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TEDx University of Mississippi Speakers Look to Face Forward

Eight speakers set for Feb. 23 event

UM student Jakob Anseman shares his experiences of living with Asperger’s syndrome and discusses the social and economic challenges faced by people with autism at a previous TEDxUniversityofMississippi event. This year’s forum is set for Feb. 23 in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – With the goal of sharing ideas worth spreading, TEDxUniversityofMississippi will host its eighth annual event at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Attendees will enjoy an evening of music, art and thought-provoking, short talks addressing areas from artificial intelligence to social progress. This year’s theme is “facing forward.”

“As a team, we felt this theme embodied our organization’s goal of spreading new ideas,” said Emma Brewer, a senior public policy leadership and economics major from Nashville, Tennessee, and chief of staff for TEDxUniversityofMississippi. “We aim to spark conversations that will motivate and advance our communities.”

The 2023 speakers were chosen from nearly 300 nominations. They are:

  • Adam Gust is the only professional drummer in the world certified by the Polyvagal Institute in the clinical application of nervous system science to drum performance. Adam focuses on identifying what happens when drummers find their “groove,” synchronizing brain/body and thought/feeling. Gust has hosted drum workshops at the Musicians Institute and performance workshops at the University of Southern California. He creates unique drum video content.
  • Michael “Bret” Hood is very aware of how people fall down a slippery slope, having served 25 years as a special agent in the FBI. Hood is an adjunct professor of corporate governance and ethics for the University of Virginia, a board member at Southern Illinois University’s Accounting School and a faculty member for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. During his talk, Hood will show how easy it is to deviate from ethical baselines, but more importantly, how to mitigate these unconscious processes to avoid making life-altering mistakes.
  • Vince Hafeli is an international speaker, author and advocate for mental health and suicide awareness in the workplace. Using his 37 years of industry experience, lived suicidal experience and doctoral research, Hafeli will lead the audience on his journey from adolescence to adulthood. He outlines how he has facilitated change in his organization’s culture when addressing mental health issues and raising suicide awareness, especially in the construction industry. He presents data from his doctoral candidacy research outlining relevant industry statistics and emphasizes: “It should be OK to say that I am not OK” in the workplace.
  • Yiwei Han and Yongjian Qiu will share their collaborative efforts to better understand plant responses to climate change. Han is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and Qiu is an assistant professor of biology, both at the University of Mississippi. Han and Qiu collaborate closely on designing, manufacturing and implementing miniature and micro heaters that can be placed on the surface of young seedlings’ organs or inside individual plant cells. By fluctuating temperature and observing plant responses to heat change, they hope to uncover the mechanisms by which plant organs and cells coordinate a response to changing temperature.
  • Arvinder Singh is a technologist, entrepreneur and researcher at Ole Miss. He will explore how culture-specific interpretation could be a key in developing balanced and ethical artificial intelligence. Singh’s previous work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Harvard Smart Cities Accelerator, Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference, the U.S. State Department and the World Bank. For over a decade, Singh has carved a career path in software, higher education, journalism and advocacy. As a civil rights advocate, he persuaded U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson to back a bipartisan call for the FBI to track ethnic hate crimes, and he was part of a delegation invited to the White House for a briefing on Sikh civil rights issues in 2012. Singh is completing his doctorate in engineering at UM.
  • Castel V. Sweet is a sociologist who explores the intricacies of community, culture and race, with a specific interest in the role of place and space. Through her work as a community engagement professional, she encourages exploring the unknown, making the unfamiliar familiar, and cultivating transformational relationships. Sweet earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice/criminology from Hampton University, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Louisiana State University.
  • Nadeejah Niranjalie Wijayatunga is an assistant professor in the UM Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management. She is an obesity researcher and a registered dietitian nutritionist. Before coming to the United States for her doctorate in nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University, Wijayatunga worked as a medical doctor and was a faculty member at the medical school of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in Sri Lanka. She studies biobehavioral aspects of obesity and unhealthy lean – also known as skinny fat – as well as the role of diet and exercise in both conditions. During her talk, she will explain the growing research around unhealthy lean and associated health risks.

TEDxUniversityofMississippi is a registered student organization dedicated to sharing ideas from Mississippi’s innovators, creators and thought leaders, as well as thought-provoking ideas generated outside Mississippi. They aim to spark meaningful conversation in the Ole Miss community and beyond.

This year’s event organizers are Brewer; Kathryn Matthews, a senior marketing communication strategy major from Columbus, Ohio, assistant chief of staff; Kate Hooper, faculty adviser; and a team of nearly 20 students and advisers.

“These students find speakers, market and mount a live production, pursue public relations initiatives, fundraise and more,” Hooper said. “They are highly active, building leadership and professional skills while benefiting our community.”

Tickets to the event are free and can be reserved at

TEDxUniversityofMississippi’s core partners include the Office of the Provost, College of Liberal Arts, Department of Writing and Rhetoric and Residential College South. It is supported by student activity fees.

For more information about TEDxUniversityofMississippi, visit and follow the group’s social media at @tedxunivms on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, often in the form of short talks delivered by leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED conferences, intimate TED Salons and thousands of independently organized TEDx events around the world. Videos of these talks are made available, free, on and other platforms. Audio versions of TED Talks are published to TED Talks Daily, available on all podcast platforms.

TED’s open and free initiatives for spreading ideas include, where new TED Talk videos are posted daily; TEDx, which licenses thousands of individuals and groups to host local, self-organized TEDstyle events around the world; the TED Fellows program, which selects innovators from around the globe to amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities; The Audacious Project, which surfaces and funds critical ideas that have the potential to impact millions of lives; TED Translators, which crowdsources the subtitling of TED Talks so that big ideas can spread across languages and borders; and the educational initiative TED-Ed. TED also offers TED@Work, a program that reimagines TED Talks for workplace learning.

TED also has a growing library of original podcasts, including “The TED Interview with Chris Anderson,” “WorkLife with Adam Grant,” “Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala” and “How to Be a Better Human.” Follow TED on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and on LinkedIn.