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TEDxPSU creates conversation for fifth year

James Franklin TED x PSU
Franklin speaks at TEDxPSU

For students looking for a pump up speech from coach James Franklin, an inspirational story from Jemele Hill or to just enjoy valued learning from decorated professors, scientist and journalists, Schwab Auditorium was the place to be Sunday.

Thousands of students crowded into the dimly lit auditorium to listen to the 15 speakers all coming from vastly different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Many had been to TEDxPSU in the previous years, but some first-timers were excited to see what the TED brand had to offer.

“I’ve watched the TEDxPSU online a lot and a lot of them are really interesting,” Lauren Winkler (freshman–computer science and engineering) said. “The new ideas are inspiring, and so are the different stories, which are things that you don’t really think about”

Divided into two sessions, TEDxPSU engaged and entertained those sitting in the almost-full auditorium, as well as those viewing the conference on a live stream in places from Boston to India.


James Franklin - Penn State head football coach

At approximately 2:28 p.m., to the sound of thunderous applause, James Franklin stepped onto the field — only this field was a little different than the Penn State head football coach is used to. The green turf was replaced by a stage, the bowl shaped stadium replaced by a dark auditorium, and the usual crowd of supporters that greet Franklin at Beaver Stadium was replaced by an eager audience.

Franklin used up his time to tell stories, give advice and promote his core-value approach to working: attitude, work ethic, competition and sacrifice.

Franklin discussed the Penn State football program’s dedication to a positive attitude.

“Waking up every single morning doing a back handspring out of bed ready to attack the day with everything you have,” Franklin said. “We all know that person you work with that does their job but they’re sucking and moaning. We won’t allow there to be anybody like that.”

Franklin’s name on the TEDxPSU lineup drew many students to brave the snowy weather to sit and listen to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl champion.

Among other subjects, Franklin mentioned his time with the Green Bay Packers, traveling cross country with everything he owned in a 1988 Honda Accord, and his Twitter savviness.

In a sure crowd-pleaser, Franklin finished off his lecture by expressing gratitude toward the Penn State community who adopted him back in January 2014.

“I can’t express to the people in this room. I can’t express to the people watching nationally how proud I am to be the head football coach at Penn State University,” Franklin said.


Jeannine Gramick - Roman Catholic nun / LGBT advocator

“Back in 1971, I met a young man named Dominic Bash. He told me that he was a homosexual. I, naively, thought that I had never met a homosexual before, and we became good friends. He was attending an episcopal church because he said that the Catholic Church where he grew up had nothing to offer him. He told me that he and his gay and lesbian friends would love to take part in a Catholic mass. So I brought him to a service, and the experience there — the spiritual experience that these lesbian and gay Catholics felt was overwhelming. To be embraced by a church that they thought had neglected them.”

- Jeannine Gramick telling a story from her college years of advocating for the LGBT community in a religious setting, something she would go on to do all her life.  


Jemele Hill - ESPN Reporter

Failure, success, expectations and new beginnings were amongst some on the subjects that ESPN reporter Jemele Hill touched on in her TEDxPSU lecture.

“The reason I developed a love of writing was because of my parents,” Hill said. “My parents were both addicted to drugs, and so I spent a lot of my childhood watching them confront their darkest demons. Writing gave me the opportunity to create my own reality.”

A Detroit native, Hill discussed her suboptimal living conditions, and her journey through the Michigan financial aid system to Michigan State University. She was determined to share her process and experience, which ended her up on the national stage as a journalist.

“ESPN is just the culmination of how things wound up,” Hill said. “I think the process, and how I got there, is far more important to share.”

Hill’s career at ESPN has not been without controversy, so many people came to see what she would have to say to young students studying communications, Herbert Reininger, the licensee and adviser of TEDxPSU, said.


John Roe - Penn State professor/mathematician

Penn State professor John Roe stepped on stage and immediately brought an interactive aspect to the TEDxPSU crowd. Challenging spectators to use their imaginations, he commanded all in attendance to pretend their eyes had magnification powers.

“Trust me. This won’t hurt,” Roe joked.

Using the projector at his disposal, Roe displayed extremely zoomed in photos of the TEDxPSU sign on stage as well as an extremely zoomed out view of Earth.

“Only the Apollo astronauts have seen what you’re looking at on the screen with their own eyes,” Roe said.

The unorthodox presentation was to get people thinking of Earth sustainability, Roe said.

