SESP Junior Nikita Ramanujam Co-Founds TEDx Talks at Northwestern

SESP Junior Nikita Ramanujam Co-Founds TEDx Talks at Northwestern


Attendees flocked to hear the “ideas worth spreading” at TEDx NorthwesternU, a daylong event co-founded by SESP junior Nikita Ramanujam. The event, featuring thought-provoking 15-minute talks by speakers from the Northwestern community on topics ranging from interdisciplinary teaching to human rights, was the first of its kind for the University.

“I found myself constantly amazed and inspired by the ideas of my fellow classmates and professors and wanted to create a platform for them to be heard,” says Ramanujam, who teamed up with Medill assistant professor emerita Michele Weldon to bring TEDx to Northwestern. 

Does Pluto care if it’s labeled a planet? Is any child ever born bad? What insight can you gain from spending 12 years at a university? These were just a few of the issues addressed by Northwestern students, faculty members and alumni. Event organizers selected the roster of 12 speakers from more than 100 submissions received earlier this year. The theme for the day was “Crossing Paths.”

“We worked deliberately and intentionally to make sure there was a diversity of voice,” said Weldon. “Throughout the day we had representations from science, medicine, law and elsewhere … to make sure that the many voices of Northwestern were heard.”

“I thought of my talk as sort of a tribute to Northwestern,” said speaker Marissa Jackson, a 2006 graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, who spoke about how her family roots in Ghana inform her work as a human rights attorney. “For me to be able to come back, that speaks to the work the University has been doing. I think it should serve as an encouragement.”

Other presenters included Northwestern faculty members Eli Finkel (professor, psychology, Weinberg); Shane Larson (professor, astrophysics/CIERA, Weinberg); Linda Van Horn (professor, preventive medicine, Feinberg) and Xavier McElrath-Bey (recent researcher, public policy). Alumni speakers included Ayesha Chowdhry '04; Zack Johnson '10; and Stephen Dowling '13. Northwestern students included Parag Gupta (McCormick PhD candidate); Jackson Walker ‘17; Michael Silberblatt ‘14 and Neha Reddy ‘16.

TED, a nonprofit devoted to Technology, Entertainment and Design, operates national conferences covering a wide scope of issues. The organization also encourages and licenses independent self-organized TEDx events around the country, combining video and live speakers to spark discussion and connection.

The School of Education and Social Policy was one of several NU departments and community partners that helped make the TEDx event possible. Sponsors also included the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Deloitte, the National Notary Association, AlumTalks, Weinberg, Medill, RVue and the Northwestern Panhellenic Association.

Speaker and Weinberg freshman Jackson Walker, whose talk was about returning to India recently to the orphanage from where he was adopted as an infant, said TEDx is an appropriate venue for the many ideas that abound within the diverse Northwestern community.

“It’s all about looking at things through a new lens,” Walker said. “There are a lot of common experiences here at Northwestern that, if you get up and talk about them in a different way, you get people to look at them a different way.”

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By Rachel Morello and SESP
Last Modified: 5/13/14