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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxYouth@Columbus

Austin Channell at TEDxCbus

by Kendra Hovey

If you didn’t see it, you might have heard about it: First standing O of the day . . . 80,290 views online . . . featured on WOSU TV’s TEDxColumbus special . . . The talk, Austin Channell’s A Culture of Obsession: Why taking choir kept me from being valedictorian, was even retweeted by preeminent chorale composer Eric Whitacre—making Channell, for one hot moment, a hero among Central Ohio choir directors.

It all made for an interesting senior year of high school for Austin Channell, who never expected to be juggling his class schedule with an appearance on All Sides with Ann Fisher or piggybacking a college visit onto a speaking engagement in Virginia.

Now a high school graduate, Channell finished third in his class, but was not a valedictorian. As he says, “that would have been awkward.” In the fall, he’ll attend Vanderbilt University, where he plans to study civil engineering.

Austin Channell on all sides with Ann FisherHis TEDx talk, to quickly refresh, grew out of a real life quandary: He could take choir in high school, get an A and, as a result, lower his GPA. Or he could sign up for study hall and end up with a higher GPA. As absurd as this sounds, it’s also built into the educational grading system. As Channell deftly points out, it is possible for a student to “succeed in more areas and be penalized for it.”

It’s not that he had some great ambition to be a valedictorian, as he says, “It was the principle of the thing.” And the problem is bigger than just some nonsensical grade point system. At issue, is the larger and more complicated matter of how we choose to define and measure success, and the resulting effects on college-entrance, and the self-esteem, health and well-being of our youth.

For students, it can lead to some silly scheduling maneuvers—going to art class while officially signed up for study hall. But if college is going to be in the picture, GPA is vital, and even as current business-speak extols the virtues of failure while the social sciences send out alerts about the dangers of perfectionism, students know exactly the fine line they have to walk.

If an A in a non-AP class can reduce GPA or just one B can plummet a class rank from one to one hundred and something, an example Channell shares, why take a risk? Or follow an interest? Maybe the student truly is that much less smart or less studious than before the B, either way, at many colleges, her application’s gone from the top of the pile to the slush pile. Grading—how it varies between districts, schools and teachers and what exactly it measures—is not just a complicated puzzle for administrators. Channell is telling us it’s having real effects, adverse effects, on real lives.

Yet not every high schooler with something important to say, says it on the TEDx stage. In fact, in the history of TEDxColumbus there’ve been exactly two: Austin Channell and Meagan Jones. Channell’s journey began courtesy of his public school, where a posted flyer and a nudge from a teacher led to an internship with TEDxYouth. Working with Andy Aichele for two years, he helped plan, coach and stage manage the event. “We spent a lot of time at a lot of Paneras,” he says. As can happen when working with TED, the question pops up: “What would be your talk?” When Achiele would pose it, Channell, took it as idle musing, at least until the day he began “ranting” about his situation. As he recalls, “Andy said, ‘This is your talk,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah…it is.’ ”

Austin Channell interviewed by CBS News Pittsburg

Once he left the TEDxColumbus stage, it didn’t take long for the tweeting and sharing to start, as well as the dialogue and invitations to speak. He’s been interviewed on various news programs, shared versions of the talk at a school board meeting, at the Ohio Department of Education (twice) and, by invitation of a PTA, as far away as Falls Church, Virginia. The small city, essentially a suburb of DC, is in the wealthiest county in the U.S. and home to supposedly the best high school in the country (though public, admission is selective). In Falls Church, says Channell, “even the middle school librarian has an ivy league degree.” It was there, during the Q&A, that Channell was asked maybe the most heart-breaking question. It came from an 8th grader. To paraphrase, she asked, “What if I don’t feel so driven to succeed, but my parents want it and I don’t want to make them unhappy?”

This child’s question helps explain the strong response to Channell’s talk. Education is not just about student and teacher, but administrators, communities, society, says Channell, and the core relationship between parent and child. “We know education is a hot button issue,” he says, “some relate to what they see as an unfair system, some question how we assess learning, some defend the system, but for parents in particular, the effects on their children are really concerning—I know how hard it was on my own parents to witness the physical toll of my class schedule and academic stress.”

