UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Leah Miller, a junior studying data sciences in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, activities outside of the classroom are just as essential to the Penn State experience as education in her classes. That’s why once she heard about TEDxPSU — the Penn State version of the nationally recognized Ted Talks — she got involved right away.
TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design — is a global nonprofit organization known for its influential TED Talks, which welcome people from around the world to deliver powerful talks and spread their great ideas. Miller had always enjoyed watching TED talks in her free time, but she wasn’t initially aware that TED had a series at Penn State.
“My freshman year, I was watching a TED talk and I noticed it was from Penn State,” said Miller. “I saw applications for the team were due at noon and I filled one out, and ended up getting on the programming team.”
From there, Miller and her teammates were responsible for planning events leading up to the annual TEDxPSU conference to promote it on campus. The more that she got involved, she found that she wanted to take on more leadership roles. So, when she was elected as curator and president of this year’s conference, she was more than ready.
“This is definitely the biggest leadership role I’ve ever had,” she said. “I’m responsible for overseeing our 12 different subcommittees, selecting speakers, selecting a topic for this year’s conference, running meetings, meeting deadlines and making sure everything goes smoothly.”
The TEDxPSU conference, which will take place Feb. 16 at Schwab Auditorium on the University Park campus, will feature 10 speakers, including former NFL player and Penn State football standout Devon Still and former FBI criminal profiler Jim Fitzgerald. Their topics will range from overcoming crisis and discrimination to the arts and sciences.
Miller has been well prepared for her role in organizing the conference, in part, she said, due to her experience in the College of IST.
“A big thing in IST is group work,” she said. “Since there are 12 different teams [with TEDxPSU], it’s really important that we collaborate and that we’re all in communication with each other.”
However, learning to work within a team isn’t the only way IST has prepared Miller for this role. She said that her current internship in the College of IST’s Office of Undergraduate Recruiting has been an inspiration for this year’s conference theme of “continuum,” which can be explained as a sequence of elements where each element varies by an imperceptibly small degree. Each element is not explicitly different than another, but when they’re all viewed together, there are explicitly different endpoints. She explained that the theme and conference speaker topics all recognize the continuums we’re involved with and trying to understand them, whether it’s within ourselves or our communities.
“TED is all about sparking ideas and spreading knowledge, which is similar to what I do in the College [of IST],” said Miller. “For both roles in TEDxPSU and my IST internship, the goal is to give enough to people so that they can get that spark and grow their interest in the subject at hand.”
For Miller, being the curator and president of TEDxPSU has been a rewarding experience that has given her real-world experience that she wouldn’t have been able to find solely inside a classroom.
“My major, data sciences, has given me the ability to think analytically and be quick on my feet,” Miller said. “So, being curator now has given me the ability to use those skills learned in the classroom in a real-world, professional setting.”
She added, “It’s so important for students to get involved in extracurricular activities — it adds a layer to your education that you can’t get through only attending classes.”
The 2020 TEDxPSU conference will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at Schwab Auditorium. For more information and ticket details, visit tedxpsu.com.