TEDxCollegeofSanMateo brings solace with COVID-19 adversities

SMCCCD students spell the definites while living in uncertainty


Courtesy Zoom

The unexpected twist and turns made 2020 different: The COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut explosion, the death of Kobe Bryant, the murder of George Floyd that reignited the Black Lives Matter Movement, etc..
“Living in Uncertainty” is the theme of the first TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference hosted by the College of San Mateo (CSM). The TEDxCollegeofSanMateo gathered student speakers from the college district, offering insightful, research-oriented, and data-driven speeches before their fellow students.
Six speakers among the SMCCCD community were brave enough to express their thoughts on things they think matter. The TEDxCollegeofSanMateo speakers offered a variety of TED Talks — ones diverse enough to touch on areas ranging from science and technology, to health and psychology, to language arts. Each TEDxCollegeofSanMateo student speaker’s talk related to a field of interest of theirs; each with different approaches and styles, but all sharing newfound information relevant to our daily lives.
Allison Cardenas from CSM spoke close to the hearts of the audience during her presentation, “Destigmatizing Mental Health in the Latinx Community”. Cardenas had the opportunity to open up how mental health is given value within Latinx households and how it is perceived by the members of the community.
“In the Latinx community, mental illness is viewed as a weakness, and considered a personal issue that should never be talked about. Unfortunately, this attitude is strongly applied to mental health,” Cardenas said, explaining that the stigma surrounding mental health stems from “people having negative thoughts and beliefs with mental illnesses”. “The fear of being labeled ‘loco’, the Spanish word for crazy, is common. … There’s a common saying in Spanish that says, ‘La ropa sucia no se lava en casa jena’, meaning ‘don’t wash your dirty laundry in public’.”
Cardenas pointed out the high demand for Spanish-speaking psychologists, and how in 2005, the American Psychological Association found that language barriers and different cultural values “have created barriers to mental health treatment for Latin Americans.”
With only 5.5% of psychologists being able to offer services in Spanish, according to Cardenas’ presentation, what will the future of mental health for Latinx community look like?
Psychology major Nicole Hong shed light on the threats COVID-19 poses to people diagnosed with lupus in a presentation titled “Lupus: Living in Uncertainty, Every Day”.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lupus is an autoimmune disease by which the immune system mistakenly attacks its own body, failing to differentiate viruses and bacteria from healthy cells. Drawing from her own experiences as a patient diagnosed with the disease, she allowed the audience insight into her struggle.
“(Lupus patients) had to worry not only about the general uncertainty that comes with the worldwide pandemic — Given the stress of this correlation, lupus patients, ironically, have the stress out about getting stressed out,” Hong said.
In her presentation, Hong described how lupus patients are affected by President Donald Trump having claimed that the drug hydroxychloroquine “could be a game changer”.
According to Hong, the drug “improves chances of survival for lupus patients”, as it prevents skin and joint damage and flares caused by lupus.
“Canada and the US immediately began worrying about the drug supply,” Hong said. “And when patients heard of shortages in pharmacies, hospitals stocking up and the government securing a supply of the drug, (Canada and the US) began stressing too.”
Neuroscience major Anastasia Lubarsky presented research she conducted during her internship at Molecular Devices, a laboratory that conducts research in the fields of life sciences and pharmaceuticals, in a talk titled “Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease — How They Could be Connected”.
Lubarsky became interested in studying the chemical Rotenone, which is primarily used by farmers as pesticides, and found that it has an impact that could relate to the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease.
She is optimistic that research like hers could be stepping stones to unraveling the mystery and finding the root cause of the disease.
“Scientists are following as many leads as they possibly can,” Lubarsky said. “However, following such leads, including (Rotenone), could, honestly, lead to nowhere, wasting time and resources. … We need to keep on trying, even though there is uncertainty as a part of this condition and hopes to find an explanation and a cure for Parkinson’s.”
Syeda Zarifa Kabir presented the Honors in Action project that she and her classmates in CSM’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Beta Xi Eta, created. The presentation, titled “Friend or Foe? Artificial Intelligence vs. COVID-19”, explored the applications of artificial intelligence in speeding up COVID-19 vaccine development and economic recovery.
“With the help of AI, we’re able to go through 67,000 research papers every single day,” she said. “… If an average person wants to make a vaccine, it will usually take five years. But with the help of AI, you can take, like, a year to do that.”
Kabir stressed how speeding up the vaccine development could transform the economy’s U-shape recovery, during which the GDP is decreased and takes a long time for the economy to bounce back, into a V-shape recovery, during which the recovery time is much faster and GDP can perk up in no time.
“Just knowing how much we have evolved, and how much we have evolved through both technology and science — It gives me hope,” Kabir said. “Both technology and science give me hope that we will be able to recover from whatever the world throws at us.”
A group of three represented Cañada College: Michiko Kealoha conducted her presentation “Chasing Rainbows: The Power of Collaborative Autoethnographic Poetry While Living in Uncertainty”, followed by an ensemble by Mari Managadze and Adrian Afif performing their collaborative ethnographic poetry recitation.
“Many of us have been conditioned to think that art and storytelling isn’t professional or profoundly researchable,” Kealoha said as she explained the premise of her presentation. “However, our ethnographic poetry is accessible, it’s healing. … With everything happening in these times of uncertainty, it’s often felt like the rain just won’t stop. There is a rainbow in these gray skies. And like a rainbow, we’re only physically in each other’s lives for this fleeting moment.”
Lastly, aerospace engineering student Charles Cody presented his research project titled “Single Stage To Orbit: Falcon-9 vs. Skylon”, in which he discussed the two spaceplanes and the interplay between assessing risk and how it applies today living in uncertainty.
“Risk is the reality that all of our actions, by definition, have an uncertain outcome,” Cody said. “They can either go very well for us or they can go pretty badly for us.”
After giving an informative and descriptive comparison between the two spaceplanes — their costs, potential, and risks — Cody left the audience with a reminder tackling the perplexity of life.
“If we can (avoid taking unnecessary risks, keep things simple, and have as few moving parts as possible), we can live our lives knowing that the future is going to be great,” Cody said. “It is going to be great not because there won’t be any risk, but because we know that when we face risks and things go badly, we will know what to do. We will be able to overcome them. … So goes the old saying, ad astra per aspera: ‘through struggle to the stars’.”
TEDxCollegeofSanMateo was the first TEDx conference to be held in collaboration with the SMCCCD community. The event was made possible by CSM’s Phi Theta Kappa in partnership with CSM’s Honors Project program.