Another reason for the overwhelming response may just be that Austin Channell did a really good job. And were I to add “for his age” it’s not to put a qualifier on his abilities, but to acknowledge age is a factor. Though he doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, and while people are listening and talking no changes have yet been made (though his school board just announced it will be reviewing the valedictorian system), still in Channell’s TEDx talk there is hope. Because despite everything we have left the next generation to grapple with, if they still come out smart, articulate, principled and mature, there’s definitely hope.

Whether Channell agrees with this or not, he can’t deny that people are impressed with his public speaking abilities, because the reality is he gets asked about it all the time. He actually loves this question. He knows exactly where he learned stage presence and how to engage an audience, and he’s happy to share: “It’s theater,” he says, “It’s what the arts can do for you.”

Another question catches him more off-guard. The details vary each time, but it goes something like this: “Would you mind if we drove three hours from Pittsburg to interview you?” Or, “We can pay to fly you and your mom to Virginia, put you up in a hotel, give you a rental car, pay for your food and a travel stipend…would that be okay?” Recounting these today, he still sounds bemused: “It’s one of those questions people would ask, but I’m still not sure . . . who says no to this?”

If this whole experience has been a bit disorienting for Channell, it’s also been humbling and motivating. Amazed by how far and wide the talk has spread, he also wonders if maybe he should have put more into it—more than writing it during an 11th period study hall, he confesses. This concern comes from the perfectionist in him, but also from a real sense of responsibility.

He has no obligation but to go off and be a college student and pursue his interest in civil engineering. But that’s not how he’s feeling. “I don’t know what form it will take or what point in my life it will happen,” he says, but the issue is not behind him. By sheer coincidence, Vanderbilt is home to Peabody College, the best graduate school of education in the nation. He’s already made contact, though just out of curiosity. He does say that, in his mind, from civil engineering to education is not a huge leap. “Civil engineering is about creating and maintaining systems. Though more infrastructure related, it’s borderline policy,” he says. Plus, he’s never been one for purely technical pursuits, being more macro- than micro-focused.

The system of education is one of many things he’s looking forward to potentially exploring in college. But for the moment, he’s got his graveyard shift at a truck parts warehouse. Spending his summer laboring alongside mostly fulltime union workers, ”I put parts in boxes,” he says, “I close the box and put a shipping label on it.” He’s in it for the money—“I know I’ll be poor in college, but my goal is to be less poor in college”—but as a side benefit, he’s listened to a lot of audio books.

One night that audiobook was The Ghost Map about a cholera epidemic in 1854. “If you want to get strange looks from people, just listen to a description of someone suffering from cholera,” he says. When the guys around him asked what he was listening to, it blossomed into a group discussion about medical issues and the scientific process. “Turn it up,” someone suggested, and at 10:00 on a summer night instead of a muffled din of rap, metal and various podcasts, blaring inside this truck parts warehouse was a story about disease and sanitation in mid-19th century London, England. Yet another unexpected and interesting experience in what has been an unexpected and interesting year for Austin Channell.


Kendra Hovey is editor at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at


Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus, TEDxYouth@Columbus


by Kendra Hovey

A dollar may not get you a lot, but five of them will get you into a group video chat with America’s favorite zookeeper Jack Hanna, and the chance to be one of eight to speak with Hanna face-to-face. It will also make you an instant philanthropist, as four of your dollars will go straight to Hanna’s charity of choice—The Wilds.

The chat (April 9th: get your tickets soon) is one of many “memorable conversations” for “meaningful causes” from Heroes2U, a new social enterprise that connects inspirational people with their followers to raise money for charity. Hanna is the latest hero. TEDxColumbus speaker Decker Moss was the first. Future heroes include country music star Phil Vassar, NFLers Kurt Coleman and John Hughes, as well as two wildlife conservationists (who with Hanna form a kind of Earth Day trilogy).

