Well Said: WXYC and the first internet simulcast
Host:That’s a radio station in Basel, Switzerland, talking in 1994 about the first radio station in the world to rebroadcast its signal online. They’re talking about WXYC, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s student radio station.
Today, we stream nearly everything online — TV shows, movies, music. But something that seems so normal now was once just an idea in the head of a WXYC student DJ.
Michael Shoffner:I just went by Mike S. I’m not really super creative. Somebody started calling me that, so I just stayed with that.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. Mike S is Michael Shoffner. Today, he’s a software architect at RENCI, the Renaissance Computing Institute at Carolina. He’s also an adjunct professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science. Twenty-five years ago, he was a DJ at WXYC, and was working with Paul Jones in the School of Information and Library Science on an early-internet project. On this episode, Michael and Paul tell the story of how they made history a quarter-century ago.
Clinical professor Paul Jones has been at Carolina for 42 years. In 1994, he was doing what he does now — leading ibilio.org. It was known as Sunsite.UNC.edu back then. Paul calls that project a “collection of collections” on the internet. The site’s an online public library with freely available software and information, but in 1994, ibiblio and the internet looked very different.
Paul Jones:The coming of the World Wide Web set a different expectation about how the Internet would be used. Internet was mostly about file sharing whether those files were email whether they were software or whether they were audio. The earliest attempt to do some kind of radio was done by Carl Malamud in something called Internet Talk Radio. Carl would interview people in a show called Geek of the Week. Every week he would call up someone who was making the Internet happen.
Host:Those interviews were really low-quality audio files, and they were sent in a link by email with instructions on how to access them online only. The second attempt at online radio was the Mbone, short for multicast backbone, but it required complicated networking tunnels to be set-up, so it was really only for special purposes, not for everyday use. Then came the idea of video conferencing.
Jones:Conferencing was mostly done with some heavy lifting on the network side, but there was a lightweight kind of client-based program that could run on a PC or a Mac from Cornell called CU-SeeMe, CU standing for Cornell University, and you could have eight or ten people with little boxes of video if they didn’t move a lot. If they moved a lot, they looked like they were cubic, or they looked like they were slow-motion underwater. We called them jello vision and Picasso vision. It’s the two ways that video could break.
Host: But audio was much easier to compress than video, meaning it could be streamed without impacting the network so much that it became distorted, so they started using CU-SeeMe for audio instead. In comes Michael, the WXYC DJ who worked on ibiblio.
Jones:And we were kind of playing around with it and Michael Shoffner came in and said, “Why don’t we just like, play the radio,” because we were conferencing with somebody and the radio was in the background. He went, “If you got rid of that person, this would really sound good. We could broadcast radio everywhere.”
Host:With one simple question, ibiblio and WXYC stepped into uncharted territory. Michael, Paul and ibiblio’s director of multimedia research David McConville envisioned something called simulcasting: to stream the same thing in two different places. This wasn’t uncommon for radio stations to pull off in the ‘90s. Only this was an internet simulcast, something no one had done before. But there were two barriers — one technical, one legal. So, while David was adjusting CU-SeeMe’s code, someone else was trying to figure out if the whole thing was even legal.
Shoffner:Meanwhile I’m sitting there going, “If we thought of this somebody else is working on it.” In my mind, the clock is ticking, and I’m just pacing around like this, ‘Come on, guys,’ like the countdown timer in some movie or something. Tick tick tick. Those threads went along for a bit. The SunSITE folks got CU-SeeMe to work. A little after that, we got a f green light from the legal side. Well, you never know for sure, but we were really pretty certain that we were not going to run afoul of the FCC or any other rights agencies.
Host:So, after Paul and the ibiblio team recoded CU-SeeMe, it was time to make the dream a reality. Remember, though. This was in 1994, so the set-up wasn’t glamorous.
Shoffner:From the control room at the radio station to CU-SeeMe was not through ethernet or some network because there was no network here like that. What we did was I borrowed my younger sister’s little boombox that was, you know, just kind of a junker boombox she had. So, I took that thing and we set that up down at SunSite. I bought an adapter to put into David’s Mac, his workstation he worked at every day, so he plugged that adapter in there and then the boombox went to the adapter, and that was where the signal came from. Now, of course years later they replaced that feed with a real feed off the control room board and whatnot, but it was really a shoestring operation.
Host:A shoestring operation, but it made history. Nov. 7, 1994, the first radio broadcast ever streamed to the internet in the world .
Shoffner:It couldn’t have been much of a smaller I don’t want to say splash exactly, but it was just …
Host:He says this event went under the radar. If something this revolutionary were to happen today, the splash would be much bigger. But people didn’t really understand the internet back then the way they do now, so even when he did explain it to people, they didn’t really get it. Twenty-five years later, he’s not surprised that their once crazy idea is the new normal.
Shoffner:I think that it was a milestone for internet culture and just sort of media and radio and whatnot combined. It at least showed that we could do this sort of thing, that it was possible to do it. And I think that that opened up a lot of possibilities for people for media distribution especially. Now of course all music’s distributed via big services, streaming services or digitally in some way. It was a harbinger of this thing in a good way. I think it was I just think it was kind of a milestone for that.
Host:And Paul says it was a big milestone, but he didn’t really expect the idea to impact the music business the way it has.
Jones:One of the things that new technologies do sometimes is they knock the middle out, so it enabled a lot of amateurs to do a lot of work, which is kind of cool. More regional bands can be found on Spotify or Reverbnation than they ever could have hoped to have been found earlier. And very sophisticated people can also make a lot of money, so people can kind of eke by or just get some little bit, but the middle is a really hard space to play. The internet has helped somehow like if you are a zydeco band, for example, in Wisconsin, you can create an audience in Montana through this which you never would have been able to do in the radio days, or even in record distribution days.
Host:Today, you stream lots of things. Movies, TV shows, music. You’re probably streaming this podcast right now. You can thank Paul and Michael and WXYC and ibiblio for helping make that possible.
Want to learn more about ibiblio, the public’s library and digital archive? You can do that at its website, ibiblio.org. You can also learn more about the Renaissance Computing Institute where Michael works now at its website, RENCI.org.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Please tell us. Tweet us at UNC or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Learning and teaching investigative reporting
Nikole Hannah-Jones:I feel like my whole career and, in some ways, my whole life has been geared toward this moment. I’ve been obsessed with the year 1619 since I was in high school.
Host:That’s Nikole Hannah-Jones. She’s a 2003 master’s graduate of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Today, she’s a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine where she launched the 1619 Project, which examines the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves who arrived in an English-speaking colony in the Americas.
Hannah-Jones:Now, I found myself as the anniversary was approaching being at the New York Times and really understanding the power of that form to assess the legacy of slavery. I decided probably in December that I was going to pitch the project. I pitched it, and immediately Jake Silverstein, the editor and chief at the magazine, felt the passion and believed in it and said yes.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Nikole will explain how Carolina helped prepare her for a career in investigative journalism and why she’s returning to Carolina to train more journalists of color.
Nikole’s 1619 Project debuted on August 14. It’s an interactive publication featuring essays, poems, short fiction, a photo essay and a multi-episode audio series aimed at re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States.
Hannah-Jones:What the project is trying to argue is that the institution of slavery and the legacy of that slavery is one of the foundational elements of modern America. It’s a history and a legacy that’s been largely marginalized, and because of that we can’t really understand who we are. We can’t understand why things are like they are in the country until we actually grapple with the fact that slavery is at our foundations. Slavery and the anti-black racism that developed to support slavery is in almost every American institution. It’s in our culture. It’s in our politics. We really hoped that this would be an opportunity to really grapple with that legacy and hopefully give us a road map to do something different. I believe strongly in the power of truth. I don’t think that you can fix anything if you’re not honest about what the causes are. Having a project that tries to really tell — as we say in the words of John Hope Franklin — the unvarnished truth about our country means that that’s what can allow you to finally move forward, but as long as you’re in denial about what has actually caused the problems, how can you possibly fix them? So, we hope that the impact is really allowing us to confront who we are and then in that confrontation make a different decision. In that confrontation with history, it allows us to have the types of conversations that we should be having, but more importantly, I hope that it will allow us to move past conversations to actually allow us to do something to address the harm.
Host:Nikole led a tremendous amount of research, investigation and fact-checking for this project. Many of those skills she learned at Carolina, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism.
Hannah-Jones:I was a history and African American studies major, who wanted to be a journalist but didn’t know a lot of the basic tenets of journalism. I didn’t know AP style, interviewing and all of these types of skills. We sometimes forget that journalism is actually a trade, and you have to learn the skills of your trade. This place gave me the foundation in a short period of time that I needed to actually transition from a way of writing about history and not being a professional journalist into being able to graduate and becoming a professional journalist. I don’t think I would’ve gotten as far in my career without that really strong foundation, but it also was giving you the more analytical aspects of journalism, teaching you about media law, teaching you about beautiful writing, and that was really important to me as well because, ultimately, I’m an investigative reporter, but I’m also a narrative writer. We all know that you can do the most amazing investigation, but if it’s boring, nobody’s going to read it, so I think this was a place that was really able to wed those two things together. I think you see what I learned here in my work every day.
