Innovators inspire at OTA sessions



While some students were pinning away on Pinterest over spring break, Augustana College played host to the OTA Sessions, featuring a line-up of creative and inspired people, including a Pinterest communications designer.

Started in 2009 by Hugh Weber, current director of continuing education at Augustana, the OTA Sessions invite speakers from various fields to Sioux Falls to speak to members in the OTA area, which is North and South Dakota and Minnesota.

Augustana alum Mike Billeter ’08 began working with Weber on a political campaign after graduation and started to help with OTA once Weber decided to implement his vision of a creativity conference. This is the fourth year of the event and the second time it has been held at Augustana. The first two years it was held at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Sioux Falls.

Billeter believes that the OTA Sessions will help instill confidence in the people who reside in the OTA area.

“There are so many people here who, in my opinion, are a little too humble about their work and their talents,” Billeter said. “It’s time for them to step up and realize that they have the ability to make a worldwide impact regardless of where they call home.”

This year included speakers from Foursquare, the National Basketball Association, 20th Century Fox, and a former Disney and National Geographic Film executive. Each speaker spoke to the crowd of 300 for around a half hour.

Dave Brown, of Holiday Matinee, a publicity, marketing, and management firm in San Diego, spoke about enjoying what do you for a living. “Work your love, love your work,” is his mantra.

Brown started the agency following a call from Capital Records after helping create the cover of a Jimmy Eat World record. His other ventures include a music publishing company, writing a book, designing an app and an indie recording company. He is currently working at MKG, a marketing agency with clients like Google, NBC Universal, Ralph Lauren and Coca-Cola.

Karina van Schaardenburg, a user experience researcher at Foursquare, spoke about the need for research when creating or changing a product.

She compared the innovation in social media sites to Henry Ford’s landmark invention, the Model T, in that new things are being created without precedent.

Another social media site was represented in the form of Ash Huang from Pinterest. Huang spoke about the design of our stories moving from linear to non-linear. She also spoke about social media as increasing the “democracy of stories”.

Anyone, according to Huang, “can have just as much impact as Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber.”

Adam Leipzig, formerly of Walt Disney Studios and National Geographic Films, was the last speaker of the day. He spoke about getting March of the Penguins into theaters, noting at one point the movie included French speaking birds. The theme of his presentation was seeing the potential of work before a project is completed. In his case, the potential of the film March of the Penguins.

Music also provided inspiration to attendees. ELEW, a rock-jazz pianist performed as well as The 19th Street Band who played in Student Street in between sessions.

Twenty-five students from area colleges and universities volunteered for the event in order to lower their cost of attending.

Naras Prameswari, a freshman at Augustana attended the event as a volunteer.

“The event inspired me to step up out of my comfort zone and to try as many things as possible while there are opportunities,” she said.