TEDxBucknell: Succeeding under pressure

Haley Mullen, News Co-Editor

The TEDx Bucknell University event took place at the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg on Nov. 10. Modeled after TED conferences, the event aimed to provide a platform for intellectual discussions from stand-out members of the University community. The speakers included professors, students, and University alumni, all of whom presented their own take on the theme “Under Pressure.”

An independently organized TED event, the TEDx Bucknell University talks, which were entirely student-run and organized, emulated the TED Talk format of twenty-minute discussions by highly qualified individuals presenting their takes on the theme of pressure and stress.

I think that TED talks have a unique power to facilitate curiosity, intellectual conversation, and communal growth. Having the chance to work with a group of equally passionate students to bring that environment to this campus was an incredibly enriching experience,” lead organizer and lead speaker coach of TEDxBucknell Connor Grigg ’20 said.

Professor of Biology Mark Haussmann and Associate Professor of Political Science Chris Ellis both presented notions of stress in relation to their respective areas of expertise. Haussmann discussed how stress can increase aging, as shown by his research concerning the DNA of Japanese Quails. Ellis presented answers to the questions regarding why politics are so polarizing and where political beliefs come from. He discussed stereotypes commonly associated with individuals of the Democratic and Republican parties and how, when people only speak with those whose political views align with theirs, this “reinforces beliefs that we are right and they, whoever they are, are wrong,” Ellis said.

The first student speaker of the TEDxBucknellUniversity event was STEM Scholar and Presidential Fellow Nate Wintersgill ’20. Wintersgill was asked to discuss “how to be a better student.” However, as he explained throughout his presentation, he was not able to speak on this topic for the audience as a whole, as every student has specific needs and varying paths to academic success. Wintersgill, who skipped both the 6th and 7th grades, concluded his talk by telling the audience to “remember that the best path for you might not be the most obvious one,” and that the most universal advice for academic success he could give is to “keep an open mind.”

“I hope that sharing my story through TEDx might show families struggling to find accommodation for their loved ones that their efforts are not made in vain. There are lots of success stories out there if you look for them, and hopefully sharing just a little bit of mine can show families, and even schools, the benefits of taking a nontraditional path through the education system,” Wintersgill said following his talk.

Kathryn Lenker ’20, the second student speaker of the event, discussed her work concerning the pressure placed on North American brown bats due to White-nose syndrome, a fungus that is infecting and killing bats across the nation. She explained how bats are important not only to the ecosystem but also to humans, as bats not only eat “up to five thousand bugs in one night,” but also help lower the amount of pesticides. Additionally, bats are the sole pollinator of agave, the flower that makes tequila.

Lenker, who is also a Presidential Fellow, detailed her work for the audience, displaying photos of bat wings and noses infected with the fungus taken during her time in the lab. “You could say I’m embracing my inner bat,” Lenker said, “spending so much time in that dark, cold lab.” Lenker concluded her talk with the question of whether or not scientists should “even be forming a cure for White-Nose Disease at all.” A cure could possibly disrupt the ability for the bats to overcome this pressure and evolve.

Alumni speaker Jennifer Mellon ’04 discussed the importance of letting go of stressful plans. As the Co-Founder and President of Trustify, a technology platform which connects individuals and businesses to licensed private investigators, Mellon spent the majority of her life following her own pressure-causing plans. Mellon found herself meeting all of her goals at the age of 24 before her life seemingly crumbled around her. She discussed the adverse and often dangerous effects of pressure-packed plans, such as anxiety and depression.

Additionally, Mellon spoke with the audience on how she learned “if you are not able to adapt and move and pivot quickly, your plans are likely to fail.” Through faith and yoga, Mellon said she was able to “throw out the road map and live in the moment that is in front of me,” and suggested the audience try it as well.

The second alumni and final speaker of the night was President and Chief Executive Officer of Kleinfelder, George Pierson ’84. Throughout his discussion on handling the pressures of tough negotiations, Pierson explained how the key is keeping calm and deciphering what the other side truly wants. To keep emotions from impeding the negotiation process, Pierson said he often utilizes humor or takes a walk or break from the situation when it gets too tense. He instructed the crowd to know the strengths of their team members and use them to their best advantage as, he said, “if you have an all-star shooting guard, you would not put her at center.”

Additionally, the crowd enjoyed cookies and pretzels provided by Salty and Baked during an intermission, as well as two recorded TED Talks concerning overcoming pressure.

“I feel like I got a general idea of how stress affects my life and a new perspective about stress and how to deal with pressure,” audience member Khanh Pham ’22 said.

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