By Hannah Stewart (Comm’19)
Photos by Jack Moody

Faculty advisor Michael Burns is no stranger to working TEDx events—he used to run one at Texas State University before coming to the University of Colorado Boulder last fall. But it was a surprise to discover that there were only three returning students to work with.

Fortunately for him, one was Lillian Wentworth.

“I am so lucky to have Lillian on the team, and that she was there from day one of me arriving at CU,” Burns said. “As the operations lead, you need to be in a logistics mindset most of the time, but Lillian has this amazing ability to blend in her creative side throughout the process.”

Wentworth is in her third and final year studying strategic communication, with an emphasis in public relations. When she joined TEDxCU last year, she worked as the assistant director of media, joining a team that conducted photoshoots and recorded short clips of the speakers for TikTok and Instagram. 

While she loves working with media—she dabbles in photography in her free time—she’s blossomed in her new role with the leadership team, in part because it more closely aligns with her academic interests and because of the skills she’s developed along the way.

“Being a media director is almost how I view advertising,” she said. “And operations is like PR. It’s more the logistics and coordinating staff and working with sponsors. Focusing on the audience experience is more aligned with my interests, anyway.”

Her staff is a team of about 10 volunteers, mostly first- and second-year students who have never worked in a professional setting before. Wentworth said it’s been fulfilling to help them develop skills like crafting outreach emails, communicating with potential sponsors, event planning and more. She’s also had to help both the leaders and volunteers for other committees.

“I work with everybody. I love doing operations, but I’ve helped with marketing and I coordinate with our speaker leads and finance teams a lot,” she said. “Because I was part of the team before, a lot of the other leaders reach out to me for help. It’s such an honor that they consider me an expert and want my opinion.”

Now that the TEDxCU team has grown, Wentworth and her peers are excited to grow the program’s reputation, as well. This year, the student-run event will include more than just a handful of speakers sharing their ideas and research with the community. There will also be art and interactive booths for the audience to engage with.

“Our team is answering the question, ‘how do we create a bigger impact?’ My vision is to find ways to implement more academic connections for students, so they can see how their coursework—no matter the major—relates to their role in TEDxCU,” Burns said. “I see planning this event as a way for our students to bring what they are learning in the classroom to life. I also want to use TEDxCU to create stronger connections between campus and the city.”

Creating connections is where Wentworth thrives. She said one of the most exciting moments this year was learning that high school students were planning on coming to the event, even before the team had begun advertising tickets.

“The fact that we have sold 100 tickets and people are reaching out means people are seeking out the work we’re doing and that we have an impact on the community,” she said. The group has now sold more than 500 tickets. “I wish I could’ve gone to something like this in high school, because I think I would’ve figured out what I wanted to do in college a lot sooner.”

For Wentworth, her two-year tenure with TEDxCU has been an incredible learning experience. The experience has validated her belief that she likes to support others, challenged her to grow as a leader and given her opportunities to meet and work with amazing people.

“I think I’m going to go into corporate social responsibility or marketing for nonprofits after graduation,” Wentworth said. “TED has opened a lot of opportunities—in fact, my whole perspective on my career path is so much bigger since I’ve joined TED.”

Students talk about TEDxCU at CU's Be Involved Fair

Students promoted TEDxCUat a recent Be Involved Fair on-campus in Boulder.

Michael Burns leads a class.

Michael Burns, left, took over as faculty advisor for TEDxCU this year and said that the success of this year is due in large part to Wentworth’s involvement. He said, “Lillian is a rockstar. She is an amazing leader who not only organizes her team, but she also empowers them.”