World's Fair

A couple months back, I wrote a grant for one of my main educational projects (Terry), that would ask for funding to host a student conference here at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Terry, as some of you already know, is aimed to build an interdisciplinary undergraduate community, with a directed focus on issues of social and/or environmental responsibility.

A couple weeks ago, we heard that we were successful in securing the funds for this conference. This is very exciting for me, because we explicitly wrote the grant so that conference in question gets to follow a TEDtalks format. In other words (from the grant):

This conference will be an annual event where undergraduates are given a high profile platform to communicate their passions and desires to an audience of their UBC peers. It essentially borrows a template from a well-established conference known as the TEDtalks (, and modifies it for delivery within the UBC setting. Here, the general intent is to bring together the University’s “most fascinating (student) thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives.” Under this context, a single day conference would accommodate 16 nominated student speakers from a wide range of interests and backgrounds. This would provide stimulating content, relevant to a variety of globally relevant issues, that would ultimately foster collaborative efforts and idea sharing amongst the conference attendees. In all, this will strengthen the existing networks responsible for student led initiatives, and in doing so act as a significant catalyst in creating a stronger socially responsible student community.


Anyway, apart from the venue (which will likely be at the beautiful UBC Chan Centre – see image above), we’re kind of entering this blindly. Mind you, part of this grant was to hire a student team to help us figure out how to do this well, but I guess I’m just generally curious on reader’s thoughts.

For instance, have any of you gone to a TEDtalks? If so, do you think that such a structure would work in a university and student centric setting? Obviously, we won’t have the luminaries that TEDtalks attracts, but we’re confident that there are more than enough student leaders that could wow even the most apathetic listener. Or is this too optimistic a take (for a general sense, UBC has a student body of about 45,000 students)?

As well, if any of you gone to a student conference such as this at a place of education, I’d be really interested to hear about it. Note that the primary motive is not necessarily building up skillsets (like providing workshops, which is what a lot of student conferences do), there’s no specific theme per se (another common trait of student conferences), but just an opportunity for a young academic (undergrad, maybe graduate student) to be granted a platform (and a big one at that) where you can share your ideas, your project, your passion, and hopefully enable productive networking.

Anyway, whatever the case may be, this is so game on, so stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted here and at terry as things progress along, but again, if you have any thoughts…


  1. #1 bsci
    May 2, 2008

    The first thing that comes to mind is that the TED speaks aren’t necessarily luminaries, but most have had significant experience speaking in front of large crowds and covering a large amount of information in a short time.
    You’ll be attracting students who might not have large-televised (youtube-ized?) crowd speaking experience. This can be a huge part of the learning experience.
    I think each selected student should be assigned a speaking mentor. Perhaps like up with communications professionals in the universities PR department or get interested faculty member with good speaking skills. The mentor could review the talk and offer suggestions. This would probably both make more interesting talks and greatly enrich the learning experience for the speakers for not much additional monetary costs.

  2. #2 David Ng
    May 2, 2008

    That is a great suggestion. Will have to bring that up in our initial meeting with out student team (just hired) next week.

  3. #3 Robyn
    May 2, 2008

    The only conference which comes to mind is the one I attended yesterday at Stanford, presented by the Design school: “Infectious Engagement.” It was videotaped, so I expect the podcast will be along shortly.

  4. #4 Jeremy Cherfas
    May 5, 2008

    What a very fine idea. Congratulations. Aside from the previous notion, of giving each student speaker a mentor who really knows their stuff, you might consider also how TED’s reach is extended by the video podcasts. You should plan to record the speeches PROPERLY. This will be great for the rest of the world. Better yet, it is a terrific learning aid, to see yourself doing your talk.