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That’s a Wrap: A Recap of TEDx Semester at Sea

On Jan. 9, the MV Explorer was abuzz with thoughts of innovation, tales of entrepreneurship, and feelings of camaraderie. The occasion: the inaugural TEDx Semester at Sea. The takeaway: Semester at Sea alumni are capable of big things.

Everyone who spoke during the four-hour TEDx event “Ripples, Waves, and Wakes: Setting Innovation in Motion” had sailed with the program in the past. Brandon Hill, who was an alum of the Spring 2012 voyage, kicked off the first portion, “Ripples,” with his talk on “taking a year on.” The former White House intern and current Stanford sophomore spoke candidly about how a single bad grade forced him to take a sabbatical between his high school and college career and the lessons he learned in the interim.

Next up was Kiva co-founder Jessica Jackley, who is celebrating a milestone year after having sailed 15 years ago in 1999. Jackley recounted tales from Africa, as well as gave parallel experiences to her own life as the mother of twin boys, and spoke on counting what matters. “Great entrepreneurs succeed not because of what they have but what they choose to build.”

Next, Charu Sharma wowed the audience with all she has accomplished at such a young age. The 21 year old who has won countless awards and was listed as a “Power Woman” alongside Oprah Winfrey by Young Incorporated encourage listeners to take risks, explaining how it can pay off in spades. Jeff Steitz, co-founder of apparel company Serengetee, followed with an original composition he performed on the piano, and UVa assistant professor Christine Mahoney wrapped up the act by sharing ways the audience can support innovation in refugee camps.


The second segment, “Waves,” started with Ana Pantelic, a Serbian entrepreneur living in Colombia, who discussed the concept of disruptive ideas. Dr. Michel Boudrias, a professor at University of San Diego, followed Pantelic and explained the impact of climate change and why students—and society at large—should be concerned.

Next up were crowd favorites Chad and Bret Van Roden, twin brothers who put life on hold to live the lives of sailors for three-and-a-half years as they circumnavigated the globe and spoke about the many challenges they faced along the way.

The “Plaid Avenger,” John Boyer, rounded out the second segment with an exuberant talk on “Reinventing the ‘Professor’” and how he sailed in Fall 2013 as a means to better understand the current generation.

Following a short break, it was time for the concluding act, “Wakes.” After surviving a terrible car crash, Jessica Chen had to relearn basic functions like walking, which she did through the power of dance. Her dance troupe, J CHEN PROJECT, performed an interpretative dance about what the choreographer went through. “If I create my work from a place of resolution, I have the ability to take my audience to a place where they have their own resolutions,” she said of her art.

Tech pioneer Tom Chi—who has developed products at Microsoft, Google and beyond—then took the stage to challenge the audience to cast aside preconceived notions and arrogance and be open to new possibilities. “Knowing is the enemy of learning,” Chi said. “It’s difficult to be in a state or knowing and a state of learning at the same time. You’re not open to new data. Learning is the opposite—seeks possibilities and plays with them in a way that allows new possibilities to form.”

George Kembel closed out the afternoon with deep thoughts on design thinking and entrepreneurship. The co-founder of the Stanford sailed as a professor in Spring 2013 as part of the Unreasonable at Sea experiment. President of ISE, Les McCabe, then took the stage to give a few final remarks.

In all, it was a day full of inspiration. Many walked away with ideas for new ventures or solutions to tackling recurring issues. Others left with a newfound appreciation for Semester at Sea and the innovation it fosters. And everyone took a little piece of the spirit aboard the MV Explorer home with them when they disembarked at the day’s end.

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