Campus News Student Spotlight

TEDxUGA curator puts together ideas worth spreading

Esther Kim is curator for TEDxUGA 2023: Roots. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

Esther Kim helps bring TED Talks to the stage

It all started with an Instagram DM.

Esther Kim has a friend who worked with TEDxGeorgiaTech and thought it sounded like something she wanted to be part of at UGA. That friend knew someone with TEDxUGA, so Kim sent a message asking how she could get involved. Now, she’s curator for TEDxUGA and a program assistant in the New Media Institute.

“After watching a lot of TED Talks and listening to a lot of ideas, you’d think it might get old at some point. But I think it never gets old because you meet these people and think, ‘Wow, you’re a fascinating person.’ It shows that there are so many interesting people on campus,” she said.

Kim grew up in the northeast and moved to Georgia as a junior in high school. She started UGA in 2020 majoring in chemistry, intending on going to medical school. That’s still her goal, but the third-year student changed her major to public relations and will earn an NMI certificate after getting involved with TEDxUGA.

“I love the different aspects of communications and classes I’ve been taking,” she said. “I think public relations is the best major in terms of my interests. It all connects.”

Kim took the NMI’s course on TEDxUGA as a first-year student. In that class, students learn the process and procedures for TEDxUGA and then are assigned to curate presenters for that year’s event. Her first presenters, Shawntell Pace and Tanisha Pelham, took the stage for the TEDxUGA 2021 Salon Series. In their talk, Pace and Pelham explore how creating and protecting sacred spaces heals racial trauma.

Now, Kim is a TA for that class, which overlaps with her responsibilities as TEDxUGA curator. She lectures on how to curate a TED Talk, manages the classes and oversee the curation process with the students.

“A lot of the students in the class are my peers, and some of them are also my friends, so it’s nice to be there,” she said. “I’ve learned even more teaching than I did as a student in the class. Every day I learn something new, and I will continue to learn something new.”

Kim is carrying on a tradition of the women who curated TEDxUGA before her. She said she “wears a lot of hats,” communicating with vendors, working with the Steering Committee and dealing with other event management details in that role.

The curation process starts with identifying a big idea. That’s usually narrowed down during the nomination and selection process. As the presenter and the student team begin curating the talk, they home in on that big idea and create a specific statement.

“The curation process is incredibly important to the success of TEDxUGA and all of the presenters that take the stage to share their ideas. At UGA, curation efforts are student led and supervised by the TEDxUGA curator. The curator is a master juggler, providing guidance to all student curation teams, all presenters and all the efforts to draft, visualize, practice, deliver and produce the talks. It requires the ability to bring ideas to life in a way that will resonate with a global audience,” said Megan Ward, licensee for TEDxUGA and administrative director of the New Media Institute. “As curator, Esther has provided immense leadership to the entire TEDxUGA family. Her ability to build on the past, manage the now, and plan for the future will help maintain the spirit of ideas worth spreading on UGA’s campus for many years to come.”

Once the idea is solid, they start generating ideas for content, including personal stories and any research. Then, they outline the talk and start working through drafts. Drafting and scripting—and then redrafting and rescripting—is the longest part of the process. Once the script is basically set, slides and any other visuals are created to accompany the talk. After that, presenters move to the rehearsal process and work on memorizing their script.

Esther Kim, who is also a program assistant in the New Media Institute, teaches a TEDxUGA class at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

Kim said curation is different every time with every presenter—and each presenter has different challenges.

“It’s hard to keep a talk within that 18-minute mark and keep it focused, but I think the biggest thing is making sure the talk is going to resonate with the audience,” she said. “Being able to work with them is an honor. The fact that they’re listening to me telling them what to do is a big pressure and burden but something I’m thankful for.”

TEDxUGA 2023: Roots marks the 10th anniversary of the event, and Kim doesn’t take that anniversary lightly.

“I love how it stands to represent all of the different ideas on campus and being able to say I have a small part in bringing together all of these students, faculty, alumni and community members in Athens,” she said. “These ideas, no matter if you watched them 10 years ago or 10 years in the future or right now, you want to make it a legacy.”

When she’s not focused on her classes or TEDxUGA, Kim enjoys skydiving, spending time with friends and family and attending concerts. She’s also passionate about her work with The Backpack Project of Athens.

Kim, who also has a certificate in personal and organizational leadership from the Institute for Leadership Advancement in the Terry College of Business, has one more year with TEDxUGA before graduating but acknowledges that this one will be special.

“I’m thankful I’m here to celebrate the 10th one,” she said. “I’m honored to be a part of that.”

Registration for TEDxUGA 2023: Roots is now open. The event will be March 31 at 7 p.m. at Morton Theatre, and registrants can attend in person or virtually. Learn more about this year’s presenters at