UC Irvine Proves to Be “Under Construction Indefinitely”

Marlon Castillo/New University

UC Irvine hosted its inaugural TED independent talk on Saturday, March 3 at the Clair Trevor Theater to an audience of students and community members. The theme of the conference was “UCI: Under Construction Indefinitely.”


The event was organized by students with faculty advisors who selected speakers to address themes of positive change and growth. Presentations were divided into three broad categories: “Building a Sustainable Future,” “Building a Better World” and “Building UCI Pride.” Speakers were UCI students, professors and alumni. Notable speakers included Professor Francisco Ayala, UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinski, environmentalist Jesse Baker and UCI track runner Charles Jock.


Topics ranged from ecological issues to the values of “StarCraft” and dodgeball tournaments. UCI student Arzad Nafici performed spoken-word poetry, and dancers performed an interpretation of the West African war dance, Adzogbo.


TED talks have been hosted internationally since 1984. Large scale conferences are held where expert speakers in the areas of technology, entertainment and design give presentations which are later hosted online for general consumption. According to the organization’s website, the theme of TED is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Independent events called TEDx are organized annually and receive official endorsement but little financial or other support.


Student organizers for TEDx UC Irvine spent a year finding and recruiting speakers, raising funds, and making preparations for Saturday’s event. According to Nithin Jilla, a student organizer of the TEDx talk, the hardest part of the event was picking the theme.


“Coming up with the theme is one of the hardest things,” said Jilla, a second-year international studies major who helped conceptualize the event. “We wanted something that would be relatable to UCI students.”


According to Jilla, speakers were selected based on their relevance to the event’s theme and for the value of their ideas. Alumni and faculty speakers were asked to attend and current students auditioned for their roles in November and December. Many speakers came forward, but only a few could be selected.


“One of our questions during auditions was ‘how are you under construction?’” Jilla said, “We were looking mostly for ideas and everyone had great ideas to share. We’re still in touch with all of our speakers and we’re hoping to get in touch with a lot of them next year.”


Once selected, speakers for this year’s TED talk spent 10 weeks in one-on-one training with UCI speaking coach Barbara Seymour Giordano. In weekly hour-long sessions, they polished their presentations and received feedback.


“In the beginning we had to come up with our own talk but during the process we had meetings with a professional speaking coach and over ten sessions of an hour each we went through our script and our slides and basically transformed them completely,” TEDx speaker and second-year informatics doctorate student Bart Knijenburg said. “If I went back now to look at the first version of my script it would look totally different.”


Knijenburg, who gave a presentation about Moore’s Law and Technopsychometrics, described to the audience a new method of designing technology which would emphasize not only the full potential of new technology but also to optimize user enjoyment. He says that the TEDx talk gave a real-world application to his research and emphasized the human impact of new ways of thinking.


“Most of the talks I do at conferences are for technical people and often they need to be convinced of the human aspect of things,” Knijenburg said. “This crowd, they already know that they are the users and they know that they’re struggling with these technologies and what I wanted to show was that it’s not as obvious to make good products but that everything is about the integration of the technical and the human in design.”


Tickets to the TEDx event were sold online and at the door for $30 each. Audience members were encouraged to fill out questionnaires about their responses to the theme and about their own involvement spreading new ideas in the community.


One hundred UCI students received free admission. Many audience members were familiar with TED talks and were excited to see a recurring UCI version of the event.


“I’ve seem TED talks before so I was really excited when everything finally got set here so I planned on coming,” Emily Kjos, a third-year international studies student said. “I haven’t seen TED in person but I’ve watched them online. I think this event is great, very similar caliber and all these speakers just seem phenomenal. They’re all very relevant and interesting topics. You can tell a lot of them have a lot of practice speaking and they’re making a great impact. I would probably come back if this became an annual convention.”


The TEDx UC Irvine convention attracted controversy earlier this year when student activist Osama Shabaik was suddenly cut from the roster of speakers. Shabaik, who was a member of the Irvine 11, had planned to speak about his experience being arrested and tried in Irvine after interrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.


According to organizers, Shabaik had been cut because his planned speech violated the spirit of TED talks and did not adhere to the theme of positive change at UCI.


Essentially, the TED commandments call for the sharing of new ideas and prohibit self-promotion or political advocacy.


“There was miscommunication,” said TEDx UC Irvine organizer Jose Ramos. “We talked to him on a personal level and met with him multiple times. We both understand that there was a fair amount of debate and miscommunication. It’s our theme and our stage and the standards that we have did not allow us to host his talk. Maybe next year we’ll come back to him.”


Ramos, who is a third-year civil engineering student, mentioned that he is still interested in learning more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and is considering adding a minor in international studies.


Some critics still note, however, that Dean Chemerinski’s TEDx talk about the Living Constitution was also very political and that TEDx UC Irvine would have been a good venue for this kind of political dialogue.


“I would have preferred if the organization had the guts to hold true and have that speaker on,” said Bart Knijenberg. “That would have been a good framework to discuss these issues openly.”


TEDx UC Irvine talks will be hosted online at the TEDx UCI YouTube channel and on the TEDx site. They will be uploaded online for everyone to see in two to four weeks.