Maggie Johnson

Streaming Spiders: Podcast hosts alums in conversation

February 16, 2024


When interviewing alums, Maggie Johnson always asks: How did you end up at the University of Richmond?

The responses frequently surprise her. Johnson had her own winding path from the West Coast, graduating from UR in 2018. She now produces the University’s As Spiders Do alumni podcast. “Everyone seems to have their own journey,” she says of alums’ origin stories.

Growing up in Los Angeles, she didn’t have UR on her radar. Then her family moved to the D.C. area when she was in high school.

“We did a little Virginia college tour and came to Richmond, and that was it,” Johnson recalled. “We didn’t even make it to the rest of the tours. I told my mom, ‘I’m going to go here.’”

She majored in leadership studies and religious studies and spent her four years interning with the University Communications division.  

“I moved to Boston right after I graduated and didn’t know anybody there,” she said. “The first way I made connections outside of my job was by going to alumni events.”

Today, as the associate director for regional and young graduate engagement for the Office of Alumni Relations, she works with volunteer Spiders across the country to plan such events — from happy hours and creative workshops to meet-and-greets with top administrators. She enjoys travelling a few times a month for the job.

She frequently considered starting a podcast, but wasn’t sure what the theme should be. Then one day, her supervisor asked about starting one in their office.

“I immediately raised my hand,” Johnson said. “This is a built-in topic, to talk about a place I love, with people who are endlessly fascinating.”

As Spiders Do celebrated its one-year anniversary in January. She typically features one alum a month, and for 2024, she’s adding shorter episodes with multiple interviews on a single topic, such as New Year’s resolutions, Spider couples who met on campus, or class reunions.

Her longer interviews have included Sarah Bowers, Class of 2012, who explains what it means to be a professional change master at Nestlé. Becca Guillote, a 2007 grad, talks about travelling around the world by sailboat for five years. Returning to her native L.A., Johnson interviewed film producer Marc Provissiero, a 1989 alum, and actor Jamie McShane, a 1988 grad. She held a second live event in L.A., where the duo took questions from local alums.

The guests are unafraid to discuss their setbacks. One remembered having to transfer into Richmond, because his grades weren’t good enough initially. Another spoke about moving to a new city and having to couch surf at a friend’s house for two months.

“I think that’s one of the special things about the podcast, that people are willing to be vulnerable,” Johnson said. “They’re not presenting this neatly packaged version of their lives. They’re being incredibly honest with their challenges and where life has surprised them.”

One common theme she’s found is that Spiders are willing to take risks — something many learned on campus.

“I think it goes back to this is a place where you can really try anything and that you’re supported,” she said. “You’re encouraged to truly explore the fullness of who you are.”

She smiled and added, “As an employee, too.”