Wofford College has joined the TED family, and Wofford students led the way.

Chandler Compton ’20, who organized Wofford’s first TEDx event, says the idea sprang from one of his classes. Dr. Dawn McQuiston, associate professor of psychology, showed a TED Talk video about parental discipline, and Compton says the class discussion that followed inspired him to explore the possibility of having a TEDx session on campus.

“All these people in class started sharing their experiences about childhood and family and their views on these things,” says Compton, an English and international affairs major from Cedar Grove, N.C. “It took up the whole class session. It was really cool for me to see not only a range of experiences that were much different from my own but also how it encouraged a lot of people who rarely speak out in class to share their experience.”

Compton researched TED and moved through the process of being approved by the TED organization. In collaboration with McQuiston, he put together a plan to bring TED to the campus and recruit a team of 30 students to work on logistics, licensing, speaker selection and publicity.

TEDx Wofford was held on Oct. 25 to a packed theater in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts. The program was livestreamed as well. The theme was “Bridging the Gap.”

“We decided to keep it as interdisciplinary as possible,” Compton says. “We wanted it to focus on the difference between how we perceive things and how they really are.”

Intercultural studies major Nneka Mogbo ’20 from Douglasville, Ga., was a member of the TEDx curation team, which worked with the event’s speakers to guide them through the development of their presentations.

“When we were selecting our speakers, we wanted the lineup to reflect the different communities within the Wofford family — students, faculty, staff and alumni,” she says. “We were successful in finding members from the different communities.

“TEDx is an important platform that highlights ideas we should keep in mind as we move forward as Terriers and members of local, national and international communities. Wofford is part of a larger macrocosm. We cannot move forward as an institution without acknowledging how and what factors of the larger population or history affect us. Our theme is meant to acknowledge that gap between what we know, believe to be true and reality.”

TEDx speakers are limited to 18 minutes, although many talks are much shorter. Some of the most successful, Compton says, last only three or four minutes.

“Our overall goal is to try to stimulate an environment at Wofford in which people are willing to learn about things that maybe they don’t exactly understand,” he says.

McQuiston, whose class session sparked Compton’s interest in TED, says TED videos are valuable as class tools.

“I like to show talks on provocative or controversial topics that get students thinking,” she says. “It can be great for starting discussion. That one class experience evidently spoke to Chandler. He has done a fantastic job — a student who took a big idea and ran with it.”

Wofford TEDx speakers were Fred Johnson ’85, a retired U.S. Army colonel; Melissa-Anne Cunningham-Sereque ’00, the president of a career development service; Dr. John Miles, associate professor of English; Megan Dempsey ’20, a psychology major from Travelers Rest, S.C., and Brazil; Will Rutherford ’07, a designer and operator of escape room attractions in Greenville, S.C., and Dr. Ramon Galinanes, director of the Bonner Scholars Program.

Dempsey began the evening by talking about her status as what she called a “third-culture kid.” She was born in South Carolina, but her family moved to Brazil when she was 6 months old, so, as she put it, “I exist between cultures. I belong everywhere and nowhere.” She advised the audience to travel, to “eat the food” from different cultures and to read and ask questions about other cultures and examine why they are unique.

Johnson, who served 29 years in the U.S. Army, ended the program by talking about his experiences in what he called his “fifth war.” He served in Middle Eastern conflicts on four tours but said he traveled his toughest road trying to recover from PTSD and dealing with the conflicts that produced. He now is active in volunteer work both inside and outside the military community.

TED talks began in 1984 as a way to spread information and ideas about technology, entertainment and design. The TED conference has been held annually since 1990, and its reach has broadened to include talks on a wide variety of topics. Many TED talks have become viral sensations.

By Mike Hembree