A podcasting project that started out with a “how to navigate the future” mindset has found its groove as an informative and entertaining student-driven forum that’s creating new connections between students and alumni. How it came about, the topics covered, and who’s-who among alumni guests makes for engaging reading … or listening.
Driving to work or cleaning the kitchen, many of us turn on a podcast. Whether for entertainment, for the news, or just for company, we’re transported by engaging storytelling and by the voices of strangers. In fact, a whopping 1 in 5 American adults report listening to podcasts daily. Katie Kriegel, of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, identifies as one such “podcast person.”
When Kriegel first began working as the CLS communications coordinator in 2018, podcasts hadn’t exploded to their present level of popularity. But even then, as she sought innovative ways to connect students with CLS resources, she saw potential in the audio format.
Transitioning to a role as an exploratory adviser at the CLS in 2021, Kriegel began working primarily with first- and second-year students — students still very unsure of their path after graduation. Their uncertainty about the future and desire to create fulfilling lives solidified Kriegel’s ambition to create what would become the Going Forth podcast. The podcast, she hoped, would be a unique and impactful take on career exploration.
Over winter break in 2022, Kriegel hired Meredith Benjamin ’24 and Nicholas Lampietti ’25 as student hosts and producers of the podcast. Both Benjamin and Lampietti had prior experience in audio or audiovisual storytelling and, perhaps more important, a gift for connecting with strangers.
Under Kriegel’s supervision, Benjamin and Lampietti built a production system from the ground up: unearthing microphones from previous CLS projects, honing audio editing skills, and exploring podcast hosting platforms. At the end of February 2022, the first episode of Going Forth launched.
Many of the podcast’s early episodes tackled topics of practical interest for college students: writing cover letters, finding summer opportunities, navigating the pre-health path, and so on. But it wasn’t long before Benjamin and Lampietti began testing the waters of conversations with alumni.
First, an episode on public health amid a pandemic led them to interview Erich Giebelhaus ’92. Then they recorded an episode featuring Jay Dick ’93 and his career in government affairs.
As the Going Forth team found their groove, Kriegel says, alumni stories became the focus of the podcast. “Listeners still return to those more practical episodes, but three semesters in, the alumni conversations have absolutely been the highlight.”
Episodes released this season have featured conversations about financial reform and the importance of mentorship with Eric Otoo ’01 and examined blending astrophysics and activism with NASA’s Kartik Sheth ’93. A highly anticipated episode (and one of the hosts’ favorites) featured Oscar- nominated Kumail Nanjiani ’01 for a discussion of stand-up comedy, the importance of self-interrogation, and the special place that is Bob’s Underground.
For the Going Forth hosts, the objective of the podcast and the purpose of their conversations with alumni is to showcase the diversity of what it means to live life after Grinnell. “We’re obviously interested in compelling and fascinating life stories, but I would say our focus is much more on demystifying alumni journeys,” says Lampietti.
Episodes remind listeners of the meandering reality of a full life. As guests share their journeys from Grinnell to the present day, they reiterate the idea that a career isn’t something that simply crystallizes but, rather, is something slowly pursued and shaped. On the Going Forth pod, Grinnellians tell the stories of their doubts, failures, pivots, and passions. “The ultimate goal,” says Lampietti, “is to hear how Grinnellians have taken their experiences from the ‘Jewel of the Prairie’ and gone on to lead fulfilling lives.”
Jane Hoffman ’25 joined the Going Forth team as a student host this January, picking up the mike of Benjamin, who spent the spring semester on an off-campus study adventure traveling across Jordan, Nepal, and Chile. “As someone who deals with a lot of stress about the future and the unknown,” Hoffman says, “having the opportunity to talk to alumni who have gone down these myriad paths is affirming. It’s interesting. It’s continually engaging.”
During their conversation, Nanjiani told Hoffman, “That feeling of, ‘What do I want to do next?’ is the most exciting. I am so jealous of you that you get to be there right now, and that you have so many years ahead of figuring things out.”
It’s not often that a movie star tells you personally to enjoy life’s unknowns. But Nanjiani isn’t the first alum to tell Hoffman this.
“I find that I get so much out of these conversations,” Hoffman says. “Even when I’m talking to an astrophysicist like Sheth. I haven’t taken a physics class since high school, so there’s no future for me there. Yet I took so many lessons from that conversation — about being a free agent in your own life and making change, and about navigating challenging environments.”
