To be is to do

GVL / Hannah Mico. Courtesy of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in California was streamed live to GVs campus on Thursday and open for anyone to attend.

GVL / Hannah Mico. Courtesy of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in California was streamed live to GV’s campus on Thursday and open for anyone to attend.

A live webcast streamed the fourth TEDWomen Conference from San Francisco to 150 countries on Thursday, including an audience of students and community members at Grand Valley State University’s Mary Idema Pew Library.

The GVSU Frederik Meijer Honors College, TEDxGrandRapids and Steelcase sponsored the event to celebrate invention and innovation of all kinds, with this year’s theme as “Invented Here.”

TEDWomen focuses on promoting the technological advances women have made in their quest to alleviate social problems such as poverty, violence, inadequate healthcare and gender inequalities. The conference is also meant to create a global community of ideas to foster social change and empower women.

Twenty speakers from various backgrounds each participated in one of three presentation sessions, which were named after quotes by Socrates.


One of the first speakers was 13-year-old Maya Penn. Penn is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, environmental activist, designer and animator. Believing that “ideas can spark a movement,” Penn uses art and technology to promote and create environmentally friendly clothing.

At the age of 8, she created Maya’s Ideas, a nonprofit organization that sells safe clothing and other items in a global market. She said 10 to 20 percent of the company’s profits go to charities and environmental organizations.

Her passion to save the world and her goal to “live in a greener tomorrow” has led to her recognition in several publications, including Forbes, CBS Better Mornings Atlanta and Young Entrepreneur. She has also spoken at TEDxYouth and has received awards for her role as a teen entrepreneur with a sustainable business.

Following Penn was Diana Nyad, an award-winning, long-distance swimmer and the first person to make the 100-mile swim from Cuba to Florida. Nyad spoke about this experience as challenging and dangerous, but she said it was worth it because she wanted to do something big and bold. She also credits her team of experts for her success. She talked about the importance of living life with no regrets or fear, which hold people back from realizing their true potential and following their dreams.

“Isn’t life about the journey, not really the destination?” Nyad asked the audience. “You have to dream. Find a way. Never, ever give up.”


The conference continued with Rupal Patel, a speech scientist working to create unique voices for people with speech disorders. Patel said about 2.5 million Americans cannot speak, and many of them use a computer to communicate. Despite the benefit of this technology, it is limited to only a few voice options. Patel said this takes away the individuality of users because the computer voice often does not fit their body or personality.

To remedy this, Patel suggested customizing the voices through a process called “speech synthesis.” She explained that surrogates can donate their voices to a target source. The voices are recorded, and the major sounds are saved into a databank. Her “Vocality Project” built its first voice five years ago and continues to promote the voice drive today.

“Giving blood can save lives,” Patel said. “Giving your voice can change lives.”

Sarah Kay is another woman who sees the value in a voice. Kay is a spoken word poet and founder of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression), which aims to bring spoken word poetry to youth as a way to foster creative expression.

At TEDWomen, Kay presented one of her poems about empowering women to define themselves. She said women are defined by their relationships with others, but they need to separate their individual identity. Self expression is necessary because “everyone needs a place; it shouldn’t be inside someone else,” Kay quoted another poet. She said women are so much more than how they are defined by men and others in society.

“You are a woman,” she said. “You are not made of metaphors.”


Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook, reflected on her 2013 book, “Lean in.” Her book has led to more than 12,000 Lean in Circles around the world, where women meet to discuss institutional inequalities they face. Sandberg said she used to be afraid to speak about being a woman in a corporate setting, but she realized the topic’s importance. Women need to be honest and confident in telling their stories about their experiences with inequality, she said. This will enable them to find their voice and become leaders. Sandberg also highlighted the importance of continuing the dialogue about inequalities at the male-dominated workplace.

“Gender stereotypes are holding women back all over the world,” she said. “We can change this by acknowledging it. We need to get rid of the word ‘bossy’ and bring back the word ‘feminist.‘”

The notion of empowering women also came through Estra Soler’s presentation. Soler has been working for 30 years as an activist for the prevention of violence and abuse against women. She participated in the lobbying movement to encourage the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, which gave money to local communities and collected data on domestic violence. Soler said between 1993 and 2010, domestic violence decreased 64 percent among adult women, a trend that she works to continue.

“Violence is not inevitable,” she said. “It is learned and can be prevented.”

The partners of this TEDx event included Women At Risk International, the GVSU Women’s Center, the YMCA of Grand Rapids and Net Impact GVSU.

For more information about TEDx and TEDWomen events, visit