TEDxDuke 2015: Building Energy


TEDxDuke: March 29, 2015

Hear new ideas, stretch your mind and get involved-this is an opportunity you cannot afford to miss.

Last year’s TEDxDuke event was our largest and most ambitious event on record; we’re proud to say that the TEDx program at Duke has exploded over the last few years and with a broader horizon comes a plethora of greater challenges. Whilst thinking about how we would tackle the issues of taking TEDx to the next level on the Duke campus, we considered how we could build energy to help share ideas worth spreading.

We all grapple with how to build energy to create and contribute to society, and we decided that this event was the perfect opportunity to open the floor up to hearing how we all build energy within Duke and the larger Durham community.

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Past Talks

  • Murali Doraiswamy at TEDxDuke 2014

  • Dr. Bill Chameides at TEDxDuke 2014

  • Dr. Jeffrey H. Lawson at TEDxDuke 2014


    Suhani Jalota

    Suhani Jalota

    Occupation/Title: Student at Duke University

    Suhani is an international student from Mumbai and a junior with majors in Economics and Global Health. She is compelled by women’s stories and driven by change and dynamic structures. She has researched and designed implementation strategies in urban slum and rural communities for four years on projects ranging from adolescent girl health, water and sanitation, and social protection policies. She is currently working on her own start-up in slums to empower slum women to start their own everyday product businesses to sell sanitary pads and diapers to other slum women. She wants to use her experiences with local women to create a large women’s network in India to help provide guidance to school dropouts and unemployed youth. Her passion lies in connecting talent to opportunity. She firmly believes in thinking big, and just going for it!

    Talk Title: How to repurpose activist energy to govern

    How do you make the government listen to you? How can energy empower communities to demand their own rights and at the same time govern themselves?

    Having worked in the communities for over four years now, I have been working with inspiring women who run their own local police stations, contract large scale public toilets and buildings worth tens of thousands of dollars. What started with one slum man, Dr. Jockin Arputham, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee 2014, 35 years ago has now become an international movement that has created a powerful network of women in slums around the world. This talk brings short anecdotes of how slum women together have fought battles on the field.

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    Suhani Jalota

  • Vijay Menon

    Vijay Menon

    Occupation/Title: Student at Duke University, Product Manager at Microsoft Xbox

    Vijay's a statistician, a writer, and a backpacker. In his four years at Duke, he has visited over 25 countries, spent two summers working in the tech industry at Microsoft, dabbled in NBA analytics, and has been published in the Economist's letters. After graduation, he'll be working in Seattle as a product manager for Xbox specializing in analytics. He considers himself a T-shaped individual -- having interests in many fields -- and he hopes to continue learning more via the gateway of travel.

    Talk Title: Lessons Learned on the Trans-Siberian

    Vijay provides a lens into the world of Siberia in the winter by relating three stories and lessons that accompany his journey there. Amidst the absurdity, he finds hope and inspiration in seemingly the most desolate of places.

    Personal page: http://vijaymenon.strikingly.com/

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    Vijay Menon

  • Rence


    Occupation/Title: Student

    Lawrence Nemeh is a senior double majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies with a minor in theater studies. A self­described “foreign policy nerd, SNL fan girl and a passionate Blue Devil from Scottsdale, Arizona,” Lawrence is currently interning at the Duke Office of News and Communications and the Undergraduate Admissions Office. He is the co­-president of Duke University Improv (DUI), a council member of American Grand Strategy (AGS), and volunteers with local Arab refugees with Church World Service. He participated in the Duke in Chicago Arts Entrepreneurship program last summer, interning at iO (formerly known as improvOlympic) and taking improvisation classes at The Second City. Lawrence has studied abroad at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy in Amman, Jordan, and at the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies in Beirut, Lebanon. He volunteered with the Jordan River Foundation, chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al­ Abdullah, in Amman through DukeEngage Jordan. Upon graduation, Lawrence hopes to continue his arts entrepreneurship initiatives and move back to the Windy City.

