TEDActive 2014

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What?

For my STEP Experience, I went to the TEDActive 2014. This is the annual TED conference where TED enthusiasts and TEDx organizers, like myself, go to not only watch TED Talks live but also where we can learn how to improve our own TEDx events. The TEDActive conference, which takes place in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada is a simulcast of the TED event, which occurs in Vancouver. TED is primarily focused on TED sponsors, donors, and the actual speakers, while TEDActive is focused on TEDx organizers. By attending this conference, I was able to be the license holder for TEDxOhioStateUniversity

This week-long conference started at 7 AM on a chilly Saturday. My flight left from Port Columbus Airport, and headed to Dallas (where I had a 4 hour layover). On the flight, I sat next to this gentleman, and in order to make everything more comfortable (as we were about to be sitting next to each other for nearly two and a half hours), I introduced myself and he did the same. Through out conversations about food, languages, culture, and the world, I discovered that he was a cultural anthropology professor at Duke University who could speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Yerba (a Nigerian language). For most of the flight, Dr. Matory entertained and informed me of his stories around the world and all the fascinating cultural anthropology research he has done in his lifetime.

While waiting for my flight from Dallas to Vancouver, I emailed Dr. Matory thanking him for sharing his stories. My flight to Vancouver was rather uneventful as it was late in the evening. Walking into the Vancouver airport was absolutely amazing as it was my first time in the Pacific Northwest, and the airport itself took pride in its Pacific Northwest heritage as the airport was filled with art and sculptures from the indigenous people of the area.

Indigenous Art at YVR

Indigenous Art

After getting much needed sleep, I woke up the next morning and headed to the Vancouver Convention Center where TED had planned a special day-long workshop for TEDx organizers specifically. This first started with showing us the behind-the-scenes of the TED mainstage. Afterwards, we were all taken on coach buses to Grouse Mountain where the actual workshop began with breakout sessions on different topics that pertain to TEDx organizers such as how to raise money, ways to improve audience engagement, facilitating discussion around your talks, etc. In addition to the various workshops, TED had activities for us to do in the mountain such as snowshoeing.

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Snowshoeing at the top of Grouse Mountain, BC

 

After a day of learning, meeting people from all over the world, and adventure, we were taken from Vancouver to Whistler, a resort town two hours north where I would spend the next five days.

The next five days were the actual days of the conference over the course of which I watched nearly 120 TED Talks about things which I study like neuroscience and public health to fascinating things like architecture, artificial intelligence, and social entrepreneurship. Every day would start at 7 AM and end around 2 AM. From 8 AM to 7 PM, we watched TED Talks, had breaks to eat and socialize, and attend different workshops not only hosted by TED but also by companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Vice. From 7 PM to 11 PM, there would be social events that included dinner and fun activities. On one of the days, we were allowed to skate on the Olympic ice rink. On another, we were taken up on gondolas to the top of Whistler mountain where the vistas were breath-taking to say the least.

Whistler Mountain

Whistler Mountain

From 11 PM to 2 AM almost every day, my fellow TEDActive attendees and I had conversations about so many things, and this was the time where we got to know one another very personally and deeply. After repeating this crazy schedule for five straight days, I headed back to Vancouver.

After spending a few hours exploring Vancouver I started my journey back home the next monring, which started with a 12-hour layover in Dallas. During this layover, I met another TEDActive attendee (who was also stuck on the delay) with whom I decided to explore downtown Dallas. While she and I were riding a train from Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport to the heart of the city, we ran into a man named Stuart, who was in town for a technology conference. After bonding over the 30-minute ride, the three of us decided to explore a cool, eclectic part of Dallas. While lounging and eating from various food trucks, I got to know my TED friend and Stuart much better. In fact, I found out Stuart is a senior director at Apple, and is the man who pioneered the technology that allows one’s phones, tablets, printers, and other devices to talk on the same network. I was a bit star-struck. After an enjoyable evening, Stuart actually let us crash on his couches in his suite at the Fairmont before my TED friend and I left for the airport the next morning.

