Meghan Sobel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Regis University, where she teaches classes on international communication, public relations, and human rights. A previous speaker at It’s About Time, her research focuses on the role of mass media in combating human rights abuses and humanitarian crises.

We keep the topics of our TEDxMileHigh talks a secret until the day of the event, so here we talk to Meghan about journalism degrees, academia, and the finer points of cupcake decoration.

So, as I mentioned, we like to keep the topics of our talks a secret until the day of the event.

That’s so interesting.

That way people really have no idea what they are in for, and their minds are kind of like putty because they have no expectations. So what made you want to give the proverbial talk of your life?

(Laughs) No pressure or anything! So I’ve always been a really big fan of TED talks and TEDx talks. I’ve actually never been to one of the events, but I watch the videos regularly. I’m a professor here so I show them in my classes constantly, and I tend to use those talks as reference points for students for how to give a good talk technically and aesthetically, but then also content-wise—how you can be eloquent and brief about something really important and get to it. So I really like the idea of what they are. They’ve always stuck out to me as useful teaching tool, as a useful way of learning about a wide variety of things. So that’s what really interested me in wanting to give a talk. I do a lot of research and so I tend to publish in public academic avenues—a lot of academic journals; I’ve presented at academic conferences … I’m not sure anyone really reads those things. So I’m looking for avenues to talk about issues in non-academic places with engaged citizens that want to talk about important things going on in the world. I thought this would be a good place to do that.

It’s easy to get lost in academia sometimes, because you write for a very specific audience, and it’s hard to know how those idea might translate for a layperson.

Absolutely. There are so many academics that are doing interesting research and such important work and it never leaves the academy, you know? It really stays within their academic colleagues, and it could be so useful outside of the world of academia, but often times it doesn’t make it there. So looking for different avenues is something that I try to do and I think this is a good place to do that.

Do you have a favorite TED Talk? One that you use a lot in class?

Yeah, I use one in particular. It’s given by Linda Cliatt-Wayman, a woman who is a principal in schools in North Philadelphia, She talks about her students saying: “ma’am, this is not a school.” And she talks about how she transformed it into a school from what really sounded more like a prison. So that one probably sticks out as one of my favorites.

That’s what you’ll find exciting about the TEDxMileHighWomen event: it’s really a congress of so many different ideas and experiences. Without giving too much away (obviously we are trying to avoid saying your topic) can we say you are an equality and freedom advocate?

Yeah, I would say probably more so I’m a human rights advocate. So in some senses yes, freedom and equality but really standing for individuals, human rights, especially thinking about press freedom and thinking about how media can act as a tool to stop human rights abuses and humanitarian crises around the world. So harnessing that to change the way we think about some of these issues and in turn respond to them. I think that media is such a powerful tool that it can really shape minds and actions and policy, yet often times we don’t harness it to it’s full potential. So thinking about how we can do that and really can use it for positive in this country and abroad.

And we’re in an era where everyone is just so saturated with news and media—it’s always interesting what cuts through. Just last week that video emerged from Aleppo of that young boy who survived a bombing attack and was just covered with soot and blood and he’s startled. For some reason that’s what made that whole struggle—which has been going on for years—real for a lot of people.

Exactly, and it finally gets people talking about it. You know there’s a lot of debate about the use of those kinds of things—shock media, showing images, showing the graphic image or the gory text—and whether or not that’s ethical. Is that what’s needed to startle people into action and cut through the clutter of Kardashians and things like that and really catch people’s attention with important issues? Or is that sensationalizing it and taking advantage, and that isn’t something that should be broadcasted and disseminated? You know, it’s a tough debate and I think there are compelling arguments on both sides.

There are, and you have a journalism degree, so a lot of those arguments are very familiar to you.

Yeah, especially when you think about human rights journalism and reporting, and social problems, and things like that. Even issues that are close to home: do you show the image of the victim killed in a car accident, or do you show the car accident? Those sorts of things. Even on a very local, neighborhood issue, the ethics are still there.

How about cupcakes, I read you like cupcakes, do you have a cupcake flavor or destination in the city?

So you may not know that you can get certified in cake decorating, but you can … and I did. So I’m a certified cake decorator, which is the most random certification, I think. So I like all sorts of cakes and cupcakes, especially if I can decorate them.

So you make your own cupcakes?

I do. I make them and buy them. I’ve made tiered wedding cakes before, I’ve made cakes with different themes …

What’s the cake you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

I made one a number of years ago that was an ocean theme and I crunched up graham crackers as sand, I had goldfish on there, and it was blue for the water. It was quite the cake. The goldfish added a bit of salt and crunch.

I like that cake. You could make that cake again and bring it to the event!

Maybe I should make three thousand cupcakes, because I won’t have anything else on my mind. Probably won’t happen, but I’ll think about it.