Winfo podcast helps connect Informatics community

By Niv Joshi Tuesday, March 29, 2022

It started as a way to keep people connected during the pandemic. Now in its second season, a podcast from Women in Informatics (Winfo) — “Community and Creativity within Informatics” — is a growing set of resources for the Informatics community at the University of Washington Information School. 

“With the sudden shift to online school, it was hard to get to know people,” said Gisele Fox (pictured above, center), Winfo’s director of community efforts and creator of the podcast. “I thought with the Winfo podcast there is a way of possibly bringing people together, interviewing them, and to both meet people and also share that meeting with other people.”

Informatics students choose many different paths during and after college. This podcast acts as a resource for current and prospective students to explore some of the non-traditional routes they’ve taken and experiences they have had.

A series of episodes this season introduced two students in the Informatics program — Sirena Akopyan and Sneha Reddy (pictured above, left and right) — and followed their individual journeys in the iSchool. Akopyan is a first-year student admitted directly into Informatics and Reddy is a junior who recently got accepted into the Informatics major. 

“Through the podcast, we are really trying to explore the different facets of Informatics and see where it sort of intersects with other fields and how Informatics is presented in the real world,” Akopyan said. “We are exploring the topic of how information interacts with pretty much everything at this point — how do we process it? How do we make it accessible for every user?”  

Fox is interested in following Akopyan and Reddy over the years and seeing how they grow, not just as Informatics students at the UW, but also in their personal lives. “That is something that a lot of people would be able to relate to, which is very important for us — to make people feel like they belong, that they are comfortable and that they are not necessarily alone in everything they are going through,” she said.

Along with being voices on the podcast, Akopyan and Reddy are co-creators of the recently formed podcast committee, which supports episode creation and promotion. 

Reddy does most of the graphic design for branding and marketing. “We just want to give a voice to the Informatics students and make sure they know we are there for them and that we are all connected as a community,” she said. 

Fox described this podcast as her passion project, and it has given her a chance to meet and network with people in a variety of professional contexts. One of her favorite episodes is “INFO x Documentary Filmmaking,” in which she interviewed Nancy Pickett, a film student who received a prestigious scholarship at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards in 2017. 

Co-hosted by Locksley Kolakowski, Winfo’s 2021 hackathon project manager, the episode detailed how the use of informatics and data science can help on the back end of documentary filmmaking. It also explored how the design skills students learn from Informatics classes can be applied to documentary filmmaking.

Through the podcast, Fox has added several skills to her toolbelt. With the experience in editing, creating and recording, she said that she feels confident to apply for work as an assistant producer for some of her favorite podcasts. 

“I knew that the first 25 episodes would not be the best,” Fox said. “But I also knew that I would have to make those 25 episodes before I could really learn how to make stuff that would seem professional and polished.”

Fox is an avid podcast listener herself. By looking at the transcripts of some of her favorite podcasts, she was able to understand how podcasts are generally structured — how much time is dedicated to each segment, how topic transitions are made, how stories are started — all of which was helpful, especially in the beginning.

“I am definitely most proud of the first episode because I just jumped into it blind, and was pretty proud of the result that came out of it,” Fox said. “The audio wasn’t perfect, but after hours of editing I was pleased with the end product.”