TEDx speakers confront global and local issues

By MEAGAN PEOPLES | March 31, 2016


Kareem Osmun/Photography Editor “Instructions Not Included” attracted students and Baltimore citizens.

TEDxJHU hosted a series of Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) talks titled “Instructions Not Included” Saturday in Mudd. Seven speakers attracted an audience of faculty, students and members of the Baltimore community and was live-streamed on JHU’s Ustream channel.

Eric Chen and Steve Park, co-curators of the event, discussed how TEDxJHU chose the event speakers and theme.

“Our University is especially pre-professionally orientated, and we want to promote the fact that a path to finding a career you can be proud of is not one that’s narrow or linear,” Chen wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “We didn’t choose speakers solely based on their professional background or how long their lists of accomplishments extend. Our most important priority was to find speakers that we believed had a valuable and interesting story to share to students.”

Park discussed how the design team, led by Alvina Yau, incorporated this theme into the materials for the event.

“We are so proud to have a group of talented designers who made our theme into a work of art,” Park wrote. “From set design to custom event buttons, we made sure that our visuals of the event reflected our theme.”

Jennifer Dailey, a materials science and engineering Ph.D. candidate at Hopkins, spoke about her own undergraduate experience and the importance of asking questions in order to make the most of education.

“What has gotten me through the confusion and the anxiety is learning to ask for help. There was a semester during my senior year of undergrad where I cried every single day after classes and besides my family, no one had any idea. Because that’s not the face you’re supposed to show the world. You smile and you nod and you brag about how easy the homework is and blame the professor when something goes wrong,” she said. “And you name drop philosophers and Nobel laureates all in the hope of getting through one more week with nobody realizing what a complete fraud you are who has no business being at a top-tier institution.”

After describing her difficult undergraduate experience, she cautioned the audience against doing activities just because they feel obligated to. She said she has spent significant time studying how students learn differently and the factors that push them to engage in mandatory classes they might not actually enjoy.

“When you’re reminded to constantly reevaluate yourself and your learning and your goals, you might be really surprised to see how much they’ve changed without you even noticing,” she said.

She is also the recent recipient of the National Science Foundation graduate scholarship.

Dr. Youseph Yazdi, executive director of the Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID), who spoke about the process of design and how he applies certain design principles to his life.

“You think about our grandparents, our great-grandparents — 90 percent of their lives were proscribed by the circumstances of their birth: what they ate, what language they spoke, their values, in some cases who they married,” he said. “But in the modern era we are writing our own biographies; We are designing our own path in life.”

Yazdi said the impetus for good design springs from emotional empathy. To illustrate this, he discussed the award-winning personal protective gear worn by healthcare workers helping fight Ebola, which he helped design. The blueprints for uniform design were inspired by Yazdi’s concern for healthcare workers putting their lives at risk to help the sick.

Another speaker, Adrianne Todman, the executive director of the District of Columbia housing authority, discussed the importance of safe and affordable housing in a person’s success.

“You might agree with me that there are some key ingredients to becoming successful — things like good education, good health, a good paying job, an excellent business, a successful business, a warm and supportive community,” Todman said. “But have you ever stopped and thought about the importance of housing?”

Todman addressed statistics about housing including that in Washington, D.C.. If you make minimum wage, you have to work over 100 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit. She also discussed the lack of available housing.

“Public housing is singularly one of the most underfunded federal housing programs that exist,” she said. “It is fundamentally unfair because tonight there are over two million people who will rely on this housing for their path to success.”

Hopkins alumnus Rohit Dayal enjoyed Todman’s talk.

“I know about public housing generally as an issue and how the program works but what’s interesting to me, having lived in D.C. for the last three years or so, about how that works [is] how many people are in public housing so it gave me a little greater context of the city,” Dayal said.

After Dayal, Jean Fan spoke. She is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, a photographer and an entrepreneur. Fan created cuSTEMized, a website that offers free downloads of customizable books with the goal of encouraging girls to explore STEM fields.

