Lukas Oest, a USFSM Outstanding Graduate, talks about emigrating from Germany, his experiences since then and his hope for the future at TEDxUSFSM, held Nov. 7 at the campus’ Selby Auditorium.

USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Student Government hosts successful TEDxUSFSM event at Selby Auditorium

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: November 15, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 15, 2019) – Becoming a strategic dreamer. Cherishing differences. Expressing gratitude. Trying something new each week.

USF Sarasota-Manatee students, faculty and community members heard these and other life lessons as USFSM’s Student Government Association (SGA) presented its first TEDx event Nov. 7 at the Selby Auditorium.

TEDxUSFSM was organized by USFSM students and staff and modeled after the popular TED Talks on and YouTube, observing TED guidelines for presentation (no more than 18 minutes) and audience size (no more than 100 invited guests).

The event also adhered to the spirit of TED to present ideas with potential to change lives. In this case, the SGA focused on the theme “Defining Your Legacy” with the aim of inspiring students, faculty, staff and members of the community to live more impactful lives.

“I think we were able to successfully communicate that idea,” the event’s executive producer and former Student Body Vice President Evan Fruehauf said. “Based on what I’ve heard, I think the theme of legacy and the talks themselves went over very well with audience members.”

Fruehauf, former Student Body President Michael Klene and current Student Body President Isabelle Starner were the masterminds behind TEDxUSFSM.

Working with other SGA members, USFSM staff and faculty, they selected the event’s theme, speakers and attendees while also working to ensure the event evoked the atmosphere typical of a TEDx presentation, from lighting and branding to the red circular carpet where speakers stood. In addition, SGA members wore matching black TEDxUSFSM T-shirts as they ushered guests to their seats.

“I could definitely see us doing this again next year,” Fruehauf said. “I think it was very successful.”

The event took about a year to organize. A video of the presentations will be available at in about a month.

The speakers included:

  • USF Sarasota-Manatee Spring 2019 Outstanding Graduate Lukas Oest, head of global marketing, Florida Worldwide Citrus
  • Crishuana Williams, senior technical assistant, the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, New College of Florida
  • Elaine Mendoza, a Venezuelan immigrant and activist
  • John Mann, EdD, leadership development director, the USF David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching
  • Shannon Rohrer-Phillips, CEO, SRP, LLC, a social-impact agency
  • Simi Ranajee, PhD, public health activist and former Miss India Worldwide
  • Lisa Penney, PhD, professor of management, USFSM College of Business
  • Thuy Nguyen, a hospitality industry professional who has done something new every week for the last seven years

The event, which included a 15-minute intermission, ran for about four hours and was capped by a catered reception in the campus courtyard. The evening seemed shorter, however, as the speakers moved quickly through their presentations.

Thought-provoking and poignant at times, the talks were interposed with light, funny moments to create a congenial mood and help with pacing. Between presentations, organizers showed past TED Talks on a large screen. USFSM biology student Josh Ghansiam served as master of ceremonies.

Oest delivered the first talk, focusing on his experience as a foreign-exchange student from Germany and his effort to remain in the United States, earn a bachelor’s degree and launch a marketing career.

His theme, which he circled back to several times, involved “changing the generational outlook” of his family. Oest explained that he wanted to escape the economic distress that characterized his childhood, achieve greater financial stability and, in general, build a hopeful outlook for him and his future family.

Elaine Mendoza

So far, he seems well on his way to success. After graduating from USFSM, Oest landed at Florida Worldwide Citrus as the head of global marketing. But he wasn’t alone as he strived to push forward. Each step in his “strategic dream” came with perseverance and help from others, he said.

“For me, it was about building a village of supporters. … I couldn’t do it alone, and I wouldn’t be here today without them,” Oest said.

Other speakers related similar themes of finding their path. Mendoza, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, talked about her struggle to fit in, encountering rejection and finding peace by accepting herself and rebuffing labels.

John Mann, EdD

“Human beings don’t belong in boxes or cages of any type,” she said, referring to the controversial detentions taking place on the U.S. southern border.

Mann, a USF education professor, talked about the kindnesses he experienced during tough times in his life. He urged audience members not to wait to thank those who’ve helped or inspired them.

In one instance, he said, he wrote a book that included a chapter about a former mentor. Mann later reached out to thank the man and talk about the chapter, but he found he was much older and dying of cancer. Mann was able to express his gratitude, but he wondered what would have happened had he waited even a little while longer.

“You never know. Call them. Write to them. Reach out now,” he urged audience members. “Don’t put it off. It’s important to take advantage of the time that you have.”

Thuy Nguyen

Rounding out the evening, Nguyen, a hospitality industry professional, delivered perhaps the liveliest talk. She related how she’s done something new every week for the past seven years, from scuba diving and hiking to boxing and giving a TED Talk.

“This is my new thing for this week,” she said, drawing laughs.

“Why go through life worrying about failure?” she asked. “Why not say ‘yes’ to doing something that you turned down before?”

The weekly experiment was meant to last a year, but Nguyen extended it after noticing positive changes in her life. She laughed, saying family members worried that she was sick or dying and trying to complete a bucket list.

But she explained how the new-things venture seemed to make her life fuller and provide her with a brighter outlook. Gradually, family and friends noticed changes in her. She noticed them, too. She was becoming less fearful, more attentive toward others and more accepting of life’s challenges, she said.

“Try it,” she told the audience. “You may discover a talent you never knew you had. Don’t be a spectator in your own life.”

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