What does a busy NMH student do in his free time? For senior Channin Zhao, the answer is: create a podcast.
When he’s not doing homework, leading tours of campus for prospective students, singing in Stage Band or Hoggapella, or playing goalkeeper on the soccer field, Zhao produces “The Bigger Picture Podcast,” a passion project he works on in his “spare time.”
While the podcast isn’t a school assignment, Zhao said he spends a few hours each week producing the show, on which he interviews current and former Northfield Mount Hermon teachers, coaches, and students — including, recently, Head of School Brian Hargrove. He has produced more than 75 episodes — and counting — since launching the show about a year ago.
“It’s a great way for me to learn from people,” Zhao said. “Each person has a lot of stories to share that could be inspiring. After every podcast, I’m able to say I’m a better person. By sharing these podcasts with the world I hope to inspire people’s curiosity and help them learn things they never expected.”
Zhao records his interviews in the school’s podcasting studio in Schauffler Library. The studio is available for use by NMH students and adults after they’ve taken a short training session with NMH Public Services Librarian Alexis Arcaro.
“We have nice equipment, which really makes a difference in the quality of what can be produced,” Arcaro said. The library has also created a podcasting guide with best practices, tips, and links to instructional videos.
“Our podcast studio is convenient and makes doing this very easy,” Zhao said. “Our librarians are supportive and try to think of ways to help me whenever I need it.”
Students aren’t the only ones exploring podcasting at NMH. In a World Religion and Contemporary Issues class, teacher Wil Chuch had students pair up to produce a podcast after finishing up a unit of study.
“Traditionally, a class would spend two weeks learning about Hinduism, for example, and then take a test on the material,” he said. “Instead of that, I have used a podcast assignment to assess their learning.
“It’s a cool way for them to talk through the complex interaction between society and religion,” Chuch added. “It helps them with skills to engage and rearticulate ideas in their own words. It’s another tool for students to express what they have learned.”
In a multimedia storytelling class, students use podcasting for investigative work. “Students were assigned to find a topic or story in the NMH Archives that they could dig into and turn into a clear narrative for a 10-minute podcast,” teacher Sierra Dickey ’11 said. “They also got to learn some editing skills and select music.”
Zhao learns more about podcasting with each episode he produces and credits his prior experience hosting a show on WNMH, the campus radio station, with helping him get started. The show focused mainly on his favorite sport: soccer. At first, he considered creating a podcast about the same topic. “But I realized that even though I could easily do a soccer podcast, I [would be] missing out on a wonderful opportunity: the people in NMH,” Zhao said.
In the earliest episodes, Zhao and fellow NMH students considered big questions: What is school for? What is success? What is a meaningful friendship? What does it mean to be a good listener? “Each person has their own specific voice that they want to share and I was intrigued to find the special thing each person can offer,” he said. “Learning is a non-stop process, and I’m glad to be able to share it with so many listeners.”
One of his favorite episodes is an interview with teacher David Dowdy, recorded just before Dowdy’s retirement last spring after more than 40 years of teaching English at NMH.
“I loved his message that he never stops learning, that he’s still a student,” Zhao said.
In a more recent episode, “The Meaning of Time and Finding What’s Truly Important,” Zhao and David Reeder, a science teacher and head coach of the boys’ rowing program, discussed how to bring meaning to busy days that can feel as though they’re filled with so many mundane tasks. “What are you doing for others? That ends up being the most valuable question you can ask,” Reeder said in the interview.
“That question was powerful,” Zhao said later. “It kept me thinking hard about the purpose of my podcast.”
Zhao has also interviewed NMH Archivist Peter Weis, math teacher Dominic Zhang, and retired math teacher and golf coach Mace Foehl, along with many of his fellow NMH students.
Zhao even produced a two-part episode with Chris Jones, a comedian and hypnotist who performed at NMH at the start of the spring semester. In the episode, Zhao invited Jones to try to hypnotize him to help him become a better soccer goalkeeper. Did it work? Tune in to episode #59 of “The Bigger Picture Podcast” to find out. (Photos by Alex McCollough '23.)