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Westminster Thinks Big opens conversations on campus

A crowd gathers Friday evening to see a series of TED-Talk-inspired presentations at Westminster Thinks Big. Westminster College students, faculty, and alumni covered topics both broad and specialized at the annual student-run event. (Marisa Cooper)

Westminster College’s community examined a variety of topics — such as entrepreneurship, perfection and the connection between art and public health — together Friday night at Westminster Thinks Big, a student-run event in its seventh year.

Mekenzie Deneault, a junior communication student, described Westminster Thinks Big as “mini TED talks.” The event consisted of six 15-minute presentations by Westminster students, alumni, and faculty members.

Professor of management and a presenter at the event, Clifford Hurst, said the phenomenon of TED Talks has created a need to entertain and inform audiences at the same time. He said these condensed lectures are an opportunity to get a big message across concisely.

Professor of management at Westminster College, Cliff Hurst, demonstrates how young children don’t know about the preservation of a liquid’s volume between differently sized glasses. Hurst’s “mini TED Talk,” titled “To Know That We Do Not Know,” discussed the importance of knowing the difference between what you’ve learned and knowing that you haven’t yet learned something. He said he hopes this idea of a constant openness to learning becomes the emphasis of higher education. (Marisa Cooper)

Hurst’s subject of discussion was a broad one relevant to higher education, he said. His presentation, titled “To Know That We Do Not Know,” argued that although learning is difficult, “recognizing the need to learn” is much harder.

After the event, Hurst said the goal of learning is not to show off what we know but to help others bump into what they don’t know.

“Confusion is good, it means you’re about to really learn,” he said. 

Hurst said events like Westminster Thinks Big provide audiences with that confusion as it introduces them to new topics as well as encourages that same idea in classrooms.

Krissa Woodring, a senior math major, said she appreciated how supportive the speakers seemed to be of one another’s topics given their wide variety of perspectives.

Westminster Thinks Big allowed speakers to “explain the urgency and timeliness of their ideas,” according to the event’s description in the back of its program.

Some of this urgency and timeliness was especially apparent in the more specific presentations, according to Mekenzie Deneault. 

Ned Skanchy, a co-founder and board member of the Westminster Social Impact Incubator, addressed the idea of home-sharing as a solution to two separate modern problems: the increasing issue of loneliness in America and the lack of affordable housing.

Solving these two issues in one fell swoop via home-sharing would create safe and stable communities which would, in turn, create more opportunities for upward mobility, Skanchy said. 

Ranjan Adiga, an English professor at Westminster College gives a presentation titled “I Come from a ‘Third-World’ Country, But I’m Not a Third-World Person” at Westminster Thinks Big. The event provided a space for stories like Adiga’s to be presented in an introductory way; each speaker had just 15 minutes to get the audience hooked on their topic. (Marisa Cooper)

He said that although affordable housing is most often reported as an issue for students (referring to California’s housing problems in particular) it’s something that impacts everybody. He said the same about loneliness, an issue considered especially prevalent for people 50 or older.

Skanchy presented this idea of home-sharing as something that would be applicable in urban planning, psychology research, economic reformation and personal lives. 

Westminster Thinks Big 2019 brought some modern topics to campus in bite-sized introductory pieces, and Jennifer Hylwa, a senior outdoor education major, said the whole idea was a “wholesome concept,” that she appreciated.  

To see more about Westminster Thinks Big, check out the Westminster Alumni Facebook page, where the entire event was live-streamed.


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Marisa Cooper is a senior communication major with a psychology minor. She hopes to find a career path within public relations or journalism with time for a mindful work/life balance. As of late, she’s been exploring passions for embroidery, hiking, house plants and podcasts. Marisa is thrilled to take on the role of managing editor this year.

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