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“By Women. For Women. From Women:” TEDxPSU’s Women’s Conference

On Nov. 5, TEDxPSU hosted their first Women’s Conference in the HUB-Robenson Center. The event, starting at 12:30 a.m., hosted four brilliant women to speak.

They discussed topics from women in STEM to establishing boundaries. They tackled complex problem and talked their audience through touching personal stories. It was an amazing event to listen to some powerful women.

I left feeling inspired by the women of this event.

The first speaker was Olivia Newman.

Newman is a student at Penn State who plans on becoming an engineer. Over the summer, she worked on rebuilding a bridge in Eswatini.

She starts her speech about the story of a young girl she met in Eswatini named Ayonda. The typical young girl in Eswatini would go to a school fro girls to learn about theology, sewing and skills to be a housewife. They get married off as child brides and eventually will work on their family farm.

Newman found that most women are subject to great misogyny.

As she and her colleagues would work on the bridge, the men of the community would direct micro-aggressions at the female workers; for example, the shovels and cement buckets would be taken from them.

The women would work in the kitchen— there was no faith that women could partake in physical labor.

As time went on, the women of the community did not give up. They showed that they could do the manual labor and do it well. Newman saw how barriers started to break down.

To build up the women of the community, Newman set up a day to celebrate women: Women’s Day. They had women from all over the village come to their celebration.

They made traditional food, danced, ate snacks and talked about their experiences.

Newman concludes the speech going back to Ayonda. Because women were there to lift Ayonda up, she wants to become an engineer one day like Olivia.

Newman gave a beautiful speech on how we need to uplift other women.

Many of us grow up in a bubble, and when we are introduced to new lifestyles in the world, we freeze. Newman showed that life is diverse, but we should celebrate those lifestyles.

As Newman and her peers learned about Eswatini culture, those women learned about American culture. She showed the beauty of how people are so different yet exactly the same.

The next speaker was Meenakshi Sundaram.

Sundaram is a physical therapist and self-proclaimed “science geek.” She is fascinated by research articles and has found a passion for scientific thinking. Her research focuses on the spine and lower back pain.

Along with being a scientist, she is also a mother to two sons. Her sons have taught her to keep questioning the word and keep the scientific thinking process.

Sundaram tells the story of how she found her path in life through the metaphor of a balloon. She pushed her audience to visualize their goals as balloons.

When that balloon starts to deflate, what do you do? Do you jump balloons? Do you cling on?

She found that you must do both in life.

Sundaram attended Physical Therapy school in India, and she found that there was not a lot of research on back pain there. So, she planned to go to the United States for her masters program and go back to India to practice.

Once she went through the program, she realized she did not want to go back to India to work in a practice. Instead, she wanted to research back pain in the United States.

As life was looking up with a new marriage and a potential doctorate program in the U.S., her world would change entirely when her doctorate program was defunded. So, she jumped onto a different path.

“SCIENCE IS NOT ABOUT EXPERIENCE… SCIENCE IS ABOUT THE SCIENTIFIC MINDSET”

For the next seven years, she would be dependent on her husband and raise her two sons. Their family traveled the world and lived on different continents, but even then she missed her research.

She then returned to school and landed a job at the University of Pittsburgh. She absolutely adored the lower back pain research, and her mentor saw her passion. Her mentor then suggested she go for her doctorate again.

With a lot of doubt, she applied for the program. And she got in.

Sundaram shares if she got her doctorate earlier, she would have been more distinguished and experienced in research. But, she would not have found how deep her passion for research is.

Sundaram’s talk was absolutely beautiful. Her story touched and related to all people from women to immigrants to mothers to scientists to just fascinated audience members.

She shared the struggles of being a stay-at-home mom and a woman in a male dominated industry.

Sundaram truly showed her audience how to be versatile, passionate and strong.

The third speaker was Christine Titih.

Titith starts her talk with the powerful story of her Mamili, her grandmother.

In Cameroon, she shares how her mother got pregnant as a teenager. Her biological grandmother was enraged and kicked her out of the house.

