Managing TEDx event is a pivotal student experience

January 29, 2018 / by / 3 Comments

The students running TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity 2018 combine their Lopes Up with the TEDx sign. (Photo by Blake Pitman, Scale Media)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Discussing how Grand Canyon University’s TEDx event is run completely by students brings to mind those television commercials where friends just can’t believe anyone could get cost certainty on their internet bill.

The students do manage the event. Really, they do. All by themselves.

“I’ve had no input whatsoever. It has been 100 percent student driven,” said Paul Waterman, the Colangelo College of Business instructor who serves as an adviser and sounding board for the students. “They’ve come up with the themes, they’ve come up with the ideas, they’ve curated all the speakers. We’ve given them the latitude to make the decisions, and they’ve made them. I think it’s exciting.”

Friday night, the students unveiled the final step before “Magnum Opus,” scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, in Ethington Theatre. (Get tickets here.) They brought together the speakers and performers for the Preview Event, designed to whet listeners’ appetites for what’s to come.  

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit that features short, powerful talks on a variety of topics. TEDx was launched in 2009 with the goal of bringing the TED experience to local communities, cities and universities.

But just as important to the story of TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity 2018 is what happened after GCU’s first TEDx experience last March. The directors on the student committee took a hard look at feedback from attendees and made some major changes in the program.

The number of talks/performances has been reduced from 20 to eight, taking the length down from all day to 3½ hours, and it will be in the more intimate Ethington Theatre setting rather than GCU Arena. Even the preview on Friday was altered, from miniature versions of this year’s talks to question-and-answer sessions with the featured guests emceed by Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean.

The lesson: Running an event is like being an entrepreneur.

“Prototype, learn and then pivot,” Waterman said.

Dominic Pachuilo, president of the student committee, said a key part of the pivot was creating a theme and making decisions without the help of committees. They just sat down and did a “hot wash,” as Gibb called it, and made their decisions.

“They really critiqued each other and the process,” Gibb said. “This is a project and that’s how they review everything that they did – right, wrong, how did they get there, what was the process, how do we do better. It wasn’t an accident that they made these changes. It’s part of this project that every year will be iterative, and with Paul’s mentorship they’re fully embracing it.”

“For us, it’s a refinement,” Pachuilo said. “It might sound like we’re downgrading to a smaller venue with fewer attendees, but we want to shift focus, making our event more professional. We are running this year’s TEDx like any other Fortune 500 professional-development event. We have secured a professional emcee and live musicians for transitions. Our vision is for the feel of a performance, not a conference. We are also creating a village for our students, a place of innovation and idea sharing.”

The “village” reference is important. Outside Ethington will be “TEDx Village” with vendors, a VIP meet and greet, and a free livestream viewing. GCU students who want to go inside for the show can get 50 percent off the normal $50 ticket price, and GCU staff can get a 20 percent discount.

The Preview Event revealed that attendees will be hearing from six powerful speakers and also will enjoy two performances that were added to give the event more variety. The list includes:

  • “The Idea, Growth and Great Works Begin with Inclusion” – Jody McPhearson, youth and young adult trainer
  • “The Martians in Your Classroom” – Rachael Mann, who provides resources for education leaders
  • “Untamed: What Wolverine Teaches Us about Rage” – Suzana Flores, psychologist, best-selling author of “Facehooked” and psychological expert
  • Performance: “Hypnosis, the Subconscious and Leadership” – Jim Kellner, comedy stage hypnotist and hypnotherapist
  • “Conscience – Connecting to Purpose and Avoiding Evil” – Brett Pyle, trainer and coach
  • “Disguised Learning” – Jeff Golner, principal of marketing of event-production firm and chairman of Fiesta Bowl committee
  • “Millennial Leadership” – Jeff Orr, Grand Canyon graduate and current GCU master’s student
  • Performance: “Interpretation of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’” – Sam, Solu and Sanna

But as important as the student-chosen speakers are, even more significant are some other student choices: the professional development and the job possibilities that grow out of managing an event of this magnitude.

Waterman said he heard many positive reports from students who told a prospective employer of their TEDx experience and then got the job because of it – this after their confidence was bolstered simply by being a part of the team.

“When I look at all the students doing great things in our college,” Gibb said, “they’re the ones who have TEDx on their resume or due diligence with Canyon Angels. This is such a differentiator on their resumé.”

It’s also a differentiator for the speakers and performers. Asked how he felt about it when he first heard that students were managing the event, Pyle didn’t hesitate:

“Loved it.”

And now that he has met them?

“Love it even more. They’re top-notch, they’re on their ‘A’ game, and they’re bringing it.”


President: Dominic Pachuilo

Finance: Josh McGuire

Operations: Marco Burgarello

Event Planning: Julia Sena

Marketing: Elijah Kattke

Quality: Brandon Orozco

Speaker Acquisition: Justin McLean

Design: Emma Harris

Videography: Konnor Bennet

Public Relations: Jedidiah Woods

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or

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3 Responses
  1. Dominic Pachuilo

    Thank you for this beautiful write-up Rick. Without the support we receive, the event would not reach its full potential. We are blessed beyond measure. Hope to see you on February 23rd!

    Jan.29.2018 at 12:05 pm
  2. Danielle Endres

    I would love to see this event but am all the way in Houston. Will it be webcast or recorded?

    Jan.29.2018 at 12:40 pm
  3. Dominic Pachuilo

    Hi Danielle,

    Yes! Our event will be live streamed on YouTube day of. Stay up-to-date on our website:

    Thank you for your interest.

    Jan.29.2018 at 2:10 pm
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