Host:To help train other journalists like her, Nikole teamed up with other journalists in 2016 to found the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. The organization trains and mentors journalists of color to learn how to be investigative reporters.
Hannah-Jones:It’s important because newsrooms represent the same racial hierarchies that we see in society, so the more important the work, the more prominent the positions, the less diverse they are, and myself and the other founders strongly believed that you are missing a lot of stories that should be told if you don’t have investigative reporting that represents the way that our population looks. For years, we’ve heard the same excuses as to why we can’t diversify investigative reporting. People always say there’s not enough qualified journalists of color, and we just got tired of waiting for other organizations to fix it and decided we would train journalists ourselves. Then you couldn’t use that excuse anymore.
Host:The society offers investigative reporting workshops throughout the country and is developing a yearlong fellowship program in New York City. Workshops cover the use of advanced technology, interviewing techniques as well as data-gathering and fact-checking resources. They also hone story pitching, project management and narrative storytelling skills. In August, the national organization moved its headquarters to Carolina’s Hussman School.
Hannah-Jones:We were so excited to come to Carolina because Carolina’s the best journalism program in the country. It would be a place where we would have students who were in the program but also be able to get the support that we need to run the organization and produce really high-quality training for journalists all across the country, and for me personally, I really, really thought it was important that the organization be in the South. This is the ancestral home for black Americans. This is a place where we really could use the type of investigative reporting that we’re trying to train journalists to do, and it was just kind of the perfect marriage of goals. We know that Dean King’s goals around these issues are very similar to mine, so we knew that we would get the support we needed. We hope that faculty and students will use us as a resource but also that we’ll be able to use them as a resource. We see it really as a collaborative relationship between the two organizations.
Host:That collaborative relationship officially kicks off on Nov. 16. During a panel discussion at the Hussman School, Nikole and the other co-founders will talk about their careers and share tips with young journalists about forging their own paths.
Hannah-Jones:It’s going to be amazing. I think all of us want to believe that we’re can have an impact, but you never know what that impact is going to be. When I was a first-year master’s student at Carolina, I certainly never thought that I would one day go on to create this organization and that the organization would come back home, so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope that we will serve as an inspiration for students. The most important things that the Ida B. Wells Society does is it gives people living examples of journalists of color who are working at the highest levels of their profession and are doing investigative reporting, and that’s so important to see those examples. I didn’t see that myself. I hope that us being here can also be transformative for students and help them see their possibilities in a way they hadn’t seen before. Personally, I love engaging with students, and I’m just very excited for it.
Host:This event also gives Nikole a chance to come back to Chapel Hill.
Hannah-Jones:I had a great time at Carolina. I had amazing professors that some of them I still speak with. I met some of my best friends. My daughter’s godmother I met on the bus ride when we came to interview for the Park Fellows. We became best friends, and she’s my daughter’s godmother. I just found it was an incredibly supportive environment for my learning. It gave me exactly what I came here to get, which were the skills to be a journalist and just being a part of the campus. I have so many fond memories. This is a place that’s very near and dear to my heart.
Host:That event on Nov. 16 is called Making a Mark: The 1619 Project, Investigative Journalism and the Caliber of Reporting Through Diverse Voices. It’s at 10:30 a.m. in Carroll Hall, the home of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The event’s free, and you can register on the school’s website, Hussman.UNC.edu.
If you’ve got a story idea, please share it with us on Twitter at UNC, or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: The art of hip-hop
Mark Katz: And when you go in, there are probably two things that you immediately notice. One is that it’s dominated by turntables. But then probably what else would also will catch your eye are two murals on either side of the room. So, it’s a unique room on campus. There aren’t that I can’t think of any other offices or spaces I’ve gone to that have graffiti on them that was commissioned.
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today we’re traveling to the Beat Lab with Mark Katz, professor of music. Mark cleared out an old storage room to create a uniquely inspiring space as a place to teach Carolina students about a more modern form of music.
When you walk into the Beat Making Lab in Hill Hall, you’ll find six sets of turntables, recorders, CD players, and controllers ready for students to experiment with. What’s most stunning is the art on the walls, inspiring a different kind of educational environment.
Katz: One is a giant mural of our mascot Rameses as a deejay scratching their record with lightning bolts shooting out of the record. That was created by a local graffiti artist Sean Kernik. And then the other side, there’s a kind of complementary mural that looks like strands of DNA, and I commissioned that from an alum who goes by the name of Saba Tage – a graduate of the art department – and she created this amazing image of DNA, the double helix of DNA, with the letters B-E-A-T strewn about, and then the motto is “The beat is the DNA.” And I asked her to create something with the theme that “the beat is the DNA of all music.”
Host: Mark teaches several classes in the Beat Making Lab, where students learn about hip hop, rap, the art of deejaying, and even dance. But rap hasn’t always been Mark’s interest.
Katz: So, to people that I know from high school and people I knew when I was growing up it’s very unlikely that I’m now doing hip-hop because that’s not how they knew me when I was in school. I was interested in classical music. I was interested in rock. I liked Led Zeppelin, I liked the blues, but I was a classical music kid. I played violin. My favorite composers were and still are Brahms and Schubert. But I remember when hip hop started to become popular and started to gain national attention.
Host: But when Mark was a teenager, he got his first taste of a different kind of sound.
Katz: The sound of scratching I first heard on the song Rockit by Herbie Hancock.
And he brought in this amazing DJ, Grand Mixer DST, now known as DXT, to this scratching. I just remember loving that sound when I was 13, it just sounded so crisp, so novel. I don’t know that I would analyze it like this, but part of what I like is that it’s kind transgressive – it scratches the surface of a record which is not meant to be scratched.
Host: In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Mark heard scratching come back around in pop and rock songs, and it sparked a new educational passion.
Katz: It reminded me how much I love that sound, and I decided that I wanted to write about it. Because what I realized is – I spent a lot of time thinking about music technology, and how people use music technology – is that what deejays were doing is that they were transforming a technology for sound reproduction into a musical instrument for sound creation. So, I just thought that was fascinating and transgressive and interesting.
Host: Mark started researching the technology DJ’s were using, and quickly discovered the craft was about much more than creating music. There is an entire culture surrounding it.
Katz: I learned that there are these things called battles, where deejays just on their own without rappers, or break dancers, B-Boys B-Girls would compete against each other and would create these scratch routines to see who could be the best. Some I went and this battle, which blew me away. I went into this dark room, there is a guy in front of two turntables wildly manipulating the records, and people were shouting and cheering and saying “ooh” and “ahh,” and it was this language that I didn’t understand, because sometimes the DJ would do something and everyone would react as if it was a terrible insult to his rival…and these were all men…and I had no idea what was going on. I was also the only one taking notes at this event, and I found out that there was a whole language, too, that’s called “turntablism.”
And people would manipulate lyrics on songs and use that as a proxy to insult their rivals. So, there is this incredible dissing that was going on, and once I became attuned to it I realized just how complex this form of musical interaction was.
Katz: I think the typical image that people have of deejays is usually a white man with a pair of headphones on, one earpiece off and one hand cupped to one of the sides of the headphones pumping his fist in the air, and not doing much more than that. So, people see that and wonder what exactly do DJs do. Do they just dance around while music is playing? And some of them do and make huge amounts of money doing it. But the thing that was so surprising to me…and I think it’s surprising to people when I talk to them about deejaying, in particular, is this form of DJing called turntablism is how much skill is involved. So that’s part of my job, I feel is to demonstrate to others who probably have a low opinion of – particularly DJing but also hip hop and in general and a lot of popular music in general – is just how much skill creativity and dedication is involved in making that music.
Host: In 2011, Mark applied for an Innovation Grant from Carolina’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities to teach students about the musical, technological, and cultural sides of deejaying.
Katz: I proposed a project in which I would create a new form of music class that would combine traditional instruction in music-making, in music history. But would do that in collaboration with musical professionals in the community, not just as guests but as co-teachers. So, in fact, I started in 2011 teaching a class called Beat Making Lab with a local producer whose professional name is Apple Juice Kid, and it was a very popular class. Everyone interested in making beats and hip hop seemed to want to get into that class and I realized there was this huge demand for hip hop instruction that students weren’t getting.
Host: Many students who have enrolled in Mark’s Beat Making Lab class and several others, such as Art and Culture of the DJ and Rock Lab, aren’t just learning the technical side of making music or scratching records. Instead, they combine new music-making skills with a deeper understanding of the culture Mark has dedicated his research to.
Katz: So, when I talk with people and tell them that I study deejaying or I run this international hip hop exchange program, they look at me and say something like, “really? You?” Or “you don’t look like you’re into hip hop,” and I’m always tempted – though I never do – ask, “So what should I look like?”