“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian. I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.”
— Jason Darrah
As it showcases the diversity of postgrad Grinnell experiences and the lessons we can learn from them, the Going Forth pod is also creating conversations about what it means to “be Grinnellian.” A recent episode featured Emily Guenther ’07, director of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) at Grinnell, as well as Jason Darrah and Jason Ross, two graduates of the program.
Nearly two decades ago, Ross and Darrah were students in poetry and literature discussions led by Guenther at the Newton Correctional Facility through Grinnell’s participation in the Consortium for Liberal Arts in Prison. The initiative gives incarcerated participants the opportunity to enroll in courses taught by Grinnell faculty and earn college credits.
In the Going Forth episode, Guenther explains, “LAPP isn’t adjunct to the College’s mission, it’s at the heart of what we do.” A college’s purpose is to find and educate qualified students, she says. One place that those students can be found: in prison.
Though LAPP students cannot receive a full Grinnell diploma, something that Guenther hopes to change, they are Grinnellians in every sense of the word. Students are collaborative, creative, highly driven, and dedicated to making change in their communities and the world beyond.
“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian,” Darrah tells Hoffman and Lampietti. “I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.” Not only has the podcast given Benjamin, Hoffman, and Lampietti a platform for powerful conversations with alumni, it’s become a meaningful tool for connection both with classmates and across generations of Grinnellians.
Episodes of Going Forth typically receive the most listens when they’re heard by alumni and shared within their own networks. “We’ve noticed that alumni are really excited to hear what their classmates are up to,” says Hoffman. “I think it shows that people continue to deeply care about each other after Grinnell, even when they’re dispersed across the country and the world.”
The podcast’s guests, hosts, and listeners represent manifold lived experiences, yet they’re connected by their time on campus and by the shared title of “Grinnellian.” As a result, the conversations within episodes are characterized by a sense of mutual care, Kriegel explains.
“The really beautiful thing about this podcast is that it is coming directly from students,” says Lampietti.
The topics, alums, and interview questions that shape an episode are selected entirely by the student hosts, according to their interests.
Are there any recurring themes in their conversations with alumni?
No matter the class year, Lampietti and Hoffman say, Grinnellians love to talk about where they lived on campus. “We often have to edit out huge chunks of interviews because our guests will talk for 30 minutes about where they lived and what they got up to on the loggia roof.”
Of course, given the chance to be guests on the podcast in 10 years’ time, Lampietti and Hoffman admit that they’d probably do the same thing.
“I think about what has been distinct in my time here, and what comes to mind is my first-year residence hall on Main 4,” says Lampietti. “I didn’t realize there was something special associated with Main 4 until I did an episode with an alum who had also lived there. She talked about the wonderful community she had, like I did, and I thought, wait, there must be something in the water in Main 4.”
“Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”
— Nicholas Lampietti ’25
His involvement with Going Forth stands out to Lampietti as the defining element of his Grinnell experience, and it’s an opportunity that he and Hoffman hope is available to many more students, not just for the incredible networking opportunities and skillset they’ll gain, but also for what the future hosts themselves will bring to the recording table.
“Grinnell experiences are radically different among the student body. So, as we look to the future, I’m most excited for a new voice and for somebody whose experiences are not my own to help drive it forward and inform the conversations,” Lampietti says.
Kriegel, too, hopes to expand student involvement with the podcast. “The richness of ideas and voices that come from multiple students; I want to lean into that as much as possible.” It’s what informed her initial decision to have more than one host, and it’s what drives her to seek more opportunities for student contributions to the production process.
Just as the guests of Going Forth reflect the infinite possibilities of life after Grinnell, it’s important to the team that the hosts reflect the varied experiences of current students. The ephemeral nature of a four-year college nearly guarantees this will be the case.
As current hosts graduate and join the alumni body themselves, future students will build upon the foundation they laid. They’ll bring new voices, new interests, and new ways of looking at the Grinnell experience. And, Lampietti hopes, they’ll care just as deeply about the Going Forth podcast and find it just as rewarding as he has.
“College is hard,” says Lampietti. “Sometimes I wake up and think, ‘I want to go home.’ And then I go and have these incredible conversations with alums, and I see Grinnell through their eyes. Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”
Visit Going Forth Podcasts to listen to episodes from the past three seasons.