The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

TEDxUIUC returns to campus for Odyssey conference

Ashwin Padmanabhan
Astrophotographer Jack Fusco discusses career in Lincoln Hall on April 22.

Several speakers assembled at Lincoln Hall on Monday evening to participate in the TEDxUIUC’s Odyssey conference to discuss their unique experiences as entrepreneurs, artists, educators and scholars. 

TEDx is an independently organized series of local events, which are licensed by the better-known TED Foundation. TEDxUIUC’s webpage says that “speakers from various backgrounds can share their ideas and insights in short, powerful talks designed to spark deep discussions and connections within the community.” 

Odyssey, this year’s TEDxUIUC conference, began in 2011. TEDxUIUC held annual conferences, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first event since 2019, aside from the Crossroads Salon last December. 

This year’s conference featured seven speakers:  Christine Lewington, Hema Reddy, Jack Fusco, Nathaniel Provencio, femdot., Elayna Fernandez and Joe Simonetta. 

Lewington, CEO of PIP International Inc. — a plant-based protein company — began the event by discussing the importance of kindness to ourselves and others and how it can help build meaningful connections throughout one’s career.

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“When we have a meaningful connection, it makes us feel accepted,” Lewington said. “When we feel accepted, we feel like we belong. Through those two things, we can find happiness.”

The next speaker, Reddy, founder and CEO of Crafty Counter, another plant-based protein company, provided strategies for building courage and finding success.

“When I was a child, I suffered from a lack of confidence; I was shy and embarrassed,” Reddy said. “But through experience and the people I met along the way, I replaced those feelings with courage.”

Reddy talked about how she utilized her experiences to build courage and left the audience with a final impact statement.

“Life is an obstacle course; plan for it, prepare for it, thrive in it,” Reddy said. “Courage is the most important virtue because, with courage, you can practice any other virtue continuously.”

Fusco, an astrophotographer whose images have appeared in National Geographic and won several of NASA’s “Photo of the Day” competitions, discussed his journey to being an outdoor photographer. Fusco displayed several of his photos and emphasized the importance of patience in times of difficulty.

“Sometimes we can be in the right place at the right time, but something goes wrong,” Fusco said. “Sometimes it means trying again, days, months or even years later.”

The next speaker was Provencio, an associate superintendent and CEO of Proven Principal LLC, a Virginia-based educational resource company. Provencio’s talk focused on the importance of parental involvement in childhood education.

“By involving, engaging and empowering our parents, academic results soared at my school,” Provencio said. “Student achievement increased, reading level increased, attendance went up and discipline issues went down.”

Provencio ended his talk by delivering a message to the future educators and families in the audience.

“Let’s do everything we can to build a community connection so that we can ensure educational excellence for every student in every community,” Provencio said. 

The fifth speaker, femdot., is a Chicago rapper and founder of the nonprofit Delacreme Scholars, which provides resources, supplies and scholarships to low-income families on Chicago’s south side. He spoke about his journey, his career and how he got involved in social activism.

“I graduated from DePaul University with a degree in biological sciences and a minor in peace, justice and conflict studies,” femdot. said. “Later on, during the protests against police brutality in 2020, I was violently assaulted by Chicago police.”

femdot. discussed how, as his rap career took off, this experience inspired him to make a stronger difference in his community.

“So now I can’t protest, but I can go to the grocery store and get food and go help families who are struggling in Chicago,” femdot. said. “Once we started doing that, though, we realized there were a lot more people who needed a lot more resources and support.”

femdot. went on to speak about how he and his friends decided to start the nonprofit Delacreme Scholars, which, since its founding, has provided groceries to over 500 families and scholarships to dozens of students and artists in Chicago.

The Chicago rapper finished his talk with a discussion of his birth name.

“My name is Mueen, which literally means ‘the one who helps,’” femdot. said. “Although I’m not commonly called this name, I’m blessed to have the ability to fulfill my purpose, which is simple: live up to my name.” 

The second to last speaker was Fernandez, a bestselling author, who discussed using storytelling to transform personal pain into empowering narratives. 

“We must set a daily date to sit with our painful memories, experiences and thoughts,” Fernandez said. “Immersion is the best path to fluency, and while it may be uncomfortable at first, it is a life-long journey that will open doors that you never thought could be opened.”  

The final speech of the night was delivered by Simonetta, a theological scholar, businessman, architect and author. He discussed his book, “Seven Words That Can Change the World,” and what those words are: be healthy, be kind and respect the environment.

“In a very real sense, it’s time for humanity to honor our current knowledge and grow up,” Simonetta said. “Only then will we reverse our destructive and unsustainable momentum, end our needless suffering, prosper together, find peace, sustain humanity and advance our civilization.”


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