TEDx at Widener: The Opportunities that Fall into Your Lap on the Inside Track

Amanda Rappa ’26, communication studies and visual and performing arts
Amanda Rappa ’26 interviews the 2023 TEDxWidenerUniversity speakers and volunteers and shares her experience as co-executive producer.

I’ve been an avid dancer since the age of three, and I have always had an interest in all types of arts and performances. In high school, I took up photography with a passion, and I decided that I was going to do photography freelance work in my free time. That is when I began taking photos for Widener Dance Company during my senior year of high school. This was such a meaningful experience for me, as my interests as a photographer and dancer were both being met. These are two of my favorite things, I was having the time of my life. I felt so fulfilled! 

Fast forward to January 2022: I committed to Widener University. This was an early commitment compared to my peers, but I knew where I wanted to be. When I joined the Widener Dance Company during my freshman year, I swapped my place from behind the camera to in front of the camera. I became a part of an amazing group of people, and I finally felt like I was able to dance for myself. This was the most liberating feeling of all. 

Due to taking photos for the dance company in the previous year, my fellow dancers knew my skillset in photography. Our videographer at the fall recital had borrowed a camera she wasn’t familiar with, so I was called upon to see if I could help her with the settings. It happened to be a Canon EOS Rebel camera that I knew well, so I was able to set it up for her. This moment felt quite small. I was just being helpful, which made me feel great.

Amanda accepts flowers on stage at TEDx.
Jeannine McKnight (center) thanks co-executive producers Greg Potter (left) and Amanda Rappa (right) on stage at the end of the event.

It is certainly fair to say that some small moments can turn into something much more substantial. What if I told you the videographer at the recital ended up being my boss for one of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on? Well, that is what happened. Jeannine McKnight, the lead organizer for TEDxWidenerUniversity, remembered me from that moment at the fall recital, and she later asked me to be the co-executive producer, along with Professor Greg Potter, for their 2023 TEDx event. In addition to being a professor, Greg is the associate vice president for University Relations at Widener.

When I officially fell into this position, I was absolutely honored that Jeannine thought of me, but most importantly I was worried that I wasn’t going to be good enough. This was an amazing opportunity, and it was the first job I have ever had in my field of study. It was truly a leap of faith taking on the position, but I knew that if I tried my very best, I would have an incredible experience to look back on and learn from.

I am now a sophomore. To be more precise, I’m a dual major in communication studies and visual and performing arts, with a minor in dance. I’m heavily involved in many organizations on campus, and I have a full itinerary every day. I thoroughly enjoy everything that I am involved in at Widener, but being on the TEDx team this year has truly been one of the most insightful and fulfilling things I have done here yet. 

My first task as co-executive producer was working with Jeannine to figure out the order of the speakers. Believe it or not, this was a very important component of the live event. Jeannine and I had to figure out what sequence would give the audience the best experience in diversity of talks and style of presentation. We came to a consensus on an order that would give our audience the most immersive experience: Professor Geeta (Gigi) Tewari, Dr. Amy Franzini, Mr. Anthony Pompilii, Dr. Lise Deguire, and Dr. Brent Satterly. This first task may seem insignificant, however, through this process, I was able to learn how much the small details matter in the grand scheme of an event like TEDx. 

There are some key facts about our 2023 TEDx speakers that are interesting to know. Gigi Tewari, our first speaker, is a professor of contract and business law at Widener University Delaware Law School. Her highly acclaimed short stories and poetry have been published in several prestigious literary magazines, and she is a Margins Fellow with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Her work explores identity conflicts that many marginalized communities face, along with a myriad of life issues such as professionalism, gender equality, and domestic violence. Tewari delivered an inspiring talk about the importance of teaching financial responsibility to marginalized women. This talk was a good option to put first because it was hard-hitting and sparked emotional tension right from the beginning. This would create a powerful forefront for our live event.

