George Batah is a young professional and Syrian activist who moved to the U.S. from Damascus. He currently lives and work in Chicago. Batah actively advocates, speaks and fundraises for causes like Education, Humanitarian Relief and Women Empowerment. In 2015, he led a successful petition to increase the number of refugees admitted by the US, and was invited to speak at the White House about the cause. His work has been featured on CNN, Washington Post, The Atlantic and Huffington Post among others. Eventually, his efforts led to the administration's decision to increase the refugee cap and humanitarian aids to Syria. George writes regularly for the Huffington Post and is the co-founder of “Syrian Youths Empowerment”, an initiative to empower and help Syrian high school students in Syria and neighboring countries. George works closely with multiple NGOs and activists to advance further humanitarian and educational causes.
Emiliano Burr is one of the winners of the Student Performer Competition and will be speaking and performing at this year's event. He is a writer, journalist, summer camp director, and barista pursuing a degree in Cinema & Media Studies from The University of Chicago.
While his professional work addresses arts and community programming for youth, he remains focused on writing and directing: he first started filmmaking at the age of 15, when he began asking his friends to be in short music videos he made on the weekends. In addition to those first music videos, his earlier work encompassed spliced-together moments of friends, family, and places gleaned over extended periods of time. The sentiments behind these ‘observations’, and the intention behind capturing them, have since begun manifesting themselves in both narrative and experimental styles.
Five years later, he is still making films, and still implicating his friends on the weekends—but rather than collected images, this new work capitalizes on the interaction between image and sound in surreal, fragmented, familiar, and unsettling forms.
Looking towards the future, Emiliano believes film has the capacity to be the most influential art medium in the digital age, and consistently explores themes related to disillusionment, the public and private, and memory. He considers film as having the responsibility to amalgamate other mediums, as his current projects have been increasingly referential to sculpture and painting.
Reconciling his adamant childhood desire to be an astronaut, he says, Emiliano will settle one day for screening a film from space.
Originally from Calgary, Canada, Marina Elliott is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Wits - University of the Witwatersrand. In October 2013 she responded to a Facebook message by Prof. Lee Berger looking for excavators for an unusual expedition in the Cradle of Humankind. The task was to collect hominin remains from a cave deep underground – 25 m below the surface and tucked into an inaccessible part of the cave. The catch was that all applicants had to be experienced enough in caving and climbing to negotiate the difficult route and small enough to fit through several tiny squeezes along the way. Marina was chosen, along with five other researchers, for the job. Two excavation periods later, the team had recovered more than 1550 fossil specimens of a new hominin species: Homo naledi. The scientific announcement was made on 10 September 2015 and became the second top science story of the year. The project was also featured on the cover of the October 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine and was the subject of a 2-hour PBS Nova special that aired in North America on September 16.
Marina did her Masters of Arts and PhD in biological anthropology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. During her academic journey, Marina excavated at Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, and in Barrow, Alaska, one of the northernmost points on the North American continent. She also conducted forensic anthropological casework for the British Columbia Coroners Service and was a Visiting Scientist for the New York Medical Examiner's Office. She was recently made a Fellow of the Explorers Club.
Nancy Kawalek, an artist and innovator specializing in the creation and development of theatre inspired by science and technology, is a Professor and Distinguished Fellow in the Arts, Sciences and Technology at The University of Chicago Institute for Molecular Engineering. She is the founder and director of STAGE: Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration—a laboratory for devising multimedia theatre pieces in which science and technology play prominent roles in content and form.
In the STAGE Lab, an international array of professional artists, distinguished scientists, and talented students engage in a collaborative work process modeled after the exploratory investigations of science. Through this practice, STAGE stimulates and advances a deeper understanding of and support for the sciences in the public arena, catalyzes the development of art that depicts the technological age in which we live, and fosters new and imaginary methods of storytelling.
Kawalek is also a professional New York theatre-trained actor whose credits include Strider on Broadway, and several leading roles Off Broadway, such as the one-woman show Alice Without, which she co-wrote. She has acted in film, television, and commercials, as well as on NPR's acclaimed Selected Shorts series. She conceived and directed the opening events for the 100th anniversary of the Solvay Conferences in Physics, as well as the Nobel Week 2013 Festivities in Gothenburg, Sweden: casting and directing Nobel Laureates David Gross and Alan Heeger, and Olivier Award-winning British actor Fiona Shaw, in a staged reading of Michael Frayn’s Tony Award-winning play, Copenhagen.
