A close up of a microphone in a concert hall.

Podcast by students for students

'Professors are People Too' features CSE faculty

A few months ago, assistant professor Boya Xiong made headlines for her latest research project. The CSE community learned alongside the greater public that she’s developing an antimicrobial coating to better block the COVID-19 virus on face masks. This past December, we learned on a podcast that away from her lab or the classroom, she plays the ukulele—and enjoys the sport of powerlifting.

Xiong is one of five College of Science and Engineering (CSE) faculty appearing in a new podcast called “Professors are People Too” The series was produced by a team of CSE students at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus as part of their Introduction to Engineering Project Management (IE 5541) class.

In the course, students must submit ideas for a semester-long project that would benefit the University community. The number of projects are then narrowed down and the students are divided into groups to tackle each idea. 

“My proposal was one of 10 that was selected,” said Samuel Wang, a chemical engineering senior and recipient of CSE’s Ed & Cora Remus Scholarship and Wendell & Dottie Manske Scholarship.

“I wanted to initiate a podcast that would invite faculty and staff across CSE to speak on topics ranging from their career choice to advice for undergraduates. We also wanted to know their pastimes—what they like to do on their weekends,” Wang added.

Wang brought his vision to life with four classmates: seniors Tom Madden in mechanical engineering and Nathan Christensen in electrical engineering; and juniors Shreya Suvarnapathaki, computer science and data science, and Duy Nguyen, a chemical engineering major.

In addition to Xiong, the series features Michelle Calabrese, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (she likes boba tea!), Shana Watters, associate teaching professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (she joined the U.S. Army at 18); Rhonda Franklin, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (she loves walking her dog), and Paul Imbertson, teaching professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (he’s a fan of "The Great British Baking Show").

Zero budget and recording in a pandemic

Among the students’ tasks were brainstorming possible podcast names and professors, searching for recording equipment and locations, organizing in-person and masked interview sessions, designing a website, and getting listed on the Spotify podcast app. The students also reached out to the CSE Communications and Marketing team for advice. 

Originally, I had doubts about how engaging we could make a podcast considering we had no past interview experience and we were doing this with no budget,” said Christensen, who helped write interview questions, episode summaries for Spotify, and information for their podcast website. “I think Sam and Shreya improved their interview skills with every episode and ended up producing the best, and only, interesting podcast about professors at the University of Minnesota.”

As co-hosts, Wang and Suvarnapathaki took turns asking the questions. 

It was both an honor and a pleasure to have the professors participate in our podcast and demonstrate that professors are, indeed, people too!,” said Suvarnapathaki.

I had a great time conversing with them,” she said. Listeners can not only learn more about their background, experiences, and journey, but also gain something from the valuable advice they provided.”

The team recorded three out of five interviews in person at the Button studios in Wilson Library on the West Bank and the other two were done via Zoom. 

I believe this initiative is a very good opportunity for current undergraduates and graduates to see the other side of professors beyond the classroom,” Wang said. “It also allows freshmen coming into the college to have a deeper understanding of the culture of the school, the outlook of their majors, and the people who work here.”

The project has the potential to survive or grow beyond the original team. Wang, who graduates this May and has accepted a position as a consultant at Accenture, has initiated contact with other CSE students who have expressed some interest in possibly taking over the project. 

“As a student, I've always wanted to know my professors on a more personal level but haven't gotten the opportunity to do so for some of them,” Wang said. So, starting this initiative is a great learning opportunity for students like me.

It would also be great to see several students across different colleges and different campuses at the University of Minnesota take this on as well,” he said.

Listen to the Professors Are People Too series on Spotify or by visiting the podcast website.

Story by Pauline Oo

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