TEDxNorthwesternU’s ‘Synergy’ conference boasts first student speakers in program history


Photo courtesy of TEDxNorthwesternU

SESP junior Arthur Lebovitz gave a TED Talk on composting with worms. Lebovitz was one of two student speakers, the first in school conference history.

Samantha Powers, Assistant Campus Editor

The student-run TEDxNorthwesternU club held its annual conference Sunday afternoon, boasting two student speakers for the first time along with NU professors and other experts.

The theme of the conference was “Synergy,” which emphasized the power of coming together to achieve something greater than its individual parts. TED Talks spanned topics ranging from AI-generated art to composting with worms.

Weinberg junior and co-Executive Director Yoshi D’Souza said he and his team had big shoes to fill after last year’s conference.

“A lot of our TED Talks have gone viral in the past, so we were shooting to get a viral TED Talk this year,” D’Souza said. “That’s our big goal.”

Weinberg junior and co-Executive Director Bella Gibb said the club created a new TikTok account this year with that goal in mind. The account, which promotes the club and engages students in their own thought experiments, is part of a broader effort to increase TEDxNorthwesternU’s presence on campus. 

Because the club faced problems with funding, members came up with creative solutions to their tight budget, D’Souza said. This year, they switched from hiring a professional videography team to contracting RTVF students, which Gibb said was a positive change. They also switched from free admission to $5 tickets. 

The speakers were all volunteers. Author and leadership consultant Steven Van Cohen gave a talk on building connections in an unfamiliar place. Van Cohen said the conference was as well run as any event he has done as a professional speaker.

“Everyone is really committed and excited to do this volunteer work, and it showed,” Van Cohen said. “It makes things easier for speakers when you have community coordinators really wanting to make it special. They weren’t just going through the motions, they really took this to heart.”

SESP junior Arthur Lebovitz, who spoke at the event, said the TEDxNorthwesternU club members did an “over-the-top, incredible” job. He said after growing up watching TED Talks, he was nervous to speak, but the members helped to guide him through the process.

Lebovitz gave a talk on composting. He spoke about how worms can help generate nutrient-rich soil and combat food waste at the same time. During the pandemic, he said, he became more interested in environmental work and even adopted some worms of his own. He started posting about them on social media, and he quickly gained a reputation.

“It would be like, ‘Oh, you’re the worm guy,’” Lebovitz said. “And I (was) like, ‘Wait, this is actually something cool that not all people know about,’ and I think that’s a really cool thing to share.”

Lebovitz said his family and friends came out to support him, as well as his fellow members of Cats Who Compost. 

While some students like Lebovitz had their first public speaking experiences Sunday, McCormick Prof. Kate Compton, who gave a talk on AI-generated “liquid art,” is a seasoned speaker.

Compton said she was glad to see the initiative students displayed in organizing the TEDxNorthwesternU conference, especially after witnessing a drop in student energy during online school.

Gibbs said she and D’Souza have plans for expanding operations next year. They’re hoping to start a new informal speaker event — separate from the regular conference — where students can give short talks on fun topics that interest them, she said.

In the age of TikTok and shortened attention spans, Gibbs said it’s important to create a space where people have time to share something meaningful to them.

“Nobody is born knowing how to do a TED Talk,” Gibbs said. “If you feel like you have a good idea and something to share, try out for your local TEDx. You never know what’ll happen.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @sqpowers04 

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