This year’s TEDxUniversityofNevada event featured an engaging and colorful assortment of speakers from a variety of dynamic and impressive backgrounds, and it did not disappoint. While we’ve all watched TED or TEDx videos before, there’s nothing quite like attending the full production in person. To experience 22 talks over the course of a day alongside of a deeply engaged audience, listening to a set of incredibly moving topics, is akin to undergoing a collective transformational experience. And truthfully, there’s nothing else in this world quite like it. Organized into four distinct sessions, a phrase from the introduction immediately caught my attention and promptly set the tone: “Today is a day for openness, critical thinking, inspiration, and action.”


In the first session entitled “Discern,” the founder of Marketing Evolution Rex Briggs (whose organization operates in over 20 countries serving companies like Best Buy, Coca-Cola and Citi Bank) kicked off the event with a focus on the topics of marketing ROI, big data, and how to maximize efficiency. Tim Grunert, winner of the student speaker competition, followed up with a thought-provoking talk on what it means to be unique in an increasingly ubiquitous world. Next, Trish Shaffer, a passionate leader of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Nevada community, discussed the need for SEL in our schools to help combat bullying. Carson Montessori School teacher Racquel Abowd talked about how the words “thank you for never giving up on me” have both informed and inspired her teaching strategy, and how never giving up on students has led to profound outcomes. The first session wrapped up with a gripping talk about grief from author and teenager Bridget Park, who witnessed her own brother’s suicide at age 12.

In session two entitled “Impact,” professor and leadership scholar Barry Posner, co-author of the award-winning and best-selling leadership book The Leadership Challenge, delivered an inspiring talk on the concept of leadership. Pastor Harvey Turner of Living Stones Church followed up with a discussion about what it means to be “in the city, for the city,” and how an organization must think outside its own walls in order to grow and prosper. University of Nevada, MBA graduate Kristin Stith and current MBA student Paul Klein next gave a talk about what it takes to lead a grassroots effort, focusing on the “Biggest Little City” movement as a case in point. Jamie Amelio shared the story behind her move to establish Caring for Cambodia, which works to support 6,400 students in 24 schools by providing students with well-equipped classrooms, local CFC-trained teachers, hot meals, uniforms, basic health and hygiene care. The second session closed with a riveting talk from Elizabeth Smart who shared her personal story of abduction, and how she has worked to overcome her situation and help others in the process.

In the third session entitled “Innovate,” Peter Epstein, Associate Professor and Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music at the University of Nevada, opened with a musical performance to smoothly transition us into the second half of the day. Dr. Mike Haynie, a sought after advisor and speaker on issues related to business, military veterans and entrepreneurship, gave a thought-provoking and introspective talk about the state of our military veterans in America and how we must all take responsibility for helping to reintegrate them into our communities. Michael Raynor, a director at Deloitte Services LP and co-author of such books as The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think and The Innovator’s Solution, talked about the concept of “rules being made to follow.” Arte Nathan led an engaging talk about second chances, highlighting a handful of personal anecdotes from his 30 year career in human resources, specifically during his time leading HR efforts for Wynn Resorts. Andrew Sherman—notable corporate and transactional attorney with Jones Day, author of 26 books, and Adjunct Professor in the MBA program at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University—led a colorful and eye-opening discussion on the concept of waste, how we should look at what’s not being used in our lives and businesses as an opportunity for reuse, recycling, and repurposing. Silicon Valley startup expert Victor Hwang rounded out the third session with a talk about organizational structure, the changing environments of business, and what it takes to succeed in the modern marketplace.

The fourth and final session, “Flourish,” kicked off with a presentation about excellence from Stanford professor and co-author of the book Scaling Up Excellence, Huggy Rao.  Dr. David AuCoin, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, discussed the work he is doing abroad to help detect treatable, but deadly diseases that do not currently have a timely or cost-effective method for doing so. Local news anchor Wendy Damonte shared an emotional story of her mother’s battle with breast cancer, and how she petitioned for a new law to better promote early detection. Emergency Medicine Physician and Director of Patient-Centered Care Research at George Washington University, Dr. Leana Wen, gave a vivacious yet eye-opening first-hand account on the current healthcare system and the need for reform. Author and adventurer Neal Petersen closed out the day on a high note, sharing his personal story of hope and triumph, reminding everyone to “turn your baggage into a treasure chest.”

While the above summary hardly captures the depth of the individual backgrounds represented here, and barely does justice to the scope or range of the issues discussed and insights captured, my hope is that you’ve heard enough here to whet your appetite for more. Stay tuned for the videos: the 2014 talks are guaranteed to open your mind, motivate, and inspire you.

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