That was when Mamili stepped in the house to feed Titih’s mother.

She did this to multiple teen mothers. She would house, feed and care for them. Eventually, she made sure that they reconnected with their mothers.

“Money has never made anyone rich”

Titith shares that her grandmother was rich.

She lived in a falling apart house in Cameroon: there was only one water tap outside and they only had kerosine lamps.

But, her grandmother was richer than any other person she knew.

Titith emphasizes peoples’ raison d’être, or reason for being. Her grandmother’s raison d’être was to help young women.

She uses the example of a stationary car to explain raison d’être: A car is meant to be driven. If someone buys a car and keeps it in a parking lot, it’s still a car. But does it have a reason to live?

The owner of the car may renovate it and put books in it to make it a library. The car has purpose, but it is not being used for its purpose.

She had to confront this concept when she immigrated to the United States. When she left Germany, she was pregnant, married and full of hope. A few years later, she was a single mother in Pittsburgh with little ambition left.

Her daughter was nonverbal. She did not have any passion or “richness.” So, she started to feel like she was poor.

But, once she started believing in herself and doing things for herself, she started to find her purpose and feel rich again.

In this journey, Titith found that the richest place on earth is within you.

Titith’s story was so inspirational that I could barely take notes during her talk. Her delivery and stories made you want to sit there forever and listen.

Many women across the world are robbed of their “riches,” and Titith’s speech did an amazing job of reminding her audience to take it back.

Last, but not least, the fourth speaker was Anjani Mahabashya.

Mahabashya started her talk with a story from when she was 15. A boy was harassing her and her friend and she threatened to report him to the police.

Her strict boundaries made them apologize to her. Mahabashya found that she was a strong yes/no person when she was young. She was able to set boundaries with people and do what she wanted.

As she went through medical school, she was able to set her own schedule, get her work done and tackle school on her own terms.

But, as she traveled to the United States to finish med school, she found that she had lost her voice.

When she made the decision to move to the U.S., she needed to borrow money from a friend and leave her single mother behind. The decision, while best for her career, was taxing on her. And she found that it made her more susceptible to the opinions of the people around her.

Her boundaries almost completely disappeared when she entered the work force. For example, her boss asked her when she would be having kids.

And, in her second job, she felt as if she always needed to show up to extra shifts, be the person that gave extra help and do everything.

This mindset, over eight years, put her into a medical emergency. She was forced to put work aside.

“Being seen as difficult is better than not being seen at all”

At one point, all hell broke loose. She needed to say no— and some relationships and job opportunities disappeared because of it.

She started doubting herself even though she was in a massive amount of emotional and physical pain. A close friend of hers reassured her that it’s OK to say no.

The friend told her that the people who find themselves upset with your boundaries are the ones who benefit from your lack of boundaries.

Mahabashya took a new job. On this new job, she improved her self-care, professional progress and relationships.

She found that once she stopped letting her negativity spill over, she was able to build ecosystems with better people, get proper therapy and asses whether things were worth the trouble.

As women, we often feel the need to break down our boundaries for others, but Mahabashya showed her audience how to regain power.

She felt as she lost her voice and regained it out of irritation. But by taking care of herself, she was able to rebuild her self-confidence and empowerment. Telling other women about her story was an absolute gift.

Each speaker was the embodiment of female empowerment. It was delightful and powerful listening to each one.

TEDxPSU hosts several events throughout the year. The Women’s Conference was one of the first saloon events, smaller, shorter conferences.

“By Women. For Women. From Women” -TEDxpsu events coordinator

The main conference of the club is on Feb. 12, 2022. The conference will host several speakers from Penn State students, to journalists to CEOs. The theme of the year is “Blurring the Lines”.

TEDxPSU presents amazing speakers that anyone can be inspired by or learn from. I highly suggest keeping an eye out for the main conference and saloons.

Kyra is a first-year student at Penn State. She is double-majoring in International Politics and Broadcast Journalism. For fun, she loves to play tennis, read, hang out with friends, and eat cheezits!