    Talk Title: The Artrepreneur

    Smartphones have killed the artist. Rising out of the 21st century high­speed information landscape is the latest evolution of the artist, the “Artrepreneur.” It is not enough to be an artist anymore. We must also be our own brand managers, development teams, and accountants. To this end, Arts Entrepreneurship is a cutting edge discipline at the crossroads of art, business, and innovation that uses entrepreneurial disciplines from technological industries as the new energy driving art. It’s about having an idea, and learning to take calculated risks, measure feedback, and shape the ongoing course to bring that idea to life. In doing so, we are breaking this dichotomy that students are either a “consultant” or a “starving artist.” We are giving artists the tools to create meaningful, viable careers. We are revolutionizing the artist.

    Project page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdeEoJFemjx44NytCHB6MJw

  • 07


  • Mark Hecker

    Mark Hecker

    Occupation/Title: Executive Director, Reach Incorporated

    Mark Hecker is a social worker and educator with extensive experience in secure, residential, school-based, and community-based settings, working primarily with teenagers facing significant academic and social challenges. Gifted in connecting with difficult-to-engage adolescents, Mark was the 2006 DC Social Worker of the Year, the youngest person ever so honored.

    Frustrated by the lack of available academic support for teens who had fallen behind, in 2009, Hecker founded Reach Incorporated, an organization that trains teens to be elementary school reading tutors. Mark is a 2011 Echoing Green Fellow and a 2013 Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network Fellow. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Duke, a master’s in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a master’s in Education from Harvard University.

    Talk Title: On Being Helpful

    In our society, the idea of service is often framed as an obligation – those who have the means and talents to give back are expected to do so. In this talk, Mark will use his experience as the Executive Director of Reach Incorporated to demonstrate the way that being provided with the opportunity to be helpful can be used to establish identity, build energy, and cultivate dignity. By blurring the lines between helper and helped, Hecker believes we can transform society.

    Mark will introduce you to some of the young people he has hired as elementary school reading tutors. By exploring the stories of Reach tutors, and drawing on experiences in his own life, he will demonstrate how we often fail to give those struggling the most the opportunity to be helpful to others. When we do give them the chance to be helpful, we allow them to positively impact other people's lives, as well as their own.

    Project website link: http://www.reachincorporated.org

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    Mark Hecker

  • Charles Robert Welch

    Atrayus Photo

    Occupation/Title: Conservation Coordinator, Duke Lemur Center

    Charlie Welch has worked for conservation in Madagascar on behalf of the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) for over 25 years, including 15 years living in the Tamatave region of eastern Madagascar. While living in Madagascar, Welch and his wife Andrea Katz collaborated with government entities to develop Park Ivoloina and Betampona Nature Reserve into multifaceted community-based conservation projects, which continue to function and thrive today. In 2004 Welch and Katz were awarded “Chevalier de l’Ordre National” by the government of Madagascar for their long term conservation efforts.

    Now based at DLC, Welch oversees a new DLC independent project in northeastern Madagascar, SAVA Conservation (DLC-SC). DLC-SC follows the same model of community-based conservation, and includes component activities such as environmental education, reforestation, fish farming, family planning, research and more. Locally, Welch is a participating member of the Durham Open Spaces and Trails Commission and the New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee.

    Talk Title: Conservation – Madagascar and Beyond

    Due to its 80+ million year geographical isolation, the island country of Madagascar possesses extremely high levels of endemic species of both plants and animals. It is estimated that 5% of the planet’s biodiversity exists on the California-sized island of Madagascar. Unfortunately, in part due to extreme poverty, only about 10% of Madagascar’s natural forests remain, and the threat to what is left continues. In an effort to slow biodiversity loss in Madagascar, the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) has supported conservation work there for over 25 years, and currently manages a community-based conservation project in northeastern Madagascar, SAVA Conservation. By working with local communities, DLC seeks to slow deforestation.

    But forest and species loss is not a problem unique to Madagascar. We are now experiencing the planet’s 6th great extinction event. It is beyond time for all countries to make a serious and concerted effort to protect what biodiversity remains.

    Project website link– http://lemur.duke.edu/protect/conservation/sava-conservation/

  • 01

    Charles Robert Welch

  • Rob Cotter

    Rob Cotter

    Occupation/Title: Founder and CEO of Organic Transit

    Rob is Chief Designer and CEO of Organic Transit, maker of the ELF, the most efficient vehicle on the planet. Built in Durham, NC the ELF is a new category in urban transportation, is solar assisted and gets the equivalent of 1800 mpg. ELF is the first in a line of vehicles that fill the space between a bicycle and a car. Rob has worked for Porsche, BMW, McLaren, AMG and Shimano. With DuPont and GE, he developed new ways of molding plastics and composite materials. He directed the American Solar Cup, the first solar car race in the US. He also served as an advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown, a Creative Director and a documentary producer. He also worked with Anita Roddick, CEO of The Body Shop launching environmental and human rights campaigns.

