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September 26, 2013 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2013-09-26

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"It was an improv show,"
chuckled Seth Samuels, a 2013
Ross School of Business BBA
graduate, as he glanced at his glass
filled with hot water and pulpy
lemon. "We were improvising."
On the table, a red-covered
book sprawled neatly over the
wood. Next to the book, bread
crumbs settled next to the back
of a receipt, where Samuels had
written "potential" in ballpoint
ink, the letters pressed sharply
onto the page to make indents. A
small graph adorned the paper.
Samuels ran his hand over the
book's cover.
"Storytelling is an ingrained
part of being a human being," he
- relieving stress. ... At its core,
storytelling starts with someone
drawing out their own personal
experience and considering it in
a way that they hadn't previously.
And sharing that (experience)
with other people."
And so, Samuels's self-
described "improv" act led to a
video compilation, an upcoming
exhibition and arecently published
book - all aimed at "sharing
(stories) with other people."
More importantly, though, the
"improvisation" cracked open
the entrance to a new wave of
storytelling on campus, titled the
Spotlight Project.

The Spotlight Project, an
extension of TEDxUofM, began
in December 2011as a half-formed
thought in Samuels's mind after
attending and organizing one
of the University's TEDxUofM
conferences. The TEDxUofM
community itself joins the ranks
of the broader TED nonprofit
organization, a well acclaimed
program linking its three pillars
of technology, entertainment
and design into a series of annual
conferences. TED emphasizes
the power and values of ideas to
promote passionate change and
additionally offers TED Talks, a
series of lectures by prominent
thinkerswhichfurther the mission
to extend cultural, scientific and
creative spaces into the lives of
everyday people. The University's
branch of TEDx offers its own
conference yearly. According to
the TEDxUofM Facebook page,
the conference hopes to "bring
together great minds, brilliant
talent and innovative thinkers
who are eager to inform the
universe about their passions and
dreams for the future."
More thanspeakers onthe
Samuels echoes TEDx as the
soundboard for his own curiosity
and rich expansion of ideas. Yet,

he noticed that the conference
was doing something peculiar:
emphasizing the stage for one
day, and inadvertently forgetting
to leave a long-lasting impact on
its audience.
"A bunch of people would
come together, have a great
one-day experience ... hearing
inspiringspeakers," Samuelssaid,
when discussing his first TEDx
Conference. "Yet we had no way
of determining if our conference
- that we put so much time into
outside of class - was having a
huge impact."
And so, the Spotlight Project
bloomed into existence.
"I became enthralled withthis
idea that maybe there's more to
TEDxUofM than speakers on
the stage," Samuels said. "Maybe
there's something in the audience
that we should focus on."
The Spotlight Project is an
effort to intentionally shift "the
spotlight" from the stage to the
audience. The project discovers
and films remarkable stories on
campus and gives those stories
back to the campus community
through a series of online videos
its nearly two-year production
period in April 2013, the project
has filmed 15 spotlight videos and
compiled 27 of those additional
interviewsinto a book.

"Picture a whiteboard,"
Samuels said, as he sketched an
axis on the back of a coffee-shop
receipt. "It's a perfect bell curve."
Samuels drew a peaked curve to
represent the TEDx Conference.
"The peak is a flicker of our
human potential to consider, to
create, to interact," he said. "It's
really a special moment. But
it's unrealistic to believe that
it can live on because once the
conference ends, we go on with
initial life." Samuels paused, and
drew a downward slope tapering
off, in blackballpoint pen. "This is
daily life," he said. "I'm interested
in how we can create follow-up
peaks after that initial peak."
In a sense, Samuels focused
on increasing a similar sense of
inspiration and energy - "follow-
up peaks" - after the conference
ended, thus gradually extending
the impression and inspiration
that the annual TEDx Conference
Ashley Park, a 2013 School
of Music, Theatre & Dance
graduate, was interviewed for the
Spotlight Project. Park began the
Michigan Performance Outreach
Workshop - a program that
offers a day-long excursion of
workshops for youth in Detroit -
at ,the University. Her Spotlight
interview informs the audience

of her passion for
arts immersion, and
the creation of the
As an
interviewee of the
Spotlight Project,
Park described
the experience
as "informative."
She noted the
helpfulness in
being able to
"articulate our
story." Park said,
"We'd just put on
our first event, and I hadn't had a
lot of time to reflect on what had
happened. Having to articulate
(our story) - why we were doing
(the program), what it was, what
it meant forus - was really kind
of moving," Park said. "I almost
started crying on camera; not
because I was really sad or
really happy or really emotional,
but because it meant a lot to tell
everything to an audience."
Park further emphasized
the Spotlight Project's ability
in allowing stories all across
campus to be amplified.
"Spotlight Project gave us an
opportunity to explain the
mission of (our program), and
why we were doing it," she said.
"Every Single person has a
story. And a lot of people don't

have someone to listen to their
stories. But a story is something
that has heart behind it - no
matter what it is. It can be
something that is ongoing, and
it is a partof humanity and life."
The Spotlight Project was
designed with the principle
of hearing - and exchanging
- such stories. 2013 TEDx
director Maria Young, an
Engineering senior, described
the beginning of the Spotlight
Project. "I absolutely love
all the TED talks," Young
said. "They're amazing, but
sometimes I wonder if they
discourage attendees because
all of our speakers have done
these huge, amazing things."

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