STEM Podcast at St. Mike’s

By Maeve Callahan | Staff Writer |

When Cecelia Schmelzle ‘22 and Cailey Comiskey ‘23 began their biological communications course with Biology Professor Ruth Fabian-Fine in the fall of 2020, they could not have anticipated a simple assignment turning into a successful podcast that would span multiple school years; but that’s exactly what happened.  

“One of the assignments was to make a quick PSA podcast kind of thing, just educating the general public about an important scientific topic. We really liked doing it… And Cailey and I are good friends, so we decided to take it on together,” Schmelzle said. 

Since releasing their first podcast episode in January 2021, “Introducing: STEM at St. Mike’s,” the duo has produced a total of 32 episodes that are released weekly.  

“STEM at St. Mike’s” aims to unify the scientific community at the College and serve as a cornerstone for all things STEM. From research professors to senior spotlights, the podcast covers topics with a sense of lightheartedness.

“We interview current students, alumni and some professors here in the STEM departments at St.Mike’s and we pretty much just get to know about them a little bit better and hear about some of their  experiences here and their expertise in their given areas,” Comiskey said. “And we try to make it a short,  fun, weekly episode for people to listen to. Like for Valentine’s Day, we interviewed Mr. And Mrs. Dr. Chant. So, you know, we try to keep it fun!”  

“STEM at St. Mike’s,” however, isn’t just about fun and games. Production takes a lot of planning. “Yeah, we’re both big planners,” Schmelzle said. “So at the beginning of the  semester, we meet and make a schedule for the entire semester and pick out people who we think  people would like to hear from, who we think or who we know are doing interesting research, or people  who are working on big projects.”  

Schmelzle and Comiskey aren’t the only ones who come up with content ideas. “We’ll put up  polls on Instagram to hear from our audience and see who they want to hear,” Schmelzle said. “If people have a favorite  professor they want to hear from, we’ll do that.” 

And  it’s not just STEM majors that “STEM at St. Mike’s” is focused on. Both hosts of the podcast acknowledge the inaccessibility to knowledge or language barrier that can exist both within and outside of the scientific academic community.  

“A lot of times, our guests are pretty knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. So, … we ask that they not use as much science jargon in their answers so that people who don’t know the specifics of certain processes can understand,” Schmelzle explained.

“STEM at St. Mike’s” tries to combine humanities with the sciences. Declan McCabe, biology professor and faculty supervisor of the podcast, described himself as a strong advocate of fusing humanities and science. McCabe described liberal arts as a full spectrum, and this podcast as  a perfect example of that intermixing. 

“I think this [podcast is] kind of, really, the embodiment of the liberal arts. The liberal arts include  science, media, poetry, you know, they include the humanities… Using any sort of media skills to communicate science really  combines two different strands of the liberal arts together,” McCabe said.

Part of a true liberal arts education is to acknowledge all facets of education, including science. 

McCabe explained why even the most lab-savvy student should consider their communication  skills. 

“There are times when you read an article in the newspaper and you think ‘oh this person missed the science.’ And there are times when you read a science article and you think ‘oh this person missed  the ability to communicate to the audience.’ So I’m hoping we can bridge that too, those two components, and have solid science communicated well,”he said.

Comiskey and Schmelzle also echoed similar sentiments regarding the humanities-science  intersectionality of their podcast. 

“I think it’s just important to kind of look at that intersection between the two… For instance, we interviewed an education major, which is obviously a bit more on the humanities side, but we talked to her about how they teach these education majors how to teach science classes” said Comiskey.

McCabe said that despite his role as faculty supervisor, students are given autonomy regarding content production.

“I’m the faculty supervisor. That said though, the students have  complete autonomy. They select the guests, write the questions, and they choose the topics… it needs  to be student driven,” McCabe said. 

All that Professor McCabe claims to contribute are a few pieces of equipment. 

“I provide the microphones and stuff like that which was a recent innovation. We were just using laptop microphones that came installed on the machines, and the audio quality was questionable, so we got some nice USB microphones to improve the audio quality. And they’re using Audacity to better balance audio levels  between interviewer and interviewee because the person they’re interviewing typically doesn’t have a USB microphone,” he said. The podcast conducts interviews via Zoom.

Though it  started as a short-term project, now, with just over a year of producing episodes, Schmelzle and Comiskey said they want the legacy of “STEM at St.  Mike’s” to continue after they graduate.

“Because at first it was a short-sighted project, it would continue on as long as Cecelia and I were here,  but we’ve actually found two new co-hosts to take over the podcast for us, and we’re kind of phasing  them in this semester,” Comiskey said.  

McCabe imparts a lasting piece of advice, “There’s such intersecting realms that we all are immersed in when we have to decide ‘where do I fit, where’s my particular niche?’ and some people need to be stuck in the lab and measuring tiniest things because that’s where they’re happiest,  and other people need to write novels. And we need everybody in-between.”

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