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TEDx Penn Credit: Michael Chien

What do a video-game designer, a barefoot-running enthusiast and a human-rights activist have in common?

For one, each has an idea that they think can dramatically impact the way we live our lives.

And for another, each represents one of the nine speakers that appeared at Friday’s first-ever TEDxPenn Conference.

TEDxPenn, which was organized independently of the popular “Technology, Entertainment, Design” conference series, featured a wide-range of speakers from the University and alumni communities.

The event, which drew a crowd of about 100 to the Bruce Montgomery Theatre at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, challenged audience members to examine various disciplines within the framework of an underlying theme: “Expect the Unexpected.”

Video-game designer Michael Highland, barefoot-running enthusiast Vishrut Arya — both 2008 School of Engineering and Applied Science graduates — and human-rights activist Thor Halvorssen were joined on Friday by nursing professor, nutritionist and exercise psychologist Stella Volpe, solar technology entrepreneur Jason Halpern, marketing professors Jonah Berger and Peter Fader, eyeglass manufacturer Neil Blumenthal and University Chaplain Rev. Charles Howard. Halpern and Fader both graduated with masters degrees from Penn.

In keeping with the spirit of the world-famous TED conferences, each presenter gave an 18-minute talk that focused on their particular area of interest.

“This is something that provides us with a newfound perspective, a new way of thinking about certain well-known issues in society,” said Yiyi Zhou, Engineering senior and TEDxPenn host. “These people are talking about things they know, but they’re putting a unique and interesting spin on it.”

For Wharton senior Chloe Caan, the buildup to TEDxPenn was “full of lots of excitement and intrigue.”

“Something like this is a great forum to share all different types of innovative ideas from within the Penn community — ideas that most of us probably don’t even know about,” Caan said.

Within the next week, conference organizers said that they plan to make video footage of individual talks available on their website, And while most of TEDxPenn’s leadership is made up of seniors, students are excited about what the future of the event could have in store.

“I had high expectations coming into the event, but today’s speakers exceeded those expectations in so many ways,” Zhou said. “Hopefully that quality can only increase in years to come.”

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