Alumni Profile: From USF to Burning Man
By Joshua Berman, Senior Politics Major
Autumn Winston Graduated from USF in 2014
Autumn Winston graduated from USF in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. After college, she held several positions with the Burning Man festival, serving as a communications intern, HR administrative assistant, and ultimately an administrative associate for people and operations.
Which class or experience at USF do you think has best prepared you for your post-college life?
The internship courses played a huge role in preparing me for life after college. The nice thing about USF is that you don’t just take an internship and write about what you do there. It was a lot more in-depth. It was going to the career center and learning how to write a resume, how to interview, and meet professionals in different industries.
What were your favorite festivals growing up?
Burning Man was the first event I went to at the age of 18. It’s different than any other experience – 70,000 people participate for a week in a temporary community. The way it operates is more of a city. As a participant, I help to create the experience. Other events I enjoy are Lightning in a Bottle, Northern Nights, and Symbiosis; they all have a strong community and wonderful volunteer teams.
Which position with Burning Man have you enjoyed the most?
I’ve enjoyed the position I’m in right now the most because I’m starting to get involved in the high-level functions of my department. I get to take on various projects work and own process. For example, I worked directly with the CEO and director of philanthropic engagement to produce our board of director’s retreat. Working with people at the Executive level who have a vast amount of professional and cultural experience is extremely rewarding.
What advice do you have for someone attending Burning Man for the first time?
Be okay with things that make you uncomfortable, and try something new. I have social anxiety and attending this massive event with over 70,000 people was outside my comfort zone. I pushed myself to talk to new people, and it was extremely rewarding. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with CEOs and founders of companies, but also travelers and people who live a nomadic lifestyle. It’s such a wide range of life experiences and everyone has something to offer. If you want to advance in the world in unexpected ways, try to meet people out there and keep up that connection when you get home.
Which one of Burning Man’s 10 Principles resonates strongest with you?
The principles that stick with me are immediacy – which means living in the moment and not thinking about the next thing and being observant of everything around you – and radical inclusion – meaning everyone can participate. For logistical reasons, leaving no trace is important. A “leave no trace” event means that everyone packs out what they bring in, although we do have a team that stays a month after. We’ve been able to help people see the way they generate waste and generate conscientious communities that take more responsibility.
What makes for a good Burning Man theme?
The art themes guide the art, performance, and experiences but they don’t dictate or define them. I think what makes for a good theme is the more ambiguous ideas that can be interpreted in many different ways. One of the best themes, in my opinion, was in 2016, which was Da Vinci’s Workshop. The art was large-scale, and many of the pieces were not completed by the time the event started. I believe the theme inspired artists to try audacious projects.
How does Burning Man’s nonprofit status help support the festival and its outside programming?
I started at Burning Man as an intern right in the middle of the transition. Burning Man shifted its focus from the annual event to extending the culture year-round through community engagement, programs, and the Regional Network. Being a nonprofit has helped the organization shift the conversation of what Burning Man does in the world.
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self?
Value your experience. The internships and coursework I managed [at USF] were equal or greater than two years of work experience. When you start at a company, you don’t have to take entry-level positions or salary. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your title or salary.