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TEDxUCDavis Conference Features Student Speakers

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on April 25, 2016 in University

Every college student has an especially memorable class or two; for Rylan Schaeffer, they may be the ones he taught as an undergrad.

Schaeffer, a fifth-year computer science and engineering and statistics double major, has taught three courses to other undergraduates under UC Davis’ student-facilitated courses program. At TEDxUCDavis this Sunday (May 1), he will talk about his experience as a teacher and what he learned along the way about challenging assumptions and rules.

Rylan Schaeffer.
Rylan Schaeffer

The program for this year’s conference, “Igniting X,” has nine speakers and two performances by student groups. This conference is the sixth major, student-organized TEDx held on campus.

Schaeffer said he hopes to inspire those who attend to push boundaries. “If a requirement or restriction applied to you doesn’t make sense, you can go to them (the people in charge) and say ‘no,’” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer was introduced to student-led courses his freshman year, when he took a class from then-student Rajiv Narayan aimed at helping University Honors Program students strategize for their college careers. Schaeffer and another student, Patrick Sheehan ’14, didn’t want the materials Narayan compiled to be lost, and took over the course and taught it after he graduated in 2012.

Schaeffer eventually created his own courses, one on the history of computer science and one on cryptocurrency technologies — which draws its roots from cryptography, a field he’s considering pursuing after graduation. Undergraduates have taught at UC Davis before, but Schaeffer and his co-teacher successfully petitioned the Academic Senate to create a formal policy to regulate the courses for the first time. Under the policy, a faculty member must oversee the teachers, and their courses must be graded as pass/no pass.

Creating courses isn’t the only unconventional way Schaeffer has approached his education. He recalled being so frustrated with one of his computer science courses that instead of completing the final as assigned, he wrote a paper criticizing the course for being too theoretical, which represented everything he felt was wrong with the academia. He said he received a C in the class, then petitioned to have his grade lowered so he could retake the course.

“It’s now my favorite class,” he said, noting that he now really enjoys the theoretical.

Student learns big value of small gifts

You don’t have to be rich to help someone in need — that’s the lesson fourth-year communication major Ellen Davis learned when she saw how far $5 or $20 donations go with We Are Aggie Pride, the students-helping-students emergency aid group where she serves as co- director.

Ellen Davis.
Ellen Davis

“I feel like no one should be barred from education, especially if it’s for financial reasons,” she said, noting that many of the students the group has helped may have dropped out without the assistance.

She recalled one student who had to choose between buying a mattress and buying textbooks; the organization helped buy a bed for that student.

Davis will also speak at the TEDxUCDavis conference, and hopes to encourage others to get involved with philanthropy. She said despite helping her parents with fundraisers in her hometown of Atascadero from childhood and organizing a 5K run that raised $2,700 for the local library when she was in high school, she didn’t realize it was possible to have a career in giving until she met some of the university’s development officers.

She hopes her talk will inspire giving, no matter the scale. “You can give $5 or $500 — either way, it makes an impact on somebody who doesn’t have that.”


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About the author(s)

Cody Kitaura/Dateline, Dateline, 530-752-1932,