Departments share how and why they create podcasts


Iowa State University Research Park associate director Alison Doyle sits down to record an episode of "The Innovators Podcast" with ISURP intern Matt Stenzel. Submitted photo.

The ISU Research Park has helped innovators succeed since its founding in 1987, but sharing those successes with a larger audience isn't easy. Late in 2020, research park associate director Alison Doyle decided to use her years of knowledge about the park's tenants to help them share their story directly with the people they impact daily.

"The Innovators Podcast" was born.

Starting a podcast? What to consider:

  • Is there equipment or can it be purchased?
  • Identify a target audience.
  • Define the topic.
  • Determine a podcast style (interview, conversation, storytelling, etc.).
  • Follow a consistent general outline in each episode.
  • Establish an episode release schedule.
  • Who will write scripts?
  • Determine platform and length of podcast.
  • Will it be audio, video or both?
  • How will the podcast be promoted?
  • How will it be made accessible for everyone?

"We struggled to tell the story of the people who have started businesses here, so we began a podcast that really allows us to put faces to the infrastructure we are building here," Doyle said. "Being in a free-flowing conversation creates a dynamic that you just can't capture any other way."

"The Innovators Podcast" is one of numerous podcasts across campus that touch on a range of topics from invasion to travel and parenting. Finding ways to reach those on campus, in the community and throughout the world can be challenging when most people have significant demands of their time. Podcasts provide a valuable source of information that can be accessed at anyone's convenience.

Thinking bigger

Doyle said the audio podcast is aimed at three groups: prospective park tenants, faculty and students. All benefit from learning about each other and the potential to work together on future projects. She said not everyone may want to start a business, but the podcast may spark an interest among faculty or students to work with someone in the research park.

"It can be difficult when you have groups that are different to pick a medium that is attractive and appeals to all of them," said Doyle, who interviews each guest on the podcast. "I still believe the written story or newsletter have their place, but this is an easy way to shine a light on something in a personal way."

Doyle knew the podcast was catching on when she no longer had to pitch the idea to different businesses in the research park. Instead, their leaders came to her and asked to take part. Doyle said the mission of the research park extends past just being a landlord and helping businesses reach new audiences is a big advantage. Podcasting has shown the value of taking time to celebrate success and share the struggles of trying to be an entrepreneur or innovator.

Sharing experiences

One of Iowa State's newest audio podcasts is "To Infinity and Abroad" launched in March from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' study abroad office. It uses student hosts to give fellow Cyclones an idea of what to expect when traveling around the world.

Study abroad advisor Marta Grant helps student interns develop each podcast and communication specialist Nicole Hurlburt handles all the editing. The interns learn skills that will be useful after graduation.

"They were learning communication skills, how to interview people, make them feel comfortable and coming up with topics," Grant said.

The podcast is an interview with students currently studying abroad, those who previously went abroad and program leaders. Hurlburt said they hope to expand the audience to include and align it with similar units in other colleges. The podcast will run during the fall and spring semesters, adding to the website, social media and newsletter used to get the word out about the study abroad program. 

Students wearing earbuds while walking across campus is a common sight, so a podcast made sense to try to reach them, Grant said. Analytics indicate listeners prefer a podcast of 30 minutes or less which helps shape discussions.

Like most new podcasts, there were technical challenges, such as audio that comes across too loud or faint, unintended background noise and time needed to edit. Determining equipment needs, like a microphone, and how and where to upload the finished product also were completed with a little trial and error, Hurlburt said.

Podcasting with expertise

ISU Extension and Outreach pivoted to podcasts to fulfill one of its missions of reaching all Iowans. Its 10 podcasts in the ag and natural resources program and one in human sciences provide an informal way to educate people, especially those unable to participate in traditional extension programming.

The "Small Farm Sustainability Podcast" launched in 2015 and has reached more than 125,000 listeners and was recognized as the best sustainability ag podcast in 2021 by Feedspot Blog.

"Not only does the podcast provide convenience to our listeners, but it allowed us to reach other technical service providers across Iowa to strengthen partnerships with organizations like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and various U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies," said small farms program coordinator Christa Hartsook.

The increased use of video conferencing apps, like Zoom, expands the list of possible guests and cuts down on travel.

The "Science of Parenting" podcast -- which began more than a decade ago -- launched after a blog of the same name began seeing fewer visitors but had a built-in audience. It gives parents a trusted place to find information backed by the extension name and allows extension staff to expand their reach nationally and internationally.

"We are able to offer a resource that parents can trust amid the blur of contradictory information online," said extension specialist Mackenzie Johnson. "When they listen to our podcast, they know it's research-based and trustworthy."

The podcast is one of a growing number that provide both an audio and visual version, often uploaded to YouTube.

Student podcasters

Students in ag education and studies assistant professor Fally Masambuka-Kanchewa's Communicating Contemporary Issues in Agriculture course this fall will develop a podcast for the first time.

"The podcast will allow students to facilitate conversation with people who have different points of view," she said. "Too often people try to inform others about how wrong they are about their perceptions of agriculture, instead of trying to listen."

Students will line up guests, determine questions, interview experts and produce the podcasts. 

"I want students to take a step back and appreciate why people think about things the way they do," Masambuka-Kanchewa said.

Masambuka-Kanchewa's research during the pandemic showed how people on two sides of an issue attacking each other affects public trust and leaves little middle ground where the general public can make informed decisions. She said she hopes the podcast project helps erase some of the public's doubt. The finished podcasts will be shared publicly.