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Your 2022 NPR College Podcast Challenge finalists are ...

MILES PARKS, HOST:

NPR's College Podcast Challenge is back this year with stories from students around the country. This year, we had podcasts about being an older college student, a mariachi band at the University of Texas and what to do about bears on campus at the University of Montana.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Drawn by the irresistible scent of human garbage, bears frequented Missoula at unusually high rates this fall.

PARKS: And so much more.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Moral of the story - diversify your library.

PARKS: We'll be announcing the winner of the competition soon. But here with a roundup of our finalists is Eda Uzunlar with NPR's education team.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Violins, trumpets, guitars and guitarron notes bounce off the walls of a choir room at the Butler School of Music - ballads about love, betrayal. And the stories of Mexico float from a group of singers' lips.

EDA UZUNLAR, BYLINE: These sounds are coming to us from the Mariachi Musical Ensemble at the University of Texas at Austin. In her entry, Marissa Greene explores the meaning behind mariachi for the students who perform.

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MARISSA GREENE: Because when you're up there in front of everyone, it just - it feels - you're just so vulnerable. But then that feeling is really cool, too, because if you're vulnerable and you can pull it off, that's when it's really fun.

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UZUNLAR: As always, we get a lot of podcasts about identity. As students examine who they are and how they fit into the world. Ankit Agarwal at the University of Virginia made a podcast about coming to terms with his sexuality during his time at UVA, which he documented through his college journal entries.

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ANKIT AGARWAL: Seventeen days after move-in day, the first words in my journal that night were, hi, I'm pretty sure I'm gay.

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JOAN STEIDL: Why do I need to learn Windows 10 when Windows 95 has been working just fine?

(LAUGHTER)

UZUNLAR: That's Joan Steidl, a 65-year-old student getting her bachelor's at Kent State University in Ohio. She's learning to Zoom, doing comedy workshops and going back to school.

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STEIDL: I'm channeling Betty White and trying to learn comedy writing. I renewed my AARP membership, signed up for Medicare. So what's next? Time to return to college because that makes me a boomerang.

UZUNLAR: Some students created their entries about those around them, often when their communities were falling on hard times. Jade Emerson, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, visited the Dry Creek Bar and Cafe on its final day after 65 years of being open.

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UZUNLAR: For Zoyd, a long-time patron, Dry Creek is...

ZOYD: Just a very damn good little old nice place to listen to old music.

UZUNLAR: Grace Fuller, a freshman at Lehigh University, felt similar stress when she lost her home to the Colorado fires of December 2021. Her submission recounts her family's feelings in the days following the disaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST)

GRACE FULLER: But my family is here. We're alive and we're safe. And I learned that that's the most important version of home anyway. So, yeah, I can't go back to my house, but I can go back to my home. As it turns out, that never left.

UZUNLAR: The winners of the College Podcast Challenge will be announced next week on npr.org. Eda Uzunlar, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.