Photograph by Jamie Betts

Q&A with a faculty podcaster

May 18, 2022


Professor Stephanie Spera noticed her students’ interest in career paths related to the environmental issues, so she and a colleague to launched the podcast “How We Got Here: Because the Earth Needs Professional Help.”
By Sunni Brown, GC'18
I knew I had a lot of cool friends who do really cool things.
Stephanie Spera

Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment

Why a podcast, and why start this particular podcast?

The majority of Gen Z cares deeply about engaging with the climate emergency they inherited. At the same time, these students are facing increased pressure to have defined career paths determined from an early age. Perceived career options are often limited to the classes they take in high school or what is depicted in the media — engineer, lawyer, doctor — and their families may think that the combination of their strengths and passion is not transferable to a “real job.” 

When I launched the speaker series in my class, I knew I had a lot of cool friends who do really cool things — one is a UR alum who is a Nat Geo Explorer. I just emailed about a dozen people and asked if they would come talk about what they do and their career paths, and they all said yes. 

My students got to ask them questions, and they all spoke a little bit about “here’s how I got to this place.” My students just loved it. My end-of-semester class survey was full of comments about how great the speaker series was and “we didn’t know you could major in biology and end up an activist” — things like that. That’s when I realized it could be a great resource on a much broader scale. 

I approached my friend Rachel Lupien, a paleoclimatologist, about cohosting a podcast as a way to reach a lot of people, and we dove in. Our guests have ranged from science journalists to policymakers to climate justice activists, and they have talked about their varied and often unpredictable career paths. 

What’s the response been? 

Allegedly, we have somewhere between two and three thousand listeners. The people who have told us they listen to it really like it, and I think it’s all about hearing different people’s journeys. Our target audience is college students thinking about career paths, but it has wide appeal to anyone who cares about the climate crisis or wants to learn about super-interesting people.

Has there been a career that stood out to you?

One interview that comes to mind is Craig Santos Perez, who’s an American Book Award winner. He’s an activist and professor and eco-poet. I think it was really cool to hear about how much he could do for the climate movement through his art. All the episodes are connected by climate change, but another through line is how important the ability to communicate is across all careers.

Being able to resonate and reach people on such a large scale is exciting, right?

I wish I heard this in college. I wish someone was telling me: “Oh, here are the 48,000 things that you could do,” and not just, “Oh I saw this path, my professor did this path, or my parents did this path, so I guess I’ll do it.” It’s exciting to arm people with a wide variety of climate-centric careers and the knowledge that you don’t have to have your life figured out at 22.