The sound of a global MIT

Every year MISTI generates thousands of stories.

Students pack their bags and board planes heading anywhere from Beijing to Bogota. Their experiences are often life-changing; they engage in experiential learning opportunities with the world’s leading companies, organizations, and research groups. For MIT-Africa Program Managing Director Ari Jacobovits, capturing the voices behind these stories was critical. The answer was a relatively low-tech solution in the basement of Building 50.    

Initially a radio show hosted by Jacobovits on 88.1 FM WMBR, MISTI Radio focused on student interviews, international music, intriguing facts, and curious anomalies about our world. While Covid-19 took WMBR out of the studio, its shows were able to record asynchronously and stream online in addition to airing on 88.1 FM. Jacobovits took advantage of this pivot to turn MISTI Radio into a podcast, and fellow MISTI staff joined this new initiative as collaborators.

“The show began as somewhat of a passion project, but when the pandemic hit, my colleagues at MISTI and I recognized that the show is a great platform to stay connected to students and partners around the world,” Jacobovits says. “We now have a team of contributors and editors that have greatly elevated the show’s quality and reach.”

Since most of the podcast team were first-time producers, they consulted with Ari W. Epstein, who teaches a class in the Terrascope first-year learning community. Students learn to produce radio stories on topics related to their MIT studies. Epstein, an associate director and lecturer in Terrascope, shared resources and best practices for transforming MISTI Radio into a series of compelling audio stories for a wider audience.

“It’s been great having the chance to work with MISTI staff as this project comes into being,” says Epstein. “There are so many great possible MISTI stories out there, and the staff has been very enthusiastic about exploring creative ways to bring those stories to life for listeners.”

Through this new podcast format, MISTI Radio focuses on current international affairs and showcasing the MIT community’s international work. It has expanded its programming to present interviews with MISTI alumni and partners, as well as excerpts from digital events with MISTI’s country programs.

“MISTI is a treasure trove of international connections,” Jacobovits says. Regularly — and even during Covid — we are interacting with literally hundreds of partners across dozens of countries.” The podcast team discovered that these connections were the seeds of great radio programming.

“While one colleague may be in a meeting with the Welsh ministry of education to discuss a STEM education program, another colleague may be in a meeting with a university research lab in Peru using drones to map Machu Picchu,” Jacobovits says. “The goal of the show is to capture these connections in a user-friendly format, make them accessible to students, and share our approach to international studies with the MIT community at large.”

MISTI Radio is now hosted by MISTI Communications Assistant Sinai Sampson-Hill. Jacobovits is still involved as a producer and content creator along with colleagues Nureen Das, program manager for MIT-India, and Rosabelli Coehlo-Keyssar and Marco de Paula, the program manager and program assistant for MIT-Brazil, along with many others.

In the episode titled “What Makes a Country Trust their Government?” MISTI Radio covered a Starr Forum from the Center for International Studies. MIT faculty members Suzanne Berger and Yasheng Huang explained how cultural differences in France and East Asia correlated with country-specific responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. In another episode, MIT-France’s Program Assistant Brigid McMahon interviewed Keví Donat, a French tour guide who shares the often-overlooked Black history of Paris.

Students have also submitted their own pieces. Rahul Ramakrishnan ’20 produced a segment based on his experiences interning in India through MISTI, going in-depth on how Indian-Americans at MIT experience the country as professionals, often traveling to India for the first time without their immediate families. In conversation with Pooja Reddy ’20 and Pramoda Karnati ’20 (both of whom traveled to India with MISTI), the students reflected on questions of identity and heritage and how their experiences in India enhanced their personal and professional aspirations.

“Student-created pieces have been excellent and are reminiscent of stories told on award-winning public radio programs,” Das says. “Ari Epstein’s training and Terrascope have been instrumental helping contributors find their voice as storytellers.”

The scope of content continues to grow for the MISTI Radio podcast. “For the time being, we will continue to publish new episodes as we work from home. We have been engaging with an increasing number of various collaborators, both within the Institute and abroad, since we started this project,” says Sampson-Hill. “The team is looking forward to sharing even more stories in 2021.”

Episodes are aired biweekly on Thursdays at 7 p.m. on WMBR. They are also archived and available to stream on various podcast platforms.