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The best college podcasts of 2022: NPR's College Podcast Challenge

LA Johnson

College students across the country are back on campus with more stories than ever. They showed up and showed out for their return through NPR's College Podcast Challenge, submitting some of the most creative, intriguing, and exciting podcasts yet.

We had entries from 37 states and the District of Columbia, and we heard from campuses big and small, from the University of Minnesota to Chemeketa Community College, From the Big 10 to the Pac 12 to the Peach Belt Conference.

Today, we're announcing our finalists. It was by no means easy, but we've narrowed our list down to the top standout 10 entries that stood out to us, whether through clever writing, innovative structure, beautiful sound or pure emotion. You can read and listen to the full list below.

Now, our team of judges will make the even harder decision of selecting the grand-prize winner, awarding our first-ever $5,000 scholarship. Each of the remaining finalists will receive $500.

We'll announce the winner next week, and over the coming weeks we'll get to tell-all about their stories on NPR programs such as Morning Edition or All Things Considered. We'll also release our list of honorable mentions, comprising more than 50 standout student podcasts.

Our finalists this year revealed that college students had time over the past two pandemic-ridden, isolation-inducing years to get introspective: our top topic was self-discovery, and we heard that manifest through discussions on culture, sexuality, race, and age. We also heard colorful podcasts on campus music, as well as campus bears. We listened to students navigate difficult topics, like antisemitism in school and the aftermath of losing a home. We heard riveting work on the many uses of flour and water.

So, here they are: our 2022 College Podcast Challenge finalists.

In Search of Home. Grace Fuller, a freshman at Lehigh University started her story with a classic get-to-know-you question: If your house was burning down, and you could only grab one thing, what would it be? From there, her podcast explored the aftermath of a disaster, as Fuller documented what she and her family went through when their house was destroyed in the Colorado wildfires of December 2021.

Joan Steidl, a freshman at Kent State University in Ohio, describes herself as a "boomerang." Why? Because this college podcaster, at age 65, is trying to learn comedy writing, enrolled in Medicare, and returning to college. In Aging: the Mother of Reinvention, Steidl tells what it's like to be one of the more than 6 million older college students in the U.S.

Ankit Agrawal's podcast, I Hope You're Happy, narrates his journey as he became more comfortable with his own sexuality during his time at the University of Virginia. Using the journals he began the day he moved onto campus in August 2018, Agrawal attempts to answer the ever-evasive question for many young adults: "How do you define yourself?"

What's your favorite carb? Pasta? Dumplings? Pancakes? Pretzels? In Flour & Water, Melissa Ellin and Jenny Kornreich, juniors at Boston University, investigate the building blocks of so many of our favorite foods: simple flour and water. Most importantly, they dive into the question of the century: What really makes a New York bagel so good?

Did you have a favorite American Girl doll growing up? In Mirror Talks, sophomores Lindsey Gispert and Naomi Pepper at Washington's Walla Walla University revisit their childhood memories of their favorite historical American Girl dolls, Kit and Addy. In their trip down memory lane, though, they realize the stark contrast between one of the white dolls, Kit, whose story followed her through journalism, and the first historical Black doll, Addy, whose backstory as an enslaved person is decidedly more violent.

Black bears are a part of campus life at the University of Montana. Normally, this is the status quo. But this year, there are, like, a lot. What's Bringing Bears into Missoula? by senior Austin Amestoy and sophomore Haley Yarborough examines this befuddling phenomenon, with some endearing "bearpocalypse" anecdotes along the way.

Aria Young, a sophomore who attends New York University, begins What's In a Name? by reintroducing herself by her Chinese name, 杨沁悦. Her piece explores her experience moving to Philadelphia at 16 after growing up in Shanghai. She was asked to choose an American name, and says she has been exploring the effects of that choice ever since, on her culture, lineage and immigrant identity.

University of Texas at Austin junior Marissa Greene takes us straight to the practice room in Meet Mariachi Paredes, a musically punctuated podcast covering the university's mariachi band. In the piece, we learn how mariachi can be a connection to culture, a means of continuing a legacy, and a way to be vulnerable.

In Nameless Faceless Monster, sophomores Jared Adelman and Olivia Poolos at Washington University in St. Louis revisit a story Poolos has told countless people since it took place when she was in high school – with a surprising twist. After a 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pennsylvania, several Jewish teachers at her school received antisemitic hate speech in their inboxes. Years later, Poolos speaks to the ex-teacher who was responsible – about why he did it and how that act affects his life today.

After more than 60 years of serving the Austin community, the Dry Creek Bar and Cafe closed its doors in October of 2021. University of Texas at Austin junior Jade Emerson uses her podcast, Farewell to Dry Creek Bar and Cafe, to say goodbye to the local watering hole and meet some of the characters who made the place feel like home.

Congratulations to all of our finalists and to the hundreds of other students who sent us their podcasts!

Stay tuned next week to find out the grand-prize winner of the 2022 NPR College Podcast Challenge. And then, we turn to the middle and school students – more than 2,000 of them – who've sent us their stories for the fourth-annual Student Podcast Challenge.

2022 College Podcast Challenge Finalists

Aging: the Mother of Reinvention

Joan Steidl, Kent State University

Farewell to Dry Creek Bar and Cafe

Jade Emerson, University of Texas at Austin

Flour & Water

Melissa Ellin and Jenny Kornreich, Boston University

I Hope You're Happy

Ankit Agrawal, Jenn Brice, and Paul Pincombe, University of Virginia

In Search of Home

Grace Fuller, Lehigh University

Meet Mariachi Paredes: UT Austin's Mariachi Musical Ensemble

Marissa Greene, University of Texas at Austin

Mirror Talks

Lindsey Gispert and Naomi Pepperm, Walla Walla University

Nameless, Faceless Monster

Jared Adelman and Olivia Poolos, Washington University in St. Louis

What's Bringing Bears into Missoula?

Austin Amestoy and Haley Yarborough, University of Montana

What's In a Name?

Aria Young, New York University

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.