Small Worlds, Bold Ideas

Small Worlds, Bold Ideas

We at TEDxPittsburgh feel that small worlds may be the starting point of every big idea. Whether in the laboratory or in notebook margins. And the beginnings of big ideas are happening all around us. After all, they say Pittsburgh is a small world – maybe that’s why our ideas are so bold.

This year, we look to inspiring people in and around Pittsburgh to make our bold ideas heard. Together, we will work together to make our small world, our small community, have a large impact. 

What to look forward to…



Freddy Anzures

Freddy Anzures creates relationships between culture and technology to connect people. He was a member of the Human Interface Group at Apple from 2004 to 2018 and invented user experiences for Mac OS X, iPhone, and iPad under Steve Jobs. A lover of vintage and record culture, he was also the Creative Director of Wax Poetics, a music magazine celebrating the history, influence, and progression of black music. He is Creative Director of Urban Legends, an imprint of Universal Music Enterprises, providing art direction and packaging design for over three decades of urban catalog music and culture through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. He is also Owner and Creative Director of Family Affair, a gallery in San Francisco’s Lower Haight focusing on music-related art, design, photography, and ephemera. Freddy graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from Carnegie Mellon University in 1999. 

Heather Hopson

Not long ago, Heather Hopson lived in the Cayman Islands and hosted a television show. Today, she’s back home in Pittsburgh writing a different type of story as the founder of Motor Mouth Multimedia, a communications and marketing firm made up of a collective of creatives and consultants of color. Recently, Motor Mouth Multimedia produced Single Mom Defined, a photo essay and video series that provides a more accurate definition of single black motherhood than the one society presents. This work to eliminate cultural bias was made possible through Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, a grant-program of The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Additionally, Heather runs a nationally award-winning parenting website and a popular t-shirt company But the best job she ever held is being a mom to her beautiful and bright six-year-old daughter.


Vanessa German

Vanessa German is a visual and performance artist based in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood. Homewood is the community that is the driving force behind German’s powerful performance work, and whose cast-off relics form the language of her copiously embellished sculptures. As a citizen artist, German explores the power of art and love as a transformative force in the dynamic cultural ecosystem of communities and neighborhoods. She is the founder of Love Front Porch and the ARThouse, a community arts initiative for the children of Homewood. Her work is in private and public collections including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Progressive Art Collection, David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, Snite Museum of Art, among others. German’s fine art work has been exhibited widely, most recently at the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; the Studio Museum, Harlem, NY; the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL; and in the traveling exhibition State of The Art: Discovering American Art Now, which originated at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR. Her work has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered and in The Huffington Post, O Magazine and Essence Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2015 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, the 2017 Jacob Lawrence Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the 2018 United States Artist Grant. Vanessa German is represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York.


Energy and sincerity have long been the hallmarks of Punchline, a Pittsburgh, PA band who pride themselves on their clever, stick-in-your-head lyrics and melodic style of part pop-punk, part indie rock songwriting. The band formed when its two original members were just in high school and quickly saw success after signing to acclaimed rock label Fueled by Ramen. They went on to spend the bulk of a decade touring the US, Japan and the UK with notable names like Paramore and Fall Out Boy. In 2012, Punchline’s independently released EP So Nice to Meet You reached #1 on the iTunes rock charts and broke the top 10 on iTunes overall. The lead single, “Universe,” became one of Punchline’s most beloved, relying heavily on its emotion-driven lyrics and the band’s signature three-part harmonies. Their new album Lion is available now on vinyl and on all streaming platforms. 

Prince G.

Giordan “Prince G” Dixon is a Pittsburgh born and raised singer, songwriter, and producer. He creates powerful, relatable songs that have a pop/R’nB sound and smooth vocals. Some of his influences include Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Usher. He wants to use his music to unite people in spite of their differences and he hopes that his song “One World” can start that conversation. His first album, Storyteller, will be out later this summer.


Darieth Chisolm

Darieth is an Emmy Award-winning television personality, former NBC News Anchor, author, speaker and life and business coach. Darieth is also a revenge porn and cyber sexual harassment victim turned activist, filmmaker and founder of 50 Shades of Silence: A Global Movement Giving Voice and Dignity to Victims of Cyber Harassment and Abuse. Having recently been featured on the Megyn Kelly TODAY show, The Dr. Oz Show and other notable media outlets and publications, Darieth has become a leading voice on the issues of cyber harassment and revenge porn and has added activist and filmmaker to her roster of accomplishments.

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz is a graduate of the Boston University (CAS’84) and Carnegie Mellon University (MSPPM’86). Mayor of San Juan since 2012, Yulín (as she prefers to be called) is an active advocate for equality, fighting for the LGBTT community, the deaf community, and children with functional diversity as well as those who have struggled with gender-based violence. She is also a champion for the rights of immigrants. Her vision of public service is one of governing not for the people, but with the people.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane María completely devastated Puerto Rico. Yulín became a strong advocate for getting much needed help and dignified care for the people of Puerto Rico. As a result of her relentless efforts, numerous non-governmental organizations and private companies supported the recovery efforts for San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico.

As a result of her tireless commitment to the people of San Juan and Puerto Rico in this humanitarian crisis, Yulín has received various recognitions and awards, including the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change Humanitarian Leadership Award in 2018, the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award in 2018, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Humanitarian Award 2017.  She was also nominated by People en Español as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in 2017, and chosen by TIME Magazine as candidate for Person of the Year in 2017 (and selected by TIME as one of the most influential people of 2018).

