‘Beyond the Horizon’: TEDxVCU speakers bring new ideas to campus

Emily Richardson, Contributing Writer

A large screen at the front of the room read “Beyond the Horizon,” and on the ground below stood a simplistic sculpture of red and white that read “TEDxVCU.”

TEDxVCU’s second annual event occurred on Saturday at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU and featured a variety of talks from VCU students, faculty and community members.

“It’s about challenging yourself to think beyond what you already know,” staff advisor Justin Raibolt said ahead of the event.

TEDxVCU is a conference-style event independently coordinated by local organizers, according to the event’s website. The event follows the style of a “TED Talk,” an annual conference that invites speakers to present a wide variety of topics.

Raibolt said he helped to oversee the event planning process, including selecting speakers to give the Talks.

“Our goal was to find the idea and not the speaker,” Raibolt said. “We weren’t necessarily looking for big names. We have speakers who have never done anything like this before, but had great ideas.”

TEDxVCU student leaders Nira Harikrishnan and Stella Tessarollo took to the stage as the lights dimmed, ready to introduce the event and upcoming speakers.

Preparations for the event began in July 2021, according to Harikrishnan. She and Tessarollo worked closely together to make sure every step of planning the event went smoothly.

“It’s been a long process,” Harikrishnan said. “We’re finally starting to see all the pieces come together.”

VCU graduate student Ira Birch gave a talk titled “How the Singularity will Help you Change your Oil.”

Birch’s talk highlighted that a high percentage of non-binary people and women do not feel like there is a place for them to improve their mechanical skills, which led Birch to create a prototype version of a mixed-reality program to assist people in learning skills like basic construction.

“That’s something that I personally experienced: a lot of stereotyping and not being comfortable in those sorts of places,” Birch said. “Mixed reality is the perfect way to help people get past those confidence barriers.”

Birch said their interest in the subject came from an independent study they completed last semester as a student at the VCU Brandcenter.

Birch said they hope their talk will change the way people think about technology.

“There’s so much discussion about it being negative all the time,” Birch said. “I think, ideally, people would be inspired to work in that space.”

VCU undergraduate bioinformatics student Kirthana Srinivasan gave the final Talk of the day with “Let Me Pick Your Brain.” The talk was inspired by a brain injury Srinivasan suffered in her senior year of high school that caused atypical symptoms, according to the event program. 

Srinivasan said she wanted her talk to give people more than just her story, which was studied by medical students for extra credit, according to Srinivasan.

“I didn’t want the audience to just listen to me. I wanted them to apply my story to their lives,” she said. “What I’m telling them is the potential that my mind had, which I realized only through my injury, but you don’t have to undergo a brain injury for you to realize the power that your mind holds.”

Other speakers included VCU faculty Dr. Jay Jayaraman, student professional Cynthia Ong, student Madeline Narkinsky and community member Chris Mayfield.

“With TEDx, you really get to focus on the community that you’re a part of, and VCU is such a diverse and unique community,” TEDxVCU student leader Nira Hirakrishnan said. “We’re trying to foster diverse conversations.”

Editor’s Note: Spectrum Editor Gabriela de Camargo Gonçalves works under Justin Raibolt at the University Student Commons. For these reasons, she did not contribute to this report.

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