Scientist Jacqueline Stephens has spent her entire career unearthing key findings about the causes of obesity and diabetes. The LSU professor of biological sciences and director of basic research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center is an expert in her field, bringing more than $10 million in research funding to her Pennington laboratory.
Stephens keeps a grueling schedule, monitoring groundbreaking research on fat cells, collaborating with scientists the world over, and training the next generation of doctors and scientists at LSU. But later this month, she departs from that routine to participate in the second annual TEDxLSU event, a gathering of 15 accomplished men and women who will deliver dynamic, inspiring TED talks in a single afternoon at the LSU Shaver Theatre.
“TED” stands for technology, entertainment and design; and TED talks—which have soared in popularity across the country—are short, engaging speeches delivered by local and national problem solvers. TED is owned by the nonprofit Sapling Foundation, and its purpose is simply to spread good ideas. It’s a straightforward concept, but the format is so engaging that TED talks are now followed by millions of viewers in search of fast, digestible bites of inspiration. Fans stream TED talks on YouTube and Netflix, and share their favorites with friends. National TED talks are delivered twice a year on a range of subjects, from clean foods to technology to building design and much more. They are meant to entertain as much as inform—without going over 18 minutes.
Local communities can apply for a TEDx license, allowing them to hold local events. LSU became a licensee last year, says Rebecca Burdette, associate director of LSU’s Communication Across the Curriculum (CxC) program and the TEDxLSU organizer.
“We thought it was a great way to show students and the community what effective communication looks like,” says Burdette. “There’s so much going on in Baton Rouge right now, and it’s important to be able to discuss issues in a non-barrier sort of way. A TED conference is not about sides; it’s about ideas.”
This year’s TEDxLSU speakers are split evenly by gender and include a particularly strong panel of women, says Burdette. Stephens and others will speak on topics that include pioneering ways to educate at-risk kids, marine biology, girl power, art, business, the power of playgrounds, and other topics.
“I’m excited about speaking,” says Stephens. “I think it’s my responsibility to be able to communicate the importance of basic science and what it’s contributed.”
Speakers are sworn to secrecy about the full content of their TEDxLSU talks, which run about 10 minutes and will include storytelling and a call to action, says Burdette.
“It’s not your Rotary speech,” Burdette says “The whole concept of TED is to have dialogue and to share ideas that provoke thought and change.”
TED speakers can’t promote their own goods or services; instead, their purpose is to plant seeds about ideas that advance society, she adds.
Speaker Marybeth Lima will draw from her experiences as the creator of the LSU Community Playground Project, which has reimagined the way school playgrounds are drawn, funded and built in Baton Rouge. Since 1997, Lima, the Cliff & Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at LSU, has used school playgrounds as a laboratory for showing students how to create safe and engaging designs. Her students have helped design playgrounds for 29 schools, while she and a small team have helped those schools secure the funds and volunteer manpower to complete construction. Moreover, Lima has made sure her students spend plenty of time working closely with children and teachers so that their designs reflect the “soul of the community.”
“I’m going to talk about what it really means to serve,” says Lima. “I am honored to participate. The entire slate of presenters is speaking to ideas that will inspire positive change in Louisiana, and I look forward to hearing our collective voices.”
The student voice hasn’t been forgotten on the panel. Courtney Brandabur, an LSU junior and psychology major, will talk about female empowerment. Brandabur founded Girl Warrior, a local organization, website, blog and online magazine that addresses issues impacting young women, particularly body positivity. Brandabur’s target audience is 18- to 25 year-olds who are balancing academics, personal issues and professional goals. She says she started the organization when she watched her younger sister struggling with body image issues.
“It’s a common theme among women, and it sparked my intense desire to do something about it and to help them build confidence and self-esteem,” says Brandabur, who is working toward the LSU Distinguished Communicator designation.
Brandabur adds that she is a frequent consumer of TED talks herself.
“I watch them all the time for inspiration,” she says. “[University of Houston researcher] Bren Brown, who speaks on shame and how it affects people, is one of my favorite speakers.”
Check out the 2014 TEDxLSU speakers below!
Junior at LSU, founder of Girl Warrior, a local organization and website, blog and online magazine that focuses on women’s issues and empowerment
Founder of THRIVE, Louisiana’s first charter boarding school for at-risk students
LSU alumna, artist, metal smith, jewelry designer and cancer survivor
Physician, founder of the Healthcare Gallery in Baton Rouge: yoga studio, art gallery and medical innovation hub
Talent development manager at IBM Global Business Services
Environmentalist; former chair of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana
LSU alumna based in Santa Monica, a marine environmentalist who has worked on oyster population issues
Middle-school teacher and founder of Front Yard Bikes, a program for urban youth
Biological and agricultural engineering professor, founder of the LSU Community Playground Project
Secretary, Louisiana Economic Development
Prison reform researcher and activist, assistant professor, LSU Department of Communication Studies
Former gang member, youth activist
Aspiring playwright and poet who earned a $100K scholarship to University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor of biological sciences at LSU, director of basic research at Pennington, leading research into diabetes
Chef, activist and founder of Triumph Kitchen, a culinary training program for at-risk youth