Whitman hosts inaugural TEDx event

There are few places where you can hear experts discuss hip-hop, snake bites, art education and aquaponic gardening all in the course of a single evening. But on April 27, Whitman was one of those places. 

The inaugural TEDxWhitmanCollege event brought together seven speakers representing both the Whitman and Walla Walla communities. Presented in Kimball Theatre before a sold-out audience, the talks were also live streamed to capacity crowds in two other campus venues.

TEDx is a series of independently organized, community-based conferences modeled on the internationally acclaimed TED Talks format. The theme of TEDxWhitmanCollege was "Walla Walla and Beyond," a concept speakers were encouraged to interpret creatively in their talks.

"My goal was to excite people about the topic and explain where we're headed," said Theo Ciszewski '15, a politics and French major from Washington, D.C., whose presentation was titled "Aquaponics: The Ocean in the Wheat Fields."

Aquaponics, a system of sustainable food production, involves raising fish and plants together so that the fish fertilize the plants and the plants filter the water. Ciszewski was inspired to pursue aquaponics at Whitman after getting involved with the group Student Agriculture at Whitman. The group used funds from Whitman's Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund to start a greenhouse on the roof of the Hall of Science, which now produces microgreens for campus dining halls. Ciszewski believes aquaponics is another opportunity to increase the amount of local food on campus.

"What's going to make this a success is eliminating boundaries," he said. "So I wanted my presentation to tie everything back to the community and emphasize the importance of our connection as a small school to this small town."

Aisha Fukushima
Aisha Fukushima '09 is a singer, public speaker, educator, writer and self-proclaimed RAPtivist.

Noah Leavitt, assistant dean for student engagement, said the TEDx model – which promotes the exchange of "ideas worth spreading" provided an excellent platform for students to share their passions with the greater community.

"Many Whitman students engage the world in powerful ways, reflect on this involvement, and develop insights that are well-worth spreading," he said. "TEDx enabled them to demonstrate how these powerful experiences and their Whitman education offer value and inspiration to society."

Justin Lincoln, assistant professor of art, presented on the topic of "Educating to Create." He derived his inspiration from "a focus on teaching and learning," which he calls a consuming passion. Lincoln's expertise lies in digital means of artistic and human expression. He creates some of his work using computer systems, which he said are closely aligned with the purpose of the liberal arts.

"When I looked up the origin of the liberal arts, I found it was connected to the idea of an education that separates the free citizen from the slave," he said. "If there's one thing in particular that we might become a slave to, it's a system. And the best way to avoid becoming a slave to a system is to look at systems. What's a system? A system is a bunch of different things that come together, a lot of moving pieces. The liberal arts help you learn to deal with a lot of moving pieces."

Aisha Fukushima '09 also focused on the concept of interconnectedness with her talk titled "Intersectionality Matters," during which she performed selections of her music. The 2009 Watson Fellow's presentation offered a personal exploration of her multiracial identity and described how people from all backgrounds can better understand their connectedness to struggles for social justice.

"Feeling good about my TEDx talk last night and I am very excited for what's to come," Fukushima tweeted after the event. "Big thanks to all collaborators, attendees, friends and family. It's been a whirlwind month of speaking, singing and teaching across the U.S."

Juli Dunn, director of academic resources, said that TEDx served the purpose she hoped it would generating productive dialogue within the Whitman and Walla Walla communities. "After the event, I watched from the lobby as our speakers were surrounded by Whitman and community folks vying for their attention, their energy and their ideas and I realized that this was exactly as we'd imagined it," she said.

All of the talks were recorded, and video will be available online in the coming weeks. Watch the TEDxWhitmanCollege website for updates. To view a photo gallery of the event, visit the Whitman College Facebook.