TEDxUMN conference gets to the “Heart of Discovery”

The student-organized conference was the first of its kind at the University of Minnesota.

Emily Mongan


A diverse group of students, faculty and members of the public gathered early Saturday morning at Coffman Union for the University’s first-ever TEDxUMN conference.

TEDxUMN is an independently organized offshoot of the non-profit TED organization — or Technology, Entertainment and Design — which hosts a series of conferences and talks that aim to spread “ideas worth sharing.”

Speakers at TED talks over the years have included Bill Gates, Frank Gehry and Al Gore.

Each year, TED hosts a main conference in California, with smaller, international conferences in different countries. This weekend marked the end of the first-ever TEDxSummit, a week-long program held in Doha, Qatar, solely for organizers of the smaller, independently run TEDx talks, like the one held at the University.

The theme of TEDxUMN, “At the Heart of Discovery,” stressed the importance of personal discovery and growth alongside professional growth.

TEDxUMN grew out of a small “salon” held in November, which focused entirely on student speakers from across the University. The success of the salon is what led to a full TEDx conference, the event’s lead organizer Dustin Huibregtse said.

Jodi Sandfort, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the first speaker of the day, explained how TEDxUMN’s theme related directly to the University community.

“It’s really [about] these undergraduate students who had a vision, that some of us at the University of Minnesota needed to come together to talk about our mission,” Sandfort said, “What does it mean to be ‘Driven to Discover,’ and what are the different ways that discoveries happen?”

Distinguished University faculty, alumni and students from a variety of disciplines were invited to the entirely student-run conference to share their passions, ideas and life-changing experiences.

Freshman Annica Lu said she was drawn to the conference by watching videos on the TED website but was surprised at the range of people involved with the conference.

“The thing I’m really impressed with is the speakers are from all different backgrounds. There were so many different ages,” Lu said.

Huibregtse said the event’s uniqueness lay in its ability to bring people together from all different professional and educational backgrounds for a day of sharing experiences.

“It’s a really beautiful cross section of people from across the University,” Huibregtse said, noting speakers from the Carlson School of Management, the College of Design and Fairview Physician Associates.

Over the course of the day-long event, 16 speakers shared their personal experiences and ideas on topics ranging from water quality control, women in business, vaccines and even a modern dance performance from University alumna Laura Selle Virtucio.

Todd Reubold, director of communications for the University’s Institute on the Environment, spoke during the event’s “Discover Yourself” session. By sharing his personal story of self-discovery in the wake of his mother’s passing, Reubold encouraged the audience to live in the moment.

“I decided to stop living for ‘someday,’” Reubold told the audience of about 400. “Stop waiting for someday, because someday might never come.”

Outside of listening to the speeches, attendees of the conference were encouraged to interact with those around them and share their ideas and passions with complete strangers.

Name tags were given out at the beginning of the day that included, aside from a spot for the attendee’s name, places for participants to write things that inspired them and one thing they want to do before they die.

“We really wanted to bring all of these people together into one cohesive group, so we could pick all of their brains at once,” said Dylan Verden, who coordinated the speakers for the event. “Passionate people want to share their passion.”