Talk the Talk

Three Sidney Kimmel Medical College students organize Jefferson’s first TEDx.

TED rejected the first application by Shandon Coffman, David Wilson and Saami Zakaria. The organizers told the Sidney Kimmel Medical College students their pitch for an independently organized TEDx event at Jefferson focused too heavily on health care.

“It took some courage to reapply,” Coffman admits. “We were confident, though.”

Disappointed but not deterred, the trio headed back to the planning stages. The second-year students—huge fans of the TED series—saw the value of bringing the popular idea-exchange and speaker platform to the University for the first time.

“Jefferson is an academic powerhouse,” Zakaria says, “and we thought this would be something people would enjoy having here.

Sidney Kimmel Medical College students Saami Zakaria, David Wilson and Shandon Coffman organized TEDx at Jefferson.
Students Saami Zakaria, David Wilson and Shandon Coffman spent a year planning Jefferson's TEDx event.

For their second application, they developed the theme “Pioneers of Tomorrow” and celebrated the recent Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University merger. The students would seek talks that cross the worlds of health care and design and forge a “new frontier for education.”

Organizers liked the fresh angle and issued their stamp of approval to use the TED name. With the official OK, Coffman, Wilson and Zakaria put the call out for submissions. The ideas poured in almost immediately.

“I felt like we were really meeting a need out there,” Coffman says.

After careful deliberation, they whittled down dozens of submissions to 14 talks. They looked for speakers with interesting stories, engaging topics or ideas worth sharing. And importantly, they wanted variety in the voices. Some came from the Jefferson community, while others traveled from as far as Virginia, Maryland and New York to participate.

The organizers believe they hit all the marks with the inaugural event earlier this semester. In energic and dynamic 10- to 15-minute talks, people covered diverse topics like, “Can a Doctor Have More Than One Calling?”; “Aging Enthusiastically to Make the World a Better Place”; “Consumerism in 2030: How to Strategize for the Future”; “Why Trust and Faith Can Create a Better Life and Better Humanity”; “XR and Health Care: Distinguishing Intrigue From Hype”; and “An Occupational Therapist’s Role in Person-Centered Design.”

We can use our network, resources and skillsets to impact our communities and to share these stories.
—Shandon Coffman


Following TEDx at Jefferson, Coffman, Wilson and Zakaria felt they gained something from the experience. Coffman, for example, says he has a new-found appreciation for the immediate influence medical students can have in the world. They don’t need to wait until after their residencies to contribute to society.

“Events like this show me that we can make a difference now,” he says. “We can use our network, resources and skillsets to impact our communities and to share these stories.”

Zakaria called it a privilege to help put together the year-in-the-making event. “We could create a storyline, elicit emotion and drive people’s thoughts and challenge them,” he shares.

The three hope a TEDx event will become a regular occurrence on campus, and they aim to pass the baton to other Jefferson students to continue the tradition.

“Our goal is to make this a lasting thing that succeeds us,” Zakaria says.

After all, there won’t be a shortage of content.

“Put yourself out there,” urges Wilson to future potential speakers. “There are so many great stories to be told.”

Watch Jefferson’s TEDx talks here.

Neil Gomes, Jefferson’s chief digital officer, presented on
Neil Gomes, Jefferson’s chief digital officer, presented on "A Pattern for Healthcare Transformation for the Pioneers of Tomorrow." Fourteen speakers delivered talks at Jefferson's inaugural TEDx.
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