By Ally Marecek
In October 2020, the Opal team launched the Shine a Light On podcast. Over the course of its first year, the podcast has explored a range of academic and career topics, shining a light on career centers, sustainable self-growth, international student experiences, and much more. Each episode features one or two guests, often college students or early career professionals, who share their experiences and advice with listeners.
To celebrate the one year anniversary of Shine a Light On, we’re diving behind the scenes with members of Opal’s content marketing team to learn more about the podcast. Read on to hear what host Mariah Manzano and editors Chrizenn Gamayo and Sarah Ahmed have to share!
1. How did the idea for the podcast come about?
Mariah — At Opal, we highly value mentorship, and prior to launching the Opal application we wanted to provide some version of mass mentorship that was both engaging and hopefully insightful to our audience. A podcast felt like the best solution and a great way to reach out to, and somewhat “mentor”, anyone who wanted to listen and learn with us.
2. How has the podcast evolved over this past year?
Mariah — We started the podcast in hopes of covering a diverse set of topics. The openness to discuss a breadth of topics allowed us to chat about mental health one week and storytelling the next. Though topic-switching so quickly kept things exciting, we’ve taken a different approach in grouping similarly-themed episodes into a single season, and now our seasons release every other month. This gives us the time and energy to be more intentional and thoughtful about our guests and the topics of discussion for each episode.
3. What motivated you to get involved with the podcast?
Chrizenn — I wanted to try something new. I’ve always enjoyed editing videos and putting them together, but never with audio. It was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself and pick up a new skill.
Sarah — I just love editing audio. Before Shine a Light On, I played around with audio on Audacity, but had never had anything published for the world. The podcast was a 2-in-1 opportunity where I could build my audio editing skills and contribute to the Opalverse.
4. Tell us about the process of finding guests and preparing/ recording.
Mariah — Ah, the logistics. Our amazing Opal team first narrows down relevant or interesting topics to focus on for a season. Once we have a season theme finalized, we recruit guests that we believe would be a good fit for the theme. Preparing for the episode itself is a lot of research and writing conversation starters, which I typically bring up during the episode. The best part is of course the actual recording and conversation!
5. Tell us about the editing process.
Chrizenn — As I learned from Sarah, I use Audacity and a template that already has the intro and outro music on the track. I then import the audio files and begin chopping and deleting. I also clean up any background noises when I hear it. Once I’m done putting it together, I go through the entire track to see if I missed anything. If it’s good to go, I export the finished episode and send it for review.
Sarah — I use Audacity to edit and put together podcast episodes. I start out with my intro-outro template then import the raw audio files (usually 2 files, Mariah and the guest). After that I take out background noise, clear random sounds in the files, and equalize the volume. I try to make everything sound as crisp as possible, and make sure that there are no ear-piercing spikes in the audio. After all that, I finally listen to the entire podcast and pause whenever there’s something to fix. Some of the things I listen for are ums, long pauses, and repeated words. I finally end by throwing in mid-track music here and there, then export the episode for review.
6. What have you learned about putting together the podcast?
Mariah — There are two main lessons I’ve learned over the past year. First, it takes a village to host a podcast. Though I’m fortunate enough to ask the questions in every episode, the full team of people and brilliant guests bring it to life. Second, stories in themselves are the real gems of any podcast. As humans, we learn through storytelling. Mentorship in itself is storytelling between people so that they can learn and grow together constantly.
Chrizenn — There is more than one way to edit a podcast. Learning Sarah’s way of editing has helped me develop a workflow that saved me so much time. I would spend a couple of days trying to edit an episode, but after setting up a template, as Sarah suggested, I now spend a couple hours editing an episode.
Sarah — I learned a lot about the world of podcasting. Before Shine a Light On, I didn’t listen to podcasts very much and didn’t know what made a podcast good. Researching how to make a podcast opened my eyes to a whole new medium. I’m excited to explore my audio editing skills and different types of podcasts as time goes on!
7. What is the hardest part about working on the podcast?
Mariah — Editing can be a bit tedious. We have a great team of Opalites who have been helpful in helping to edit episodes. It’s actually a bit therapeutic, but can take a long time.
Chrizenn — The hardest part for me is cleaning up the audio. There might be background noises or muffled voices that make the audio distracting and unclear. At first I was not advanced enough to fix the audio, but thankfully YouTube and Google helped me out.
Sarah — Learning how to edit video was the biggest struggle for me. The software had a huge learning curve and there were a lot more elements to keep track of; things got very messy when the audio and video didn’t sync. Just like Chriz, Google and YouTube got me through the tough times.