But what I do look like is a nerdy white professor – a middle-aged professor. So, I understand why I’m not…my picture isn’t in the dictionary next to hip hop. And I don’t pretend that that race doesn’t matter, and that color doesn’t matter. I’m not colorblind in terms of race, and I think it’s very important that I acknowledge that hip hop is a tradition, culture that came out of African American History and is deeply indebted to people of color; not just African Americans but Latinx culture. So, that’s something that I think is very important for me to acknowledge and respect and support. So, that’s also why it’s very important for me in the classroom not simply to be the only one who is talking about hip hop, but to bring artists in. And so that students will see a wide variety of professionals – most of them, people of color – talking to them as experts and that I’m not just the mouthpiece for hip hop. I don’t want to pretend that I can speak for hip hop myself.
Host: Mark teaches about the historical and cultural significance of hip-hop and DJing, but also challenges students to think about its evolution.
Katz: For example, Art and Culture of the DJ, which is one that I frequently teach, it’s quite a bit about the history of deejaying. It’s a study of music history through the figure of the DJ. It’s a study of the impact of musical technology on society, on culture. It’s also a study of club culture and all of the challenges and controversies around that. We talk a lot about identity, we talk a lot about queer identity because queer people – particularly queer people of color – created so much of the dance music that people love across the world.
In addition to that, they create music through their laptops. I have them create playlists, I have them create sets. They go into the lab and they learn how to do some basic scratching, they learn to do some basic mixing. Some students have become DJ’s after taking my class and have become professional DJ’s. Most people don’t aspire to that but. It’s possible that for students to do that some of the other classes take a different approach. For example, Rap Lab is largely a performance class so they will write rap songs, write rhymes every week, they will get into a cipher – which is a circle formation and improvise and work with each other. That is very intensively practical in terms of making music.
Host: The unique projects Mark assigns in his classes attract all types of Carolina students each semester. Mark says that many who enroll don’t even call themselves musicians.
Katz: One thing that really struck me is on the very first day when we were doing introductions, we brought all the students together, and one student said in response to the question which I posed to everyone – what does hip hop mean to you? He said “hip hop is my pedagogy. Hip hop is how I learn and if it weren’t for hip-hop, I’m not sure where I would be.”
And for him and a lot of other students. Hip hop is much more than just music that they like to listen to – it is part of their identity, it’s part of their culture. So, the students really, really connected to these classes. Some of them had we’re not deeply connected to hip hop already, some were, but they all came out of this having learned a huge amount both about hip hop but about themselves in terms of what it means to create art that expresses themselves – not playing other people’s music but creating their own music – or dancing and several of them said it was life-changing. I mean it wasn’t their expectation was that they were going to learn some nice moves, or they were going to make some cool beats, but they came away with a deep appreciation of the culture but also a way of understanding the power of art.
Host: Mark has also worked to bring his classes around the globe, thanks to professional DJ’s who have taught students at Carolina.
Katz: So one thing that that has been an important part of my career is that once I created the Beat Making Lab as a class I collaborated with two artists – Apple Juice Kid and Pierce Freelon – to create what was called Beat Making Lab, but it was an international workshop instead of course at UNC. And the two of them went around the world teaching beat making — or music composition with electronic equipment — in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fiji, Ethiopia, Panama, and it became a really vibrant and successful way of going into communities collaborating with local young people to create music, then donating equipment to the local communities so that they can continue to make music.
Host: Ok, so my last question is, what is your DJ name?
Katz: OK. So, I’ll have to tell you this story [laughs] so I do have a DJ name. Traditionally DJs don’t come up with their own names. It’s considered the most authentic way to get a name is for it to be bestowed upon you, or for it to just manifest itself. So anyway, DJ name came about. I think…14 years ago and I remember the incident because I was holding my daughter who was a baby, and she was looking at me, and she was flailing her arms around me at my face, and my wife was standing there and she said, “Anna don’t scratch daddy!” And then somehow you know there’s a light bulb that went off the clouds parted, and I realized that my DJ name was Scratch Daddy. And so that is my DJ name.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said. While you won’t be able to catch a performance by Scratch Daddy, you can learn more about Mark’s courses at music.unc.edu.
Do you have an idea for an episode of Well Said? Send us a tweet @UNC, or shoot us an email at email@example.com. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.
Well Said: It's OK to have seconds
Andrew Hardaway:My favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Oh, it’s got to be football. You know, sitting down with family and friends and watching football. Maybe enjoying a beer and some leftovers or some pies. It’s a cliché, but I love it.
Host:Thanksgiving is all about football, family and food. Lots and lots of food.
Hardaway:My favorite thing to eat is probably mashed potatoes, specifically my mom’s mashed potatoes. See look, we’ve already transitioned into food. This is going to be a perfect segue.
Host:A perfect segue because Andrew Hardaway researches how food interacts with the brain at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine as a research assistant professor in the department of pharmacology.
Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Andrew will explain the differences between binge eating and the overeating we all might do on Thanksgiving, so don’t worry about loosening your belts on that day. But, first, he’ll define comfort food.
Hardaway:I would say a comfort food is something that when you eat it, you get some other, greater, subjective feeling about it. It evokes some feeling of satisfaction or nostalgia that goes along with it in addition to it just tasting good. It’s probably going to taste good too, but how much sugar, how much fat it has, it’s probably less important. I associate fried chicken and mashed potatoes with my mom, right? A novel food that you ate for the first time is not going to have that. The memories that are most evocative to me are usually associated with music, smells or food, so they have these sensory components. All of these things come together with particular foods to create a comfort food.
Host:But there’s a difference between overeating a comfort food on Thanksgiving and a binge eating disorder.
Hardaway:The really objective ways to operationalize binge eating is that it’s a large amount of food consumed within a short amount of time. Those are the objective components: a lot of food, short amount of time. For people who have binge eating disorder, there’s also these subjective components as well. For people who have a binge eating disorder or engage in binge eating, they also had this sense of loss of control, like they literally cannot stop eating. You can’t snap them out of it when they’ve got a whole bag of Doritos or whatever it is that they’re binge eating, and Thanksgiving is this time where we naturally let up on the brakes a little bit, and we allow that to happen. But there’s a ritual behind it. There’s a socialization behind it, and that’s really different from doing this alone at your house with no one else around and being nonresponsive and experiencing a loss of control.
Host:At Carolina, Andrew conducts his research out of a lab led by Thomas Kash of the School of Medicine.
Hardaway:Tom Kash is my mentor and the principal investigator of the lab where I work now. He is in the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies and the department of pharmacology. Most of the Kash Lab focuses on neural circuits of alcohol use disorders and how specific neural circuits in the brain contribute to specific components of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorders. This fits in in that in terms of comparing food intake to different types of drugs of abuse or alcohol, there’s actually a lot of shared neural circuitry between those two in terms of how they contribute to the consumption of those, whether it’s alcohol or whether it’s tasty food, whether it’s kale salad or whether it’s a drug of abuse, like cocaine or opioids. There’s actually a lot of shared neural circuitry between the two.
Host:Earlier this year, Andrew published a research paper about what’s happening in brains when a large amount of food is consumed in a short amount of time — like say, over a holiday meal, for example. He found something interesting happening in the amygdala — the area of the brain associated with memory, decision-making and emotional responses. He found that cells in this area were highly activated after a period of binge eating. These cells were generating a peptide — or a short chain of amino acids — similar to those targeted by hard drugs of abuse, like opioids.
Hardaway:So, then we started digging into more of the specific cells in the central amygdala, and we found a novel cell population in the central amygdala. In the central amygdala, there are these cells that highly express this peptide called Prepronociceptin, and this is an opioid-like nerve peptide. It’s been understudied and only kind of recently discovered relative to these other very well-known opioid-like peptides. And we got interested in that peptide because some earlier studies had shown that Nociceptin can also evoke the same type of voracious feeding pattern, so that suggested to us that there’s some kind of synergy here perhaps between cells in the CEA that express Nociceptin and how Nociceptin in the peptide actually works to promote feeding behavior.
Host:What Andrew found is that tasty food activates Prepronociceptin cells in the central amygdala. He found a correlation, that they’re activated during this process. But, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually contributing to it. To determine that, he took a more casual approach to his experiment. He manipulated the amount of time there was access specifically to the high-calorie, tasty food. And, he used neural circuit tools at Carolina to analyze the brain activity when these cells were present and when they weren’t.
Hardaway:We did this acutely, so just short-term access to the palatable food, and then we did this over the long term, too, so, those were two, kind of, causal methods we showed that not only are they activated, but they actually contribute to the palatable food consumption process itself. The key takeaways from this research is that these cells in the central amygdala are critical for driving hedonic food consumption.
Host:And, understanding how the brain is involved in this process can help develop medications and therapies for people with food disorders.