After an exhausting yet invigorating nine days, I finally concluded my STEP experience.

So What?

Through the course of those few days, I developed strong friendships with absolutely amazing people from all over the world. This experience, which STEP allowed me to do, has been one of the hallmark experiences of my career here at The Ohio State University. Not only did I learn how to be a better TEDx organizers and bring that back to my peers on the TEDxOhioStateUniversity team, but I was able to grow as a person.

The environment throughout the conference was so warm and inviting. So much so that I was able to go up to a random person and spark up a conversation for two hours. The energy was electrifying, and it allowed me to learn and explore even on five or fewer hours of sleep. I made deep connections with people from all over the country and all over the world. I still keep up with several of those friends like Sonia from San Diego, Lyn from the Yukon Territory, Brian and Eli from George Washington University, Norberto and Pedro from Porto, and Paul from Cyprus. I was able to meet so many people who were enthusiastic about TED like myself, and all of these people are doing great things all over the world and making an impact in their communities.

I am truly humbled and grateful to Ohio State for providing me the opportunity to explore this experience. I hope to be able to go to a TED conference many more times.

 

Now What?

This STEP experience has already affected my academic, personal and life goals in innumerable ways. The biggest impact deals with all three of these aspects. By talking to so many unique people who all have very different perspectives, I was able to learn lots and able to do quite a bit of introspection. I was in an atmosphere that was filled with people who did what they loved. It got me thinking about what I truly wanted to do, how I wanted to impact my community. Because of this personal experience, I decided to abandon my former career path of becoming a doctor and made changes to my academic goals. I realized that being a clinician would not use my skills and personality to impact the most people. Since then, I have added public health to my studies. Through these academic changes, I was able to see how wealth and health are intimately connected in the United States. I believe that healthcare is a basic human right, and was disturbed my the inequality and inequity I have read about and I have seen. Because my academic goals were affected, so were my personal goals. I have decided to pursue a life in public health policy and law, so that I can hopefully break the intimate connection that wealth and health have in this country. After graduation, I plan to pursue Master’s degrees in Public Health and Public Administration.

 

This STEP experience has completely changed the trajectory of my life, and for that I am deeply grateful to The Ohio State University.

Shivang

Leadership in the Backcountry

What?

This summer I participated in the Second-Year Outdoor Leadership Experience program through the Outdoor Adventure Center. The program was a fifteen-day backpacking trip through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California with a focus on leadership. Throughout the trip we summited mountains over 12,000 feet and backpacked a total of 120 miles. We carried everything we needed on our backs (tents, food, clothing, cooking/water purification supplies, etc.) The weather ranged from over 100F during the day to below 32F at night.

Each day we had a new leader of the day who was responsible for leading the group through all of the day’s activities and making the plan and decisions necessary for backcountry travel, such as mapping out water sources and scouting for the best campsite. Leaders of the day presented on a specific leadership theory and an outdoor specific skill during one of our daily group meetings. My lessons were on Authentic Leadership Development Theory and natural history/plant and animal identification of the High Sierras. Throughout the trip we saw nine black bears, two rattlesnakes, countless marmots (surprisingly aggressive for food), deer, mountain wildflowers, and of course, giant sequoia trees.

Some highlights of the trip included meeting OSU alumni out on the trail, hiking part of the John Muir Trail, washing in a refreshingly cold river, learning backcountry technical skills such as how to use bear vaults, sleeping in tents (my favorite place to sleep), being distanced from the distractions of modern society for fifteen days, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and spending hours staring up into the beautiful black sky full of diamonds.

So what?

