What type of event can bring together a drummer, an app designer and a racecar driver? The College of Charleston’s annual in!Genius event on Sept. 25 brought together these people and more for an hour of free-thinking and story sharing in Sottile Theater.
The event raced to a start with Ham Morrison, a racecar driver who graduated from the College in 1998 and went on to found a national sports marketing company. He left the audience inspired to follow their dreams after telling his own story of jumping right into a field of which he knew absolutely nothing and loved nevertheless. His journey was not easy, but as he said, “You don’t have to hit it out of the park as long as you enjoy the ride.”
The presenters transitioned from the land to the sea with Geology professor Cynthia Hall and her best friend (and student!) Syl Foster, who told the story of how their friendship and love of nature brought them together to research water patterns in the Lowcountry.
“Water is everywhere,” Hall said, and dwindling access to safe and clean drinking water is a serious global issue. If all of the water in the world were condensed to a single five-gallon jug, the amount of potable water for seven billion people to share would fit in a single tumbler. And with the amount of pollution added to the water everyday, the number of people who cannot access potable water will only rise.
The two women ended their speech on a cautionary note. “The Earth can and will exist without us,” Foster said, “but we cannot exist without the Earth.”
Alison Piepmeier, director of the Women and Gender Studies department at the College, spoke next, transitioning from a physical issue to a social one by sharing the story of her five-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. “We really have a skewed understanding of Down syndrome and intellectual disability more broadly,” she said.
Women who find out from the result of prenatal testing that an unborn child has Down syndrome are faced with a decision that Piepmeier believes has no clear answer: They must decide to either bring the child into an unfriendly world or not to give the child a chance to live.
However, Piepmeir believes that there is one more option: “[Women faced with this decision] recognize that they might be bringing someone into a hostile world and they decide to change the world.” Piepmeier is attempting to do just that in order to give her daughter a better chance for a happy life.
Piepmeier was not the only presenter trying to make the world a better place. Elizabeth Burdette, a sociology major, decided to learn Hindi (just like that!) in order to help women in India have a better quality of life.
“I came face to face with how language can open doors for people,” she said. Not only did learning Hindi give Burdette the opportunity to travel to India, but teaching women in India how to speak English gave them an opportunity for self-empowerment.
Her experiences in India changed the way that Burdette considers self-improvement. She said, “Being the change is often just being the change yourself.”
Will Jamieson, a sophomore Computer Science major, changed his life very much by chance. He created his first app, which uses a front flash for taking selfies in the dark, out of a personal desire for better pictures. He said, “I went down to my basement, put on some boxers, drank a Mountain Dew” and created the app. Not long after, he saw his face on the homepage of his favorite technology website.
Jamieson thought that he was finished creating apps for a while until he broke his arm over the summer. “My shoulder was straight up chilling in my bicep,” he said. “It gave me a lot of free time.” His next app, a facebook photo downloader, was even more successful than the first, peaking at 10,000 downloads per day.
“Anyone can do something like this,” he said. “You just need to be willing to do a little bit of independent learning.”
The last presenter of the night ended things with a bang. Quentin Baxter, class of 1998, finished the show by talking about rhythm and even playing a few beats on his drum set.
“You might think I’m crazy, but I’m one of those persons walking around today who thinks everyone has rhythm,” he said. Baxter grew up playing Gullah rhythms in church and practicing up to five hours a day.
He has since expanded his rhythmic reach beyond the Lowcountry, learning as many diverse drumming styles as countries he has visited. “I try to find a moment where I can get into the rhythm of a culture,” he said.
Whether a scientist, linguist, computer whiz or drummer, in!Genius inspired audience members to find their own rhythm and march to their own beat, because following one’s passions always leads far.