Podcast pairs senior thesis work with the perfect wine

Sophia Rutkin ‘15 is the first guest on a new student-run podcast called “Potpourri.” The program is meant to highlight the thesis work of many seniors in the context of drinking fine wine. Photo By: potpourripodcast.com
Sophia Rutkin ‘15 is the first guest on a new student-run podcast called “Potpourri.” The program is meant to highlight the thesis work of many seniors in the context of drinking fine wine. Photo By:  potpourripodcast.com
Sophia Rutkin ‘15 is the first guest on a new student-run podcast called “Potpourri.” The program is meant to highlight the thesis work of many seniors in the context of drinking fine wine. Photo By: potpourripodcast.com

There is no doubt that Vassar students like their opinions to be heard. While some prefer to voice their beliefs through the literary world—writing for a newspaper publication, starting a blog or partaking in an online magazine—others choose to express their ideas visually (photography, art, film and so forth). Vassar students Grant Schaller ’15 and Michael Sandberg ’15 are no different from the rest of students; however, this duo has chosen a unique medium to do so—their very own podcast series.

Schaller and Sandberg’s radio show, “Potpourri,” first debuted to the Vassar community after winter break. The series, which revolves around student life at Vassar, has aired one episode so far, but plans to produce  and release original segments each week.

According to Schaller and Sandberg, “Potpourri” intends to elaborate on Vassar seniors’ thesis projects and studies that have taken place over the past year—accomplishments the pair feel are frequently ignored in everyday dialogue. Sandberg added that, “We originally thought the podcast was just going to be us talking about obscure things—basically, we thought we were funny and articulate enough to have an interesting conversation about a potpourri of topics.”

He continued, “When we came to our senses, realizing that very few people would sit and listen to that, we then came up with the concept for the show as it is now. But the name ‘Potpourri’ stuck, as we thought it still reflected what we were trying to do.”

As technology advances daily, one can’t help but wonder where Schaller and Sandberg’s classic concept stemmed from. Schaller explained, “For me, the idea for a podcast started just a few months ago. This was also around the time when ‘Serial’ (a podcast launched by Sarah Koenig, a host from ‘This American Life’) was becoming increasingly popular.”

“I started putting on podcasts all the time,” continued Schaller. “I would walk to class with podcasts, have them on when I was cooking, or during any other time when I was between tasks.” As Schaller particularly looks up to Koenig and Alex Blumberg, former “This American Life” host, as admirable broadcasters and storytellers, he likes to coin them as inspirational figures for his own show.

Schaller elaborated, speaking to the origin of the show, “Michael and I started talking about podcasts occasionally, even though he listened to a completely different set than me. Somewhere along the line we were talking about what a fun job it would be to be a host or even to be involved with a podcast at any level. That led us to our podcast, where we’re part of the whole process.”

The process, however, is much easier said than done—especially when Schaller and Sandberg did not have enough time to apply for funding. Instead, the two have to pay for equipment, web domain and hosting fees themselves. As a result, Sandberg commented, “The equipment is not as high ­quality as we would like to be, but for our purposes, we actually think it gets the job done. We also have to pay for the pre­-show dinners and wine we buy to share with the interviewees, which doesn’t sound like much, but it does get pricey, especially since we’re looking to increase the frequency of our episodes to two per week.”

In terms of location, they managed to claim a recording space in Skinner Hall, but at the cost of incorporating occasional instruments in the background of their episodes.

As cited in their series premiere, each episode relies upon a guest with an interesting tale and a bottle of wine to accompany the conversation. While Schaller and Sandberg expect to host predominantly seniors on the show, Schaller noted, “The guest-choosing process is definitely not an exact science, and it’s something we’re still getting accustomed to. We want to try and represent as many different topics and as unique…projects as we can.”

With a set plan to debut their show at the start of the new year, Sandberg stated, “Both of us had to put substantial time in over break to make sure we knew what we were doing. Wine, of course, was researched primarily last semester.”

With that, the first episode incorporated a 2013 California Cabernet Sovereign and guest Sophia Rutkin, a senior history major. Rutkin, who is in the process of writing a thesis on desegregation within the U.S Marines between 1942 and 1953, spoke about her conducted research and responsibilities as the History Department intern.

“Michael and Grant and I have a great rapport so there was no getting­-to-­know­-each­-other awkwardness. They also asked me for some pre­reading so that their questions could be well-informed, which made the experience more of a conversation as opposed to just me talking ad nauseum,” said Rutkin.

Since podcast series are not as prevalent across campus, Rutkin admitted, “The only weird part about being a guest was listening to it the next day and hearing my own voice recorded. I am not used to being recorded so it is always jarring to hear my voice that way.”

As “Potpourri” is just beginning to make a name for itself, Schaller and Sandberg hope that their new series will eventually develop a mass audience across campus.

Schaller concluded, “Our podcast can hopefully serve as a way for some of these theses to reach a greater audience and attract the attention they deserve. There are a lot of great projects that people do outside of school, so we’d like to bring as many of those on the show as we can.”

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