Second in our lineup was Amy Franzini, a communications and marketing professor who studies representations of children, childhood, parents, and parenting in popular media. She has been published in several publications, and she recently finished writing a book titled Secret Identities and Double Lives on Tween TV. Franzini’s insightful talk took an inside look at how television can be used as a tool for caregivers. This presentation was perfect to follow Tewari’s because it shifted tone and brought the audience’s focus from the happenings of the adult world to developments in childhood.

Our third speaker was Anthony Pompilii, a senior communication studies major who serves as the social media manager for Widener Admissions. He was the co-director of speaker coaching and was a moderator for TEDxWidenerUniversity in 2022. Pompilii is president of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) at Widener and is a student worker for University Relations. He is also an athletics coach and a freelance photographer. He presented an outstanding talk on student athletes' mental health. This talk was optimal to follow Franzini’s because it was a nice contrast emotionally and focused on evocative thinking as opposed to critical thinking.

Following Pompilii was Lise Deguire. Deguire is a psychologist and the author of the award-winning book Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor. After being severely burned at four-years-old, she spent many years in the hospital undergoing reconstructive surgeries. Deguire’s talk focused on disfigured people being portrayed as evil villains or as pathetic in movies and television shows, and how that can negatively impact people who have disfigurements. Like Pompilii, Deguire presented powerful personal anecdotes, and we found that they complimented each other well. Even though the nature of having an emotional element was similar, their perspectives and speaking style differed. This made their placement as third and fourth have a seamless yet naturally contrasting flow.

Amanda Rappa poses with students and TEDx presenter Brent Satterly.
Ivana Brock, Tai Thompson-Martin, Brent Satterly, and Amanda Rappa have fun on the TEDx red carpet.

Lastly, we had Brent Satterly. Satterly is a professor of social work at Widener’s Center for Social Work Education. He has received several awards, including the prestigious Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Widener Faculty Institutional Leadership Award. His areas of teaching include family therapy, human sexuality studies, pedagogy, trauma, anti-racism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Satterly has 30 years of experience as a Pennsylvania-licensed clinical social worker. In addition, he co-authored the 2020 textbook Sexuality Concepts for Social Workers. Something that I really wanted was for us to go out with a bang at the live event. That is exactly what happened. Satterly gave his talk in full drag. This was unexpected and fun, and it raised the energy of the audience, leaving them wanting more.

Next on my list of responsibilities was helping to recruit student volunteers who would enable this entire operation to run smoothly. I am very lucky to have connections across campus with many people. I have wonderful friends who I knew would be great for specific jobs. My friend Ivana Brock and I worked together over the summer for our independent study with the Chester Cultural Art and Technology Center. During this time, she grew her skills for lighting and all things backstage. I asked her to help with sound, where she furthered her skills on how to properly attach microphones and battery packs to the speakers. This is not an easy task, especially when it must be perfect with the event being live and recorded. Ivana did an amazing job. 

Amanda Rappa poses with dance team teammates at TEDx.
Ivana Brock, Amanda Rappa, and Tai Thompson-Martin are ready to open for the TEDx reception.

Another key player was my friend Taiyana (Tai) Thompson-Martin. We needed a student to lead the reception team and hold down the fort in the lobby and prevent disruptions during the talks. I knew Tai would be a perfect fit for this. She has never been afraid to speak her mind in a professional manner. She is also orderly and able to accomplish any task at hand. 

I was next tasked with recruiting a worthy nonprofit organization for the community table at the reception. I reached out to Active Minds, which is a group of student advocates for mental health and suicide prevention, and they have a huge impact across campus. They tied in nicely with Anthony Pompilii’s talk. The Active Minds volunteers, led by Gio Stanfa, were a big help with the entire event, and we appreciated them immensely. 

Aside from the logistics of the event and all its moving parts, I had my own logistics in my hectic life to manage, including classwork and dance rehearsals. A chaotic schedule was nothing new to me. However, I can’t lie. I got nervous. As a dancer, my main issue has always been that I have trouble picking up choreography right away. With my TEDx responsibilities, I still had to push myself to do everything in my power to know my dances and catch up on everything I missed. This was difficult, but I learned to trust the process, focus on the task at hand, and not lose sight of what had to get done. 

