From defeating stereotypes to addressing global warming, 8 speakers to ‘Change it Up’ at TEDxURI 2019

Talks set for Feb. 23 in Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences

Media Contact: Tony LaRoche, 401-874-4894 |

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 31, 2019 – Eight speakers are ready to change the conversation, offering big ideas worth sharing — eliminating stereotypes, addressing global warming, presenting a generational solution to police brutality, looking at a new way to help people with autism.

Those ideas and more will be explored as the University of Rhode Island hosts TEDxURI 2019: Change It Up on Saturday, Feb. 23, on the Kingston Campus. Tickets go on sale at noon Friday, Feb. 1. Visit for more details.

The speakers include people from many backgrounds – a documentary filmmaker, a construction developer, a high school student, a professor, a URI student, all sharing ideas that come from their life stories.

This is the second year in a row that URI has hosted TEDxURI, a program of local, independently organized events launched by the nonprofit organization TED in 2009. Everyone is invited to share in the experience in person or on the web. A limited number of tickets are available for TEDxURI 2019, which will be Saturday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. at the Richard E. Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences, 140 Flagg Road, on the Kingston Campus. Tickets are $20 for URI students, and $50 for general admission.

“I think last year’s TEDx was phenomenal,” said Maling Ebrahimpour, dean of the College of Business. “We raised the bar so high. We had some very impressive speakers who represented a diverse mix of people – faculty, staff and the community. The presenters really moved people. This year, we have another great group that will challenge us all to think as big as them.”

Sherente Harris, 18, of Charlestown, a member the Narragansett tribe, wanted to be a part of TEDxURI to share her powerful story confronting issues of indigenous invisibility and to spread awareness of the struggles of “two spirit” people. “Two spirit can mean different things to different people,” says Harris, a first-year student in the dual-degree program at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. “I really identify as two spirit in the purest sense of the word, meaning I identify as both a man and a woman.”

Traditionally, two spirit people were highly respected in their tribes because they carry both the spirit of a man and a woman. But colonization, Harris says, brought intolerance to indigenous peoples. Harris, who comes from a family of world champion powwow dancers, has battled to overcome prejudice to participate in a tribal dance traditionally restricted to women.

Harris’ talk is also a chance to make people more aware of indigenous people. Subject to hate crimes and prejudice, Narragansetts are also invisible within their own state, Harris says.  “What I want people to take away from my talk is that the Narragansett people are still here in the state of Rhode Island, that indigenous people exist on a much broader spectrum than what the media portrays. It’s important that we are seen as the varied and unique individuals we are. Awareness is the first step to create any kind of change.”

“Sherente’s presentation will be very powerful and memorable,” says Vince Petronio, associate professor of communications studies who helped coach speakers along with Karl Aspelund, associate professor in the College of Business’ Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, and Paula McGlasson, professor of theater.

Stephen Smith, a part-time resident of Hope Valley, is a documentary filmmaker and former wildlife biologist. He will address the rapidly diminishing ice cover in the Arctic Ocean and the dangers it poses to the planet.

Originally from Alberta, Canada, Smith began a career in the Arctic in the late 1970s, studying seabirds on remote islands. He went on to guide more than 50 expeditions to the High Arctic, including a 2004 journey retracing the route of the doomed Lady Franklin Bay Expedition. During the trip, he found similar ice conditions to those that prevented relief ships from reaching the 1881 expedition. The ice floes were still massive, says Smith, often 50-feet high, spanning from horizon to horizon.

In speaking to the public in the years after, he found many were familiar with the melting polar ice caps and the retreat of polar glaciers. But there was little familiarity with Arctic Ocean conditions. So he went back in 2017, and was shocked. “It was unrecognizable,” he says. “Where we had ice floes the size of Manhattan blocking the strait, now there was just this crumbled rubble field of ice.”

Much of the white field of ice that was deflecting the sun’s energy — “the earth’s cooling system,” Smith says — continues to recede at alarming speed, leaving dark water that absorbs the sun’s heat.

“What makes me want to talk about this is that this is the greatest environmental transformation of all time,” says Smith, who, with his wife, Diana Kushner, is making a documentary on the Arctic Ocean and its sea ice. “This is huge. It’s so off the radar.”

Other featured speakers are:

Rachel Ferreira, a URI junior majoring in health studies and minoring in leadership studies. The Kingston resident, who has served on the President’s Commission on People with Disabilities, strives to find new ways to change society’s views on people with disabilities. Ferreira will speak on equating the term “disability” with “diversity” – and renaming it “dif-ability” … differently abled.

Pete Hunt, a project executive for Landscape Creations, describes himself as a “meandering and inquisitive soul.” He enjoys creating in all forms – software, pen and paper, lumber and, now, sharing ideas through spoken word. Hunt of Medfield, Mass.,  will explore the relationship between striving for change you want and accepting the change you get.

Amy Laurent, who has a doctorate in psychology from URI, specializes in the education of autistic children, and is working as a consultant for schools and other educational institutions around the world. The North Kingstown resident, an adjunct instructor at URI, is co-author of the SCERTS model, a leading evidence-based, developmentally grounded educational approach for autistic children. Laurent will speak on the need for a shift in the way we serve people with autism that supports the development of their emotional skills, instead of trying to extinguish “autistic” behaviors.

Ben Leveillee ‘04, a lead information technologist for URI Information Technology Services, works with technology to enhance teaching and learning, and is especially passionate about exploring questions of ourselves and our universe. Through the lens of science, art, and education, Leveillee will discuss a framework for sparking positive change in ourselves and our communities.

Raquel Lynn Perez, who graduated cum laude from URI in 2017 as a first-generation student,  is a registered nurse at Miriam Hospital and also works part-time as a community outreach supervisor for the hospital. Cultural representation based on stereotypes is still active in the media today, says Perez. As a member of the Latinx community, she believes society is ready for the media to eliminate misrepresentation.

Isabella Robinson, a junior at Rocky Hill School in Warwick, is head of the school’s diversity club and takes part in theater and the preschool craft club. Robinson, who lives in Providence, did a project in English class on police brutality. When her teacher told her about TEDxURI, Robinson thought it would be a great chance to discuss her issue that has always been important to her. She believes her generation can bring about positive change through the power of digital messaging and social media.

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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, 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. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

About TED
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or fewer) delivered by today’s leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED’s annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and made available, free, on TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sal Khan and Daniel Kahneman.

TED’s open and free initiatives for spreading ideas include, where new TED Talk videos are posted daily; the TED Translators Program, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as translations from thousands of volunteers worldwide; the educational initiative TED-Ed; the annual million-dollar TED Prize, which funds exceptional individuals with a “wish,” or idea, to create change in the world; TEDx, which provides licenses to thousands of individuals and groups who host local, self-organized TED-style events around the world; and the TED Fellows program, which selects innovators from around the globe to amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.

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