Talking Points

TEDxUMontana Highlights the Personal Side of Academics


Categories: Campus , Academic , Research , Arts

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Morgan Mull-Osborn, a dance major at UM, performs an original piece entitled Accumulation.
Morgan Mull-Osborn, a dance major at UM, performs an original piece entitled Accumulation.

UM launched a new tradition to celebrate research and innovation in September with the first TEDxUMontana. TEDx events take the popular TED Talks approach to sharing information at the local level, and are organized by community members while still conforming to the greater TED format and mission of “ideas worth spreading.”

It’s no surprise that in a university setting many of the talks centered on academic research—TED itself stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design—but the performances delivered by twelve UM professors, staff members, students, and community members highlighted the greater connection between the research that happens at UM and how it affects people and the world around us. Talks covered everything from the ecological impact of the mountain pine beetle to the benefits of purchasing Montana-produced food for the University’s dining services. Children read poetry, and a UM student performed an intimate dance she had choreographed for a show last year, covering herself—hair to sole—in vibrant paint.

Although the audience at TEDxUMontana was intentionally limited, the talks and performances were streamed live to several satellite locations, and the videos since have been posted to UM’s website. And aside from being informative and even amusing, the talks offer a special glimpse into one of the University’s greatest assets: passionate people.

All presenters, including professors, a dean, and the director of UM Dining, truly care about their topics, even while some of the presentations aren’t particularly academic. UM art history and criticism Professor H. Rafael Chacón discusses the complexity of Latin American racial identity and what he was able to learn about himself and his family by participating in a gene-sequencing project. In another, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Chris Comer takes a very personal look at the importance of literature and its ability to help heal the brain after trauma.

Outside the spotlight, the event was conceived and coordinated by a dedicated group of UM faculty and staff members, as well as students and community supporters.

UM Professor H. Rafael Chacón“It was a real privilege to work with so many talented UM departments and volunteers on TEDxUMontana,” says Amy Kinch, director of UM’s faculty development office, who also chaired the team that managed program and speaker development for the event. “The whole UM team, from speakers to students to staff, rose to the challenge of meeting the high standards set by the TEDx program. It was a great collective effort.”

More information on the speakers and links to videos of their presentations are available online at

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