Friday, December 3, 2021
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TEDxUMKC and Marika Halluri: UMKC’s unacknowledged gems

TEDxUMKC stands as one of the best UMKC events I have ever attended, and I’ve been here eight years. However, many students at UMKC aren’t aware of the event (or even TED Talks). Worst of all, half the attendees left after intermission. Something which, frankly, speaks more to people’s lack of patience and busy schedules than the event’s shining planning.

If you aren’t aware, TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) epitomizes the purest ideals of education: igniting conversation, building community, enriching people’s minds and touching people’s hearts. This is exactly what appealed to Marika Halluri, fifth-year pre-medicine student and TEDxUMKC founder, when she discovered the independently run events four years ago.

“I went to TEDxKC Women and realized no one my age was there,” she said. “I was shocked at that, and saw potential for a student TED. After that, I opened a license in my name.” Her efforts mean hundreds of students experience a live TED for free. Not many students can fork up the TEDxKC $35 ticket price, but free is a price any student can afford.

However, there isn’t a competition between TEDx events around the city. Out of Nalluri’s hunger to bring TED Talks to UMKC, she sought out Mike Lundgren, the organizer and curator of TEDxKC. Nalluri ran the first event out of her apartment. There were five speakers and around 100 people in attendance. Every year since then, Lundgren has been a big help and supporter.

“We borrow their red circle rug every year,” Nalluri said. “All the TEDs in Kansas City do—TEDxCrossroads, TEDxYouth—we sign the bottom as proof. We’ve all become great friends through this experience.”

It astounded me to hear that Nalluri and her team took the event from an apartment to Liberty Memorial and doubled the attendance in only three years. On top of that, she managed a team while enrolled in the six-year medicine program – a feat many might find hard to achieve even with a part-time course load.

Ariel Andrews, senior Creative Writing student, was also impressed “that the organizers are full-time students who tackle this annually. I thought they did an awesome job running the event. The venue, intermission, and reception were all excellent.”

The event proved a success to me, as well, but many attendees left after intermission. This made me wonder if the cause might be the first few presenters.

Andrews confirmed my belief. “I think a TED Talk is most effective when there are three things present: a personal story, a social or local relevance, and a philosophical or human component. Overall, the second half’s speakers did a better job fulfilling those three objectives.”

When it comes down to it, according to Andrew’s, “not a lot of people choose to handle more than two hours of straight lectures on a Saturday.” Personally, I watch TED Talks all the time, and yes, especially on the weekends.

But, in terms of the first handful of presenters, it’s true Gina Kaufman and Judy Mills gave lackluster speeches. Both seemed nervous and perhaps novices in speech giving, or perhaps not as flawless as most TED presenters. But how could the TEDxUMKC committee screen presenters for preparedness and advanced charisma? That’s why I desperately wanted to know how presenters were selected.

According to Nalluri, her team searches high and low, but, as she said, “most of the presenters are from the university or around the area, like Judy Mills from Mills Records and KCUR’s Gina Kaufman. Professor Brodwin has some amazing local stuff going on like the Euclid telescope he and his team at UMKC are a part of. Before the event, we look at several speech outlines. The speakers you saw are actually finalists.”

All in all, active participation seems to be the main obstacle students’ face in fully engaging. The big picture gets obscured (especially on a Saturday) when many don’t know the work behind an event and the landmarks Nalluri’s team has made. Plus, we live in an age of technology and a fast pace. Sitting through a great talk takes some effort. Luckily, some more active dimensions to TEDxUMKC are on the horizon.

“Next year, and this isn’t totally finalized yet, we’re thinking about doing TEDxAdventures,” said Nalluri. “It’d be more about actually experiencing some of what presenters discuss. We might, say, go on big bike rides inspired by Eric Bunch’s TED Talk last year. Or maybe plan a time to go eat at Anton’s restaurant and experience the sustainable food he paid homage to in his talk.”

Ingenious, right? The brilliance behind Nalluri’s future plans will likely reap more active participation, higher attendance rates and community involvement. The idea could mean appreciation and awareness for one of UMKC’s more buried treasures.

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