As one of the student speakers at TEDxUChicago 2016, Megan Koehnen is a fourth year in the College at The University of Chicago, studying Psychology and Biological Sciences, with a specialization in Neuroscience. Since 2014, Megan has been doing work on a clinical trial of a preventative depression intervention for preadolescent African American girls and is currently working on writing up the results of that trial for her honors thesis. Prior to that, she worked in several different labs on campus, gaining experience in field, clinical, and laboratory research settings. She has also been conducting an independent research project on societal and individual conceptions of mental health, psychiatry, and identity.
In the limited free time a University of Chicago education offers, Megan enjoys consuming equal quantities of bad television and good food. She also enjoys maps, cheesy quotes, and personality quizzes.
Elisabeth Huh is a third-year who is one of two student speakers for TEDxUChicago 2016. She was initially unable to attend The University of Chicago because of her severe struggles with anorexia. Since her recovery, she has worked as a memoirist, national essay finalist, and now TEDxUChicago speaker to help others re-conceptualize eating disorders as a symptom of a deeper societal illness: a pathological need to compare, quantify, and objectively measure self-worth to control existential insecurities. She believes its victims live marginal human existences, but she hopes to show how the power of community, communication, empathy, and ethical understanding makes recovery possible.
Elisabeth is majoring in Fundamentals: Issues and Texts and minoring in Human Rights. Her interdisciplinary program of study, built around the question, ‘How Can Societies Morally Progress?,’ extends into all aspects of her life. During the summer of 2014, she helped the Human Rights Campaign’s NY Canvass office raise $415,000 to support LGBT employment rights as its Assistant-Director. On campus, she organizes human rights advocacy events with UChicago Amnesty International, she helped start its first-annual Human Rights Journal, and she is working on creating a new, campus human rights report. She teaches moral and political philosophy to middle-schoolers on the South Side of Chicago through a program called Winning Words, she is the Head Ethics Editor of the University of Chicago Undergraduate Philosophy Review, and she is Co-Editor-In-Chief of The Midway Review, a journal of critical essays that she loves. She also recently started a Facebook page called Citizens of UChicago, which aims to give students a platform to share community-oriented ideas and projects with their peers.
Rabiah Mayas is the Director of Science and Integrated Strategies in the Center for the Advancement of Science Education (CASE) at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. In this capacity since 2010, she leads a number of interdisciplinary initiatives including program evaluation and science learning research, public science programs and events, and youth engagement with diverse STEM careers and professionals. She also directs initiatives dedicated to youth-driven design, engineering and innovation, including the Wanger Family Fab Lab and the Black Creativity Innovation Studio. A lifelong science nerd and enthusiast, she is passionate about science education as a critical issue of equity and social justice.
Rabiah is a member of numerous professional societies, non-profit boards and advisory committees for science learning and engagement initiatives. She is also a repeat guest on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight for their “Scientific Chicago” segments and spoken at numerous scientific, education, and youth conferences.
Previously, Rabiah was the Science Director of Science Chicago, a collaborative, year-long public engagement campaign spearheaded by the Museum. Rabiah earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at The University of Chicago in 2007. She earned a B.S. in the same field and a Certificate in Modern Languages and Linguistics (French concentration) from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar. She also enjoys long-distance running, international travel, and being an identical twin.
Patricia Saldaña Natke is President and Design Principal of UrbanWorks, Ltd., an award winning architecture, planning, and interior design firm in Chicago. Pat is responsible for the visionary design direction of the firm. Pat has a passion for cities, neighborhoods, and especially the most vulnerable sections of cities and their population. She is a firm believer that well designed spaces and places which allow cultural exchange underpins urban transformation.
Named “One to Watch” by CNN in 2015 as part of their international television series that shines a light on up-and-coming creative talent set to be the next big names in culture, modern pop artist POSE has been applauded for his inventive ability to take everyday, throw-away things and introduce them into the world to communicate something much deeper. His attempt at making sense of the environment around him started with graffiti and has matured into a body of work with multiple dimensions and layers that are a pop blend of illustration, lettering, and comic book aesthetics. While his work relies on harnessing very simple human emotions like love, loss, and triumph, it is presented in a complex union of vivid colors and layered application that aims for something much more profound than what is at the literal, surface level.
His works have been featured in galleries spanning the globe, including Dubai, London, New York and Los Angeles. His aim to promote community engagement and outreach has received press from the likes of The New York Times, BBC News, Vanity Fair, and Forbes. Notable examples include the Bowery/Houston wall in New York City, the Wynwood walls in Miami, and the exterior walls of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, where he and other artists championed visual expression to empower residents to beautify a neglected American city.
