Inspiring Ideas

TEDxOStateU 2015 speakers share innovations

Ideas worth spreading

"Ever wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea where you are?" That's how Richard Greenly introduced himself to his Oklahoma State University audience as he described a 2008 trip to Sierra Leone in West Africa during a TEDxOStateU 2015 talk.

Richard Greenly

OSU alumnus Richard Greenly has a goal for Water4 to eradicate the global water crisis for the bottom billion in the developing world.

"I mean, I was frightened," he said.

Talk about big ideas changing the world — Greenly discussed a global effort his small Oklahoma organization called Water4 is undertaking to provide safe drinking water to millions of people in the developing world. The TED mantra "Ideas Worth Spreading" accurately describes Greenly's talk and 16 others presented during the third TEDxOStateU event in April at the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts on the Stillwater campus.

Greenly, a 1982 geology alumnus, said he was scared that night not because he awoke in a tiny African village more than 5,500 miles from his Oklahoma home — but because of the need that took him there. Greenly and a team of volunteers were drilling a water well and things weren't going as planned. The well they drilled that day wasn't working.

"Why was I so scared? I came to the conclusion that this was one of the first times in my life that what I was doing really mattered," explained Greenly. "This wasn't a blown deadline or a missed sale. This was life and death."

TEDxOStateU 2015 touched on life-impacting efforts from around the world and visited the theoretical on Mars and beyond our galaxy. Closer to home, presenters shared ideas changing lives right here in Oklahoma and on the OSU campus.

"Today we will hear ideas that take us to an infant's mind, the dark web, developing countries, hurting communities and many other places," said OSU President Burns Hargis, who set the stage for the day's TEDx talks. "I'm a big TED fan and I'm glad we can put an OSU spin on a fantastic idea."

First launched in 2012 through a partnership with the OSU Foundation, TEDxOStateU shines a light on what drives creative minds to make a difference. The event features OSU alumni, faculty, students and friends.

Freshman Ben Myers, who lives with the birth defect Moebius Syndrome, received a standing ovation following his challenge to set aside fears and prejudices and learn to talk openly about disabilities in his presentation, "The Disability Conversation."

"People are itching to talk about disabilities but they can't," said Myers during his talk. "It's the disability taboo as I like to call it."

Student Al Saloha, a Palestinian refugee who grew up in New York, bared the emotional toll of racial and religious intolerance in the reading of his poem, "My Heart Bleeds."

"TED talks are beautiful because they are so vulnerable," said Jodi Jinks, an OSU theatre professor and TEDxOStateU 2015 presenter. "These profound and large ideas become humanized through personal stories."

At TEDx, Jinks described how she and her students teach theatre to men incarcerated in an Oklahoma prison, helping them produce plays behind bars that give voice to their experiences.

Faculty member Bailey Norwood explored his love of teaching in the virtual "classroom" in his talk, "A Class Worthy of Netflix." Norwood, an agricultural economics professor, produced OSU's first MOOC, or massive open online course, called "Farm to Fork."

"I like the way people are passionate (about their TED talks) and have a big vision for things," said Norwood. "It's the most inspiring reality check you can encounter online."

TEDx presenters Christopher White and Toni Brinker Pickens delivered provocative, timely talks on fighting criminal use of the dark Web and improving relations between communities and police departments. An OSU engineering alumnus, White formerly worked for the government developing Internet and data tools such as the web search program Memex that tracks human trafficking. Pickens, a Dallas philanthropist and activist, described Operation Blue Shield, a program she launched that is opening lines of dialogue and understanding between police and residents.

And as America's Healthiest Campus®, a forum for ideas at OSU wouldn't be complete without discussions of health and wellness, including talks by OSU Chief Wellness Officer Suzy Harrington and Chandra Story, an assistant professor and certified health education specialist. William Paiva, head of OSU's Center for Health Systems Innovation, talked about using data to improve the health of rural Oklahomans. OSU parasitology professor Susan Little described the importance of human-animal bonds and the role of veterinary medicine in keeping those friendships thriving.

Greenly was not the only TEDxOStateU presenter to act on a global calling. Spears School of Business graduate students Quinn Vandenberg and Jonathon Button have inspired local artisans from Central America to Africa and in the process provided children with school supplies through their business startup, Life Out of the Box.

Did Greenly ever get that water pump in Sierra Leone to work? He did, and since then, he and his group are on their way to successfully sinking 7,000 more wells in a partnership with World Vision. In concluding his talk, Greenly issued a challenge to the audience.

"Make sure at the end of the day what you did in your life made a difference," he said.

To be inspired by these and all TEDxOStateU 2015 presenters, watch videos of this and previous years' talks at Learn about the international TED movement and watch more talks at

Chandra Story

Chandra Story's research focus is the evaluation of health promotion interventions to decrease disparities.