The former Oxford professor also gave the answer to the question of what will people need to better think about sustainability in the future.

“A cool head and a warm heart,” Roe said.


Darla Lindberg – architect/scientist

Darla Lindberg is a Penn State professor who is adamant on finding solutions when it comes to environmental and institutional dynamics. Lindberg discussed many subjects such as DDT and its governmental debates, the malaria problem in Africa, and oil production.

Lindberg also told stories from early days as an architect.

“Throughout my early years,” Lindberg said, “I wondered who was looking at how structured and how unsustainable human systems can be.”

Behind Lindberg, many photos flashed on the screen from her own travels, and diagrams, which meant to get the audience thinking on other ways to make their actions more sustainable in the global picture.


Jane Richlovsky - artist

Jane Richlovsky, self-creating artist whose work has been exhibited in countless galleries throughout the nation, compelled the audience to “wrestle with the American Dream.” Richlovsky explained the “myth of the artist,” an ideal she features in much of her work.

“We were misfits and starving artists...we were a separate species,” Richlovsky said, when explaining how society viewed herself and other artists working out of an abandoned building in Seattle.

Eventually, these artists had to find a new workspace, as do all according to the “myth,” Richlovsky explained. When this time came, Richlovsky transformed 13 offices for herself and other artists.

“It turned out the wildlife were actually developers,” Richlovsky said in regard to her innovative remodeling.

By being proactive, artists like herself can lose the stereotype of the “tragic artist,” Richlovsky said and “write a new ending” to this myth.


Chelsea Carmona - journalist

Chelsea Carmona, most famous for her article “How AA fails to support young addicts” in The Washington Post, summarized how she developed her opinion on addiction.

Carmona began by explaining a study where three men, all paranoid schizophrenics who believed themselves to be the reincarnated messiah, were put in the same room in an attempt to convince them their self-perception was irrational.

Despite numerous attempts to convince the men otherwise, they held their beliefs.

“Hello my name is Chelsea and I am an addict,” is the phrase Carmona said that developed her own self-perception when she checked herself into a recovery program at age 20.

Carmona said though she wasn’t ready to carry this label of “addict,” it was what was forced into her mind by social standards.

She said research shows positive self-perception can dramatically aid recovery, which is why this statement only inhibits it.

Carmona said because of this, she told herself she wasn’t an addict and why she admires the three men who participated in the study for not sacrificing their self-perception.


Xavier D’Leau - blogger

A man whose career began out of “pettiness,” Xavier D’Leau, began by saying “sometimes it’s fun to be petty.”

D’Leau discussed the heartbreak he felt after being broken up with over text message but why he now thanks his ex-partner.

D’Leau said he soon found his ex-partner’s web-blog on YouTube, and out of “pettiness” started his own in an attempt to be better.

After years of counseling and realizing his “pettiness” was a defense mechanism to hide his social anxiety, D’Leau has been able to not only help people through his blog, but start his career as a social-worker.

D’Leau said the joy he gets from being able to help people not only come out, but refrain from the “pettiness” that began his career.


David Hughes - professor and scientist

David Hughes grew from a “poverty stricken” childhood in Ireland, to a scientist developing a new branch of technology.

“Poverty can be a gift,” Hughes said when speaking about being expelled from school at age 15, only to later attend universities such as Harvard University and the University of Oxford.

Hughes went on to show a different example of poverty: struggling cocoa farms in West Africa.

“In West Africa, money literally grows on trees,” Hughes said.

Hughes went on to explain that unfortunately, cocoa plant diseases are causing families to lose their only source of income.

This is where Hughes said his new form of technology plays a role.

Hughes, along with other Penn State faculty, are working to develop a technology that will allow phones to recognize various plant diseases through images.

Though he has already developed a website called “Plant Village,” which educates people about these diseases, he said he must go further.

Hughes said it isn’t only him on this mission but “anyone can change the world.”


Bruce Grierson - journalist

A man of many adventures, including tending sheep in Norway, Bruce Grierson left the audience with a flood of emotions after briefly describing his relationship with Olga Kotelko.

Grieson began by showing the audience a picture of the subject of his novel, “What Makes Olga Run,” Olga Kotelko, long-jumping at the age of 91.

Kotelko discovered her love for track, along with her love for life, at the age of 71, Grierson said.

While spending time with Kotelko trying to discover the secret to her youth, Grierson said he developed a theory that she simply decided not to age.

“What if the real story... was happening from the neck up,” Grierson said.