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    Rob Cotter

  • LC Johnson

    LC Johnson

    Occupation/Title: Blogger. Entrepreneur. Awesomeness Advocate.

    LC Johnson is an award winning blogger, entrepreneur, educator, and activist and the creator and editor of the website, Colored Girl Confidential. Since launching CGC, the blog has been twice recognized by Forbes magazine as a top 100 website for women; and, LC has been featured in Black Enterprise, Forbes, Huffington Post, Duke Alumni Magazine, Policy Mic, and several other local and national publications.

    She can usually be found reading, writing, or watching HGTV with her husband and dog, Pumpkin. To date, LC has trained more than 500 women on the subjects of branding, blogging, new media, and entrepreneurship, and at the end of 2013, Campbell's Soup Co. named her one of the top five innovative female leaders of her generation.

    Talk Title: Lifting As We Climb

    In today’s economic climate, there are many people who approach success with a scarcity mindset. They think of success as a pyramid, with lots of room at the bottom and minimal space at the top. In this talk, I will present an alternate framework for defining and achieving success – a framework based on the 125 year old African-American notion of “lifting as we climb.” I’ll examine how, “by lifting as we climb,” we are better able to unleash a tidal wave of transformative energy into our lives, communities, and careers.

    Personal page: http://www.lcjohnson.me

  • 08

    LC Johnson

  • Timothy Johnson

    Tim Johnson

    Occupation/Title: Associate Professor of the Practice in Energy and the Environment

    Timothy Johnson is an Associate Professor of the Practice in Energy and the Environment at Duke and Chair of the Nicholas School’s Master of Environmental Management Energy and Environment program. Tim’s teaching and research address public decision making as it relates to topics at the intersection of energy system planning, design of the built environment, and natural resource management, with a particular interest in how we can leverage interactions among these areas to improve environmental quality and human health. Prior to joining Duke, Tim worked for the US EPA, where he was part of a multidisciplinary team of energy analysts responsible for examining the environmental consequences of technology change across the energy system. Tim earned a M.S. and his Ph.D. from the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a M.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Minnesota.

    Talk Title: Energy and the Environment 2.0

    The energy and environmental challenges of today require new ways of thinking. While the history of environmental management contains its share of success stories, the problems we face going forward are qualitatively different from those of the past. Population growth and economic expansion, urbanization and the emergence of new energy resources, as well as climate change and our efforts to adapt to an uncertain future will tax both our ability to maintain the environmental gains we’ve achieved and our ability to confront novel risks to human health and wellbeing. Solutions to these problems depend on our ability to make connections not only across environmental media, but also between the ways in which we meet needs for energy, transportation, water, shelter, and food. This challenge presents an opportunity for people who can think creatively about design from a systems perspective, develop practical problem solving skills, and collaborate with a wide range of professionals.

    Page: http://nicholas.duke.edu/people/faculty/johnsontimothy

  • 03

    Timothy Johnson

  • Rob Phocas

    Rob Phocas

    Occupation/Title: Energy & Sustainability Manager, City of Charlotte, NC

    Serving an organization of 7,000+ and a City of nearly 800,000, Rob supports a variety of internal and external programs and projects in the energy, environmental and sustainability arenas. Initiatives underway internally include the implementation of the City’s Internal Environmental Operations Plan, which sets, tracks, measures and reports out on goals from fleet to energy efficiency, employee commuting to green procurement practices. Externally, Rob works very closely with Envision Charlotte and other community entities to advance Charlotte’s environmental goals. He plays an important role in the community by connecting and facilitating collaboration and innovation between academic, business and government entities. More recently, Rob has found himself at the forefront of the Charlotte Smart City conversation, which looks to establish Charlotte as a global player in the smart city arena by answering how Charlotte can use data and technology to improve the quality of life for its citizens.