Hardaway:There are ways that you can treat these people. First, I’ll speak to people with binge eating disorders. They can be treated with behavioral therapies, and those work pretty well. Some people respond much better to behavioral therapy in conjunction with pharmacological therapy. And, there are some out there, but they don’t work for all people. You might need to employ a cocktail of approaches to treat these people better. For people with obesity, they might want to lose weight. They might not. It might be critical for those people to lose enough weight, so they can control their Type 2 diabetes symptoms. For those people, it’s very difficult to just flip a switch in their brain and change the behaviors, and they just need help initially treating those symptoms of diabetes, and obesity also increases the risk for a number of other conditions, especially cardiac conditions. For these people, they need another tool in the toolbox if they choose to use it, and that’s what we’re going to provide.
Host:Andrew’s research can apply to anyone when they sit down for their Thanksgiving meal. And even when they go back for seconds.
Hardaway:The other part that is more of like the human experience element that I think about a lot, and that is the simple notion of comfort foods. A couple of years ago when I gave a talk, I started my talk — I always like to start my talks with a picture of something really tasty because I find that engages people — but I started mine with a picture of my mom, and she had just cooked some fried chicken. That’s one of my comfort foods, and I started with that because the comfort food idea is that we suffuse foods with emotional value and so, not surprisingly, what my work is showing and what other people have shown in humans and other species is that the amygdala, which is the brain’s emotional center, is important for this process of suffusing food with emotional value. At Thanksgiving, when you sit down and you think about your favorite food, think about how your amygdala is probably being activated in that moment.
Host:While we’re all sitting down for Thanksgiving, Andrew will actually be in the process of moving. He is starting a new position as an assistant professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s department of psychiatry, where he’ll continue to research what’s going on in our brains when we eat. In addition to all of the boxes, books and stuff he’ll take with him to Birmingham, Andrew will also take the tools and skills he learned here at Carolina.
Hardaway:It’s been a really amazing experience both from a basic science perspective of having all these wonderful tools at my disposal to do the research, but then having it being informed by a translational perspective has been so critical to this work. The UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders here at UNC has been critical in this work and providing me with a translational mindset. I don’t think I could’ve talked to you here today unless I had really spent a lot of time with these people and understood eating disorders better. I think that could’ve have happened really anywhere else, so I’m pretty grateful for this environment and specifically that interaction for this work.
Host:What’s your comfort food? What will you be getting a second or third helping of on Thanksgiving? Share with us on Twitter at UNC, or send us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. We’d love to hear from you and other thoughts and ideas you might have for us. You can find Well Said wherever you listen to podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks for listening to this episode. See you next week.
Well Said: This is your brain on stress
Anthony Zannas: It’s a normal reaction. It’s a very conserved response. We see it pretty much in all organisms — even in single-celled organisms. It’s an inevitable part of life. Whenever we can prevent what we call excessive or chronic and persistent stress, then we should, but in many cases, it’s not possible to avoid it. What we want to do is to teach the individuals how to best deal with it.
Host:That’s right. Everyone gets stressed. Kids, traffic, jobs. Whatever it is we all have stressors. For many students, one of those stressors are exams. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, final exams begin Dec. 6.
Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, we’re talking about stress with Anthony Zannas. He’s an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, and he studies how our genes interact with stressors and what that means for our physical health.
Zannas: In many cases, it is a very good response for survival. You know, it’s a response that you need to survive when your life is threatened. You need to have this hyperarousal and take immediate action. Now, one difficulty that we have to face is that we have this conserved mechanism in terms of how we respond to stress, but our life is not on a day-to-day basis threatened. But, we get this constant chronic low-level stress, which can become problematic. No one can escape from it. We have to learn ways to deal with it.
Host:Problematic because stress negatively affects our health — from low-level stressors to long-term burnout.
Zannas:There are very profound changes including increase in blood pressure, increase in heart rate, and this is part of the adrenaline response. Adrenaline goes high, or another kind of similar chemical called noradrenaline. There are also many hormonal changes at the time of stress. One very well-known hormone that we know increases after stress is called cortisol. And this we can see in the blood of individuals that are exposed to stress, but also in many other parts of the body. Sometimes in the short-term, we see this hyperactivity, high levels of cortisol, high blood pressure, high heart rate, but in the long run, many times what you’ve seen individuals that have been exposed to chronic stress, especially, is a decreased response to stress. We can think of it as burnout of the stress system, so those individuals cannot respond any more to stress.
Host: Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is crucial to maintaining health and balance in the body. Think of cortisol as the body’s built-in alarm system. It’s the fight-or-flight hormone, which is great for life-or-death situations but not so great when worried about work or an exam.
Zannas: Cortisol goes up when we’re exposed to stress. It’s a very acute response immediately after exposure to stress. Within a few minutes, we can detect this increase in cortisol in the blood. We see very different responses across individuals, so some will have a much higher increase in cortisol. Some will have less. Some will have even no increase in cortisol. A big part of that is how the brain interprets the exposure to stress because the whole cascade that leads to increase in cortisol starts at the level of the brain, so there’s something detected in the brain, a stressor, by our emotional centers in the brain. This leads to a hormonal cascade that in the end leads to exposure to cortisol, so if we could train the brain on how to interpret these stressful experiences, we might be able to dampen the increase in cortisol or other hormones that we detect in the blood and the other parts of our body.
Host: That’s what Anthony is trying to do. His lab’s research focuses on something called epigenetics, which is the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off. This can help predict how your body will respond to stress based on your genetics.
Zannas: It’s something related to genetics but a little bit different. The term is a Greek term. It comes from a combination of the prefix, “epi,” which in Greek means “on top of” and “genetics.” So, with epigenetics, you don’t change the sequence of the genes. The sequence of the genes is the same. This is what we’re born with pretty much. But we change some chemicals that are on top of DNA. Those chemical changes will determine whether the genes will be active or not. It’s like a set of chemical switches, or you can think of it as a very complex set of chemical rheostats that will fine tune how the genes will work, and this will affect how cells work and how our bodies work. And, this is part of where epigenetics might help because if we can detect these epigenetic changes that happen in response to stress early on, before we even have the emergence the development of these disorders, then we might have a chance of intervening or targeting those individuals earlier .
Host: Basically, some people are genetically predisposed to be more stressed. Predicting their responses to stressors can help them deal with their stress in a healthier way, which is critical to overall health.
Zannas:We are interested in many different types of disease that are related to stress, not only psychiatric disorders, but also, for example, individuals that are stress chronically have been shown to age faster. We’re understanding this connection between stress and aging. And, this can lead to other diseases like cancer, like cardiovascular disease, which are already related to aging and stress. You see that already in works of fiction. You see characters that are exposed to stress, and they appear to age very fast, like within the course of an hour of being through a very extreme stress. Their hair has become gray, they have wrinkles and so on. But, we also see it in the clinic. We see patients that have been through a very extreme stress they present with gray hair. And then there is a recovery as well. You can see this gray hair going away, so this is the good news. We learn more and more that actually not all of these effect on aging are irreversible.
Host:Think of the pictures of presidents before and after their terms. The gray hair and the wrinkles? Those were most like caused by stress. But, the good news is that some effects of stress are reversible, and there are effective solutions.
Zannas: Exercise, for example, has this effect. There are some studies showing that just reading and book and being able to really concentrate on the book. After six minutes or so, you can see a decrease in the heart rate and blood pressure of the individual. One good thing is to get a little bit disconnected when your exercise like, let the cell phone go. Pay attention to your body more because you also do better exercise if you are really focused on the moment. We can very broadly say that there are good types of stress and bad types of stress. A short duration of stress is actually a good thing as long as it’s not a very, very extreme thing. It makes us better. It’s, again, important for survival. Immediately when we exercise, we have hyperactivation of the stress response among other changes that happen when we’re exercising. Then, following that phase of exercising, actually we have release of other substances that are very beneficial. For example, they are called endorphins. It’s like a similar thing like morphine. And those help us relax.
Host: And if that doesn’t work…
Zannas: Then we can go to different levels of intervention like meditation, like psychotherapy. Basically, the individual is coached by a psychotherapist to learn different ways to cope with stress. And these medications help create the right environment for the neuronal cells to recover from this stress. With the medications we change the chemicals in the brain, and we give the opportunity to the brain to recover from the stress.
Host:Another part of managing stress is knowing yourself and your body.
Zannas:The most important thing is to take care of themselves. Each of us know about or is learning about ourselves and what makes us feel better. One thing I want to make clear is that we don’t want to avoid stress. There are certain things in life that we have to come in terms with, that we have to face. There are many studies showing that the more you avoid a stressful situation, the more stressful it will become when you actually face it. This is something called in psychology, in psychiatry avoidance of a situation. I would recommend not avoiding but facing the situation and finding ways to take care of ourselves. There are simple things, like a healthy diet definitely plays a role in better regulating all the stress responses, exercising regularly, having enough time to sleep. Sleep, sleep is a big factor as well. Friends and social support is very important.
Host:Stress is a part of life. So, the next time you have a big meeting or find yourself in the middle of finals, take a deep breath, get some sleep, and hang out with friends.
