Upstate students host a TEDx conference for Syracuse youth

About 70 high school students from the Syracuse City School District will spend Thursday, Feb. 16 at Upstate Medical University for a TEDx conference initiated by a group of Upstate medical students. The invitation-only event, TEDxYouth@ClintonSquare, is being held at the Central New York Biotech Accelerator.

“By hearing stories from speakers and sharing their own, the high school students will recognize the power of their ideas and commit to them to create positive change,” said James Osei-Sarpong Jr., a second-year medical student and the conference’s lead organizer.

Osei-Sarpong Jr. came up with the idea for a TEDx youth initiative partly because of his own transformation. In high school, he lacked confidence and was uncertain about his capabilities and his future; in college, he began to thrive. He said he has accomplished his dream of getting into medical school and is on his way to becoming a physician.

“I want to share my story and motivate high school students to do the same,” Osei-Sarpong Jr. said. “Then they can start on the path toward positive changes in their lives, communities and in their dreams and visions for themselves.”

Another factor that led to the TEDx event is the work that some members of the team do in Upstate’s MEDS program (Medical Education for Diverse Students). High school students interested in health care careers come to the Upstate campus on a regular basis and are mentored by the university’s students.

“For a week straight last summer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Osei-Sarpong Jr. said of hosting a TEDx event. He applied for and received a license, and enlisted the help of several classmates and Iris Garza, the team’s curator and a behavioral technician in Upstate’s Family Behavior Analysis Clinic.

“They have the same passion that I do,” Osei-Sarpong Jr. said of his TEDx team. “I needed to be able to depend on people, and they are committed. It’s a great group.”

The rest of the team, all from the Class of 2019, includes Mary Pinkes, Duc Nguyen, Joshua Drake and George Thatvihane.

The team visited Syracuse city high schools to talk up the project to students, faculty and administrators. The PowerPoint presentation they showed included this message:

“With TEDx, we want to send students the message–or messages—that there are people and institutions looking out for them. We want to recognize their efforts to define themselves, and show them how to make that effort productive.”

Another goal is to have students appreciate the value of their particular “lived experiences” and to translate those into marketable skills.

“Some skills they have may be unconventional and not reflect traditional values,” Pinkes said.

“Those skills include taking care of younger siblings or, as in the case of New American families, helping parents with their English and with navigating our society,” added Nguyen, who sees these skills in the high school students in the MEDS program.

“We want to reaffirm that these are special kids, capable of doing so much more,” Nguyen said.

After the event, the TEDxYouth@ClintonSquare team plans to go back to the high schools and show them how to organize and produce a TEDx conference with their voice and ideas that matter to the Syracuse youth community.

“We want this to be special for them,” Pinkes said.

—taken from With Distinction

Caption: The TEDx team from Upstate, from left, are Duc Nguyen, Iris Garza, James Osei-Sarpong Jr., Mary Pinkes and Joshua Drake. Missing is George Thatvihane.

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