VCU faculty, students share personal stories at TEDxVCU event

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer 

Seven speakers — three VCU students, two alumni and two instructors — responded to a central theme, “Below the Surface,” in Saturday’s virtual TEDxVCU event. 

TEDxVCU is a partnership between the university and TED, a national nonprofit centered around presentations on technology, education and design. The university group has held events since 2014. This year, the University Student Commons hosted the two-hour speaker series.   

Read a short summary from each presentation below. 

Anna Marie “Amie” Rodriguez

Anna Marie Rodriguez, a VCU biology and creative writing undergraduate student, presented “Hate is a Virus. ” Her presentation dealt with racism and hate against the Asian Pacifc Islander Americans community, or APIA, as she referred. 

Rodriguez said racism is like another pandemic, except no one is immune to it. She talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled hate against the APIA community through violence, seen in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings, and verbal actions, such as calling the virus the “Kung Flu.” Eight people were killed in a series of mass shootings at Atlanta massage parlors on March 16, six of whom were Asian women.

“Not even 24 hours prior to the Atlanta murders, I was holding my own grandfather’s hand on his 89th birthday, a privilege that I fear of losing,” Rodriguez said. 

Cara Wolder 

Cara Wolder, a graduate student in VCU Brandcenter’s art direction program, spoke about why one should “Remain Undefined.” She encouraged people to not confine themselves to boxes, which can limit potential. 

She shared personal stories, such as being a triplet and how she had to become more independent when she started college at San Diego State University. 

“Life is about discovery and definitions limit our growth potential and exploration,”  Wolder said. “They inhibit you from experiencing your authentic self, which naturally is a curious person, which is why we should all strive to remain undefined.”

Puru Jena 

Puru Jena, a distinguished professor of physics at VCU, presented “The Many Faces Of Carbon,” which discussed graphite, diamonds and how humans are all made of carbon. 

Jena credited his high school math teacher for being the reason where he is today. His math teacher arranged for Jena to attend one of the Indian Science Congress Association’s annual meetings with scientists from all over the world. Jena said that he didn’t understand a word when he attended, but knew it was important and “exciting.”

“I dreamt that I would be like them and that dream brought me to this country” Jena said. “A country where dreams can come true if we work hard and stay focused.”

Hadiya Gayle

VCU alumna Hadiya Gayle is a commercial real estate agent and founding member of the nonprofit organization, Self Love University. Her talk,“The Netwerk” focused about how people should change their perspective on code switching and how it can help with networking. 

Code switching is the act of alternating between two languages, but it can also be a tool utilized to communicate with another person that they don’t know, according to Gayle. 

“There’s a lot of times that people will think of code switching as an imposter syndrome, but you belong here and you’ve earned the right to be in this space,” Gayle said.

Eighty-five percent of jobs are filled through networking, according to Gayle.

“So if networking is so powerful, and so meaningful, why is it so hard for us to do?” Gayle said.

Gayle said that everyone should see code switching as a tool and means of communication and the more they use it that way, “the better we will get at it.” 

Rachel Elliott 

VCU alumna and three-time cancer survivor Rachel Elliott gave a talk called “Resilient By Design.” Elliott said she calls herself a “resiliency speaker,” or someone who shares stories on recovering from difficult situations. 

Elliott shared her story of having cancer three times to show how she came up with her formula for resilience — gratitude, positivity and compassion. 

“You can use it to help navigate any challenges that come your way in life. They have the power to shift your perspective and make you a more resilient human by choice resilient by design,” Elliot said. 

Bianca Owens

Health psychology doctoral student Bianca Owens talked about medical treatment discrepancies faced by Black women, in her talk called, “The Missing Link in Black Women’s Reproductive Health.”

Owens discussed the issues Black women experience in health care settings in regards to their reproductive health, such as disregarding their physical pain. She continued with how Black women can benefit from having healthcare workers who look like them and other systematic changes that can be made to reduce these issues. 

“One way to put the power back in the hands of black women is through the adoption of sister circles, a sacred space curated by and for Black women,” Owens said. “A space in the community where Black women can explicitly and unapologetically acknowledge and consider the layered impact of everyday racism and sexism on their well being.”

Bernard Means

Bernard Means, an archaeologist and professor in VCU’s School of World Studies, presented a talk called “America’s Founding Monsters: Ice Age Animals and the Birth of America.”

Means is the director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, a university organization partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Legacy Program to conduct 3D scanning of historical artifacts by travelling around the U.S. and India. The lab is on VCU’s campus and the work is done mostly by VCU students. 

“So people were on the quest to find something big, and something that was fierce, and something that was basically masculine,” Means said.

Means displayed some historical artifacts, such as molar teeths of a mammoth, as he spoke about the journey some Americans like Thomas Jefferson embarked on to find giant beasts. These journeys were commonly made in an attempt to disprove the theory that there wasn’t any animal in America that was bigger than any animal in the Old World.

Read more from some of these speakers in the Spectrum section of this week’s issue of The CT.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply