What We Learned at TEDxWakeForestU: The Power of Curiosity

By Taylor Borden, Marketing and Communications Intern, Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship

We looked forward to the sixth annual TEDx conference with anticipation, and it absolutely delivered.

TEDxWakeForestU 2017: The Power of Curiosity took place on February 18th in Wait Chapel and brought eight thought-provoking speakers to campus to share their own curiosities in their personal fields of expertise.

Joseph Callahan
made a name for himself in the world of technology. As the CEO of Ciright Companies and TriState HVAC along with a history as an industrial engineer at Johnson & Johnson and General Motors, his delineation of what makes him the most curious is almost surprising. He shared that his grandmother got an infection during surgery, which led him to wonder how operating rooms could possibly be more sterile. “Mankind is at war with bacteria,” he announced, comparing bacteria to the military and stating that the air in operating rooms is not nearly up to par for 100% safe operations. This interest now permeates his daily work life and implored the audience to pursue what makes them tick.


Amelia Dunlop, a principal at Doblin, Monitor, which is Deloitte’s design-led innovation practice, spent her 18 minutes not describing how curiosity finds its way into the daily intricacies of her work, but rather how it finds its way into the intricacies of her heart. She became interested in the nature of love once she found a deep sadness overtook her: “We all feel sad at times, but we never talk about it. And how can you feel love if you only feel sadness?” This realization drove her to become curious about exploring that pain and overcoming it, and ultimately came to a strong realization: “The curious thing about love is that in order to love deeply, deeply feel it, you need to listen to your heart.”


Dmitry Sitkovetsky, a world renowned violin soloist and conductor, was born to two musical parents in Russia. He also followed a musical path but left Russia in his early 20s. He has been the Music Director of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra since 2003. Easy to see why, during Sitkovetsky’s talk, he not only spoke about his personal musical and familial background, but he also pulled out his violin to play a little Bach for the audience. He left the stage with an interesting thought: “The orchestra is an incredible invention of our civilization: it knows no difference in age, sex, race, religion, and politics. When you get this group of people together… you are able to get to a level where no one can get individually. That is the power of music.” It is this power that drew him to explore his own curiosities and reach new heights.

Wrapping up the first half of the day, award winning documentary film director, Otto Bell, told his story of curiosity. He stumbled upon a beautiful photo on the BBC of a young girl and a golden eagle. Completely enraptured by her, he spent every last cent he had to travel to Mongolia and create a documentary about that very thirteen year old girl living in and challenging a male dominated society. That curiosity, coupled with absolute faith in it, brought about the most profitable documentary of the last year. It also won eight awards and is currently being remade into a 20th Century Fox animation film. He shared with the audience that he thought his purpose is to “project a microphone to the whispering voices of the world.”


“We don’t have the power to make life fair, but we have the power to make life joyful,” Ever Lee Hairston explained to the audience during her talk. She told the story of how she was born and raised in North Carolina to sharecropping parents and had to overcome adversity in the segregated south all without being able to see. She found that while her life was not fair, she could make it joyful by finding a way to help others in a similar situation. “I learned that life is tough, but apparently I’m tougher,” she announced, imploring the audience to embrace their own curiosities and strengths to prevail. She serves as the President of the National Federation of the Blind, working tirelessly to make sure that everyone, especially those that cannot see, can reach their full potential.


Jeremy Cage spends the majority of his time as an international businessman, working with companies like Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo. Considering this, you would anticipate Cage’s curiosities stem from business efficiency, but rather they stem from something closer to his heart: his love for sailing and his thoughts on dreaming. After sailing around the world, he’s come to several conclusions: he contends that “dreams are the most powerful force on the planet” and that “most people and businesses dream vaguely and dread specifically,” while they should be aiming to “dream specifically and dread vaguely.” He takes these themes and expounds upon him in his recently released book All Dreams on Deck—Charting the Course for Your Life and Work.

A beloved associate accounting professor here at WFU, Anna Cianci, then took the stage to discuss setbacks and suffering and how they can ultimately improve your life. She spoke about how certain setbacks often lead us down different paths and provide us with different curiosities, explaining why she earned her MA in psychology from Wake Forest as well as a MA in pastoral theology from Saint Joseph’s College. Her greatest piece of advice? “Sometimes WE can be the love that we long for in others.”


The last speaker was former NASA astronaut and current jack of all trades, Story Musgrave. Having been an astronaut, a marine, a landscape architect, and a Disney imagineer, along with accumulating seven graduate degrees, Musgrave has a storied life and plenty of wisdom to pass on. He describes how curiosities and interests constantly push him to the next career and the next imaginative adventure: like owning a palm farm, a sculpture company, and working as a professor of design. He talks about how his curiosities were cemented in him as a child and left the audience with an uplifting, inspiring thought: “When you learn something as a kid, it’s part of your heart and soul. That imagination always goes with curiosity… you have to have the imagination and curiosity to open that next door.”

Spearheaded by a fearless student team, the event was awe-inspiring and powerful. It was an afternoon filled with insight and ideas worth spreading. We are so proud of these students that worked tirelessly to make this event a raging success:

Hayden Lineberger ‘18, Executive Director

Emily Fitzgerald ’17, Assistant Director

Caroline Lewis ’17, Co-Director of Engagement

Arthur Willson ’17, Co-Director of Engagement

Julia Demorest ’19, Director of Talent Acquisition

Julie Gray ’19, Director of Operations and Logistics

Yossuf Albanawi ’17, Director of Hospitality

Garret Barnes ’19, Stage Manager

Johnny Thurber ’18, Director of Event Support/Volunteer Coordinator

Tommy Worcester ’17, Master of Ceremonies

We can’t wait to see what next year’s TEDxWakeForestU conference will bring, but for now, we will be working on our own curiosities and promoting a campus environment that encourages exploration of such.