Zannas: Whenever we can prevent what we call excessive or chronic and persistent stress, then we should, but in many cases, not possible to avoid it. But, what we want to do is to teach the individuals how to best deal with it. Part of that is learning going through life and learning from experience to experience you know, how to cope with these situations. Some of us are lucky and able to learn it. Someone can see it as a work in progress for everyone, but some are not able to do that, and in those cases, we have to propose other solutions.
Host: If you want more information about stress and how it interacts with the body or Anthony’s lab, you can find that on the School of Medicine’s website, Med.UNC.edu. They’re looking for volunteers interested in the field.
And if you’re looking for resources to help handle stress, you can find them at CampusHealth.UNC.edu.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: From Carolina to Cisco
Bryan Hernandez:I think that they’ll definitely be proud just because my parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, and they gave up everything, so we had at least the chance to go to college. It’ll definitely feel like their hard work paid off too. It’s not just mine. It’s definitely theirs.
Host:That’s Bryan Hernandez, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explaining how he’ll feel at Winter Commencement on Sunday when he joins more than 1,500 other Tar Heels in moving onto their next chapters in life.
And this is Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Bryan will share with us why he’s grateful for the opportunities he’s had at Carolina and how he plans to pay it forward for the next generation of Tar Heels.
When Bryan was in high school in Sanford, North Carolina, he knew that he wanted to be a Tar Heel.
Hernandez:Carolina was just the best school around when you consider price and how far away it is. I wanted a school that was far away enough from home that I had my own space, but I could also come back in case anything happened.
Host:Bryan applied to Carolina as a high school senior, but he didn’t get accepted. Instead of going to another university, Bryan decided to take advantage of Carolina’s C-STEP program.
Hernandez:What the program is for people who don’t know, you apply your senior year of high school, and you can also apply your first year at Sandhills or any community college that is in the program. They’ll look at your application, take into account different factors such as your grades or extracurriculars or anything like that, and then they will go ahead and pre-admit you to transfer over to Carolina whenever you’re done at community college, and you have to have a certain GPA and things like that but a relatively simple program.
Host:Bryan studied at Sandhills Community College for two years, completing his general education requirements. Then, he transferred into Carolina in the fall of 2017 as a junior majoring in business administration at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Hernandez:The business school’s just a more small-knit community. You’re working with a lot of the same people on group projects. They’re going through the same classes. You’re seeing a lot of the same people every day within this one building. That kind of helped me find a group of friends, and then obviously as you spend more time on campus, you find more friends, too, but I would say the small, close-knit community of the business school was really helpful, and then just having a wide variety of people that you can talk to on main campus was really nice.
Host:While a student in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, Bryan took advantage of every opportunity he could. The undergraduate program in the business school offers seven career treks each year. Bryan went on the Tech Trek, which is for students interested in the business side of technology.
Hernandez:We went out to San Francisco during spring break. We have obviously a lot of connections in the Bay Area at really reputable companies, like Google and LinkedIn and DropBox. We did a lot of company visits. I think the first one was Google. The goal of that was to learn about the company as a whole, what they do and then to kind of give you some people within that company that can help you find that ideal career path. A lot of it was networking and just learning more about the companies. And then obviously there was the piece where you get to explore the city, which that was honestly really fun.
Host:Another company the group met with in San Francisco was Cisco. Bryan leveraged that tour to land an internship there this past summer.
Hernandez:I interviewed and actually got to talk about my experience on the Tech Trek, and I think that kind of really helped me stand out when compared to other people because I knew about the cool technology, like Webex, or Spark at the time, that Cisco was working on. I knew what the company did as a whole. I knew what a lot of their focus was on. That really helped me to stand out when going into the interview. And then from there, I figured out that I wanted to do sales because that was the team that we were supporting. We were supporting sales, so within the company, I networked. I reached out to different people, Carolina graduates and all that, and they helped me prepare for the internship interview, and then even while at the internship, we still had one more interview to go through before we got the full-time offer. Again, just reaching out to people that you know from Carolina or at Cisco and just making sure that you’re prepared.
Host:So, that full-time position at Cisco as an associate sales rep came from his internship. And that internship came from his trip out to California with the business school.
Hernandez:I did expect it to be valuable, but I didn’t think it would lead me where I’m going now. I honestly didn’t know where I was going to go at the time. That kind of helped me figure out I probably would want to work in a tech company, but it just didn’t solidify at the time. Now, obviously, going to Cisco, it’s crazy to just kind of retrace my steps and realized that that’s what led me to Cisco.
Host:When he thinks about Carolina, trips like the Tech Trek are what come to mind.
Hernandez:I just think of opportunity whenever I think of how lucky I am to be at Carolina. Before I got to Carolina, I thought that the only careers available in business was just like a regular manager at a small business, which is great. There’s definitely people that really enjoy that, but then I came here, and I found out that there’s all these careers in like banking or consulting or sales or marketing, and so I just really think of opportunity, whether you’re at the J-school, whether you’re at the B-school, whether you’re premed. There’s just so much going on here and so much opportunity that comes with being at a school like this.
Host:As Bryan approaches the end of his Carolina career, it’s time for him to start thinking about graduation and all the work that’s gotten him to this moment.
Hernandez:Definitely excitement. It’s kind of been a long time coming. It’s been a lot of work, and, obviously, I didn’t get in the first time, so just kind of knowing that even if you persist, you can accomplish what you want to. I didn’t get accepted the first time and found a different way in and then managed to get into the business school and got a well-rounded education and have a job. I think that is just kind of the culmination of a lot of hard work, so I’ll definitely be proud of the fact that I was able to accomplish what I wanted to.
Host:As his time as a Carolina student is coming to an end, Bryan reflects on the value of the education he’s received.
Hernandez:The value of a Carolina education would probably be just how challenging it is. I know, for a lot of people, going to school is just about getting a degree and checking the boxes. It kind of was that for me before just because I’m like, “Man, I don’t want to wait four more years.” But, once you come here, you really realize how challenging it can be. When you come to Carolina, you have to try and figure you get problems and in class, and then you’ll get something totally different on the exam, and that’s just to test how flexible you are. There’s a lot of flexibility and just being able to think outside the box that is required to be here at UNC, so thinking critically and working with others, that’s been a big thing too. Yeah, I would say the difficulty of the courses and then just having that exposure to teamwork has just been something that I would say makes Carolina stand out.
Host:Bryan also thinks about how that valuable Carolina education has prepared him for his next steps after college.
Hernandez:It’s definitely challenged me to go outside of my comfort zone. I know one of my least favorite classes going into it was BUSI401, which is our communications class that every business major has to take. One, it’s a really challenging class because almost no one gets an A, but, two, it forces you to speak in front of people and just be confident about what you’re saying, so that was a really big challenge for me with public speaking, so I think that was something that I definitely improved on and still improving on as I go. You know, those soft skills like communication, teamwork, but also kind of giving you a foundation with those hard skills, whether it be corporate finance or business analytics, I just think I got a really well-rounded education from Carolina. I think that’s what prepared me.
Host:Finally, he thinks about how he’ll help other Carolina students like him in the future.
Hernandez:Just pay it forward. All those people that helped me, the students that helped me with studying or with classwork, all the alums who helped me get to where I am today. I think that’s definitely what I’ll take forward. Any time someone from Carolina reaches out, it would be nice to reach back out to them as soon as I can just because I know what it was like being that student that wanted to learn more about a certain role or learn more about a certain company, so just paying it forward whenever you get the chance to.
Host:Winter Commencement is Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Dean E. Smith Center. More than 1,500 Tar Heels will have their degrees conferred. This ceremony will celebrate undergraduate and graduate students who graduated in August and December.
There are 14 community college partners in the C-STEP program. It stands for Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program. You can find out more about the program on Admissions.UNC.edu.
Do you have a story idea for Well Said? Please share it with us on Twitter @UNC, or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. It helps others find us too. Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: The sounds of Winter Commencement
Kevin Rodriguez:As vice president of the class of 2020, I’m privileged to lead you in moving your tassels from right to left, signifying your new status as graduates. Congratulations.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. Today, we’re celebrating the more than 1,500 Tar Heels whose next chapters in life began Sunday at Winter Commencement.
Kevin Guskiewicz.:Welcome to the 2019 Winter Commencement ceremony of the nation’s first public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Host:Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz kicked off the event by welcoming the undergraduate, graduate and professional students.
Guskiewicz: You have made it, and we are excited to celebrate your accomplishments today.
Host:The event was his first as chancellor after being appointed to the position on Dec. 13.
Guskiewicz: Today, we recognize your hard work, accomplishments and contributions here at Carolina. You’re graduating from an amazing institution. It’s not only the leading global public research university in the nation but also the place that you can always call home. That feeling of home and the memories that make it so will stay with you. Maybe it will be the memory of sitting around a T.V. in an overcrowded dorm room watching an ACC game or looking over your friend at 6 a.m. in the library as you both realize the 8 a.m. exam is probably not going to go very well or a conversation in the lab with one of your research mentors or maybe while reading poetry at Linda’s as part of Michael McPhee’s Linda’s fellowship. Whatever it is that binds you to this place as home, the good memories and the tough memories, I urge you to hold onto them. This will always be a home for you.
