The student-organized TEDxSanLuisObispo conference took place Saturday, Oct. 28. A total of eight speakers covered topics ranging from artificial intelligence to social activism. Frank Huang | Courtesy Photo

The Performing Arts Center was lively and bustling with energy Saturday Oct. 28 as the second annual TedxSanLuisObispo took place.

About 1,100 attendees crossed the red carpet lining the foyer into the auditorium to listen to eight individuals describe their journeys toward triumph.

These stories were closely tied to of this year’s events, ‘climbing new peaks,’ according to TedxSanLuisObispo President Eli Burch.

“We are proud to live among stunning peaks that characterize our landscape. These peaks represent both challenges and opportunities that we encounter in out everyday lives,” economics senior Burch said.

Attendees took home many lessons that may halp them begin reaching great heights of their own.

“I learned to keep an open mind in life, and don’t be afraid to fail,”electrical engineering junior Colleen Lau said.

Biological sciences sophomore Bethany Porta related to psychology and child development professor Julie Garcia’s talk about implicit biases and the challenges of being a woman of color in a field dominated by white males.

“Even though it’s hard and you feel invisible sometimes, you need to speak up,” Porta said. “Don’t let them make you feel that way.”

Others were inspired to begin climbing peaks they’re facing in their own life.

Nutrition senior Cammie Tolleshaug said the biggest peak she is trying to climb is believing in herself.

“The people that talked today, they all talked about different things but ultimately they had to believe in themselves to get where they are now,” Tolleshaug said.

Living without fear, inspiring with love

Todd Huston, the first speaker for the event, shared his story of overcoming an unexpected physical injury to become the world’s first amputee to climb the highest point of elevation in each of the 50 states.

He even broke the record set by an able-bodied climber by 35 days.

Huston emphasized the importance of “choosing love” and “finding peace” as one embarks on the pursuit of their wildest dreams.

“You know there’s some purpose you have, and quite frankly, only you can achieve it in your own unique way,” Huston said.

Try, try and try again to succeed

Following Huston’s talk, biomedical engineering junior Caroline Skae spoke to the audience about her best teacher in college yet — a local 6-year-old boy named Levi.

Despite her lack of experience, Skae eagerly joined the Quality of Life Plus Student Association as a freshman, ready to make a difference in someone’s life with the development of a prosthetic.

That someone was Levi, a young boy born with a congenital hand condition who needed a multifunctional hand prosthetic to help him with his everyday activities.

After several failures, re-engineering and many “sleepless weekends,” Skae and the rest of her team were able to develop a functioning prosthetic — with a built-in Lego base — that allowed Levi to not only hold and squeeze objects, but even ride a bike.

“Our goal was to help Levi live a life without limitations,” Skae said.

Inspiring advocacy to action

San Luis Obispo mayor Heidi Harmon spoke about her journey as a single mother, and her passion for politics that led her to campaign for the mayoral candidacy in San
Luis Obispo.

Her social activism began with organizing peaceful marches to raise awareness about climate change. She then ran in the 2014 State Assembly election. Though she lost, Harmon’s political path didn’t end there.

“While we are building this movement [of democracy], this movement is building us,” Harmon said.

Harmon returned to San Luis Obispo and successfully ran for mayor.

“What I lacked in experience, I made up for in courage,” Harmon said.

Confronting your hidden biases

Throughout her talk on implicit biases, Garcia told the audience to “acknowledge and challenge” their hidden prejudices. She asserted that embracing a mindset of growth is key to overcoming the unconscious judgments we make about others in our everyday lives.

“Biases affect our attitudes, behavior, perception, memory and day-to-day interactions,” Garcia said.

Garcia stressed the importance of having compassion so we can build a more equitable and accepting society.

Building a sustainable business, one Yerba at a time

CEO of Guayaki Chris Mann kicked off the second session of speakers, discussing his winding journey from Harvard graduate, to waiter, to a pioneer in the world of sustainable business.

“Following the flame flickering in my belly, I broke from the American Dream and focused on ‘wholeness,’” Mann said.

Mann joined the Guayaki team when it was in its infancy as a Cal Poly senior project, and soon discovered a passion for developing what Mann calls a “living, learning company, where employees are connected and operate like an organism.”

Spreading the hospitable spirit of Yerba Mate, working intimately with selected farmers in South America and maintaining a high degree of equity within the company are core components of Mann’s vision.

“Your livelihood is an embodiment of who you are,” Mann said.

Letting your voice be heard

Fifteen-year-old animal rights activist Zoe Rosenberg spoke with a vivacious personality and opened with a story of running on the field at Dodgers Stadium to bring attention to animal cruelty.

“We have a responsibility to put the cause at the forefront of people’s minds,” Rosenberg said.

From starting her own nonprofit “Happy Hen Chicken Rescue” at age 11, to speaking to Los Angeles council members about prohibiting the religious slaughter of animals, Rosenberg is dedicated to animal rights and will stop at nothing to fight against “the industry that spends billions to make us feel disconnected from the flesh on our plates.”

Dan Faggella, founder of TechEmergence, spoke about the potential direction of artificial intelligence. Frank Huang | Courtesy Photo

“Get out there, be brave and take action,” Rosenberg said.

Pondering the power of artificial intelligence

Founder of machine-learning startup TechEmergence Dan Faggella spoke about the innovative capabilities of artificial intelligence and the ways in which humans can best wield these powers to solve ethical dilemmas.

“What is the actual moral end game we as a species are striving for?” Faggella asked.

He posed the idea that soon machines might develop a sense of self-awareness, and consequently, artificial intelligence can “grasp the good itself,” becoming more than just a tool to enhance our experiences.

“Consciousness will no longer be exclusive to living people,” Faggella said.

Dancing toward an equitable society

Tedx’s final speaker, Sarah Crowell, moved the audience out of their seats as she talked about Destiny Arts Center — an Oakland-based arts program where young people come together in one inclusive, expressive community to tell their stories through dance, theater and martial arts.

“Our mission is to inspire and ignite social justice through the arts,” Crowell said. She added that they truly bring social justice movements to life, “shaping destinies that are authentic.”

Destiny Arts has helped develop generations of social activists and youth who make a difference by inspiring audiences with their performances and spoken word.

“When people tell stories in eloquent ways, we inspire people to make change,” Crowell said.

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