Grad student among four from CWRU selected to speak at TEDxCLE

When Philip Niles arrived at Case Western Reserve University eight years ago to begin his undergraduate degree in economics, he never imagined the opportunities he would find in Cleveland. Now, as he prepares to graduate in May with both MD and MBA degrees (in addition to the bachelor’s degree he earned here in just three years), Niles wants to share his Cleveland experience—and what he sees for its future.

Niles, a 2009 TED Fellow, is one of four Case Western Reserve University community members selected to speak at the third annual TEDxCLE event April 20. Organized by Clevelanders Hallie Bram and Eric Kogelschatz, TEDxCLE is an independently organized TED event that aims to bring speakers and community members together to spark discussion and bring Cleveland’s “innovation, development and positive change to the world,” according to the event’s website,

In his talk, “Where New Ideas Come From: Growing Up (& Down) Euclid Avenue With the Help of Open Data,” Niles plans to discuss how Cleveland can lead an open-source data movement and also share how his experience here shaped his career.

During his first year as an undergraduate student, Niles became active in community service in a nearby elementary school where he met a standout student whose mother prevented him from moving forward with advanced studies. At that moment, Niles realized he needed to help people who were hindered because of the environment in which they lived. He helped start an HIV/AIDS testing center in Kenya and later worked on ORBIS’s airplane-turned-eye-hospital, which provided training and care to prevent blindness in the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam.

“Once you’re there, you recognize how eager people are to learn in spite of and, perhaps, because of the lack of opportunities,” Niles said. “In some ways, everything was kind of put on a platter for me—the effort I put in to my experiences was pretty much equal to the benefit I was going to get out. So when I was abroad, I was eager to help people who may not have had the same situation.”  From these interactions, Niles realized his next goal: creating an open data source for people around the world to make everyone a part of the research community.

“I want people to take their raw data that’s already been published and researched years ago and share it with the international community—bring them online into the research world,” he said. “They can do this stuff. They just need the resources.”

Niles plans to start this open data source in his area of study—ophthalmology—but he hopes it will spread to all areas of expertise. He believes Cleveland and its research institutions can be at the forefront of this movement.

“Research isn’t just going to be a developed-countries-to-the-rest-of-the-world thing anymore. It’s going to be done by and for everyone,” Niles said.

For more information on TEDxCLE, visit