“When trying to address an issue like the underrepresentation of women in STEM, it was really my artistic and scientific skills combined that allowed me to start contributing potential solutions,” she said.

Fan spoke about the importance of STEM fields, particularly for women.

“I don’t think everybody needs to go into STEM but everybody needs to be able to think critically and logically and in a scientific manner,” she said.

Eric Chen wrote specifically about this talk and how he can relate.

“As an international studies and applied math double [major], I often wonder to myself whether the time I spend working in the arts is valuable. Her talk is certainly the positive reinforcement I need,” he wrote.

Nicholas Perrett, who founded Club G Plus in Shanghai as well as a men’s lifestyle brand in Los Angeles, spoke about the science and management of luck. Perrett claimed that luck isn’t completely random and instead can be influenced by risk taking, attitude and networking.

“The luckiest people are the ones who have, over their lifetimes, accrued a large number of friendly relationships with many, many people,” he said. “There’s a distinction here between friendly relationships and friendships. We can only manage so many friends — our time is finite — but friendly relationships are equally important, to know a lot of people and have people remember you.”

Perrett’s talk stood out to Rohit Dayal as it was the only one which seemed unconnected to Hopkins or the greater Baltimore community.

“Everyone else was either a researcher, a Ph.D. student or involved with the Baltimore community,” he said. “He’s not, so his story is unique and interesting but he also ties it to the luck that all the other speakers have.”

After an event intermission, Sonia Sarkar, chief policy and engagement officer at the Baltimore City Health Department and Hopkins alumna, spoke about her love of public health and how she is currently working in the city to improve health outcomes.

“We know the barriers that prevent care from converting into health: poverty, structural discrimination and inequality, lack of access to essential resources. These are deep-rooted challenges that no single individual or institution or system can possibly peel back,” she said. Before joining the Health Department, Sarkar worked with a charity organization, Health Leads, which allows doctors to prescribe basic necessities for patients so they can be healthier in their everyday habits and lives.

She spoke of one mother’s story living with her three kids and several others in a Baltimore city row home which had asbestos dust and peeling lead paint.

“Her pediatrician listened to all this and decided to write two prescriptions, one for an inhaler for the asthma and another for food and housing, and she brought the family over to me,” Sarkar said. “She leaned over the desk and looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I just want a house that’s actually a home and that will stop killing my kids.’”

David Fakunle, a Ph.D. candidate in mental health studies at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health, spoke about the importance of an individual person’s gifts.

“Every single one of us is too valuable to the world to ever shortchange, to ever marginalize the gifts that we can bring to it,” he said.

“Because those gifts may have been exactly what the world has been waiting for.”

Fakunle, who works at the Recovery and Community Center in Baltimore City, spoke about how he has used his own gift for traditional African storytelling to help others. He addressed the “Hopkins bubble,” how students tend to remain on Homewood campus for the better part of their four years.

“For the next few years, you are all residents of Baltimore — so be active residents, citizens of Baltimore. Do not let the Hopkins bubble leave you here... Because, again, your gifts are way too valuable to the city,” he said.

Co-curator Steve Park identified with this talk in particular and the idea of making full use of your gifts.

“I think it’s a very relatable message to use our gifts as students of a world class institution to break the so called ‘Hopkins bubble’ and really get to know the city from the perspective of the residents,” Park wrote.

Hayoung Park, a high school junior, enjoyed the event, feeling he could relate to the personal experiences shared.

“I like hearing different experiences. I think I’m a pretty eclectic person being born in Korea and moving here. I like hearing other unorthodox stories. I’m here for inspiration,” he wrote.

Sophomore Aleena Nasir also liked the event, particularly the speakers.

“I really enjoyed the event. I thought all the speakers really embodied the theme of the event, “Instructions Not Included.” I thought all the speakers were really empowering, and I thought they brought their personal experiences and connected it to like how they could help other people,” she said.

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