The tech rehearsal took place two weeks before the live event and was a big deal. During this rehearsal, everything was being attempted with the film crew for the first time. The speakers were nervous, the crew was figuring it all out, and I was anxious. I was in charge of managing the PowerPoint slides during the event, and I worried that I would make a mistake. The uncertainties filling my head for just a tech rehearsal were mind boggling. All I wanted was everything to go right.

The night consisted of trying things to get all the details down. We made sure the speakers felt comfortable, and I was doing my best to give my support in any area needed. These same feelings of anxiety and nerves lingered for dress rehearsal, and for the live event. It was of utmost importance that this event would be as perfect as possible. I did everything that I could to do my job the best I could. 

In the words of Dr. Brent Satterly, “Everything is drag.” In fact, you may even say I had my co-executive producer drag on for the night of the event. It was so important for me to look the part, or else I would not be able to feel the part. This was totally due to some lingering imposter syndrome! I was around so many intelligent and high achieving individuals that I constantly found myself feeling inadequate due to my own mental headspace. I decided to take action.

I bought a lilac-colored pantsuit and tan dress shoes. This jumpstarted my professional wardrobe. I decided that my waist-length hair made me look too young and not serious enough, so I got a professional haircut. You can see in my documentary about my TEDx experience that my hair is significantly shorter at the live event. The cut felt necessary. 

At the live event, I was nervous but pumped up. I was ready to help put on a great show. After interviewing the speakers for my video and getting a great sense of community with the volunteers, the morale was up more than ever. We were ready!

The flow of the speakers and the energy at the live event were exciting. We had great topics, and the audience loved it. However, there certainly were some hiccups, including some microphone issues and a forgotten PowerPoint clicker. As stressful as these moments were to me, I knew that we had to keep plugging on and keep the energy up. This is exactly what we did.

In the moment, these mishaps felt like the world to me. I was disappointed in myself. However, the truth is, there is nothing I could have done differently to prevent them. These are just things to learn from. I later found out that these small things had no effect on the audience whatsoever. I heard rave reviews from everyone after the event. Even my father, who has barely been able to sit through my dance recitals for the last 17 years, was able to sit through this show and say that he wanted to go to another event like this. He can be painfully honest, so I knew he was being serious. That is when I realized I was my own worst critic. 

Two weeks after the live event, the camera crew sent their video edits of the talks that would later be posted on the TEDx YouTube account. Jeannine, Greg, and I reviewed all the videos. I scanned them minute by minute. I made sure everything looked up to our standard and gave suggestions and preferences for different sections, angles, cuts, and shot types. Though this was tedious, I enjoyed the process. 

Writing this account and creating a documentary/interview style video were among my final tasks for TEDxWidenerUniversity. This has been an incredible experience overall, as they have given me the opportunity to reflect on my time in this position and what I learned. This adds to my realization of my passion for this job. It truly felt like more than a job. This experience felt like a doorway to my future. With this opportunity, I was able to work alongside professionals in this field, such as Greg Potter, Jeannine McKnight, and even a professional film crew. I can already tell that this experience will help me in my future career. 

I’ve gained experience in my field of study in my sophomore year that I’ll remember forever, and I have learned all sorts of things about this type of career from the professionals I have worked with. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity, and I have absolutely loved my time being the student co-executive producer for TEDxWidenerUniversity. A year ago, I never would have thought that I would have obtained this position, but I’ve found that I continue to surprise myself during my time so far at Widener. You never know who you are going to meet and where that will lead you. I truly believe that the connections that you make today will help you get to where you want to be tomorrow. 

Visit TEDxWidenerUniversity to learn more about TEDx at Widener and to see the 2023 speakers’ videos.

TEDxWidenerUniversity
 

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