“I try to push my art into new realms by creating new challenges for myself. I get bored quickly if the work seems redundant and I’m not learning anything new,” POSE says. “I find myself the most inspired by challenges and uncomfortable territory.”
Natalie Richardson is a writer, performer, aspiring teaching artist, and amateur film photographer pursuing a degree in English and Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies at the University of Chicago. She is one of two student performers for TEDxUChicago 2016.
A recipient of a 2015 Seidel Scholar PRISM Award; a former winner of the Poetry Society of America's Louise Louis/ Emily F. Bourne Student Award; and a 2016 Davis Peace Project Grant recipient, Natalie is interested in the way that art can cultivate and shape community spaces. While she is primarily interested in working within urban, underserved communities, Natalie has led artistic projects with diverse multigenerational audiences in Iowa City, Washington D.C., Detroit, and the Chicago area. A co-founder ofThe Underground Collective, a brand new performance troupe on campus, Natalie credits her love of the stage with an early childhood introduction to community theater, and has experimented with writing and directing plays in addition to performing poetry. Natalie is the editor-in-chief of Blacklight Magazine, a university publication from the Organization of Black Students (OBS) that publishes art and writing from minority and traditionally marginalized students on campus. She is rather obsessed with the mixed-race identity and attempts to explore it in both her personal and academic pursuits.
A two-year finalist in Louder Than A Bomb, the world’s largest teen poetry slam, Natalie is now the coach of the University of Chicago Lab School’s poetry team, and teaches poetry and poetry slam workshops across the city. She believes that performance art carries a certain “mojo” like nothing else, and looks forward to finding a career path that couples her love of art with her passion for community developing.
Visceral Dance Chicago presents Artistic Director Nick Pupillo’s “SheThree,” performed by Caitlin Cucchiara, Paige Fraser, and Noelle Kayser. “SheThree” follows this female trio in a journey of ascent as individuals and as a group, finding strength. Caitlin Cucchiara, from Rochester, NY, graduated from Point Park University. She has performed with Thodos Dance Chicago and joined Visceral in 2013 as a founding member. Dance Magazine named her one of “25 to Watch” in 2016. Paige Fraser, a native of the Bronx, NY, graduated from Fordham University and was a member of Ailey II. She also joined Visceral as a founding member in 2013. A new member to the company in July 2015, Noelle Kayser hails from Atlanta, GA. She has worked with Luna Negra Dance Theater, glo, and Proia Dance Project.
Visceral Dance Chicago, founded by Artistic Director Nick Pupillo in 2013, is committed to a bold and progressive world of movement. In three years, the company has built an "expertly devised and stylish" (Chicago Tribune) repertoire of works by local, national, and international choreographers; "...the buzz about this troupe is more than justified" (Chicago Sun-Times).
As director and choreographer, Mr. Pupillo works to explore his own artistic vision as a choreographer while providing a platform for other artists to do the same. Mr. Pupillo has established Visceral not only as a company but as a dance center for training and a youth company for young artists. In a variety of roles, he seeks to increase opportunities for dance in Chicago.
During his 12 seasons in the NFL, four of them with the St. Louis Rams, Will Witherspoon was known for more than his skills on the field. He routinely went above and beyond for his community and for his fans in St. Louis, Carolina and Tennessee and Philadelphia by doing a variety of charity work. The son of a retired military officer who was stationed abroad, Witherspoon spent part of his childhood living in Germany and England and speaks German. Witherspoon attended the University of Georgia where he was a three-year starter prior to being drafted in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by Carolina. A two-time selection to the USA Today "All-Joe" team honoring the NFL's hardest-working players, Witherspoon joined the St.Louis Rams as a free agent in 2006 and made an immediate impact by leading the team in tackles. He was a Rams' team captain for two seasons and was voted the team's most valuable player in 2007. During Witherspoon's 12-year NFL career, he played for the Carolina Panthers (2002-2005), St. Louis Rams (2006-2009, 2013-2014), Philadelphia Eagles (2009) and Tennessee Titans (2010-2013). During his time with the Titans, Witherspoon's teammate was linebacker Tim Shaw, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2014.
Witherspoon retired from the NFL in 2014 and became the St. Louis Rams sideline reporter for 101 ESPN Radio St. Louis WXOS and the Rams Radio Network. He is also the owner of Shire Gate Farms in Owensville, MO, which has quickly become the industry's highest standard of humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free, natural grass-fed beef.