In September 2020, the first episode of “Open Air,” a podcast hosted by Emma Willard School senior Sofia P. ’22, dropped on Spotify. Described as “a place where students, faculty, and staff can learn and share information regarding health and wellness through fun and honest conversations,” there are now over 30 episodes available covering a range of topics. Read on to hear from Sofia about her journey creating and hosting the podcast over the last two years.
Dubbed ‘Wellies,’ the Emma Wellness Advocates “serve the entire Emma community to promote the practice of empowering students to live a healthy life.” The students involved go through comprehensive and continuous training in consultation with the Health Center and EMployee advisors. The idea of a podcast, Sofia says, was thrown around a lot before her production began. Though Sofia participated in the Signature program during her junior year, Open Air isn’t part of that program. It’s important to her that the show lives with the Wellies, partly for access to an already interested audience, but also for the valuable input she pulls from the group as a whole.
“The Wellies have so many ideas of things that we want to do but we get so busy. This felt like something that we would be able to do even if we had a lot of other things going on.”
As the host, Sofia leads listeners through a specified topic for each episode. Sometimes it’s just her, maybe working through how to manage virtual connections in the first leg of the COVID-19 pandemic, or offering book recommendations (Sofia is a big reader and proponent of the healing power of all things literary). Often, guests join her: other wellies pop in to cover topics they’re interested in, or even take over as host, while teachers and recent alumnae may visit to offer insight, expertise, or experience. Occasionally, Sofia puts a call out to the community to send in short recordings (in December 2020, the episode “20 Things We’ve Learned in 2020”
included much of the Emma campus community sharing a wide range of wisdom from the year).
Sofia has a natural talent for hosting, and for shaping a conversation. Sticking to an informal, friendly tone helps with the varied, and often personal, subject matters the show deals with, but that’s also one of the things she looks for in a podcast. “I like to listen to them when I’m driving,” she says, discussing the decision to keep the tone of the show conversational. “It feels like there’s a friend who is in the car with me, I can listen and enjoy it but it doesn’t feel informational. Especially being in school all day, I don’t always want to listen to a podcast that’s an overload of information after taking in so much.”
That said, the show isn’t fluff. Lighter episodes centered on spooky Halloween stories
are tempered with discussions about Floating Rock Mentality
, the stress olympics
, and accepting failure
. These are heavy topics, often exacerbated or brought more into light over the last two years as we try to navigate life during a pandemic, but Open Air
handles them with a careful hand: even for adults, the show has something to offer to help us think about supporting students, and each other.
Thinking about whether she would continue a podcast like Open Air in college, Sofia acknowledges that it has a practical purpose. “It allows me to process the topics that I’m talking about. Not just to give advice, but to talk about something that’s been on my mind, or the Wellies’ minds. It’s very helpful for me to do that and I’ve gotten feedback that it’s helpful for other people.”
The group works together–individuals, but of a similar mind–to support the content of episodes when needed. Generally, Sofia has most of the year planned out, but when topics change and schedules get shifted around other members will step in. “It’s mostly me but if I need help I’ll ask for it!”
The show has an unscripted, informal feeling but the process does involve careful planning. In addition to mapping out the episodes from September to March, Sofia keeps notes for episodes that cover specific topics, especially if research is involved, to keep her on track and usually has a list of questions to cover during an interview or conversation. As for the actual recording, Sofia started out using a microphone on loan from the Emma library, but also substituted with a headphone mic. Recently she was given a microphone for Christmas by her parents (which may or may not be because she sometimes borrowed her dad’s zoom mic). For editing and distribution, she uses the app Anchor
As a senior, Sofia has a decision to make about what to do when she graduates. The show is tied closely to the Wellies, but passing on a project she’s been spearheading for almost two years is a hard task. “There are people I know would do a great job, but it’s hard for me to just give it up! I'm having lots of thoughts about whether I should take it with me.” That said, the senior class thinks often about what their class will leave behind. “The grades above me that have left, I always feel like they’re still here! So, I don’t know if that was always in the back of my mind, but this is something that could be part of that.”
Leaving Open Air in someone else’s hands is one thing, but starting up something new depends largely on what her college experience will be like. “It would be a good thing to do because I enjoy it,” she says, thinking of a new version that follows her next steps. “And I’m proud of it.”
Sofia recommends: What We Said, a podcast where best friends Jaci Meri and Chelsey Jade talk about health, business, relationships, and life.