TEDxPSU – A Radical Experiment in Empathy
By Sam Edwards, October 10, 2010
Sam Richards is a sociologist and award-winning teacher who has been inspiring undergraduate students at Penn State since 1990. Every semester, 725 students register for his Race and Ethnic Relations course, one of the most popular classes at Penn State and the largest of its kind in the country. Through his natural ability of seeing a subject from many angles, Richards encourages students to engage more fully with the world and to think for themselves — something he did not do until his third year in college. Because of his passion for challenging students to open their minds, an interviewer recently referred to him as “an alarm clock for eighteen-year-olds.”
His career began at the age of 24 when he was hired to teach a cybernetics course — just 15 minutes before the first class meeting. He remembers walking into the room without having had a moment to create a lesson plan and greeting his students, “Welcome to the course. I’m your instructor. And if you have no idea what cybernetics is, you’re not alone — because I don’t either.” This characteristic willingness to be playfully transparent in the classroom, along with a talent for making complex ideas understandable and relevant, is the foundation of his success as a teacher.
Richards is also the co-director of the World in Conversation Project at Penn State, whose mission is to create a kind of dialogue about social and cultural issues that invites the unexamined, politically incorrect thoughts of participants to the surface so that those thoughts can be submitted to conscious exploration and inquiry. The conversation topics span a range of cultural issues — from U.S. race relations to gender to drinking to relations with the Middle East. This year, nearly 7,000 University Park students will participate in one of more than 1,200 of these unscripted conversations.
About TEDx, x = independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.