"We were trying to inspire the next wave of thinking," he said, "both for the students and by helping professionals connect with people to launch their projects."

To ensure that activists with an interest in design could participate, the organizers provided 50 free tickets. And along with the $200 "professional" rate, they offered student tickets for as little as $10 (for a single day). Dozens more students participated as volunteer help.

Pulling this all together was a "huge undertaking," admitted Mark Towill, a Brown senior. He and almost all the team members were new, picked by last year's organizers. They had a valuable adviser, local publicist Andy Cutler, who has volunteered his help since 2008. But from speaker recruitment, to hotel bookings and food, it was all up to the students.

And it's worth every bit of the effort, Holt and Towill said.

"It's been an incredible introduction and immersive experience in a huge variety of topics," said Holt.

Added Towill: "One of the things I wanted to get out of it was to be a part of something that is really going to do good. We're bringing together students with professionals, educators, government officials, all with the goal of making the world a better place. For me, it's a really powerful thing to be part of a movement that is so much larger than any one of us."

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