    Talk Title: Finding your spark

    What allows you to build energy as a person and in your profession so that you can achieve your goals? What are the sparks that fire your passions and inspire those around you. We can all point to moments in our lives that ignited us to take action whether exerted by an outside force of self-created. Rob will walk through some of sparks in his life and career that allowed him to build energy personally and professionally. Events, family, friends, unexpected opportunities, tragedies, all of these can be a spark that allow you to build energy as a person and for your community.

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    Rob Phocas

Meet Our Executive Team

    Rachel Anderson


    From a young age, Rachel has been compelled by stories. After forays into high school journalism and documentary work in the Mississippi Delta, Rachel sees TEDxDuke as yet another way to help others share their stories and Ideas Worth Spreading. Prior to serving as the Design Leader, Rachel served as the Logo Designer, Swag Artist and Print Media Designer for TEDxDuke 2014: Challenge Accepted. In addition to her involvement in TEDxDuke, Rachel is also the founder of a new organization called Uplift, which seeks to empower women through strength training and to debunk myths surrounding female weightlifters.

  • team1

    Rachel Anderson

  • Dan Li


    The first TED Talk I watched was one of Hans Rosling’s talks. He heavily used the Gapminder statistics visualization tool he developed, showing how empires grew and fell over time. Bubbles of countries expanded and shrunk, moving interactively around a plot. I was enthralled by the unique presentation and inspiration in his passionate delivery.
    Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of TED Talks. Having worked with this team on campus since my freshman year, it’s been a huge learning experience. I’m excited and privileged to help bring TEDx to Duke University as Co-President this year!

  • team1

    Dan Li

  • Suman Gidwani


    I think TED is one of the most exciting ways of getting insight into things you may have never thought about and being inspired by people who are pushing boundaries in every field. After speaking at a TEDxYouth conference in high school, I wanted to continue my involvement here at Duke. I had an amazing time being Marketing Director for TEDxDuke because so much of marketing is about embracing the spirit of TED and using new and innovative solutions to get people excited about the event! Outside of being involved in Duke, I love to dance and I hope to be a doctor some day.

  • team3

    Suman Gidwani

  • Matt Hamilton


    Matt Hamilton is a sophomore from Connecticut. He is still uncertain what he is studying — which is only slightly problematic given that the deadline for declaring majors is next month. He is a part of TEDxDuke because he believes in the importance of facilitating intellectual engagement at Duke and in connecting Duke students with the rest of the Durham and Research Triangle.

  • team6

    Matt Hamilton

  • Gavin Ovsak


    After giving a TED talk at TEDxTC in Minnesota on how technology empowered youth, Gavin discovered the supportive community of speakers and attendees that TED talks cultivate around important ideas. This will be the fourth year that Gavin has been involved with TEDxDuke leadership and his favorite part is working with speaker to prepare their talks and starting conversations among people from radically different backgrounds. Gavin studies Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Medicine and is still very passionate about how technology empowers people all over the world! You can read more about his acitivities at gavinovsak.com

  • team7

    Gavin Ovsak

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a conference in California 26 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with many initiatives.

At a TED conference, the world’s leading thinkers and doers are asked to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. TED speakers have included Roger Ebert, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, Elizabeth Gilbert, Benoit Mandelbrot, Philippe Starck, NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, Brian Greene, Isabel Allende and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Three major TED events are held each year: The TED Conference takes place every spring in Vancouver, Canada, simultaneous with TEDActive, in Whistler, BC; and the TEDGlobal Conference takes place each summer in Edinburgh, Scotland.

On TED.com, talks from TED conferences are shared with the world for free as TED Talks videos. A new TED Talk is posted every weekday. Through the Open Translation Project, TED Talks are subtitled by volunteers worldwide into more than 90 languages. Through our distribution networks, TED Talks are shared on TV, radio, Netflix and many websites.

The TEDx initiative grants free licenses to people around the world to organize TED-style events in their communities with TED Talks and live speakers. More than 5,000 TEDx events have been held, and selected talks from these events are also turned into TED Talks videos.

The annual TED Prize grants $1 million to an exceptional individual with a wish to change the world. The TED Fellows program helps world-changing innovators from around the globe to become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities. TED-Ed creates short video lessons by pairing master teachers with animators, for use in classroom instruction or independent learning.

For information about TED’s upcoming conferences, visit http://www.ted.com/registration

Follow TED on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TEDTalks, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TED


Click Here to Learn More About TED

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