Center for Community Engagement

Simple ideas, big impact: TEDxAmherstCollege to take place in November

TEDxAmherstCollege Team Photo.jpg
September 2013—story by Jenny Morgan. The TEDxAmherstCollege team. From left to right, front row: Diego Recinos '16, Nicole Chi '15, Tabeth Nkangoh '15. Second row: Kasope Alesh '14, David Berón '15, John He '16, Shane Zhao '14.

When Rosanne Haggerty ’82 first began working on homelessness, she wasn’t interested in stopgap solutions. “Shelters don’t cut it,” she says. Haggerty observed that people weren’t being connected to community-based resources and guessed that, by creating access to these resources and offering permanent housing, rates of homelessness would drop—dramatically.

She was right.

Today, Haggerty works nationally on homelessness as founder and president of Community Solutions, and her innovative thinking on solving homelessness has become a model nationwide. The students organizing TEDxAmherstCollege are hoping some of that innovative thinking will rub off on the Amherst community this fall.

On Sunday, November 10, Haggerty will share the stage with eight others at Disruptive Innovation, Amherst College’s first TEDx event. “A disruptive innovator is someone who is breaking paradigms,” explains David Berón ’15, one of the organizers of TEDxAmherstCollege. “We’re looking for people who have changed the system. Not just new ideas, but new ideas that will change the way people approach a topic.”

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, was founded in 1984 as a nonprofit “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” TEDx events are organized independently by communities to “stimulate dialogue at the local level.” Students on the Center for Community Engagement’s Social Innovation Leadership Team (SILT) decided to bring TEDx to Amherst after attending TEDxPioneerValley. SILT members created the independent student-led TEDxAmherstCollege committee, and the group has been hard at work ever since.

For organizer Nicole Chi ’15, disruptive innovation is about “redefining success.” She’s hoping that TEDxAmherstCollege will not only offer innovative ideas, but also inspire creativity when it comes to career choices. “What we’re doing ties in closely with the mission of Amherst College. Amherst students aren’t just here to learn about a specific field and then go on to become successful professionals. We have a drive to push beyond that,” she says.

With November quickly approaching, the TEDxAmherstCollege team has built a coalition of support for their endeavor, including the Center for Community Engagement and President Martin’s office. They’re furiously putting the finishing touches on the event’s lineup, and plan to have a disruptive innovator from the fields of medicine, history, and technology—among others. On October 6, the committee will hold a campus-wide contest to select the sole student speaker. Both Chi and Berón emphasize that they see TEDxAmherstCollege as a space to begin an exchange of innovative ideas. “We’re going to try to make this an annual event, and also have more related events throughout the year,” Chi says.

Naturally, Berón and Chi hope that TEDxAmherstCollege will inspire, but there’s more to it than that. They want to create a sense of the possible for a new generation of disruptive innovators. “I hope that [the community] understands that innovation doesn’t have to be complex,” Berón says. “There was this simple idea and it had a huge impact and I can have those ideas, too.”