8. What do you most enjoy about working on the podcast?
Mariah — I most enjoy shamelessly putting my “curiosity” hat on. It is fascinating to learn more about both the guest and topic prior to the actual discussion. I owe it to both the guests and audience to turn my curiosity up a notch prior to these podcast recordings because the more curious I am, the more questions I ask, and the more we all can learn together.
Chrizenn — I get to enjoy the behind-the-scenes or the bloopers that only the editors can listen to. I would find myself laughing when I came across them in the recordings.
Sarah — Same as Chriz! In a couple of the raw podcast recordings, Mariah spoke to us editors and said things like “Please delete this, Sarah” after a hiccup in the conversation. Those little 4th-wall moments make me laugh. I also love transforming a raw recording into the final episode — clear n’ crisp audio never fails to make my ears happy.
9. Tell us about some of your memorable conversations/episodes.
Mariah — Every episode has been extremely rewarding and insightful. Though Opal is a professional-development focused platform and community, we view personal development as a critical piece to that. The episodes around self-awareness and personal progress have pushed me to reflect on my own life and goals, and I remember them the best. Some personal favorites: Staying Self-Aware with Phyllis Njoroge, Toxic Hustle Culture with Milap Patel, and Why Productivity is Overrated with Mashiat Mutmainnah.
10. What is your favorite episode thus far?
Mariah — Can I say all of them? I’ll cast my vote to our first episode: The Value of Mentorship with JeanAnn Nichols. Many of the points discussed were our reasons for starting Opal in the first place. Mentorship, when structured effectively for a duo, can be extremely valuable and may propel both a mentee’s or mentor’s professional development. JeanAnn is also always fun to speak with and we met after she presented on “How to Be a Great Mentor” at a Society of Women Engineers conference.
Chrizenn — Staying Self-Aware with Phyllis Njoroge. I thought I knew what self-awareness meant, but this episode brought a whole new meaning to this idea. I found her tips and examples on how I can increase my self-awareness to be super helpful. No matter where you currently stand with your self-awareness, you can gain so much insight from this episode!
Sarah — How to Get Noticed with Elizabeth Morgan. I really resonated with Liz’s vibe and outlook on work life. I also appreciated that her advice on how to get noticed was actionable and achievable! As a recent grad, I don’t have much professional cred yet but Liz’s words are relevant to almost anyone, job history or not.
11. Who is someone you would love to have on the podcast and what would you “Shine a Light On”?
Mariah — Two dream guests: Frida Kahlo and Sara Blakely. With Frida, we would shine a light on “Making Beauty From Pain” and with Sara, “How Effective Persistence Can Change Your Life”.
12. How do you envision the podcast one year from now?
Mariah — A year from now, I imagine our podcasts will be a bit more interactive. Whether the recordings are live or we collect feedback from users while they listen, I hope they’re more interactive so our audience can feel like they’re in the room with us chatting.
13. What do you see as the biggest success of the podcast so far?
Mariah — Our guests absolutely make the show what it is. For some guests, it was their first-ever podcast recording, and whether or not that was the case, everyone has participated with an inspiring energy and expertise about the discussion topic. The biggest success for us has been attracting such talented and inspirational people to chat with us. It’s been a real honor conversing with people I may have never spoken to had the podcast not existed.
Chrizenn — Shine a Light On has become a podcast where you now have the advice of many at your fingertips. From changing majors mid-college to cultivating courage in yourself, there is an episode that will appeal specifically to you.
Sarah — Aside from the awesome array of topics we’ve covered, I think our biggest success is creating the podcast we envisioned — one that “shines a light on” under-discussed topics and hidden gem-folks. We’ve grown so much this year but never let go of our north star. Shine a Light On can only get brighter 🌠.
14. What do you hope listeners will gain from Shine a Light On?
Mariah — More than anything, I hope listeners learn something new from each episode. If you’re an expert, our guest may have a different perspective or information you weren’t aware of. But most importantly, I hope non-experts listen in on episodes that may give them a better understanding of someone’s experience. For instance, our episodes around First-Generation College Students or Job Searching as a Person with a Disability may not apply to every person, but every person should have an understanding of their experiences. An empathy dose, perhaps. That’s the only way we’ll create a more inclusive, accessible, and overall collaborative society.
Chrizenn — Shine a Light On touches on so many different topics that anyone listening can get inspired, educated, and informed. You will hear from students, professionals, and experts who come to share their unique perspectives. I hope listeners find Shine a Light On episodes worthwhile, helping them gain a few steps toward success whether that be in college, career, or life.
Sarah — I hope listeners feel less alone after listening to a Shine a Light On episode. Most of the folks on our podcast aren’t celebrities — they’re everyday, relatable people with words of wisdom to share. I hope our guests are voices of reassurance that get listeners through tough times, confusing situations, and complicated decisions.