TEDxUMN tells the story of the Twin Cities at McNamara

TEDxUMN — organized by students with a local angle.

Bharat Pulgam, the founder of three companies and a freshman at the University of Minnesota, delivers the first speech of the evening as part of TEDxUMN: A Tale of Twin Cities, at the McNamara Alumni Center on Friday, March 30.

Carter Blochwitz

Bharat Pulgam, the founder of three companies and a freshman at the University of Minnesota, delivers the first speech of the evening as part of TEDxUMN: A Tale of Twin Cities, at the McNamara Alumni Center on Friday, March 30.

Sophie Vilensky

It was around 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon — the day of TEDxUMN: A Tale of Twin Cities. The stage was set, the goodie bag filling process was underway and University of Minnesota School of Nursing associate professor Cheryl Robertson was set to appear on stage in about five hours.

Though her speech was cemented, she’d never seen a TED Talk.

“I’ll go to the website when it’s over,” Robertson said.

As all promotional materials declare, TEDxUMN is an independently organized TED event taking place on the U of M campus; the recent event took place at the McNamara Alumni Center. The format is the same as the talks and conferences you’ve seen online, but the organizers are different.

The event is licensed by TED, but it’s all student-led.

Involved in the group since his freshman year, marketing and management information senior Jackson Ridl is this year’s executive director of TEDxUMN. 

On the day of the event, Ridl walked around McNamara Alumni Center, calmly touching base with his 31 team members and checking in with speakers.

“[TEDxUMN is] a supplement to a student’s academic experience,” Ridl said. “Foundational classes are what we need to take and are of course important … but what inspires you?”

Planning for TEDxUMN begins in the fall, when students join the group and are assigned jobs — tasks include curation, marketing, set design and “experience” planning.

TEDxUMN members rely on social media for publicity. After the event, talks are posted online. The group uses Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (they can be found at @TEDxUMN on all) to promote the event and introduce speakers.

Year after year, the event sells out, with people finding out about it a little too late.

“They’re scalping tickets,” said Mark Moran, TEDxUMN chief marketing officer and marketing and international business sophomore. “Too bad we already printed name tags,” another member replied.

That night, a group of 500 students, faculty and locals filled the seats of McNamara to eat, listen to speakers and discuss Minnesota trivia.

With seven speakers lined up, the night’s entertainment flowed seamlessly. Student emcees said all the right things; speaking professors’ fall classes filled up a little more.

A highlight of the night was Augsburg student Grant Berg’s talk on being a transgender youth in today’s political climate (or really any climate).

“I don’t want to be an activist forever,” Berg said.

Upon leaving the stage, he was met with a standing ovation. Unfortunately, there are no encores in TED conferences.

After University management freshman (and CEO of three companies) Bharat Pulgam’s existential crisis-inducing first talk, Robertson took the stage.

Weaving her own worldly tales into a lesson on compassion and responsibility, Robertson perfectly encapsulated the event’s theme: stories Minnesotan in origin with a global impact.