The Daily Illini

Students must explore their passions outside the classroom

By Cassandra Masters, Columnist

After attending TEDxUIUC’s conference last weekend, I came to one realization: I am doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with my time here at the University. Although the day-long conference had various lessons and overarching ideas, this was the message that rang clear to me.

Although each speaker discussed different topics, ranging from mental health to education programs in Englewood, they shared one common theme: “uncharted”. Each speaker focused on embracing the uncharted ideas and projects that abruptly cross our minds, and are most likely the ones we brush off as impossible.

One speaker, Patrick Slade, was a sophomore when he began working with prosthetics, and co-founded the startup PSYONIC. The startup has provided a prosthetic limb to a refugee in Jordan and reached people in many places around the world. He was named one of Forbes “Top 30 Under 30” in healthcare.

Another speaker, Aneysha Bhatt, helped develop the “TenseSense” device, which can measure anxiety levels using saliva and other bodily fluids. She developed this device to address the current lack of any quantitative way to measure anxiety levels, and Bhatt and her team hope to put the device into clinical use for patients struggling with anxiety. 

These successful students did not develop the entirety of these projects in their 10 a.m. lectures or 3 p.m. discussions. They worked on these projects outside of the classroom, using resources such as knowledgeable professors, research labs and external funding that no ordinary student can get.

I, however, spend my free time laughing at mindless Vines, sitting on a couch and staring into space, and watching countless hours of Netflix, hoping to gain the energy to be more productive.

College is the only time in our lives when we have all the time, energy, resources and abilities to put our productivity towards something greater, whether it be a prosthetic arm, or being on an executive board for an RSO. We have no one telling us what to do or how to do it, and can act independently from our parents, professors and peers.

College is also the time for us to challenge everything we’ve been taught since preschool, question the very root of everything we know and explore the “uncharted territories” that TEDxUIUC promoted.

College students spend a combined average of 14 hours of their days sleeping (very important), doing school work (also important) and working part-time. That means we have nearly 10 more hours of the day to do whatever our hearts desire.

We must avoid fulfilling the stereotypes of millennials being lazy and living off our parent’s money and hard-work, because we all know that’s not true (except maybe for our Netflix habits, I’ll give them that one). We must embrace all the resources and time given to us at such a prestigious university in our undergraduate years.

Pour energy into the “crazy” ideas that cross your mind as you’re spacing out at the library, and collaborate with those insanely intelligent people in your classes, though they may intimidate you. Talk to the professors who inspire you, and contact any RSOs that even spark a tiny amount of interest.

In the closing remarks at TEDxUIUC, the organizers admitted that the conference wouldn’t have been successful had they not spent many late nights in the basement of the Union. That could be any of us, spending our late nights working on our bold ideas for the future instead of watching “How I Met Your Mother” yet again.

We may not all be engineers who can develop prosthetics or tools for measuring anxiety levels, but we do all have passions. They may be our majors, or they may be what we can’t wait to do after classes.

Whatever your passion may be, there is a niche on this campus for it, and there are like-minded people here who can help you explore it.

Cassandra is a sophomore in LAS.

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