With much determination from a group of Virginia Tech students, TEDxVirginiaTech is returning after a nearly five-year hiatus on Wednesday, March 31, in what will be a “live” virtual event posted to YouTube.

This year’s theme is “What’s the Point?” and will focus on topics of empathy, the importance of education, and perseverance, all in regard to minority perspectives. According to event organizers, “TEDxVirginiaTech 2021 … strives to push the boundaries of our campus’ idea of inclusive education and social experiences for minority Hokies.”

Leading the event is Jordan Fox, a senior majoring in cognitive and behavioral science in the School of Neuroscience. Co-organizing the program with her is Tyler Pugh, a senior double majoring in Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering and Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Additional team members come from across the university, including the Virginia Tech School of Communication, the Department of History, and the Department of Sociology, among others.

Fox said events of civil unrest and protests throughout 2020 inspired her to start the program. Fox and Pugh will also be among the 11 speakers, which include students, alumni, faculty, and members of the Virginia Tech community. Also speaking will be Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity at Virginia Tech.

“I was very moved after the death of George Floyd, and I personally feel there was a shift nationally after that incident,” said Fox, also a member of the Community Autism Resilience Emotion & Stress (CARES, for short) lab, based in the Department of Psychology. “I began thinking about what were some things I could do in the Virginia Tech community that would allow faculty and my peers and community members to have an actual platform to speak about their experiences, whether that was adversities they experienced in the communities that they orient themselves in, or positive things; what are stories of strength and perseverance, of empathy that different people from minority groups have experienced as well.”


Jordan Fox
Leading the TEDxVirginia Tech event is Jordan Fox, a senior majoring in cognitive and behavioral science in the School of Neuroscience.

Fox didn’t know about the previous incarnation of TEDxVirginiaTech, which ran from 2012 to 2016. By sheer coincidence the license of the previous event was expiring when Fox applied to the TEDx organization to host her program. “TEDx was the first avenue that I looked toward,” she said. “It’s very much a stroke of luck.”

The event is being presented in partnership with and funding from Virginia Tech Union, an organization designed to provide quality educational and social entertainment that represents the diverse culture of Virginia Tech’s students and its community.

An estimated 550 people have RSVP’d for the broadcast debut, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. March 31 on YouTube. COVID restrictions prevented the event from being held live. The videos will air live, mimicking an in-person program. Viewers will be able to rewind the talks if they arrive late, but won’t be able to fast forward through to later talks during the initial broadcast. Leading production efforts is Sam Frye, a senior majoring marketing management in the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business.

A “chat” feature will be included in the original March 31 broadcast, allowing viewers to ask questions of the speakers in real-time. The program will also feature the Styrofoam stage letters and the “red dot” carpet from the original run of TEDxVirginiaTech at the Moss Arts Center. Plans are already underway for a live, in-person TEDxVirginiaTech 2022, also to be spearheaded by students.

Fox said she is thrilled that the program has come together with the 14-member student team working to secure funding, nominate and select speakers and topics, head marketing efforts, secure a location to pre-record the talks, and more. “It’s been really fun and really motivating and rewarding seeing all these college students work together and put on this event,” she added.

Added Pugh, the co-organizer: “I’ve been working with Jordan for a good amount of time, and I can tell that she’s really passionate about this project, and I was excited to take on this role with her.”

In alphabetical order, speakers this year include:

Shannon Donovan is a third-year student majoring in corporate finance. According to her biography, Donovan “has a passion for helping others to cultivate empathy for themselves by noticing the negative self-talk that so many have been programmed to identify with.”

Fox’s campus work centers on helping bridge the gap between the deaf and autism spectrum disorder communities with non-disabled groups such as community cookouts and learning sign language, which she is conversational in.

Aria Hill is a designer, creative director, and co-founder of The Garden, a multidisciplinary, experimental practice. Hill recently earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and is finishing her degree in architecture, part of the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies

Sharon P. Johnson is an associate professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, housed in the Department of Sociology

Patrick Marcinko graduated with a business degree in 2020. According to his biography, “While [Marcinko’s] path may seem similar to many recent alumni, his journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster as he lives with an ultra-rare skin disorder called Pachyonychia Congenita.”

Pratt-Clarke is author of four books, including A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Gender, and Class in America, which was awarded the American Education Studies Association Critics’ Choice Award for scholarship deemed to be outstanding in its field in 2018. At Virginia Tech, in addition to being vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, she is a professor in the School of Education, with additional affiliations in Africana Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Department of Sociology.

Pugh conducts research on sexual violence and its impact on academic success and financial stability, with support from the Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, part of the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research.

Prince Wang is a sophomore majoring in international relations and is student president for the Class of 2023. Wang also is co-president of Model United Nations at Virginia Tech.

Suchitra Samanta, a collegiate associate professor of sociology, is affiliated with the Women’s and Gender Studies program. She has developed a course on Asian-American histories and cultures. 

Heidi Williams is a family sociologist and an assistant professor of sociology. Her research examines the effects of family instability, such as parental partnership transitions and parental incarceration on children across their life course.

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, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event.

Written by Steven Mackay

Prince Wang
TEDxVirginiaTech presenter Prince Wang, a sophomore majoring in international relations, is also student president for the Class of 2023 and co-president of Model United Nations at Virginia Tech.