Host:To help celebrate the graduates, Chancellor Guskiewicz turned to Bill Ferris to share words of wisdom with them from his distinguished career researching and documenting folk life of the American South.
Bill Ferris:Thank you, Lenore. What an honor it is to be with all of you here today, and what a journey you and your families have completed that brings you to this moment. Congratulations to the family members and special friends who are with us today for this momentous occasion. My brother was a farmer, who often said that when you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there. Each of us are like that turtle, and the families and friends who helped us arrive at this place we are celebrating today.
Host:Bill is the Joel R. Williamson eminent professor emeritus of history. Beloved by his students, he has received worldwide acclaim for his research and documentation of folk life in the American South. His box set, “Voices of Mississippi” won two Grammy Awards in February. Even though Bill has seen and learned so much, he’s still learning today. And, he encouraged the graduates to learn every day from everyone around them.
Ferris:I want to share with you a few thoughts about teachers and how they shape our lives from birth to death. Each of you have worked with great teachers in classrooms at Carolina, but others outside the classroom have also enriched your life and will continue to do so. Open yourself to all of those people, likely and unlikely. My father once told me, “You can learn from every person whom you meet in life a lesson.” I’ve never stopped listening. As a folklorist, I’ve learned from quiltmakers, from blues singers and storytellers. My work is grounded in memory and a sense of place that is framed by the farm where I was born and by its people, black and white.
Host:Bill shared stories of the lessons he learned from those quiltmakers, singers and storytellers, and he reminded the graduates of how their experiences at Carolina have prepared them to have an impact on their communities.
Ferris:Your Carolina education will help you face both your history and your future. You carry the tools to build a brighter future for our nation and our world. Thank you.
Host:Following Bill’s remarks, each school presented graduates, and Chancellor Guskiewicz conferred their degrees.
Guskiewicz: Now, will all the degree candidates please rise? By the virtue vested in the University of North Carolina by the state of North Carolina and by the university entrusted to me, I hereby confer upon you the degree for which the faculty has certified you together with all the rights and privileges thereunto pertaining, effective Dec. 31, 2019, and I offer you my warmest congratulations. I now call upon Kevin Rodriguez, vice president of the senior class to come forward and lead you in the switching of your tassel signifying your graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Rodriguez: As vice president of the class of 2020, I’m privileged to lead you in moving your tassels from right to left, signifying your new status as graduates. Congratulations.
Host:Addressing this group of now Tar Heel alumni, Chancellor Guskiewicz encouraged the graduates as they embark on their careers.
Guskiewicz: Welcome to the ranks of 336,000-plus alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You are graduating today in 2019, but most of you will be retiring around the year 2070. Think about that. It’s not too early. What jobs will you be retiring from? Regardless of what degree might be on your diploma today, I’m confident that our world-class faculty has prepared you to excel in your chosen field but also to successfully pivot as needed toward those careers that may not yet exist today but will have a significant impact in the world we live in.
Host:And, Chancellor Guskiewicz used the words of Fred Rogers to inspire the students to continue Carolina’s legacy of serving others. He said a hero is someone who responds to the world’s needs.
Guskiewicz: As we conclude our program today, my charge to you is to first be the hero Mr. Rogers describes and to be a hero that your hometown would be proud of. You may never live there again or may not be going back tomorrow, but never forget the impact that it had on your life. Be someone that your hometown owns. Be a son or a daughter of your place who gives back to your community. Second, I charge you to give it your all each and every day. UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance once described a champion as someone bent over, drenched in sweat at a point of exhaustion when no one is watching. Be that person, and do it trying to solve your community’s problems. Be an influencer, a catalyst, someone who answers the call to action. There will be many times when the challenges just seem too big, and maybe they are, but always just keep trying. That is the moment where greatness happens. And, finally, be patient because your dream job won’t likely be your first one. It’s about deferred gratification, knowing you must pay the price now to reap the reward later, so I urge you to take steps that will get you a job with a mission you believe in. It took me hard work and patience to get here today, leading our great university. This job is an honor, and I am excited for it because I believe in Carolina’s mission, the work our great university does in preparing graduates like yourselves. It’s the most vital work that I’ve ever been a part of. My hope is that in the months to come, just as you throw yourself into the hard work of improving your hometown, your state, your country and your world, Carolina will continue on its journey to being the best it can be.
Host:To conclude the event, the graduates linked arms once again to sing the alma mater. This time, they were doing so as alumni.
Congratulations to all of the graduates. We can’t wait to see where you’ll head next. But, remember, Chapel Hill will always be home.
To hear the amazing stories of some of these graduates, visit our website, UNC.edu. And, to see all the buzz and excitement from this past weekend, follow the hashtag, #UNCgrad on Twitter and Instagram or visit any of our social media channels. You can find that on UNC.edu, too.
And, if you’d like to hear more from the commencement speaker Bill Ferris discussing his work that led to two Grammy awards, listen to our February episode, “Songs of the American South.”
Thank you for listening to Well Said this week and every week — and for sharing it with a friend. We’ll be back in January.
Well Said: The fall season rewind
Host:Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast. I’m your host, Will Rimer. We’re excited for all of the new things the spring semester has in store for us, but before it really gets rolling, let’s take a look back at some stories from this past fall. On this week’s episode, we’ll update you on two stories. We’ll catch up with two people who participated in two big events at Carolina.
First, we’ll talk about the Tar Heel Bus Tour. The three buses packed with faculty, staff and administration covered more than 1,600 miles across North Carolina — from the Blue Ridge Mountains to coast. The purpose of this tour was to learn how Carolina is serving the needs across the state and discover new ways Carolina can continue to help. One of the staff members on the bus was Maria Estorino. She’s the associate university librarian for special collections and the director of Wilson Library.
Maria Estorino:If you ever rode a bus in school, it was a lot like that in that the rowdy people were in the back and the quieter people were in the front. If you were like me, you sat in a different spot every time depending on what mood you were in. If I felt like I wanted some quiet time and just time to reflect or to just look out the window, I would head towards the front, and if I wanted to have some more fun or just be part of some of the larger conversations, I would sit in the back. That was the kind of organic way that the day unfolded, but we were very fortunate to have a great leadership team on our bus. We had Martin Brinkley, dean of the law school, as our color commentator, and he was incredible in providing historical context. We were also incredibly fortunate to have Anita Brown-Graham as the host on our bus, and she also was amazing at providing more information, answering our questions.
Host:Maria went on the southeastern route, and her first stop was in Siler City, where she heard from Paul Cuadros about his work the Latinx community there, which we also featured on Well Said on Sept. 18.
Estorino:I was very excited actually to kick it off in that way. I am Latinx. My family is from Cuba, so I was really interested in Paul’s work and also in learning more about that context, especially so close to Chapel Hill but also because it turns out that that parish priest was Cuban. There’s not a lot of us in the state of North Carolina, so it’s always exciting to meet someone else with that same history and background, so we had a chance to talk a little bit about that in addition to the larger work that they’re doing in Siler City.
Host:Maria has been at Carolina for almost three years, and it was little connections like the one with the parish priest in Siler City that stood out to her about the bus tour.
Estorino:I hoped that there would be opportunity to connect with other members of this campus community and to see parts of the state that were less familiar to me and less familiar to me for a couple reasons. One, I’m not from North Carolina. I’m from Miami, Florida, so the state itself is new to me. Two, I have lived primarily in big cities, Miami, New Orleans, Boston. I have lived a very urban life, and North Carolina is not that. It’s not centered around its major metropolitan areas. I don’t know that I expected it, but it was definitely something that I gained a lot from. Being in parts of the state that are away from the kind of urban centers of the state was really educational for me. I don’t have much experience with farms. We were in Clinton, for example, and I learned a lot about the farming in that area and how it has changed over the decades and what the demands and opportunities are for those communities. What I was hoping to get out of it was to learn more about the state that now as a part of UNC, I serve in my role.
Host:While on the road, Maria learned more about how she can help serve the people of North Carolina in her role at Wilson Library.
Estorino:We at the library, especially at Wilson special collections library, have always really been connected to the public mission of this university. The collections that we create and steward, we hold them in public trust. They serve our campus, our students, our researchers and our faculty. But, really, they are for the public, and we take that very seriously. All of our services are open to the public. There are no restrictions on who can use our collections, and that public service ethic as a newcomer, I have found to be very strong in the library, so I felt that was an important thing for me to connect with as well. I had worked at a private university before, so that was a big change.
Host:The tour also helped her connect with other Tar Heels across campus.
Estorino:This a large campus. It’s a big place. It was a very quick way to get in the mix and start talking to people that I might not have had a chance to speak with or interact with or think together with about interesting topics had it not been for being stuck on a bus together for three days. The experience of getting to know so many different faculty and administrators from across the campus is also something that stays with me. I feel very fortunate to have had that time. I look forward to how that could potentially continue into the future, where perhaps natural connections might not continue day-to-day, but you could in a sense create a sense of cohort in how you might reach across campus to think about the challenges and the opportunities of our state and how you might bring together people from different disciplines or different administrative functions at the campus to try to address some of those challenges and opportunities.