The project is the brainchild of two Columbus twenty-somethings, John Weiler and Jeremy Meizlish, who developed the idea while still undergrads. After a seed investment last June from the Tony R. Wells Foundation, Heroes2U hosted its first beta chat in October, one day after TEDxColumbus (along with Moss, speaker Scott Gaudi was also an early hero). The website launched mid-February. It’s where you’ll find videos of past chats and all the need-to-knows regarding webcams, tickets, etc.

Millennials are the target audience for Heroes2U. Not your typical gala-goers, it’s a group that charitable outreach tends to reach right over. Quoting research, John Weiler says that millennials give at a price point of 1 to 100 dollars, and they give on-line. “Our generation is a largely untapped force for philanthropy,” he says.

As a kind of gateway to giving, Heroes2U breaks down this barrier between young people and philanthropy. It also breaks through the assumption that Gen-Yers are more into instant gratification than generosity. Not surprisingly, barrier-breaking is a favorite pastime of John and Jeremy. It’s the subject of their own 2012 TEDxYouth@Columbus Talk, where the first barrier to go is the label Generation Y. They rename it Generation Y Not, turning implied judgments of “lazy, entitled, un-experienced and uneducated” into possibility—because, as they see it, techno-savvy Generation Y Not has a huge possibility advantage.

Technology has already reduced the barrier between celebrities and us regular folks, but it’s one thing to “follow,” another to engage, and John and Jeremy want more from this new accessibility; they want meaningful interaction, and to break through yet another barrier: Status. As they say, “we bring the heroes to you, and bring out the hero in all that participate.”

And how exactly do they get these heroes? So far, by making and utilizing every single connection they can. But once they have an in, Heroes2U is an easy sell: 30 minutes, the hero chooses where, when and which charity. Plus, most speakers say the best part of any event is the Q&A. Getting the word out, both to heroes and participants, is still their biggest job right now. For both Jeremy and John it’s full-time and unpaid. They have one paid employee—a web developer—but as owners they made a decision that they‘ll get paid when they have “completed their mission” and not before.

In the meantime, “it’s a really cool journey,” says John. “Until I saw our local charities, up-close” he says, “I didn’t fully grasp the giving community we have here—it’s very inspirational.” Also, while he and Jeremy hoped that the distance of a video chat would not lessen the quality of interactions, they weren’t entirely sure. But after one “chatter” teared-up and the hero offered a virtual hug, they both knew that facilitating meaningful connections was not going to be a problem.

They have some details to work out, such as achieving their goal of fundraising (helped along by big famous names) while also still being able to share the powerful stories of lesser-known heroes. Post-launch, their commitment remains strong. In fact, they recently had an experience that all but confirmed their mission.

A few months back, they shelled out $150 each, put on their best suits, and went to a black-tie fundraiser. Their thinking was: since the inaccessibility of traditional charity events, such as galas, is part of their pitch, they ought to at least attend one. The honored guest that night was basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. On stage, Shaq told a room-silencing story about how, as a kid, everyone expected him to be a bully, so he was. But one day his bullying caused a boy to seizure, and right then he made a very emotional decision that he didn’t want to be a bully, and he wasn’t going to be. The MC that night, newscaster Jerry Revish, commented that more young people needed to hear this story … and in the audience, two people, John and Jeremy—the youngest in the room that night by far—couldn’t agree more.


Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at


Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxYouth@Columbus, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool


Last Spring, over a period of one month and two days, the Columbus area was host to four TEDx events: One at a prison, another at a university, yet another at a research institute, and the last at a high school.


What’s going on here? TEDx is growing—clearly—though not just up in numbers but out into diverse and interesting terrains.


Last month, we shared the story of one of these four, the second annual TEDxMarionCorrectional held on April 21, 2013 (their first event was the first ever TEDx in an adult prison). Today, we share the story of TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool (May 15, 2013). We asked 17-year-old curator and organizer Alexandria Armeni to write about her motivation to bring this event to her high school and what happened when she did. Graciously, she agreed. Here’s her story:

by Alexandria Armeni

Glancing in my review mirror at the huge red TEDx sign taking up the whole of my backseat, it was finally real: I was hosting a TEDx event.

