Thirty episodes into my Voices of Santa Clara podcast, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the wisdom and patterns I’ve seen in my guests. When I first emailed a professor last October, I never imagined that I would spend the school year interviewing 15 students, 19 professors and 12 staff members at Santa Clara University to hear their stories (more of those conversations to come in the rest of the year). The guests have included Jesuit priests, college deans, the class valedictorian, student body president, athletic director, multiple senior staff members, and the university president.
I’ve had my fair share of missed appointments, awkward pauses and microphone failures, but I’m proud of how far the show has come, from just my family tuning in, to over 1,200 listens and dozens of summarized transcript articles published in The Santa Clara student newspaper. Through exploring the travels, career paths and origin stories of many incredible people and innovative ideas, I have noticed a few patterns in the answers of my guests.
1. Good ideas and forward progress come from collaboration across disciplines
One of the goals of my podcast since the beginning has been to connect the different academic departments at Santa Clara through sharing ideas and putting the spotlight on students and professors doing great work. Santa Clara provides many opportunities to collaborate across disciplines through events, research showcases and on-campus centers. However, each academic department and set of professors and students still occupy their own intellectual and physical niches around campus.
How could I break down these barriers and share ideas from all corners of the school? I knew I would need to find a diverse array of guests. So far, professors interviewed on the show have represented finance, child studies, history, computer science, psychology, management, English, communications, theater, art, religion and physics. In upcoming months, I’ll be able to add economics, civil engineering, and entrepreneurship to that list. The students and staff I’ve interviewed have come from equally dispersed areas of campus. I was fascinated to find that across the guests I interviewed, common themes emerged of compassion, personal discovery and embracing scary opportunities.
Although colleges are particularly vibrant idea ecosystems, anyone can get access to the power of cross-disciplinary thinking by reading about an intriguing topic, picking up a new hobby or talking with interesting people. As art history professor Kathleen Maxwell put it, “We tend to pigeonhole ourselves by disciplinary clichés that are quite meaningless. Life is much more interesting on the borders and the boundaries between disciplines.”
Life is much more interesting on the borders and the boundaries between disciplines.
2. Say yes to travel
While exploring the pivotal moments that shaped students and professors into the people they are today, travel experiences constantly came up in conversation.
Ignatian Center Director Father Dorian Llywelyn spent two years in the Peace Corps in rural Egypt, then four more in Indonesia. He said that, “living in places of economic disadvantage really shaped how I look at the world,” and that his experience in Indonesia “made me aware of cultural issues, and what it means to be an immigrant in a culture.” Today Father Llywelyn promotes opportunities for students to take immersion trips in locations from San Jose to India to, “burst the Santa Clara bubble and get out into different realities.”
Recently-graduated class valedictorian Athena Nguyen spent a summer in Myanmar as a part of the Global Social Benefit Fellowship through Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. She said the experience, “altered how I view myself as a leader and advocate for others. I would love to work for an organization that has social impact, and the people that I met in Myanmar constantly inspire me.” Like several of the other graduating seniors I interviewed, Nguyen will continue to serve and travel after college, teaching English in Vietnam on a Fulbright Fellowship.
The type of travel experiences that transformed the lives of my guests weren’t weekend vacations to Hawaii. Immersion in the local culture, community involvement and space for relationship and reflection were common threads among guests' influential journeys.
3. Listen to the stories of others
One of the shorter questions I like to ask at the end of each interview makes even the most talkative guests pause and think: “If you could send a message to every person in the United States, what would you say?”
Santa Clara President Father Engh echoed a similar theme to many other guests, saying, “Listen to other people with different opinions. Listen with the ears of the heart. Listen to the burdens other people carry to understand what they’re struggling with, then reflect as to how best to live.”
We don’t learn from talking, we learn from listening. Starting with a question rather than an opinion can get you to the human story at the center of every issue or idea.
As history professor and pro discussion facilitator Naomi Andrews told me, “We don’t all agree, and we don’t need to agree. Exposing our disagreements is a very productive way to learn something about our own assumptions. Our friendships and relationships get better if we dig into differences.”
To hear more about my research process, favorite episodes and craziest stories, listen the the full What I've Learned episode here.