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Bold ideas take flight at TEDxNortheasternU

North­eastern senior Justin Dowd said a rev­o­lu­tion is coming in space flight—and he has a front row seat to prove it.


By: News@Northeastern

January 27, 2014

Northeastern senior Justin Dowd was one of the featured speakers at TEDxNortheasternU on Saturday. Dowd, S'14, discussed his impending journey into space thanks to his winning the international Race to Space competition through the global newspaper chain Metro in 2012. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday.

North­eastern senior Justin Dowd said a rev­o­lu­tion is coming in space flight—and he has a front row seat to prove it. In 2012, he won the inter­na­tional Race to Space com­pe­ti­tion offered through the global news­paper chain Metro in con­junc­tion with Space Expe­di­tion Cor­po­ra­tion, a pri­vate com­pany known as SXC. Next year, he said, he’ll strap into the two-​​person rocket-​​powered space­craft XCOR Lynx, blast off, and reach space in five min­utes by trav­eling at 2,000 miles per hour.

Dowd, S’14, a math and physics com­bined major, said advance­ments in com­mer­cial space flight in the coming decades are primed to have major impli­ca­tions for travel, global com­merce, sci­ence, the envi­ron­ment, and clean energy, which could be drawn from the sun and trans­mitted back to earth.

“The world is about to get a lot smaller. Orbital travel will allow you to set foot on the oppo­site side of the planet in two hours,” Dowd told about 100 North­eastern students—and many others watching online—on Sat­urday at TEDxNorth­east­ernU, held in Raytheon Amphithe­ater. “Easy access orbit will give a whole new meaning to same-​​day delivery—and long-​​distance relationships.”

All of this, Dowd said, rein­forces the idea that “an abyss of unknowns” still exists in the bound­aries of knowl­edge across all sub­jects, from his­tory to sci­ence. “That can only mean one thing: the world is not what it seems. It just can’t be. There are more ques­tions than answers,” Dowd said.

Lead orga­nizer Mary Tobin, DMSB’17, kicked off pro­gram by explaining how TEDxNorth­east­ernU was born. In August, she tweeted to North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun, sug­gesting that the uni­ver­sity host the event. Aoun tweeted back that stu­dents should take the lead and run with the idea. From there, Tobin con­tacted Hugh Courtney, dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, and the event started to take shape.

“I’m not sug­gesting that you tweet all your ideas to our won­derful pres­i­dent, but I am sug­gesting that you look for the non­tra­di­tional route,” she said.

In his intro­duc­tory remarks, Pres­i­dent Aoun spoke about the many myths that exist about higher edu­ca­tion, including the myth that the majority of learners are tra­di­tional col­lege stu­dents. He said trans­for­ma­tive changes are taking place in higher edu­ca­tion, and the 18– to 22-​​year-​​olds living on campus are mo longer the majority. In fact, they make up only 15 per­cent of the today’s learners. The vast majority are non-​​traditional learners, a group that includes adults, part-​​time stu­dents, working pro­fes­sionals, and non-​​campus res­i­dents. This shift in par­tic­ular, he said, will have major impli­ca­tions for the future of higher edu­ca­tion; most insti­tu­tions focus only the tra­di­tional 15 per­cent, but the 85 per­cent need an edu­ca­tion system that adapts to their need too.

Another change, he said, is the onset of per­son­al­ized edu­ca­tion, the learning model of which is shifting from a teacher-​​centric system to a learner-​​centered system. “The future from this per­spec­tive is bright because the learners are in the driver seat, and the insti­tu­tions that don’t adapt are going to dis­ap­pear,” Aoun said.

In his remarks, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun said one of the trans­for­ma­tional changes facing higher edu­ca­tion today is the onset of per­son­al­ized edu­ca­tion. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday.

TEDx events rep­re­sent an ini­tia­tive of the TED con­fer­ence, which is devoted to the con­cept of “Ideas Worth Sharing.” TEDx events are inde­pen­dently orga­nized, held all over the world, and designed to bring people together to learn about new ideas bub­bling up in their local com­mu­ni­ties. TEDxNorth­east­ernU fea­tured a range of speakers who dis­cussed their inno­v­a­tive ideas, research, and experiences—all of which dove­tailed with the event’s theme, Unknown Knowns, aimed at pro­moting the explo­ration of ideas atten­dees may not realize they know. The event was pri­marily spon­sored by Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.

Throughout the after­noon, sev­eral speakers dis­cussed how their endeavors are having a pos­i­tive impact on people’s lives. North­eastern alumnus Mar­quis Cabrera shared how his resolve, drive, and pas­sion to trans­form the nation’s foster care system led him to found Foster Skills, a social enter­prise focused on sup­porting and empow­ering foster chil­dren. Cabrera drew inspi­ra­tion from the suc­cesses of other entre­pre­neurs and sug­gested that those inter­ested in launching their own social ven­tures use a method­ology he fol­lowed: busi­ness, impact, brand. He said social entre­pre­neurs must do their home­work on the soci­etal prob­lems they aim to fix, develop a strategy for max­i­mizing the effec­tive­ness of their ven­tures, and realize that their star­tups are much more than a logo—rather, they’re an exten­sion of the founders and must estab­lish cred­i­bility to grow and gain support.

John Pepper, who founded the regional bur­rito chain Boloco in 1997, described his 2001 deci­sion to break with con­ven­tional wisdom in the fast-​​food industry by raising the min­imum wage for hourly employees. The risky move, he said, was the result of a change in his mindset. Instead of asking him­self why people would work for such low wages and where a job like this could lead them, Pepper started thinking about how higher wages could trans­form his employees’ lives.

Raising wages, it turned out, also bol­stered the company’s bottom line. “It’s incred­ible what hap­pened. In the five years that fol­lowed, we had our best sales, our best profits, we earned the right to start growing again, and we even found some more investors,” he said.

Peter Furth, a pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering at North­eastern, was one of the fea­tured speakers at TEDxNorth­east­ernU. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday.

Among the other speakers were North­eastern Uni­ver­sity psy­chology pro­fessor David DeSteno, whose research focuses on the role of emo­tion in social cog­ni­tion and social behavior; Emily Green, CEO and chief lunch lady of Smart Lunches, Inc., an online meal ser­vice that helps fam­i­lies by bringing fresh, nutri­tious, high-​​quality meals to chil­dren; and North­eastern com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies major Amy Henion, AMD’14, whose pas­sion for design and sus­tain­able living has inspired her to build her own tiny house within the next five years in order to attain housing secu­rity, lessen depen­dence on mate­rial goods, and diminish her impact on the environment.

The TEDxNorth­east­ernU talks will soon be posted to the TEDx YouTube page.