Me . . . a 17-year-old . . . a high school senior at The Wellington School . . . I was bringing together an event that had to embody the spirit of TEDx and follow all of their rules. What had I gotten myself into?

You might be wondering, too, how a high school senior comes to be hosting a TEDx event. To tell you, I’ll have to back up to October of last year. That’s when I attended my first ever TEDx event, TEDxColumbus. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even heard of TED before this, but after spending all day at TEDxColumbus, I fell in love. I loved the presenters and performers and meeting new people, but the main thing I loved was the concept of TEDx. I loved, and still love, the whole idea of bringing people together to share in the spread of ideas. I wanted to bring that to my school. I wanted the Wellington community to have the same experience I had and to feel that sense of being part of something bigger. So with this desire in hand (and heart) I walked up to TEDxColumbus organizer Ruth Milligan and explained that I wanted to put on my own TEDx event. She was excited about the prospect and even offered to help.

After some thinking, I figured out how I would do it: My SIP. That’s short for Senior Independent Project. Each senior at The Wellington School must do one. Not graded, it’s more of a pass or fail type of project, which is why most seniors do something like learn to play guitar or camp for a week. My SIP would be different; I would host a TEDx event.

As November came and went, I got permission from Wellington, found an advisor, and applied for my TEDx license. Winter break flew by with still no word about my license, but I had TEDx fever and didn’t want to wait any longer. I figured out a theme, Big Ideas, and decided to start finding presenters. After a ton of announcements, posts on my school’s websites, and a bit of coercing on my part, people started getting interested—not hoards of people, but enough.

As January turned into February, and February inched towards March, I started to panic slightly. I had already done so much work in planning for the event, but I still technically wasn’t a licensed TEDx event holder. It was Ruth who helped me out. Thankfully, she helped get me in contact with TED to talk about my license and after quite a few emails and a handful of phone calls I was lucky enough to get one—for a TEDxYouth event. While I hadn’t expected the youth label, after reading through the TED organizers manual and talking with the people at TED, I realized it was the right fit. The audience, after all, would be the juniors and seniors at my high school.

By the time I had my speakers and presenters all lined up, it was a diverse group. I had eight students, seven from high school and one from middle school; two teachers; my head of school; an alumnus, a parent of a current student, and a parent of alumni. I had prepared a five-page speaker packet to give my presenters an idea of the rules they needed to follow and had sat down with each speaker multiple times. Their presentations were shaping up quite nicely.

Fast forward to the beginning of May, the month of my TEDx event. It was crunch time for me, but step-by-step everything had slowly come together and the event looked like it might just work out. One week before the event I had programs in hand (folding 150 trifold programs takes a lot more time than one would imagine), a successful tech dress rehearsal, and t-shirts and food on order. A few things had me pulling my hair out, but overall everything was sort of sailing smoothly. That was, until the night before the event.

Less than a day to go and the dress rehearsal was a near disaster. With a faulty slide clicker and half my presenters unable to attend, I was near my wits end. But that was only the start of it. One of my presenters emailed me that night with a revised outline of his talk. It was completely different from the original and it broke quite a few rules set down in the TEDx organizers manual. It was also inappropriate for a student audience. I had no choice; there was no possible way I could show his talk, I had to cut him.

It was a little more than 12 hours before the start of the event and if that wasn’t enough to deal with, I also received word that the custom t-shirts I had ordered hadn’t even shipped yet. From fixing the schedule, to reprinting and folding all 150 programs, to buying a printer (thankfully I had a received some funding from Wellington) and printing homemade t-shirts, it was a long night, but everything got done.

The morning of May 15, 2013 finally arrived, and from 8:30-12:30 The Wellington School flourished with ideas and discussions about such things as walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, creating a small business, failing successfully, being an ant, following your dream, being true to your school, childhood obesity, the mis-measurement of students, and the ways in which technology is making people simpler.

