UMass student pursuing TEDx license

A UMass student’s “TED” dream may soon be a reality.


Ruby Ramsay/ Photo Submitted

A year ago, sophomore computer science and math major Ruby Ramsay spent most of her free time scrolling through TED Talk videos on YouTube. Now, she is spending almost all of her time organizing a TEDx talk for the Five College community.

In July, Ramsay applied for a TEDx license to host a 100-person TED Talk representing the communities of Amherst, North Amherst, Hatfield, Hadley, Holyoke and Northampton. According to Ramsay, the application process consisted of answering several questions on the TED website such as describing her prospective event, its theme, audience, and including a list of potential speakers.

According to the TED website, “TEDx brings the spirit of TED’s mission of ideas worth spreading to local communities around the globe. TEDx events are organized by curious individuals who seek to discover ideas and spark conversations in their own community.”

“TEDx events include live speakers and recorded TED Talks, and are organized independently under a free license granted by TED.”

According to Ramsay, she has made it a point to say “yes” to any new opportunity that arises, so when the idea of hosting a TED Talk for the Amherst community was brought to her attention, she immediately ran with it.

The process of attaining the 100-person TEDx license was “tedious,” Ramsay said, but after receiving an approval from TED, she decided that her event—TEDxAmherst—needed to host more than just 100 people.

Under TED’s rules, if a licensee attends one of the main TED conferences and goes through a variety of workshops, they can qualify to host a larger TEDx event. So, with a little bit of personal fundraising and grants from the Computer Science College and the Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion, she was able to attend the TEDWomen conference in Palm Springs, Calif. this November.

“I send my thanks to these groups,” Ramsay said. “If they hadn’t contributed to my trip, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go.”

Speakers at TEDWomen included Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo movement; Dolores Huerta, a prominent civil rights activist; and Marian Wright Edelman, who started the Child’s Defense Fund.


“Being there and seeing actual TED talks on a TED stage,” said Ramsay, “you just feel the emotion.”

According to Ramsay, she gained knowledge about the actual curation of a TEDx event at the conference and is now able to host as large of an audience as she wishes.

It was great because not only did I gain a lot from the workshops themselves, but I was surrounded by a bunch of TEDx organizers that are either on their first year, second year, or their tenth,” said Ramsay. “ It was amazing to learn from everyone’s experience and knowledge.”

Now it’s up to Ramsay, her team of 11 UMass students, their board of directors (including professionals across the five-college community) and 12 potential speakers to pull together a 250-person TEDx event at a venue that is still being decided.

The theme name of TEDxAmherst is, “Solve for Wh(y).” The event will last for a half day and will include a lunch and activities, including team building projects.

“Obviously, this theme is extremely broad,” Ramsay said. “Some people might think about origins of ideas, while others might think of algebra. TED and TEDx themes are intended to be broad so all realms of TED — technology, entertainment, and design — can be covered.”

In TED talk format, speakers have to design an 18-minute talk about some kind of idea or concept that is both inspirational and innovative. It’s the job of Ramsay and the rest of her undergraduate student team to make sure their 12 potential speakers have their talks perfected.

“Most of the people we are working with are professionals with a lot of experience in their field, so it may be odd to them that they have to work with undergraduate students who will say, ‘be vulnerable with me and tell me why you want to change the world.’” Ramsay said. “However, there is a narrative art to a TED talk that shows the lecturer’s story line and must connect with the audience.”

According to Ramsay, the speakers at TEDxAmherst will range from block-chain creators attempting to eradicate world poverty to crazy artists who host community coloring clubs.

“You want an audience member to come up to you after the talk and feel as if they know you, and that all starts with a story,” Ramsay added.

Ramsay believes that the idea behind TED, dubbed, “ideas worth spreading” is a contagious one, and has brought an assortment of talented individuals to join her team, including sophomore computer engineering major Achuthan Panikath.

Panikath was offered a Speaker Curator position for the TEDxAmherst team. His main job consists of reaching out to communities within the Five College system to find potential speakers, and he is responsible for any and all forms of communications with the speakers—including working with them on their speeches so they uphold the standards set by TED.

“Experience with TEDxAmherst has been unlike any I have had before. It is very weird to be in interviews with professors and professionals where they are on the receiving end of the questions,” Panikath said. “Representing a brand that attracts respect and curiosity is not an easy responsibility and I am slowly learning the intricacies of it. I look forward to the day when we get comments on Youtube under our talks that read, ‘This idea changed my life.’”

According to Panikath, Ramsay is “indispensable, like an engine to a car,” to the team.

“Ruby delegates her duties well and does that extra bit of work for each group that gives us the push that we need to keep working effectively,” he added.

Angelo Kotsironis, a junior pursuing a double major in political science and economics, describes himself as a “TED geek” and said he joined TEDxAmherst to help build an event that will inspire and allow thinkers to have a platform to showcase their ideas to the community.

Kotsironis happened to be walking through the campus center when a TEDxAmherst table caught his attention. On a whim, he walked over to the table and started talking with Ramsay. He decided to apply for a position to be a part of the team, and is now Partnership Curator.

According to Kotsironis, the corporate sponsorships he is helping to build are important to the fabric of the event.

“I correspond with countless businesses in the Pioneer Valley area that share the same values that we do and are interested in assisting us grow,” Kotsironis said. “We are always looking for new sponsors that would like to push our event forward, so that in the future and can only be bigger and better.”

Kotsironis said his experience with TEDxAmherst has been nothing but great thanks to Ramsay.

“Ruby is the glue that makes up the TEDxAmherst team. Her ability to recruit multiple students that have never met each other and build a team of hard dedicated workers outlines her leadership skills and dedication to the event,” he said. “She has gone above and beyond what any regular student would do in order to make our event impactful and she has an inspiring vision to build something that can grow in the future.”

Once the speakers are announced, people in the area will be able to apply for a chance to attend the TEDx event on the team’s website. The date for application has still not been announced.

Ramsay said TED has opened so many doors in her life and hopes TEDxAmherst continues to pick up momentum after this year.

“By the time I graduate, I hope it will have a very strong foundation and I’ll be able to pass off the license to someone else,” she said. “I personally have never had such a large leadership role. I think it’s given me and my team a chance to test our drive, organization, and commitment.”

Email Abby at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @abbydesjournal.

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