas in our societies.
Louis Wells, professor of Theater Arts and Technology at NJIT, spoke on how improvisation can prove to be a master facilitator of communication in today’s time. “Improvisation unlocked my sense of humor, and my confidence. It’s performing without a script, and making it up as you go. In improvisation, you work off your partners, off their strengths. Imagine if you could apply that beyond improvisation,” said Wells. He cited this pandemic as an example of that sort of communication that we all must practice: “looking at the world right now, sometimes communicating even simple ideas like wearing a mask can prove to be difficult… I’m not going to say that improvisations classes are going to solve all of our problems. But it is a place where human beings get to practice being human beings. Social media isn’t that place.”
LeShannon Wright, Founder and CEO of Turning Tulips and MBA student at NJIT, provided a powerful speech about taking pride and facing our pains in order to overcome them. Part of that process involves dismantling shame. “I looked my pain in the face, so that when I folded it, I could understand it,” said Wright.
Remaining speakers, including Deidre Letson-Christofalo, Kenneth A. Goodwin Jr. and Dan Seewald, discussed a range of different topics, including the age of artificial intelligence that we are entering, global trade and crowdsourcing scientific ideas and insights to accelerate scientific breakthroughs, respectively.
TEDxNJIT is usually hosted in NJIT’s Jim Wise Theatre in Kupfrian Hall. This year, the event premiered on Facebook Live, open to all to watch for free. All speeches were recorded and re-recorded prior to the day of the event. Roy said there were pros and cons to the new format. “The huge upside is that the speakers don’t have to come to campus, so we can have speakers from almost anywhere in the world. The downside is that it gave a bit of a disconnected feeling, since it wasn’t like every speech was occurring at one point in time,” said Roy.
On the other hand, Ehrlich said “I am afraid that the format was chosen by COVID-19 as we could not gather together as we usually do. Under the circumstances, a virtual event seemed the most prudent and possible way to keep TEDxNJIT going this year… However the online format reduced the spontaneity and audience interaction that are more typical at TEDx events. I would like to look forward to in-person TEDxNJIT in the future.”
Speaker Dan Seewald, Founder and CEO of Deliberate Innovation, wrapped up this year’s TEDxNJIT theme of “Intersections” skillfully. “Somewhere, someone has solved our problem before, but just in a different domain, in a different way. We can work together to unleash the power of all of these different problem solvers,” said Seewald.