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2015 Speakers

Featured Speakers

Conference organizers posed the question “What if?” and received responses from individuals with a wide range of experiences and diverse backgrounds. Nationally-recognized experts and entrepreneurs will share the stage with representatives of local and regional business, academic, faith and technology communities and include:


Meet our 2014 Speakers

TEDxTexasTechUniversity secured 17 distinguished individuals to lead multiple discussions at the inaugural event.

Robyn Adams

Robyn Adams
Undergraduate Student, Texas Tech University
A 19-year-old sophomore at Texas Tech University, Adams is currently ranked No. 4 as a youth poet in the state of Texas. Over the course of five years, she has been very active in creative writing and performance, and during that time, has discovered that her words can open doors for her. From her experiences, she learned that words are powerful not only because they allow us to be free but also because they break through the boundaries of ethnicity, sex, and age. During her TED Talk, Robyn will seek to teach her audience to express themselves through writing so that one day the courage of their speech may cause a magnitude of change in someone else’s life. Watch her TEDxTalk.


Joseph  Dannemiller

Joseph Dannemiller
NSF/IGERT Fellow, Ph.D. Candidate, Instructor, National Wind Institute, College of Engineering, Texas Tech University
Popular opinion in many parts of the country is that when a tornado is bearing down on a community, the only safe place to take shelter is below ground. Dr. Dannemiller has found that this flies in the face of 15 years of research done at Texas Tech University’s National Wind Institute (NWI) investigating the safety of above-ground storm shelters. He will discuss findings from the Moore, OK, tragedy as well as several additional benefits of above-ground shelters. In addition, he will show video of TTU's Debris Impact Facility firing 15-pound, 2" by 4" wood beams at 100 mph to show what tornadic debris can do to a normal home and how a storm shelter keeps occupants safe. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Derrick  Franco

Derrick Franco
Founder /CEO, BluRush Media, LLC
At only 21 years old, Derrick is already an entrepreneur and software engineer who started his first company at the age of 17. He has worked with and on multiple technological start-ups over the past five years and is now a Senior Computer Science major at Texas Tech University. He recently took a semester off to work on his current start-up, Easy-Launch in San Francisco. Additionally, he is planning his next venture launch for March. Meanwhile, he works as a software engineer at Amplisine Labs in Lubbock. Derrick will be speaking at TEDx on how college classes should be run and taught like tech start-ups, using the same principles being employed in Silicon Valley and around the world. His premise is that these techniques would disrupt the education system as it is now known and lead to more successful student learning. Watch his TEDxTalk.


J.T. Hasell

J.T. Hassell
At 17, J.T. is already a well-known pianist from Amarillo, currently a junior in high school studying at Interlochen Arts Academy. He will be providing a special performance of two movements from the piano suite "Miroirs" by French composer Maurice Ravel. These works evoke images of the ocean in “Une Barque Sur l’Ocean” and provide a Spanish flair in “Alborada del Gracioso.” Watch his TEDxTalk.



Duane Hoover

Duane Hoover
Professor of Practice, Texas Tech University, Rawls College of Business
Duane Hoover’s TEDx talk promises to be an experience about experiences. Using film footage and photos from the 2013 Burning Man event, Duane will attempt to educate his audience on how art expression can create a transformative personal experience through its consumption. His many years of involvement with the Burning Man project serve as a backdrop for his explanation of how artists can create a “space” within their artwork with the intent that participants transform that “space” into a “place” by imbuing it with purpose and personalized meaning. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Sossi  Icovides

Sossi Iacovides
Graduate Student Researcher, Texas Tech University
Sossi will speak at TEDx on the world of current cryopreservation technologies with regard to livestock, and specifically horses. The world of science is constantly evolving, as are the technologies employed. People want the latest and greatest – so long as it is the most cost-effective. Sossi’s research focuses on the freezing of equine semen in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, her research has shown that, on post-thaw recovery analysis, there are higher motility and morphology counts that overall could lead to the potential propagation of genetics worldwide. Watch her TEDxTalk.


Erica Morin

Erica Morin
Visiting Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University
"Have you met someone?" "Are you dating someone?" "Don't worry; you'll find someone." These are among the most common and despised expressions levied against young, unmarried women in today’s society. Despite personal and academic success, women in American culture continue to be considered incomplete without a ring on their finger. As a 31-year-old female, educated, independent, and accomplished, but not married, not engaged and not even close, Erica knows what it is to be seen as a failure according to traditional gender norms. For her TEDx Talk, she will seek to raise awareness about the continuing pressures of marriage for young (and slightly less young) women in the United States. She promises not to deride marriage, but rather, to share her thoughts and experiences as a single, 30-something, female dating in the 21st century. Her talk is sure to resonate with audience members of all genders and ages, filled with humor, realism, and hope in which the suggestion is that parents, relatives, peers and friends just let fate run its course. Basically, she’s not worried; so please stop worrying for her! Watch her TEDxTalk.


Saba Nafees

Saba Nafees
Undergraduate Student
Using her own experiences in and out of the American culture, Saba will ask what it means to be American. She will seek to show her audience the importance of diversity, education and community as it pertains to global citizenship today. Stressing the need for diversity in the United States and how a diverse America will be the nation’s strength for the future, Saba will speak about education as it manifests in the United States compared with other countries like Pakistan. She will tie the two concepts together to show that it is the principle of community that ties global citizens together. Watch her TEDxTalk.