Host:Of all those great experiences and memories, Maria says what will stay with her the most from the Tar Heel Bus Tour is the new perspective it gave her.
Estorino:There are so many different ways to think about and to be in and to experience North Carolina. While my work does not so directly interact with students in that I mean I’m not teaching in a classroom, I’m not providing direct services to students, I thought it was really important to see the places where our students come from. That was really transformative, as well. We really need to understand North Carolina in order to be able to better serve the student, not just the educational experience of being at a university but really the whole student. I think that being able to be on the bus certainly made me more aware of that, the great diversity of places that our students come from, the great diversity of experiences that they may or may not have when they come to this campus and how that might inform what their experience is. No matter what part of the university you work in, that’s something really important to know and to understand and to reflect on. The University has and will continue to need to redefine what it means to be from North Carolina, of North Carolina, for North Carolina. That is something that really lingered with me. Our job is not to help people become Tar Heels. It is to let those students in those communities redefine what it means to be a Tar Heel, so that it is a shared definition of what it means to be a Tar Heel, what it means to be a North Carolinian.
Host:Moving on from the Tar Heel Bus Tour, we’ll talk to one of the students we met earlier this year, and we’ll allow him to reflect on his experiences in his first semester as a Tar Heel.
Host:We introduced you to Jovan Sheshbaradaran at FallFest in August. It’s the event with lots of free food, t-shirts and other giveaways. It’s also where students can sign up to join more than 800 Carolina student organizations.
Jovan Sheshbaradaran:I remember signing up to be a member of the BSM. I think I looked for the student government table. I think I signed up there. I looked into admissions ambassadors. I put my name down on a lot of different things just to get emails about a lot to see what I’d be interested in. I stuck with student government, so I’m in student government right now. I’m in BSM as well. I also stuck with the Pakistani Heritage Club. I’m about to get more involved with that as the semester goes on, and then I’ll just be looking for new clubs once I come back.
Host:All of these clubs and activities on top of his classes is keeping Jovan pretty busy as a first-year student.
Sheshbaradaran:For the most part, yeah, it works out in my favor. I just don’t mind staying up late to study, so I make it work.
Host:Taking classes in business, political science, Spanish, statistics and history, Jovan was able to make it work in his first semester as an undergraduate student. But that step up from high school to college did come with a little adversity, too.
Sheshbaradaran:It was tricky. I’m not going to lie. I think every first-year comes in with big eyes and is just like, ‘Oh, this place is amazing.’ But there comes a point where there’s a slap of reality, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m in college, and I have to do college-level work.’ That required me to step up to the plate and work a little bit harder, but in the same token, I just found so much more freedom and so much more space to do what I want and express myself in different areas. It met expectations, and then it went above that. There wasn’t a day that I left my dorm feeling like it was going to be a terrible day. I had joy wherever I went on campus, and I feel like that’s what everybody feels like when they’re here.
Host:Jovan’s from Gastonia, North Carolina, and growing up there, he always noticed that joy in students who came back from Chapel Hill for winter break.
Sheshbaradaran:I remember when I’d be at home and people would tell me about Carolina, a big smile would always come over their face. I just thought to myself, ‘There must be something in the water there that makes people feel this way,’ but I definitely feel it. It just feels different here, and it makes you feel happy. It makes you enjoy life. Even when things are rough, I still have a great time here, so the first semester’s really shown that.
Host:Jovan said his fall experience has helped him get adjusted to life at Carolina and the expectations here, and he’s ready for the spring semester. He’s also already excited for Fall Fest later this year, and he has some advice for the new students of the Carolina class of 2024, who will experience it for the first time in August.
Sheshbaradaran:Have an idea of what you’re interested in before you go in. I would look at Heel Life to figure out some clubs that you’d be interested in, but don’t limit yourself. Go in there with an open mind. I know I definitely signed up for things that I never thought I’d be doing. Just come in with an open mind.
Host:If you have a story idea for the spring semester, please email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. Or tweet us @UNC.
Thank you for listening to Well Said this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Growing from study abroad experiences
Host:You know that feeling when you’re packing for a flight, but the suitcase just won’t close? You’re fighting, struggling, doing anything you can just to get it to zip.
Erin Hager:I left in the morning at 6 a.m., and the night before I left — it had to have been like 2 a.m. — I was sitting on my suitcase in my bedroom trying to get it close. I was freaking out. I was standing on it while my mom zipped it up. It was bad.
Host:For Carolina senior, Erin Hager, this struggle happened at home in Wilmington ahead of a flight to Santiago, Chile. The psychology major studied abroad there in the fall of 2018.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast. I’m your host, Will Rimer. On today’s episode, we’ll talk to Heather Ward. She’s the associate dean for Study Abroad and International Exchanges at Carolina. And then Erin will share with us what she learned from her experiences in Chile. And maybe some packing tips.
Hager:Pack way less than you think you need. Pack like you’re going somewhere for two weeks maximum.
Host:But, Erin wasn’t just going there for two weeks. She studied the whole semester in Santiago.
Hager:I took one class, actually, two classes that were intended for exchange students. One was in English, and one was in Spanish. The one in English was about gender in Chile’s history, so, basically, it was looking at the history of Chile but from a gendered perspective. The other one was called Chilean seminar, and it gave an overview of a bunch of different aspects of Chile, like economy, history, politics, and then the third class I took was a normal Chilean class, and it was geography of Chile, which was really cool. I wanted to learn a lot about where I was at, and I think I succeeded in doing that.
Host:She also wanted to work on her Spanish. Erin says she knew Spanish and was able to use it sometimes in North Carolina. But, there’s a difference when you’re using it every day, especially in Chile.
Hager:Your Spanish will improve more than anything because Chilean Spanish is the hardest Spanish. They say if you can master that, then you can master any other Spanish. Now, I love learning about the different types of Spanish from different countries. I watch videos on YouTube, and I’ll take the accent challenges to try and guess what accent is from where. It opens a whole new world for you and a whole new set of views and dynamics.
Host:Erin says the biggest benefit from her time in Chile was a new perspective that came with having new experiences and meeting new people.
Hager:Just experiencing new things, meeting new people, meeting people from all different backgrounds. Also seeing new places. The landscapes in Chile are astonishing. They’re so diverse and beautiful. A lot of it was the connections that I made with people, and the connections that I could make from learning another language, connections that I wouldn’t make if I didn’t know that language. When you make those connections, and when you learn another language, you learn more a lot more about culture and about how people perceive things, and I just really enjoyed making those connections.
Host:Study abroad experiences like Erin’s help students grow academically, personally and socially. Heather Ward is the associate dean of the UNC Study Abroad Office. Carolina offers more than 350 programs in 70 different countries. Heather says there’s not a magic formula for these transformative experiences, but they help Carolina students become nimble thinkers who are prepared for the global economy.
Heather Ward:A big part of that has to be the discomfort from having to navigate in a different reality where the street signs are in a different language and where the public transit system doesn’t look like the beautiful, free, blue buses that we have all over this campus. Learning to think on your feet is a big part of study abroad. Learning to get along with other people who are not like you in whatever way. They may not look like you. Maybe they speak a different language. Maybe they have different habits in their home life.
Hager:I definitely became a lot more confident in myself. Before Chile, I had only ever been to Canada, and I went with my cousin. In Chile, I was in a country where they spoke a different language than my own. And I was doing a lot of stuff by myself, which was very new for me, and I think a big realization was that I can do anything that I want to by myself, and that opens a lot of doors and squashes a lot of fear because if you want to do something, you can just go do it now because you know that you can do it by yourself. That’s a big way that I grew. I grew more confident in going around and talking and making friends.
Host:The perspective change Erin had also helped her to combine her passions of Spanish and helping children. As a Carolina Covenant scholar, Erin’s able to attend and graduate from Carolina debt-free. The Covenant covers full financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships and work-study placements. When Erin came back from Santiago, she was looking for a new work-study position that helped her stay connected to Chile, and she found one at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute as a research assistant.
Hager:I got back, and I realized I really needed to find some way to bridge who I was before I had this experience and who I was during my experience because those are two different things. Because who you were during that experience can’t necessarily continue while you’re back. You have to combine them somehow. I specifically looked at jobs that would help bridge that gap. I work in the research center, but it’s studying dual-lingual education, so that’s kind of my bridge. I get to do things in Spanish there, and they also work with kids from different countries and parents from different backgrounds, and I really enjoy that, so I just tried to get involved in things that brought me the same happiness that I found down there.
Host:Carolina is among the nation’s leading institutions for students studying abroad. Forty-one percent of Tar Heel students study abroad before graduation, but Carolina wants more than half of its students, regardless of financial circumstances, to study abroad by 2023. This year, the University is launching the Global Guarantee. It’s a promise that every Carolina student will have access to a global experience.