The hours I put in, the late nights working on power points, the thousand emails to presenters, and the frantic phone calls trying to figure out just how to do everything, all while balancing schoolwork, college applications, and my part-time job: It was all worth it. And the help and support of others was not given in vain. With ten speakers, three performances, plus three TED videos, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was a success.

Of course, there are things I would have tweaked or changed if I had a little more experience with TEDx events, and it certainly was no TEDxColumbus. But for a high school girl’s first time hosting a TEDx event, I was more than content with the result. My little meager event brought smiles and laughter to my classmates, and gave them things to think about. It opened most of them up to the world of TEDx, and I believe that some of them experienced that same rush of being part of something bigger than themselves. TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was basically my life for half of my senior year. I am proud of the result. It was an unbelievable experience and process, even with all the stress, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my high school career then with TED.

Alexandria Armeni is a recent graduate of the Wellington School. In the fall, she will begin her first year at the Ohio State University in the honors program, where she plans to study zoology with a minor in French. 

All photos courtesy of Alexandria Armeni


We get asked all the time by other TEDx organizers what our financial model is.  We’re thrilled to share it here as we’ve worked hard the last few years to figure what will work best.

We have a special fund at the Columbus Foundation, our community foundation, set up to receive contributions from individuals and corporations that want to support TEDxColumbus. COSI, our local center of science and industry (think children’s museum meets awesome science center) then acts as our fiscal agent, receiving the money from the TEDx Fund and also ticket sales. They in turn, pay all the expenses for the event.

We aim for our expenses for our event match our income. Our major line-items include technology and production; event staging, lighting and sound; food for attendees; parking and printing. We get a massive amount of goods and services donated – such as all of our creative, photography, web support, animation and mobile application.  We have a special grant that underwrites basic event coordination expenses which allows the event to be sustainable and is applied to web updates, speaker coordination, sponsorship fulfillment, ticket monitoring, volunteer oversight, vendor coordination and social media and community engagement. At the end of the event if we have overage (income exceeds expenses), we apply it to next year’s event and/or our minimal expenses on our viewing events (TEDGlobal, TEDxChange, TEDxWomen, TEDxKids) and our ongoing outreach efforts (Follow This, our blog, and Readers’ Roundtable, our book outreach series).

Many communities are still at a loss on how to organize with a fiscal agent. As COSI as our host, we are blessed with a symbiotic relationship which helps manage our back-office at no additional cost to us, while allowing us to focus on curating the best event possible.


The first Open Call Auditions for TEDxColumbus took place on Thursday, August 16 at the Columbus Museum of Art.  Three judges, David Staley, Judi Stillwell and Colleen Duffy, heard from 28 people who desired to have a place on the stage at TEDxColumbus 2012: The Future Revealed on October 5. By all accounts, it was an impressive and passionate group.  The judges met afterwards and made their difficult decisions —  and we are pleased to announce these folks will have a participating role in “The Future Revealed.”

Jan Allen on “Retiring Retirement : A Personal Upgrade to the Bonus Decades.” Jan will deliver a TEDx talk.
Ben Shinabery on the “New Genre of Music Education.”  Several musical acts from the Dick and Jane Project will be featured.
Brian Breitch on “The Next Musical Interface.”  A demonstration of their technology will be featured on and off stage.
Megan Holstein on “Mobile Apps for Autism,” to be featured at TEDxYouth@Columbus on October 3 with a TEDxYouth talk.

For those participants who weren’t chosen and for future participants to Open Calls, the judges shared these main reasons why many people did not get chosen (the list is a summary and doesn’t represent all reasons):

Did not summarize the idea well – the judges didn’t like to hear “and I’ll tell you the rest on October 5.”
Unclear central idea – like above, but too many ideas in the hopper, TEDx talks are about one core idea.
Bordered on selling – several ideas were clear extensions of what people did for a living.  While that may inform an idea, it can’t be the idea.
Speaking style was strained – the judges expected if there was nervousness in 3 minutes, there will be extreme nervousness in 10 or 15.
Hard to follow – if a core idea was stated last as opposed to first, the judges ended up confused through the pitch.  The judges wanted to be able to follow the idea from the start – as audiences desire to do.

