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Best In Show: Our Favorite College Podcasts

LA Johnson
/
NPR

From quarantining in dorms to staring at the screen in online classes — it was a wild year to be a college student. And, it turns out, it was a good year for us to welcome college students for the first time to the NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

Today we're announcing our favorites! From podcasts submitted from college students across the country, we've narrowed the list down to 10 finalists. You can read and listen to the full list here.

From this list, our judges will select the grand-prize winners. We'll announce those winners next week, along with our honorable mentions. Then, over the coming weeks we'll talk to the winners and tell their stories on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Our list of finalists covers a full spectrum of college life. We obviously heard a lot about COVID-19, but we also heard great podcasts about identity and music. About public transportation and friendship and racism in art. We even got some colorful tours through food and culture. Following the pandemic, our second most popular topic was family: tons of multi-generational stories with family histories, traditions and rich storytelling.

Here is a quick rundown of our 10 finalists:

Anya Steinberg from Colorado College, explored what it felt like to learn that her biological father — a sperm donor she had always been told was a doctor — was in fact a jazz musician. Listen to "23 Chromosomes" here. (A warning for listeners — this podcast contains some language that may not be suitable for children.)

Do you like crawfish? Brian Le at Emory University started his podcast with that question, and from there, "A Tale of Two Crawfish" takes us on the journey of two fictional crustaceans, Cajun and Viet, to illustrate the Vietnamese American experience. Along the way, we learn about a little known branch of cajun cuisine.

From Princeton University, Andrew Zacks sent us a podcast that talks about food in a very different way. "Men, Well Done" explained the gendered marketing and history of grilling. And while Andrew whips up a sizzling hot burger, he has a mini heart-to-heart with us because, he explains, when you're behind the grill that's what you do!

Lennon Sherburne, who attends Simmons University in Boston, really went deep in exploring their feelings. They describe how, for them, the pandemic experience was different than most due to one big reason: no computer screens. Listen to the "Let's Do The Time Warp" here.

That sense of isolation amid the pandemic came up over and over again. Elijah McKee from Skidmore College put that feeling into sound in a postcard to his bedroom. Through sound design, and poetic writing, McKee really took us inside his head for his podcast, "A Postcard."

Other podcasts zoomed out for a wider picture. Savannah Kelley from Northwestern University investigated one Iowa high school's response to proposed state legislation that would allow trangender students to use the bathroom of their choice. You can hear her reporting here.

Miriam Colvin from Penn State University also did some digging. "Competition with the Best" reveals the story of a young Muhammad Ali and a fateful boxing match that happened a few years before he became "The Greatest."

After living through a summer of protests centered around monuments to Confederate leaders in Richmond, Va., Gabriela Santana, Joshua Gordon and Hassan Fields examined the difference between vandalism and art. The students at Virginia Commonwealth University took a critical eye to the statues that surround their campus in "When Time Slows Down."

At the University of Chicago, the student podcasters behind "PWI-ing While Black" talked about some of the issues students of color face on their campus, and took a satirical look at the traditional admissions brochure. Lena Diasti, Hope Houston, Chase Leito, Daisy Okoye, Dinah Clottey and Jonathan Brooks all contributed to the piece.

And last, but certainly not least, have you ever heard music in the subway? Not someone busking or humming next to you, but music in the subway trains themselves? Bennett Cook from Buffalo State College does, and he definitely convinced us in his finalist entry "Subway Symphony."

Our congratulations to all the finalists! Coming next month, we'll be announcing the finalists in our Student Podcast Challenge for middle and high school students.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sequoia Carrillo
Sequoia Carrillo is a reporter for NPR's Education Team. Along with covering big stories like the student debt crisis and segregation in K-12 schools, she reports on innovation in the education space — sometimes for Code Switch.
Steve Drummond
Steve Drummond is a senior editor and executive producer at NPR who has held a variety of roles in more than two decades at the network. Since its launch in 2014, he has headed the education reporting project, NPR Ed. The nine-member team provides deep, comprehensive coverage of learning and education and extends that reporting to audiences across many platforms. In 2018, the team launched the Student Podcast Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the national contest has received podcast entries from more than 50,000 students in grades 5-12, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2021 a college version was added that offers a $5,000 scholarship to the grand-prize winner.