Ward:It’s our obligation as a public university to make that opportunity available for every student and to not make it a privilege for some. That’s the idea behind the Global Guarantee, that we’re promising every student can have the same opportunities.
Host:The same opportunities to have the same benefits.
Ward:We’re seeing evidence that students who study abroad do better in school. They have academic development benefits, and in fact, just a few months ago, I partnered with the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment here at Carolina. They helped us with some analysis of study abroad participants and student outcomes, so we looked at time to degree and GPA at the time of graduation controlling for things like income, Pell eligibility, first-generation status. We saw across the board that students who studied abroad were 14 percentage points more likely to finish their degrees in four years than their peers, and they ended their studies at Carolina with a GPA three-tenths of a point higher than their peers. One further benefit that I want to point out, well, two benefits, would be career preparation. More and more, we see that employers are looking for global experiences on a resume, and that becomes a point of distinction. You walk into an interview with a resume with 10 other students from this institution. What are you going to talk about? Well, that semester that you were in Shanghai becomes a thing that really sets you apart from your peers. And then social capital. More and more our career networks, our social networks are connected. Students who study abroad have a broader social network. They have all these other contacts in china and in Vietnam and in Switzerland or wherever they studied abroad that they can draw upon when it’s time to look for that next step in their career trajectory.
Host:For Erin, that next step in her career trajectory is graduation. After that, she plans to go abroad again. Maybe back to Chile but definitely another Spanish-speaking country. She wants to teach English there before going onto graduate school.
Hager:I know it’s cheesy and you always say it, or you always hear it, but it really does change your life and changes the trajectory that your life can take. It opens up a lot of new opportunities that you didn’t know were possible and a lot of futures that you didn’t know were possible. You learn a lot. You meet a lot of amazing people. People meet people while they’re abroad whether they’re from that country or other international students, and they keep those friendships for a really long time. I know I always see them. They will go and visit each other in different countries. When you go abroad, you build a network around the world, and that lasts. And that’s really cool because you learn about other countries too and other backgrounds. It makes you realize how small you are but also how big the world is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It was a really cool thing to realize.
Host:And if you remember, Erin also realized that you don’t need to pack everything you’ll need for six months even if you’re going there for that long.
Hager:I definitely packed too much. A lot of it was just shirts I didn’t wear. There were some shirts I didn’t even wear once while I was down there. Then, I was like, “why did I bring this?” Shoes. I packed way too many shoes. I basically wore the same pair of shoes the entire time I was there. Don’t bring any shampoo. Don’t bring any conditioner unless there’s something really specific. Like, you have to have this specific product and you don’t think they’ll have it there. Bring that, for sure, if it’s something you don’t want to not have, but otherwise I know I packed shampoo and conditioner and body wash, and I got down there, and I found they had all those same brands that I use and all of those things, and that stuff and really heavy. I had to pay for weight on my suitcase because that’s all liquids, and it’s heavy. So pack less. Learn from me.
Host:Maybe you’re not packing yet, but you think one of the more than 350 Carolina programs is right for you. Learn more about those programs at the Study Abroad website. It’s StudyAbroad.UNC.edu. Or visit the Study Abroad Fair on Jan. 24th in the Carolina Union. The deadline to apply for summer, fall and year-long terms is February 10th. UNC Study Abroad awards more than $1 million each year in scholarships. The deadline for those scholarships is also February 10th.
And this week on Carolina’s website, we’re highlighting even more Tar Heel students and faculty members with valuable global experiences. Read and watch them at UNC.edu.
Did you study abroad at Carolina? Share photos and a little bit about your experiences with us. You can email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu, or you can tweet us @UNC. You can find Well Said wherever you listen to podcasts, so thanks for subscribing and sharing it with a friend. And thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: A profession of mythic proportions
Daniel Wallace:I wasn’t a voracious reader; I was an average reader. I was an average writer. Nobody took me aside when I was a kid and said, “You’re one of the lucky ones, you’ve got that special spark.”
Host:But Daniel Wallace had that spark after all. He’s Carolina’s J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and director of the University’s creative writing program. He’s also the author of Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions. Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. I’m Cee Cee Huffman, a student podcaster at Carolina. This week, we’re talking with Daniel about how he developed his own spark and how he’s teaching Carolina students to do the same.
Host:Daniel graduated from Carolina in 2008; although, his road to graduation wasn’t typical. He spent his junior and senior years at Carolina in the early ‘80s but initially left before graduating. A few years later, he returned to Chapel Hill, and with him he brought his dream of becoming a writer.
Wallace:I started seriously writing when I was 24 and didn’t publish my first book until I was almost 40. So, a lot of time spent writing and writing badly and then unsuccessfully. If it had happened, I think, when I was much younger, that would be much more interesting, but all I wanted was to publish a book by that time. I’d never had any ideas or dreams or hopes for anything else, I just never thought about it. All I wanted to do is a book, and once I got that published, or once I was told, “We are going to publish your book,” I was so happy. I thought, and this is not an exaggeration, I thought “I’m going to be happy forever.”
Host:That book, Big Fish, was his big break. It was published in 1998, and in 2003 it was turned into a film by Tim Burton. Ten years after that, it was turned into a musical in Chicago…then Broadway…then all over the world. His years of practice had finally paid off. But before the success of Big Fish, there was a lot of rejection. And, Daniel often shares lessons he learned from rejection with his creative writing students. He says he can look back on things he wrote that were just horrible, and that he brings boxes of his rejection slips to class.
Wallace:Well I’d written five novels before writing that book, and I had as much fun or got as much joy out of writing the really bad books that came before it as I did this book, which later would be published. I feel like everything that I’m working on, when I’m working on it, is wonderful, it’s only the next day that I realize that it’s not. So I have a lot of rejection, in other words, and I understand the process. I understand how to get from one place to another, and how hard it is. And I was them. As hard as writing is, there has to be, at its heart, a joy – and it’s a hard joy – but I would rather fail as a writer than to be a success at doing anything else. The joy of failure is so much greater than the joy of success at doing anything else. So, it is tough, and it’s nothing that can be taught it a semester-long class. It’s a day after day, month after month, and year after year, and I never tell anyone that they should not write.
Host:When he was a kid, though, no one told him that he should.
Wallace:I wasn’t a voracious reader; I was an average reader, and I was an average writer. Nobody took me aside when I was a kid and said, “You’re one of the lucky ones, you’ve got that special spark.” Nobody ever did that, and I didn’t have that special spark. I think a lot of the things that bring a person to whatever it is they do, whether it’s writing or selling lampshades, is that if you’re happy doing it, it’s because it corresponds to something outside of the thing you’re doing itself. So, I love working on my own, I love creating things on my own to be able to show something to somebody and say, “I did this. I went into this room by myself, stayed there for a few hours and now look what I made.”
Host:And as director of Carolina’s creative writing program, he shares with his students his secrets to working alone. Daniel says the program is one of the best in the country, not because students learn how to create, but because students learn how to communicate.
Wallace:I think outside of being instructed in a program such as ours, there’s a self-indulgence that we associate with creativity, which is fine, but the next step is to take that and put some meat on the bones and to say what you want to say in ways that are not only enjoyable for the writer, but realizing that the ultimate goal is to communicate with another human being, and that’s what we’re here for and that’s what the art is. It a very practical way of approaching what a lot of people think of as kind of airy inspiration and self-indulgent expression.
Host:He says constant practice is the only way to becoming a better writer and mastering the art of communicating.
Wallace:That’s the truth. It sounds simple, but there’s no way that you can learn how to do something like writing without just doing it a lot. You would think that if you graduate from college with a major in English that you should be able to take everything that you read – hundreds and hundreds of books – and somehow that you’re able to take that and use it to your own ends and write your own stories, that it should just flow out, but it doesn’t. It’s a practiced art form. It’s like anything else that you want to be good at, you know, whether it’s sports, talking, anything – you can’t do it without experiencing it and feeling what it feels like to do it. It just takes a really, really long time, and some people longer than others. You want to nurture each student according to the things that they want. The goal is not to create an army of professional writers. That’s just not going to happen. And if you compare it to say, a sports team or a college sports team, how many of those people are going to go on to play sports at a professional level? I want them to leave the program understating how stories are made, how poems are written, what a creative life is, what it can mean, the power of storytelling, understanding that even though we have a special program dedicated to telling stories in these different forms, it’s what everybody does every day of their life many, many times a day and knowing how it’s done and how to do it better yourself. I think that, I assume – and as professors we assume – an amount of creativity that all students bring to the table and it’s our job, really, to work with them to not necessarily to harness it, but to understand it and understand the ways that a smart writer expresses it.
Host:The creative writing program at Carolina is both a major and minor. It’s in the department of English and comparative literature in the College of Arts & Sciences. To learn more about the program, please visit their website at englishcomplit.UNC.edu.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Let us know. Tweet us at @UNC or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you listen to podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week!