Kotelko had an extraordinary way of thinking, Grierson said, she refused to accept social norms about aging.

She found a way to believe she was “stronger than her birth certificate said she should be,” Grierson said.

Grierson said this life-loving, white-curly-haired 94-year-old taught him that age is only but a mindset.

This idea was later confirmed by research showing those who held this mindset did indeed live longer, Grierson said.

Grierson said Olga unexpectedly died last June from a cerebral hemorrhage.

He left the audience with the hope that everyone can be as lucky as he was to have had someone so special in his life, but continued to say “luck doesn’t belong in this story.”


Meera Dolasia - CEO

Following the introduction with the theme of “Push to Start,” Meera Dolasia came on stage with a story ready, one of her revolutionary networking site.

“My journey begins with a tremor,” she began, remembering a while back when she told her daughter of an earthquake in Hawaii and her daughter used the story as a current event to tell in her classroom.

It was then that it occurred to Dolasia that young kids needed a credible news source to go to that would give them information on current events that made sense to them.

“I asked myself, has this important demographic been overlooked?” Dolasia said.

With this in mind she said she launched DOGO news, differentiating herself from competitors by writing stories for kids rather than simplifying the adult version.

“Sometimes kids don’t have the background knowledge that adults have, for example some kids didn’t know that the Berlin Wall existed, so we have to give them a background, why it was made,” Dolasia said.

Children on the site can add comments, share and engage in news stories, Dolasia said.


Scott Fried - scientist

Scott Fried’s good humor and charisma radiated off him as he came out on stage smiling and let out an exaggerated sigh that caused a ripple of laughter to pass through the audience.

His demeanor was shocking in light of his story, which was that he became infected with HIV 27 years ago from his male partner.

“I wanted to believe I was good enough for him,” Fried said.

Though he was talking specifically of his own experience, he said this idea rings true of many other problems in today’s world, such as self-harm and eating disorders.

In his talk he tackled this negative mentality of “not being good enough” with the message of “you belong in this world.”

“The goal here is for all of us is to see magnificence in other people,” he said.


Suzy Scherf - professor

Suzy Scherf, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Penn State, led her talk with the goal to alter the lives of many who do not start out life with the same opportunities as others.

Her current research she said, is dealing with how young developing minds respond to facial stimuli in the hopes to translate findings to help children with autism grow toward independent functioning.

“Children with autism become teenagers, parents and seniors with autism,” Scherf said.

Scherf said the idea is many with autism are left behind after adolescence and are unable to function independently because of challenges with interacting with others, such as the very basics of facial cues.

“Nineteen percent of those with autism work, but 74 percent of those with autism want to work,” Scherf said.


Ritesh Agarwal - nanoengineer

Ritesh Agarwal said as a boy, he would take apart various technologies in his home without the know-how to piece them back together.

He said from there, he excelled to create one of the smallest lasers in the entire world.

His question to the audience was, “How did we get here?” referring to the incredible advances in technology people have made with computers beginning the size of a room to something slipped into our back pocket.

While taking the audience through a history lesson, he gave insight into his research of attempting to harness the energy of light to make processors even faster.

Agarwal said the goal is to make silicon emit light and localize the energy to electrical wires to make communication even faster.

“In 1947. the first transistor was .0004 meters, in 2005 the transistors of this time were 1,000 times smaller than the size of a human hair and today half of a billion transistors can fit onto a single chip,” he said.


Jeffrey Arnett - professor       

Jeffrey Arnett coined the phrase “emerging adulthood,” realizing that it takes longer to grow up today than in the past.

His research points to four revolutions that led to this new life stage: the technology revolution, sexual revolution, women’s movement and youth movement.

Leading the audience through various data to support this claim, he said “30 really is the new 20 nowadays.”

Though he understands that not everybody is willing to accept this idea, he left listeners with a challenge.

“If you have the mentality of ‘when I was your age…’ I challenge you to think about it differently,” Arnett said.

He said some of the positives that can be taken from this extra time include developing skills for the workplace, better partner choices and more time to improve as parents.


“During emerging adulthood you have a rare and brief freedom, don’t let anyone stampede you to adulthood before you’re ready,” Arnett said. “Once you’re there, you can’t go back.”

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To email reporters: wda5027@psu.edu, ksl5184@psu.edu, sjl5429@psu.edu.

Follow them on Twitter at @WAramesh, @ktlitwin, @SamLauriello.