Courtney Ehrlichman

Courtney believes intelligent deployment and integration of technology solutions will disrupt and transform the transportation industry and urban fabric that we know today. She formerly shared time between roles as the Deputy Executive Director of the Traffic 21 Institute and Mobility21 National USDOT University Transportation Center at Carnegie Mellon University, and as Co-Founder and Advisor of RoadBotics, a CMU Robotics Institute spin-off company that she started in 2016. Traffic 21 and Mobility21 go beyond research and development to focus on deployment technology transfer. RoadBotics is a CMU Robotics Institute spinoff that enables inexpensive, continuous, and accurate road surface inspection and inventory. Courtney was instrumental in Pittsburgh’s response to the USDOT Smart City Challenge, which was one of 7 finalists from 78 applications. For the SmartPGH proposal, Courtney was the project lead on Mobility Analytics and contributed to the development of the Smart Spine System.  

Leon Ford

At 25 years old, Leon Ford has become a community leader, social activist, motivational speaker, mentor, artist, and symbol of distinction in a very short amount of time. Despite his youth, Leon’s story encompasses more triumph than the majority may encounter within a lifetime.  On November 11, 2012, Leon was shot five times and paralyzed by a Pittsburgh police officer during a seemingly routine traffic. Instead of facing this tragedy with a broken spirit, Leon went on to develop a network of social reform and fight to see his, and countless others like him receive justice. For the average person, this devastating event could, understandably, evoke a lifetime of post-traumatic response to a familiar narrative in the African American community but Leon’s brilliant resilience served as a revolutionary act. Today, Leon travels the country working to be a catalyst for change.

Jackie L. Gartner-Schmidt, Ph.D

Jackie L. Gartner-Schmidt, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow is Co-Director of the University of Pittsburgh Voice Center, Professor of Otolaryngology and Director of Speech-Language Pathology-Voice Division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC Voice Center. Dr. Gartner-Schmidt’s 25-year clinical and research focus specializes on care of the professional voice, as well as clinical effectiveness of voice therapy and psychological considerations in the assessment and management of patients with voice and breathing disorders. Dr. Gartner-Schmidt has over a decade of NIH-funded clinical research experience as a co-investigator focusing on the development and efficacy of different voice therapy programs, and the development and validation of 5 patient reported outcome measures. She has published over 35 peer-reviewed papers and presented over 250 lectures nationally and internationally. Dr. Gartner-Schmidt is the director of the largest voice therapy conference in the nation occurring biennially. She also consults with professional speakers on presentation effectiveness.

Ellie Gordon

Ellie is an entrepreneur, designer, and passionate social justice activist, bringing over a decade of design, marketing, creative problem solving, & technology experience in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. She is the cofounder, COO, and designer at an AI startup working to mitigate the opioid epidemic with technology. Behaivior is competing in the multi-year IBM WATSON AI XPRIZE competition and was top 10 in the world for the first milestone. Ellie enjoys traveling, nature, & dogs.

Samir Lakhani

Samir Lakhani is a social entrepreneur dedicated to restoring health and dignity to the developing world. Prior to founding Eco-Soap Bank in 2014, Samir was deeply involved in aquaculture and nutrition projects in northern Cambodian villages. He has also developed solar lighting enterprises in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nepal. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Eco-Soap Bank — a global hotel soap-recycling organization — which operates 11 branches in the countries of Cambodia, Nepal, Rwanda, Laos, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. To date, the organization employs 77 women and provides hygiene and free education to 660,000 people per year. In 2017, Samir received a CNN Hero Award for his work with global hygiene. He has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Squirrel Hill.

Dominique Luster

Archivist | Carnegie Museum of Art

Dominique Luster is a native of Kentucky, transplanted to Pittsburgh for school and work, and currently serve as the Teenie Harris Archivist at the Carnegie Museum of Art. As the Teenie Harris Archivist, Luster is working to build a world-renown archive, that is uniquely hyper-specialized on the life of African Americans in the mid 20th century. The Teenie Harris Archive consists of nearly 80,000 images dating from the 1930s to the 1970s; documenting what might be one of the most complete insights into African American urban life at that time.

Carola Neumann, MD
Dr. Neumann is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She completed two postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Medical School and her Assistant Professorship at The Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Neumann is a breast cancer researcher and co-leader of the breast cancer research advocacy network at MageeWomens Research Institute.

Aradhna Oliphant

Aradhna is the President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. (LPI), a premiere resource for community leadership identification, connection and development in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Deeply committed to community building, Aradhna is actively engaged with the academic, public policy, corporate and nonprofit sectors where she serves on multiple boards. Aradhna also serves as the President of International Women’s Forum of Pittsburgh and is a proud graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh XVIII – an experience that truly anchored her in the region. She was recognized as one of our region’s top “40 Under 40” in 2002, honored as a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times in 2005, received the top 25 Women in Business Award from the Pittsburgh Business Times in 2009, honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania in 2011, and by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in 2013. In 2015 the Pittsburgh Magazine recognized Aradhna as one of the top 25 most influential people in the region. Born and raised in India, Aradhna holds an MBA from Rutgers University and an MA in Psychology from Bhopal University. Her family resides in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.

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