John Pelley

John Pelley
Professor, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine
Dr. Pelley has chosen bodybuilding for the brain as his TEDx topic. He plans to show his audience how action and sleep are used to build a strong brain as well as a strong body. Bodybuilding requires action for muscular growth and the growth occurs during sleep. Similarly, learning requires action for the physical growth of brain cells and this also occurs during sleep. Active learning experiences (sketching, organizing, discussing, etc.) are needed for the brain to replay them during sleep and that action must also be associated with emotion, if either the exercise routine or the learning experience is to be effective. Brain cells develop a temporary record of our experiences during the day but we don't make that record permanent until we sleep. As we replay our experiences during sleep, only those with emotional value are retained, or consolidated, into memory. This can be seen physically in the development of a network of branched connections between brain cells, called dendritic trees. Muscle cells grow, brain cells grow. The audience will be shown how to apply action and sleep to employ bodybuilding for the brain. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Irving Quant

Irving Quant
Magician, IQ Productions
Irving Quant is a magician in the corporate market and charitable events and will put those skills to use during his TEDx talk on “The Great Amalgam: A Mystery We Need to Know Exists.” The presentation focuses on how many smaller components, great in their own right, collaborate over a period of time in order to create greater things. Whether it is in the creation of art, career success, or even personal life, there are many smaller things that come together in order to create the final result we see in the end – but those pieces of the puzzle often remain a mystery to us. This is very troubling because it leads many to believe great things are created individually, out of nowhere, and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us as we embark on our own journey toward achieving something of value. To illustrate his point, Irving will perform a piece of magic. Something visually engaging and fun, and as he goes, will reveal all the work that went into the performance to create the final moment – from the years of study to the last practice – until he reveals the final thing that culminates in a great piece of magic. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Brandale  Randolph

Brandale Randolph
Executive Director, Project: Poverty
Not all poverty is the same. Brandale will speak on his experiences with the impoverished and his concept that the failure to understand the different forms of poverty and the attempts by social advocates to find new blanket definitions of the issue are the primary reason why poverty continues to grow to the detriment of our society. If our culture were to instead re-examine poverty through various components, we could more accurately define and address poverty among a target demographic and, in this way, could reduce its effect on that demographic effectively. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Nancy Shugart

Nancy Shugart
Founder and President, Prove Them Wrong
At age 8, Nancy went blind and the word impossible became a word she heard often. It had been her dream since kindergarten to teach in the public schools, but so often she was told she could never make that dream a reality. Often, she came close to giving up – nearly dropping out of high school. But she persevered. Then she did something no one else in her family had ever done – she went to college. It was difficult, and in her junior year, she again thought of giving up. Instead, she persevered. In 1980, she earned her Bachelor’s Degree and Texas Teaching Certificate. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree as well. She taught for 21 years in the Austin Independent School district, became an award-winning author, professional speaker, trainer, successful business owner and recognized community volunteer, even receiving five appointments from two Texas Governors. Because she persevered. She will speak at TEDx about her personal story, filled with passion and humor, to reveal not only how she achieved what was impossible but how her audience can too. Her mission is to stop the quitting, because if everyone’s dream of making the world a better place came true, how many problems would there be left to solve? Watch her TEDxTalk.


Christopher  Smith

Christopher Smith
Professor and Chair of Musicology, Texas Tech University School of Music and
Vernacular Music Center

Christopher has chosen to spend his TEDx time educating his audience on using oral, aural and vernacular pedagogies as a way of engaging with 21st century learners. Additionally, he will speak on how vernacular music and dance may be used as tools for participatory community revitalization. Watch his TEDxTalk.



Don Stull

Don Stull
MicroZap, Inc.
The United States wastes as much as 40 percent of its food due to spoilage and suffers through 76 million cases of food-borne illness every year. Don will speak at TEDx about how to solve these important issues by eliminating pathogens and extending food shelf life to reduce waste. By extending shelf life and solving food insecurity, the human condition would be improved, not just in the U.S., but in foreign nations where food and pure water are scarce and help is hard to provide. Don will speak about patented technology developed in conjunction with Texas Tech University that kills dangerous pathogens and has been proven to extend shelf life of food products. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Charles  Brandon Sweeney

Charles Brandon Sweeney
Graduate Student, Texas Tech University, Department of Chemical Engineering
Brandon will use his TEDx time to tell the world about the next Industrial Revolution. Having developed a proprietary technique at Texas Tech University, he is part of a project helping to make 3D printed parts stronger and more multi-functional. By strengthening the material for 3D printing and bonding, the process will facilitate the next generation of 3D printed parts with a fully customized range of mechanical, electrical, thermal and optical properties. That, in turn, will open the door to every home and business someday being its own factory. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor
Director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech, College of Architecture
For two months each year, Chris takes students on a 6,000 mile journey through their own backyard and the fascinating landscape of the American Southwest. Immersing them in a diverse series of landscapes, the students are part of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech, a trans-disciplinary field program investigating the intersection of geomorphology and human construction -- from geology and weather to cigarette butts and hydroelectric dams. He will speak on this unusual program and the intense impact it has on the students involved – showing a wide array of magnificent scenery through photos of the areas they visit. Watch his TEDxTalk.


Austin Tyson

Austin Tyson
Undergraduate Student
Austin grew up knowing he was adopted, but never labeled as such within his family. And yet, he knew others who had different stories and different reactions. He will use that personal history as a starting point to talk about the process of “naming” and how the act of naming a person, place or thing can sometimes be limiting. In addition, he will discuss the issue of negativity in naming and the use of positive language to change personal outlook and life. Watch his TEDxTalk.