TEDx builds bridges at University College of the Cayman Islands

Samantha Hennings, left, Addie Ade-Yusuf and Giji Alex discuss plans for building a bridge out of paper drinking straws at UCCI's TEDx event on Saturday. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Attendees of the TEDx UCCI event on Saturday learned about building bridges, whether they be figurative or literal. They built model bridges with paper drinking straws and blow up balloons, made a Jacob’s ladder with a string laced between their fingers and listened to a line of speakers that provided some education and inspiration.

University College of the Cayman Islands instructor J.D. Mosely Matchett was curator of the fourth such program hosted by the college. She said the event’s theme of “bridges” was born out in the talks and video presentations the audience heard. The speakers, she said, were approaching the idea of bridges both from the physical as well as the metaphorical sense.

William Schonberg is a professor of civil engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He also taught for a semester at UCCI in 2014. Mr. Schonberg talked about the steel, concrete, wood and even glass bridges civil engineers design and build. More important, he said, is what those bridges do.

“Bridges get us from here to there,” Mr. Schonberg said. “We can be like bridges when we help each other. We need to be the bridge for one another.”

Farmer Andre Gooden said he found his bridge through growing plants. Finding himself on a self-destructive path in his youth, he said, he managed to shift his focus to a healthier path in agriculture.

“I needed to recognize that moment when I said, ‘I have to change my life,’” Mr. Gooden said. “Once you recognize that moment, will you be satisfied with just healing yourself, or will you want to heal the world with it?”

Mr. Gooden said he shares his story with Cayman’s youth by visiting schools and talking about his work.

Cayman’s track and field Olympian Ronald Forbes talked about the bridge between the possible and impossible, sharing many of the challenges he faced on his road to becoming an elite athlete.

Cayman Olympian Ronald Forbes shared his story of success with the crowd at the TEDx UCCI event on Saturday. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

“We often see things as impossible when they’re first presented to us,” Mr. Forbes said during a break in the program. “That’s not just for athletes; it’s for every walk of life. Most people don’t want to see the labor process. They just want to see the baby. I’m explaining the labor process.”

While he has spoken to students at Cayman schools, Forbes said his TED talk required a different level of preparation.

“I learned that this shy guy in high school can actually talk,” he said. “I can do it much better than I thought I could. I’ve discovered new strengths based on old weaknesses.” That kind of inspiration was also a common thread in the presentations of the various speakers.

Giji Alex, 31, was pushing paper straws together during the lunch break as she and her friends attempted to construct some kind of bridge that would be strong enough to support a small bag of coins. She learned of the conference on Facebook.

“I love TED talks,” Ms. Alex said. “I got excited and made these girls come with me. And here we are building bridges.”

All of four of the women at the table work in finance. Each said they had been inspired in some way by the morning slate of speakers.

“You can’t get anywhere without taking action,” said Addie Ade-Yusuf, 28. “We spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes you just need to stop and take action.

Tracy Mullings, 29, said Houston-based relationship/dating coach Linda Hayles had impressed her with her message of pursuing a dream she had allowed to be pushed aside for years.

“I can’t allow my fear to hold me back,” Ms. Mullings said. “No matter how young or old you are, you can still live your dream.”

Renee Lindo, 24, a lawyer trainee, said what she heard got her to think beyond her day job.

“(It) kind of made me think of my purpose outside of my work,” she said, as she too struggled with a straw bridge. “I want to do some humanitarian work. There’s always this inkling to do something more.”

Mr. Schonberg ended his talk on a similar note.

“When we help our fellow travelers,” he said, “we become the ones that take people from the present to a much better and more hopeful future.”