From Tandon to TED

IDM alumni selected to be TED Residents

Every year, TED selects a group of rising stars in a variety of fields to become Residents. There’s a rigorous application process and only those with a record of achievement, strength of character, and innovative approach to solving the world’s most pressing societal problems are chosen.

This year, not one, but two Tandon alumni have been tapped for the honor: Carlos Bautista and Leslie Martinez.

They are now spending four months at TED’s in-house incubator for breakthrough ideas, in New York City’s Hudson Square neighborhood, where they have the opportunity to brainstorm with other Spring 2017 Residents, receive professional coaching and mentoring, participate in an active online network of global innovators, and enjoy invitations to outside meet-ups and retreats for conversation and ideation. At the culmination of the residency, they will each also give their own TED Talk, an exciting (and rare) opportunity to tell the world about their projects.

Leslie Martinez

Leslie Martinez

Martinez, who earned a master’s degree in Integrated Digital Media in 2016, conducts research around the intersection of immigration and design, and she was recently in Tandon news for her part in organizing Hack the Ban, a well-attended event that brought together programmers, designers, and others to address the pressing issues surrounding immigration in the current political climate. Her goal, she explained, was to help support organizations working on the frontlines of immigration advocacy and to help address their design and tech needs. “The uniqueness of Hack the Ban was that it brought stakeholders into the room so that they could build with the developers and designers. It also empowered the tech and design community by providing them the space and connections to use their valuable skills for a greater cause,” said Martinez. “For example, Undocublack Network was supported by NYU Alumna Sharon de la Cruz’s illustrations of black immigrants, which helps Undocublack in creating more visibility for the often forgotten community of black immigrants. MPower Change and CUNY CLEAR worked with developers in creating a flight tracking attorney notification system called BorderBuddy.”

As a TED fellow, Martinez — now the Program Manager for the Ecologies of Migrant Care Initiative at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics — will be continuing her timely work into redesigning ways for unaccompanied immigrant children to access “know your rights” information.

Carlos Bautista

Carlos Bautista

Bautista also earned a master’s degree in Integrated Digital Media in 2016, and it’s not mere coincidence that both he and Martinez are IDM alumni; both count Professor Anne-Laure Fayard of the Department of Technology Management and Innovation as a mentor, and she encouraged them to apply for the residency.

A native of Colombia, Bautista hopes to help mitigate the dangers of landmines, still a common peril there after a long period of conflict. As he points out, the country, which he is focusing on during the pilot stage of his project, is still dealing with tens of thousands of explosive devices planted by left-wing guerrilla groups over the previous decades. The government is faced with a daunting task in deactivating them, and in the meantime, civilians continue to be maimed or killed as they go about their daily tasks.

Bautista’s innovation is to build a crowd-sourced information system to help people find safe paths. “Psychologically, it’s better to disseminate knowledge about which paths are safe, rather than mapping where the devices are planted, which has the potential to create panic,” he explains.

Bautista — who once worked as a documentarian for a group seeking to prevent young people from joining guerilla groups — originally conceived of creating an augmented-reality app for use by those deactivating the landmines, but decided, as he says, that “while augmented reality is cool, information is powerful.” He has no intention of commercializing or profiting from his system, despite the cachet the TED name might lend to his work. “This isn’t to benefit me,” he says. “This is to benefit Colombia, and after this initial stage, I hope that it can be put to work on a global scale.”

Although the two have graduated, they still enjoy enthusiastic support and well wishes from the Tandon community. "I was thrilled to learn that Leslie and Carlos were both selected as TED Residents, as this is an amazing opportunity for them to push their work further and make it truly impactful,” Fayard said. “I’ve enjoyed working with them in my Design Thinking course and within our NYU studio of Design for America and following the development of their projects. I look forward to seeing how their ideas evolve during the next 4 months — and beyond.”