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Recent TEDxBuffaloWomen has decidedly UB flavor


Published January 16, 2014

A conversation about issues concerning women in Western New York took place recently in downtown Buffalo, and UB women were in the thick of it.

UB faculty and staff members Kelly Hayes McAlonie, Mara Huber, Karen King and Norma Nowak were among the speakers at the second TEDxBuffaloWomen, which took place Dec. 5 in the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library.

The 11 speakers — 10 women and one man — gave short talks offering their “ideas worth sharing” to a receptive and encouraging crowd in the library’s auditorium.

The UB participants —still excited about the experience weeks later — use such words as “transformational,” “humbling” and “empowering” to describe the undertaking, and say an unexpected bonus from the experience was the opportunity to engage with other women from UB.

TEDxBuffaloWomen began two years ago “with a shared desire to have a conversation about the status of women and girls in Western New York,” explains Diane Cihak, president of Upper Edge Consulting and a member of the local organizing committee. “When we found out we could apply for a TEDxWomen license for a local event, it was a natural fit to facilitating that conversation.”

TEDxWomen is part of the larger TED movement. A nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TED began in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from technology, entertainment and design, and has grown to include other initiatives, including TEDx, locally organized events devoted to sharing ideas. UB’s first TEDx, TEDxUniversityatBuffalo, took place last April on the North Campus, with talks focusing on the theme of “the health of a society.”

Cihak says the speakers for TEDxBuffaloWomen were chosen based on a two-minute video they submitted focusing on their “idea worth sharing.” Auditions took place in early August at Canisius College.

“We asked that the idea relate back to women and that it be related to 'Invented Here,’ the theme for this year’s event,” she says, noting that the TEDWomen organization chooses the theme each year. “The committee then chose our 11 speakers from over 30 video submissions.”

Huber, associate dean for undergraduate education, says she was excited to audition for the event.

“Although the task of synthesizing my shtick into a two-minute taped pitch was a little daunting, I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity and was thrilled to be selected,” she says.

Her talk, “Emerging from the Middle,” focused on “how to become unstuck and tap into our talents — individually, organizationally and societally. I tied it back to a story that I tell my children, and the broader notions of fulfillment and community development,” she says.

Nowak, director of science and technology for UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and a leader in the field of human genomics, says it was challenging putting together her talk —titled “Why Not You?” — because it included “very personal and emotional experiences that have brought me to who I am today,” a sharp contrast from the usual lectures she delivers at scientific meetings.

“The talk described my life's journey and learning that we must cling tightly, and courageously, to our dreams; be passionate in our pursuit of believing in ourselves and our abilities; and always go through the window of opportunity, even if it is a bit daunting,” she says. “Realize that life will challenge you in ways that seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but overcoming these challenges is what enables you to fulfill those dreams.

“And don't assume you have forever,” she adds. “Make each second count, always remembering that the gifts of ourselves to others and making the world better for us having been in it are our lasting legacy.”

King, grant project manager for the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership says her talk, “Re/Inventing the Narrative,” explored the ways “media representations of girls and women impact female identity development and how these representations may have changed somewhat over time, but are still presented through a deeply patriarchal and sexist lens.”

“I encourage girls and women to develop media literacy skills that question, analyze and deconstruct these narratives, as well invent their own narratives via blogs, websites, fan fiction and a plethora of other digital platforms,” says King, whose research interests include examining how gender, race, class and popular culture impact identity development and educational opportunity.

Hayes McAlonie, interim director of UB’s Capital Planning Group, says her presentation, “The Power Dress,” addressed “the issue of women dressing for professional life and how our complicated history — with the dress in particular — has affected our professionalism.”

“I told it through the lens of Louise Bethune, the first professional woman architect who opened her firm in 1881; my experience with launching Architect Barbie in 2011; and my own experience as a contemporary architect after I was faced with a life-threatening illness.”

The UB women say they feel fortunate to have been part of an event that brought together such a diverse group of women — and one man — all with a special message to share. Among the other participants were Gloria Zemer and Edward Tierney, both strategists with BlackDog Strategy & Brand; Maria Victoria Howell-Arza, a junior at Buffalo Seminary, community activist and Miss New York Jr. Teen 2012; and creative thinker Ismet Mamnoon.

“When I got to know the other presenters, including my colleagues Karen, Norma and Kelly, the experience became even more fulfilling — very empowering and transformational,” says Huber.  

Adds Hayes McAlonie: “It was humbling to be involved in the project and to speak alongside all of the presenters. They are all amazingly accomplished with strong points of view.”

The interaction with her UB colleagues was particularly satisfying, Huber notes. “I already knew that I was surrounded by talented women, but going through this process and supporting one another was really empowering,” she says. “I wish there were opportunities to leverage these types of events within the university — I could only imagine the stories, passions and talents that are out there and could be shared within and beyond the UB community.”

Nowak agrees.

“I feel blessed to be in the company of such dynamic, vibrant women — each so different with unique talents and life experiences that enrich our community. UB is very fortunate to have women that lead by example,” she says. “We are all better for having them in our lives and our community.”

Hayes McAlonie says she was proud to be part of the “UB team.”

“We reflected the diversity of UB in our presentations and we demonstrated, I think, why this is a very special place in which to work.”