TEDxSMCC: Creativity has a Home Here

Illaria Dana

Education Major

People bring power to institutions. The commitment to renewal, to new ideas and strong relationships, is what makes an organization vital. The history of Southern Maine Community College demonstrates this commitment to growth. Founded in 1946 as the Maine Vocational Technical Institute, SMCC has known many incarnations. Each name has reflected the need demonstrated by the community for individuals ready to thrive. In this way, SMCC has continuously provided individuals with the opportunities to hone their skills and become part of a movement for growth and personal integrity in a changing economy.

In 2015, a club started called Power of Idea. Kate Sibole, professor in the Communications and New Media (CNMS) Department, and Katharine Lualdi, Student Navigator, perceived the need for a new tool to assist students in the completion of their degrees. A Student Navigator is designed, in Lualdi’s words, “to support students’ degree completion.  Research shows that helping students feel connected and engaged in the community is vital to student success.  And what better way to do this than a TEDx event? I knew that TEDx events had been successful at other schools and universities, so I thought, hey, why not SMCC?”

A parallel goal was to allow students to run events that demonstrate the success of members of the community, using storytelling and media campaigns to emphasize the hard work of students and ideas they stand behind. Power of Idea was an organization that would utilize student skills in the CNMS, Computer Science (CS), and Information Technology (IT) Departments and connect these students with a message they could send to the world on behalf of SMCC.

What began as a small cohort of dedicated students has erupted into a large-scale event. The transformation of Power of Idea into TEDx smccME is due to support and funding. This support has come from the Maine is IT! program that encourages students who are in the CNMS, CS, and IT programs to complete their Associate’s Degrees and continue to successful careers. Maine is IT! is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration which is budgeted for 2,100 Maine participants over a three year period (Maine Community College System). This support of these departments reflects the perceived need of qualified individuals in these career paths.

Power of Idea had the potential to put ideas into action. This potential has been achieved in two ways. The first is the connection that has been fostered among students. This is the foundation that has allowed for a larger collaboration with TEDx.

The mission of TED is to create, “a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” The success of TED has been in their popularity. Through reaching many viewers, TED has spread the ideas about education, mathematics, justice, and scientific discoveries. Along with information, TED has become a global platform for unique individuals to convey ideas that can change the world.

Lualdi and Sibole took advantage of the potential for IT students generate an event that exemplified their specific skills and beliefs. Using the foundation of Power of Idea, Lualdi contacted TEDx. Lualdi says, “Once the idea took shape, and we secured a license last September, Kate Sibole, our faculty lead, took charge of the planning process, ensuring that it is student-driven as much as possible. This started with putting together a steering committee, comprised of students, alumni, and staff.”

Lualdi continued, saying, “ Together the committee worked on ideas for the theme and identifying speakers. That was phase one. We are now in phase two: full production mode!”

The TEDx smccME event is scheduled for April 7 and will be held in the Hutchinson Union Building. There is much work to be done between now and then. A student-run silent media campaign starts this month. The tentative date for the launch of the TEDx smccME website is February 23. Speakers will be coached, and an order for their talks must be decided. The order is important, for it brings cohesion to the message of the TEDx smccME event. Students will interview speakers and release footage to create excitement in the community. While students are practicing their IT and media skills, the Southern Maine community will mount with excitement.

Since this is a singular event with a limited capacity for audience members, one may wonder what the lasting benefits will be. The benefits are multi-faceted. The first facet is what will happen here and now at SMCC. Students will benefit from the opportunities to use their education to put on an event that receives attention. This use of education for practical application harkens back to the origins of SMCC.

The second facet is the recognition SMCC will receive. The coordinated efforts to put on
TEDx smccME demonstrate the quality of character and work ethics of the students and faculty involved. This event could serve to entice more students to attend SMCC and generate their own storytelling productions within the Power of Idea group.

The third facet is to empower not only students but members of the community. Through volunteer work of all types, students at SMCC are creating an event that pulls together community members to talk about the ways in which they have been successful and the times they have struggled. Not only does TEDx smccME increase the likelihood of degree completion for IT students, it serves as the connective thread between people with incredible ideas and students who want to effect positive change.

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