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TEDx not to be held at UWRF this year, likely to return in future

February 8, 2017

Despite two years of positive feedback, a TEDx event will not be held at UW-River Falls this year.

TEDxUW-River Falls, associated with the nonprofit TED (Technology, Education and Design), featured speakers including UWRF alumni and current students sharing their stories.

In order for the event to be branded a TEDx event, a university employee needs to be approved for a license through TED. In September, Paul Shepherd, the former director of Student Involvement, left UWRF for a job with the Minnesota State System office. When he left, he took the university’s TEDx license and the rights to hold the events with him.

Assistant Director of Student Involvement Karyn Wells said that, because the event was such a large undertaking for the office, it made sense to hit the pause button this year.

“When [Shepherd] left, it was pretty sudden, and our budget and operations person left like the same week, too,” Wells said. “There was so much turnover and just survival mode.”

Another concern regarding the event is financial. TED regulations say that the event’s speakers cannot be paid. Instead, they receive professional-quality videos of their speeches as official TED Talks in exchange for speaking. Wells said that this complicates the situation.

“[It’s] really, really cool in theory, because then they’re doing it for the right reasons,” Wells said. “But, because you’re not paying them, you need to make sure that you’re producing a very professional video afterwards.”

Wells said that UWRF cannot afford to produce such professional-quality videos, which means that the university has to contract the job out to someone else. This can cost around $10,000.

Although Wells said that the event received positive feedback from most attendees both years, the turnout was not as strong as she had hoped, with just 88 students attending the 2016 TEDx event. However, Wells said that attendance is not the only thing the office considers when it comes to best using students’ segregated fees.

“We definitely don’t determine the success of something based solely on the numbers, because for those 88 students, for all we know it could have been life-changing,” Wells said.

Student Senate President Chris Morgan said that he thinks it is very important for institutions of higher education to host events like TEDx.

“I just know that our campus has so many unique stories to share, and that provides such a great platform to share those stories from,” Morgan said.

Having that powerful in-person experience is something that Wells said can be priceless for students.

“It’s different than watching a TED Talk online, when you’re there and you live it,” Wells said. “It can be funny and interesting and uplifting and sad and the whole range of emotions.”

Wells said that she would like to hear from students who attended the events, but she would also like to know why students chose not to attend. For her, a major concern is making sure that feedback from students is utilized in order to create an event that will interest them.

“When we bring it back, we want to do it better than we ever have,” Wells said.

As far as what it will take to bring the event back, Wells said that the office is looking into it. One of the first orders of business will be to fill the director position for Student Involvement. Then, someone from UWRF will have to obtain a license to hold the event.

Student Senate has helped make the event a reality in the past, and Morgan said he is confident that could happen again.

“I can say that at least everyone I know in the student government would be very supportive of either providing funding to get it back or working with the administration to get someone certified that’s going to be here long term,” Morgan said.

According to TED’s website, over 1,500 TEDx events are coming up around the world. Just over 19,000 have been held in the past.