And lastly,

No connection to theme – The judges were hoping for some tie to “The Future Revealed.”


Thanks to all who came out and gave it a try!  We were humbled by the participation, enthusiasm and spirit for sharing ideas.  We encourage those of you who didn’t make it to try again!

We look forward to hearing these ideas that did win — and seeing you all on October 5 at COSI!  Tickets go on sale to the general public on September 4 and the complete speaker list will be announced September 10.


In the last month, we’ve hosted a myriad of TEDx events in Columbus. Here’s a quick re-cap to summarize them – and showing what a vibrant, curious, inspired city we have that is supporting and growing each one.

Our signature event, TEDxColumbus, featured 18 speakers and performers (above: Susan Willeke, Jamie Greene and Rose Smith) on stage at COSI on 11.11.11.  You can watch all of the speaker’s videos here, or get a glimpse of the full day from still images here.  They all celebrated a “Moment in Time,” and did so beautifully.

We had a record turnout of nearly 600 attendees, that’s double where we started two years ago when we hosted the first event at the Wexner center with 300 attendees.  Check out this dynamic gallery at COSI!

We were supported these amazing corporate and community partners: resource interactive, The Columbus Foundation, Barnes and Thornburg, The Limited Brands, Alliance Data, The Ohio State University, and GSW Worldwide. Support from WOSU, COSI and a host of other in-kind donations made the event possible.










We had a unique and very special partnership with LOTH/ STEELCASE / TURNSTONE to outfit the event gallery for our two days of events (see TEDxYouth below). The feedback on our event was so spectacular in part thanks to the great furniture and environment they helped to build for us. We were delighted they could carry through our dream!

The day before TEDxColumbus, we hosted TEDxYouth@Columbus also at COSI, where 18 speakers and performers also took the stage and inspired an audience of nearly 150 high schoolers. Curators Andy Aichele and Christian Long were aided by community volunteers who were also mentors in the afternoon, the day-long event turned out to be a needed and inspired addition to our TEDx line-up. And the kids had a blast, too.


After we cleaned up from TEDxColumbus and TEDxYouth@Columbus, on December 1, for the second year in a row, The Columbus Foundation hosted a livestream of TEDxWomen, a national TEDx event that was broadcast from LA and NY. Over 60 women joined us for the viewing and lots of great conversation between riveting talks. See an additional story here from our live speakers Maryanna Klatt and Theresa Flores who joined us with their TEDxColumbus talks at lunch.

And for us, we closed out the month with a webinar featuring our own InsideOut Project along side TEDx organizers from Aviero, Portgual, Manchester, NH and Athens, Greece. I have been hosting  some of these  webinars for two years now – bringing together knowledge and experience for TEDx organizers around the world. This one was pretty special as we had JR, the artist and recipient of the TED Prize and Amy Novogratz, join us to discuss InsideOut. The webinar will be linked here when it’s live.


All in all, the community has had an exhilarating month – thanks to everyone who’s helped to make these great moments possible!



Why become a speaker or performer at TEDxYouth@Columbus?

YOU have compelling stories.
YOU have amazing energy – and there are topics that give you amazing energy.
YOU are passionate.
YOU have had personal, unique experiences.
YOU are an innovator.
YOU are changing the world.

Why not share these passions, stories, and experiences to inspire other youth? Tell your story through presentations, conversations, or dynamic performances. We’ll provide you all the coaching and training you need.

Change starts with you. But you’ve gotta tell people about it!

And adults out there – we all know youth that are crazy-passionate about something. Why do we know this? Because they are constantly telling us about it. They are making videos about it, posting on and commenting about it and spreading it all like wildfire.

The TEDxYouth@Columbus stage is a great place where this can all come together. This is the very first event of its kind in Columbus. Let’s show the world the passion, innovation, and change that is coming from right here in C-bus.

So apply to be a presenter NOW. Encourage a friend to apply to be a presenter NOW. Take this Moment in Time and make it yours – NOW!

Youth inspiring Youth…and the world.