Project allows students to attend IdeaFestival, gain new perspective

Fifteen Manual students per magnet were selected to attend the local IdeaFestival (IF) on September 22 and 23, 2011, at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

It was the end of Michael Perry’s (12) sophomore year when an idea began to brew in his mind as he sat in Mr. James Garrett’s AP World History class. He would carry this idea through to its culmination a year and a half later: Manual’s participation as the first high school to attend the widely-known Louisville IdeaFest.Garrett’s end-of-the-year assignment was for students to come up with a proposal for a group or project that could empower other Manual students and allow them to influence the world around them. At first, Perry struggled with the project, but when he remembered previous trips to the IdeaFest with his mother, a plan began to take shape.

Founded in 2000 by Kris Kimel, the IdeaFestival is an annual four-day event that features several speakers on extremely specialized, “innovative” topics. These speakers range from artists to government officials and are often well-known or even famous. The event is designed to be low-cost, as opposed to other, similar events, which can cost up to thousands of dollars. Seminars at this year’s IdeaFest included “The Science of Kissing” and a presentation by Aubrey de Grey on the potential for humans to live 250 years.

When Perry first came up with the idea to send students to IdeaFest, he spent the summer before his junior year seriously thinking about talking with Mr. Garrett about his plans. When school began, he started to plan for a group that could connect Manual students with community organizations in general, including IdeaFest. “[Mr. Garrett] thought it was a neat idea,” Perry said. “We spent junior year trying to get it off the blocks.”

When that project fell through, Perry narrowed his focus to the IdeaFest. By this time his senior year was coming up, and he contacted Kris Kimel to get a feel for whether or not the project could work.

“We were trying to come up with some kind of arrangement, and I went into it thinking we would be volunteers, just working at the festival, and maybe we’d get to see one or two events,” Perry said. “But Kris Kimel said he wanted us there as thinkers, not as workers. I thought that was really wise of him. We went from there to see what we could do.”

Perry then spoke to Mr. Wooldridge, who fully supported the project. Two weeks prior to the start of school, Perry, Wooldridge, Zack Higdon (11), and Mr. Christian Jensen (Math) met to discuss sending students to the festival. Higdon had joined at the recommendation of his mother, who served on the PTSA. Jensen was very interested in the project, and eventually became its chairperson along with Perry.

To help with cost, Kimel reduced the price of each Manual students’ tickets to the event from $500 to $20. “We’re adamant on giving something back to him,” Perry said. “We really think that a Manual-IF collaboration would be a great idea–great for Manual, great for the students, great for the Idea Festival.”

Perry is currently planning to organize Manual’s own miniature Idea Festival, with local speakers and perhaps even some student presenters, or pairs of both.

Prior to the Idea Festival itself, though, Perry and his partners had to organize students would attend. “We started to crank out a plan, and after that point, we’d have meetings every once and a while, and send a thousand emails a day trying to get everyone where they needed to be and get the money in the right place,” Perry said.

“We had to organize buses, find substitutes for teachers who were going, find chaperones, get tickets, advertise for it, talk to the PTSA, find teachers to select students… It takes a lot of planning,” Higdon said.

Around a hundred sophomores, juniors and seniors attended the Idea Festival on September 22 (for seniors only) and 23 (for all three grade levels). Among the presentations the students attended were those of Suketu Bhavsar, an astrophysics professor exploring the idea of a “multiverse,” David Barnes, IBM technology evangelist, and Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer for the United States. Several Manual students, including Vinay Raj (12), Meghamsh Kanuparthy (12), Ankush Gupta (12) and Matt Garofalo (12) asked questions of the speakers at the event.

“It’s not often that innovators in their fields converge in one place and it’s rarer that a bunch of high school students would have access to them,” Kanuparthy said. “A lot of my questions to the speakers had to do with how we could bring the kind of innovation that they’ve displayed to Manual.”

Several Manual students who attended the event were awed by it. “I was able to chat one on one with David Barnes, the head of IBM’s Innovation Laboratory, as well as Lindsey Stirling, a hip-hop violinist,” Jacob Sims (12) said. “I feel like I learned more in my two days at the IdeaFestival than I learn in a month of school.”

“I listened to a whole lecture on innovation and got a few ideas on how to know your market. One of [Barnes’s] quotes [was] “Don’t let them know how small you are,” Samuel Coryell (10) said. “My favorite part had to be the second session where five artists displayed their artwork… One guy made moving artwork by inflating and deflating trash bags using computer and a fan, and he put lights inside all the bags. It pretty much looked like a three-dimensional kaleidoscope. If that’s not creative, I don’t know what is,” he said.

“I had several people come up to [talk to] me at the event,” Perry said. “Professor Philip J. Kramer sought me out and congratulated me, and said–and I quote–‘Manual students ask questions better than graduate students.’”

The leaders of the project were satisfied to see it fulfill its purpose. “The best part was hearing from kids,” Higdon said. “One kid we brought along, he went up to Mr. Jensen, and he said ‘Thank you, I enjoyed this so much.’ I think that was great for Mr. Jensen [to hear].”

In the future, Perry and Higdon both hope to remain on top of collaboration between Manual and the Idea Festival, because of their belief that it is a great forum for learning. “The Idea Festival is this great blooming of interests and connections,” Perry said. “It’s like the instant connectivity at the center of the sun.”

For a photo gallery of the 2011 IdeaFestival by Meagan Anderson, click here.

For Manual AM video coverage of the festival, click here.

Zoe Schaver is a copy editor for Manual RedEye and a Student Life section editor for the Crimson Yearbook. She is also a member of Manual’s debate team, Gay/Straight Alliance, and Young Democrats club.

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