Before heading to California, I had some experience as a leader, from student organization roles and other various positions, but the word leadership seemed far off to me. What makes a leader? Can we even pinpoint what makes a good leader? What type of leader do I want to be?  I expected the leadership lessons to be where I learned about leadership, kind of like how math lessons are how we learn math, and English lessons are how we learn English. But leadership is nothing like that. Leadership is all about application and experience. While the actual lessons on leadership certainly opened my eyes to the many different views and theories on leadership development, taking on the role of leader of the day taught me so much about what it means to be a leader, and what type of leader I am and what type of leader I can be. Through self-reflection and group feedback, I found that I like to lead according to the servant leadership and authentic leadership theories. I constantly made sure people were feeling alright on the trail, making sure that people had enough water and food. I also found that though raw openness as a leader can sometimes be uncomfortable at first, I found that I enjoy talking one on one with people, really digging deep to build those authentic relationships, and the trust that leadership is so dependent on.

I believe that leaders should be genuine, compassionate, and always willing to serve their followers, often before themselves. A good leader is comfortable with themselves and they know that substance comes before style. These lessons are the types of lessons that cannot be learned through anything but experience, and this trip truly allowed me to experience leadership.

During one of our ascents, a fellow participant told me as we were making our way up, ‘every step has a purpose’, and I’ll never forget that. No matter where we were, or what day it was, or what our end goal was for the day, every single step mattered on our journey. If we hadn’t taken the steps we did, we wouldn’t have had the same experiences or the same outcomes. The same goes in our everyday lives; we take deliberate actions, and no matter how small or large, those actions are chosen for some greater purpose. The choices that we make along our journeys are never useless, as we wouldn’t be exactly where we are today without those little actions.

One of the most powerful moments of the trip was when we summited Silliman Pass (elevation 10479 ft). For the first part of the trip, maintaining control of my breath above 8000 ft was insanely challenging, and I tended to sound exactly like Darth Vader when we were ascending mountains. Physical exhaustion and altitude sickness hit me hard, and for the first two big ascents, I needed leaders and participants pushing me (sometimes literally) and supporting me the whole way up. I needed coaching and talking and advil. But on our last day, we decided as a group to summit one more high pass. I knew it would be intense, but after all that I had been through, I also knew that I could make it. And I did. Without the advil, without the coaching, and without a leader vocally supporting me every step of the way. And when we made it to the top, I told the person who had been behind me and supported me for every previous summit that I finally could do it by myself…I needed him the first two times, and finally I didn’t need someone else supporting me the whole way. And he replied, ‘you never needed me at all’.

Whether I could have made the first two summits by myself or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone believed in me, and that allowed me to accomplish goals beyond any of my expectations. And I realized then how important it is to surround yourself with people that believe in you, or push you to be better, but also how important it is to believe in yourself first.

There’s something magical about the backcountry, and these types of trips allow you to experience that magic. Out there, where society is far off, and as John Muir wrote, ‘clocks strike without being heard’, our minds and souls are opened to so much that we cannot experience in our everyday lives. Without the limitations of walls and ceilings, and without the distractions of our modern world, we can dive deep into relationships and self-reflection, learn about ourselves and the people that we’re with, and fall in love with this beautiful world that we live in.

Now what?

If I could describe my experience in one word, I would describe it as transformational. This fall I will begin leading trips through the Outdoor Adventure Center, and because of my experience on the High Sierra Leadership Trip, I feel more confident leading people through challenges that test us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Through this experience I learned much more than I had ever expected to learn about myself and what I’m capable of doing. One of the most impactful lessons I took away from this trip is that being able to accomplish something starts with believing that you can accomplish it.

the group after summiting Alta Peak (11207 ft)

the group after summiting Alta Peak (11207 ft)

OHIO in front of General Sherman, the largest tree on earth!

OHIO in front of General Sherman, the largest tree on earth!

 

JMT marker

JMT marker

 

JMT suspension bridge

JMT suspension bridge

opening a bear vault

opening a bear vault

Jennie Lakes Wilderness

Jennie Lakes Wilderness

 

the group steps off the trail to let riders pass

the group steps off the trail to let riders pass

giving a friend a facial scrub

giving a friend a facial scrub

"The mountains are calling and I must go."  -John Muir

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
-John Muir

sky full of diamonds

sky full of diamonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos courtesy of Alex Broadstock Photography