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King Talks

Rackham’s annual King Talks are TED-style talks echoing the theme of U-M’s MLK Symposium. Through this program, Rackham students publicly communicate the relevance of their research to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

2022 Rackham King Talks

The 2022 Rackham King Talks will he held on January 26, 2022, via Zoom from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. EST. This year’s MLK Symposium theme is “This is America.” The 2022 King Talks will be streamed live from the Rackham Auditorium.

2021 Rackham King Talks

The 2021 Rackham King Talks were held January 28, 2020, via Zoom. This year’s MLK Symposium theme was “Where do we go from here?” Watch the videos below, in which Rackham students communicate the relevance of their work to this theme and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy in a TED-talk style.

Raymond Asare
Redefining Celebrity Culture: The True Influencers

Today’s increasingly digital age provides access to the public stage in astonishing ways. This talk will explore shifts in celebrity culture and their implications in bringing about change.

Yvonne Garcia
Interrogating Ourselves through Our Knowledge Systems

How we know and come to understand what we know is based on our social, cultural, and political context. Historically academic research has “validated” truths about the world around us, however, assumptions and epistemological grounding of academic research are based on the context of white supremacy. This talk examines the ways that systems of knowing of people of color are devalued and diminished systemically through academic research and rigor.

Brittany B. Hicks
Water Stories: Understanding Racial Gaps in Water Quality Perceptions

This talk will highlight how community experiences can shift one’s perception on the safety of their drinking water, and challenge technical experts to value community members as partners in developing water quality solutions.

Alondra M. Ortiz-Ortiz
Behind the Stormcloud

In the United States, more than 50 million adults live with a disability. Of the entire population, 10% have what is considered an invisible disability. Alondra Ortiz-Ortiz, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering discusses the perks of being part of the population living with an invisible disability during the COVID-19 era.

Najwat Rehman
Can Design Help Us Get Out of the Mess It Helped Create?

Our world is in disarray. But before we talk about where we go from here, we need to examine how we got here in the first place. This talk investigates the role of design in shaping the world as it is today and explores a path forward that may allow us to build a better world, together.

2020 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2020 was “The (Mis)Education of US.”

Chloe Luyet
How Antibiotics Have Failed Us: The Food Industry’s Role in a Global Epidemic

Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Chloe Luyet discusses how the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in the food industry has led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, compromising global health.

Bassam Sidiki
(Post)Colonial Aphasia: America’s Imperial Miseducation

English Language and Literature Ph.D. student Bassam Sidiki tackles discrepancy between how the United States presents itself as a paragon of liberty and freedom and the realities of its colonial history.

Maria C. Virgilio
Hear Me Out

Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student Maria C. Virgilio discusses how listening to others, hearing their stories, and walking in their shoes as best we can allows us to begin to see parts of others’ lives that we may never have noticed before–and just maybe become a better person.

Aya M. Waller-Bey
No Pain, No Gain: Sharing Trauma to Get In

Sociology Ph.D. student and former university admissions officer Aya Waller-Bey highlights what applicants may gain and lose when sharing personal details about their lives in university admissions essays, particularly with regard to pain and trauma.

Michole Washington
The (Mis)Calculation of US

School of Education Ph.D. student Michole Washington offers realistic solutions to racial disparities in mathematics education by championing relationship building in the classroom and beyond.

2019 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2019 was “Unravel.”

Kavitha Lobo

University of Michigan School of Social Work graduate student Kavitha Lobo will share her work and experiences from a global social work project on the benefits of deinstitutionalizing mental health care at this year’s King Talks event.

Shannon Moran

Shannon Moran, Ph.D. student in University of Michigan Chemical Engineering, will discuss both her research and personal experiences with the benefits of mentorship for promoting diversity.

Steven M. Smith

Steven M. Smith, graduate student in Public Administration and Sport Management, will talk about the value of connecting with one another, our communities, and our work to better the lives of those around us in the face of growing social isolation at this year’s King Talks.

Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz

Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, a graduate student in University of Michigan Sociology, is joining us for this year’s King Talks event. She’ll be discussing the impact of discriminatory disciplinary practices on Black girls in K-12 public schools.

2018 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2018 was “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”

Dominic Bednar

“1.1 billion people or 14% of the world’s population have no access to electricity, and more than 2.8 billion or 38% lack access to clean cooking.” Dominic J. Bednar, a Ph.D. Student in natural resources and environment, will share why “energy justice” matters.

Garima Malhotra

“The representation of women in the tech industry has remained constant over the last 20 years at 23%.” Malhotra, a Ph.D. student in climate and space sciences and engineering, will talk about how this challenge “can (and will) be overcome.”

Gautam Nagaraj

According to Gautam Nagaraj, the title of his presentation, How to Save the World, “speaks for itself.” Nagaraj, a master’s student in aerospace engineering, will share “a simple model” for breaking societal issues into their components as part of Rackham’s inaugural King Talks

Melvin P. Washington II

“My talk seeks to question the tacit acceptance of oppressive notions of ‘progress.’” Washington, a master’s student in public policy, hopes to get attendees to “reimagine and expand their current goals.”

Jana Wilbricht

“Indigenous communities experience some of the most severe health disparities in the U.S.” Wilbricht, a Ph.D. student in communication studies, will talk about access to information and health outcomes.

Apply to Present

In this annual event, Rackham students present TED-style overviews of their research, echoing the theme of that year’s U-M MLK Symposium in order to honor the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students are encouraged to apply to present, and those students who are selected receive an honorarium.


To be eligible to participate, students must:

  • Be a graduate student in a Rackham program
  • Have a passion for spreading their message
  • Be available for training and feedback sessions with Rackham staff

Applications open in early fall and are reviewed electronically through a double-blind review process. Decisions are shared by early November.