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Student finds his purpose with TEDxASU

TEDxASU: Boundless takes place on Saturday, March 31 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

March 29, 2018

Arizona State University junior Jonathon Barkl is no stranger to extracurricular activities. He’s made headlines in the past for his company AirGarage, and involvement in the Lab2Moon challenge.

But Barkl — who is currently pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees in physics and economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Science and has participated in various organizations and research projects including the Arizona Microcredit Initiative through the W. P. Carey School of Business, the NASA Space Grant and the Center for Meteorite Studies — has learned a valuable lesson he wants to share with fellow students: Focus your energy.

“I think the biggest challenge for myself and a lot of other students is putting enough energy into one thing to make real progress on something,” he said.

“We often get bogged down, telling ourselves we have to do 50 different things all at once because that’s what our resumes need. But it’s actually a huge challenge to make progress in any one thing if you’re focusing your energy on so many other activities. I think maximizing your impact in college really should be the goal.”

Narrowing down his area of interest to maximize impact was difficult, but Barkl soon discovered TEDxASU, an independently organized TED event hosted by the university and planned for students, by students. Barkl quickly realized TEDxASU was where he could make a difference.

The first TEDxASU event was hosted in the spring of 2016, when the event took place in a small theater that fit only 100 attendees. Barkl became involved shortly thereafter and has been instrumental in the planning and execution of TEDxASU: Innovators in 2017 and this year’s TEDxASU: Boundless, which has grown to a conference of over 600 guests.

“I was interested in joining TED because I saw how much is coming out of ASU and I didn’t think people around the world are fully appreciating that yet,” Barkl said. “I wanted to contribute to make sure that the world knows about the innovation that is happening at the university.”

Now serving as the executive director of TEDxASU, Barkl emphasizes the uniqueness of the event, and recognizes the importance of having ideas generated within the ASU community shared with the world.

Past events have covered topics ranging from innovative ways to stop climate change, to the exploration of how visual designs and material products influence our emotions and decisions.  

This year’s conference will feature 10 speakers: ASU students Nikki Stevens, Balanding Manneh, Andrew Thoesen, Alexa Scholl and Alireza Bahremand; staff and faculty members Ashleigh King, John Rome, Tanya Harrison and Jason Thompson; and Walter Crutchfield of Vintage Partners, a Phoenix-based commercial real estate development and investment company.

“To become a speaker, we have an open application process,” Barkl said. “We want to hear from voices that we don’t know exist and that are traditionally underrepresented on the TED stage. We want to hear from those we haven’t heard from yet. We want to give people the opportunity to speak.”

Barkl said his involvement with TEDxASU has shown him the many ways in which people and communities can discover, share ideas and work toward progress in new, innovative means. Although it does not directly apply to his studies in physics and economics, Barkl sees TEDxASU as a platform for non-traditional ways of making the world better.

“TED is a platform for us to share new ideas, not just the same stale ideas that we have been talking about for the last 10 years,” Barkl said. “They are ideas directly from ASU and our local community’s ideas of how the world works, and what’s coming next.”

The future of TED at ASU is evolving as its team of students look at ways to expand the organization’s impact on campus. A new kind of TED event called TEDxASUsalon is in the works, which serves as a more discussion-based gathering and will work with individual schools at ASU.

“TEDxASUsalon would partner with certain colleges or schools, and we would work with them to put on an event that would focus on a single topic,” Barkl said. “It is an interesting way to integrate the student community more often, and connect students with professors and researchers that don’t typically take the time to talk with the students in their field.”

The TEDxASUsalon team is currently looking for schools to partner with and is ready to take TED to the next level on campus.

This year’s TEDxASU: Boundless, takes place on Saturday, March 31 at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Due to the event’s growing popularity, tickets are already sold out.

“My motivation is the idea of being able to create something that provides value to people,” Barkl said. “Working with TEDxASU and being able to see all of the innovative research projects and businesses that are coming out of the university and knowing that not only are these things happening, but that I can participate and co-create with these people and make things happen as well, is the biggest inspiration.” 

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