Students Mine Graduates for Career Tips in New Season of Podcast Series


By Holly Haber

Professor Chris Coats had multiple goals in mind when she asked students to interview alumni and create “Hello, Hilltop!” podcasts to be broadcast on the Meadows School website.

She knew that successful graduates are inspirational to arts scholars and establishing professional networks is critical. Plus, the assignment required learning the technology of podcasting — how to do it remotely, which microphone to use, editing, equalizing and more.

On top of that, Coats says, “Podcasting is a revenue generator in itself. It’s in big demand right now, so they could bring that value to any company they work for.”

Finally, any career tips shared by the interviewees would be available to any listener as two podcasts drop weekly on the SMU Hello, Hilltop station on SoundCloud. The assignment was “super unique,” says Hailey Capovilla, a Journalism major graduating in May with minors in Advertising, Corporate Communications, and Spanish” 

The assignment was “super unique,” says Hailey Capovilla, a Journalism major graduating in May with minors in Advertising, Corporate Communications, and Spanish.

“It gave us the opportunity to connect with someone who is really successful in the corporate communications industry and learn from them,” says Capovilla, who interviewed

Southwest Airlines vice president of communications and outreach Laurie Barnett.

“I learned how podcasting can be a tool and a resource in my life to meet people, to network, to learn from others,” Capovilla adds. “I have these tools in my pocket now, and I definitely plan on using them in the future.”

Though Barnet is not an SMU alumna, she serves on the Meadows School’s Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Advisory Board.

Bianca Howard, a Public Relations and Strategic Communications major graduating in ’22, says the project enhanced her conversational interview skills.

“I was able to get the information I needed to relay to my audience while also enjoying a free-flowing conversation,” she says.

Howard interviewed Raven Sanders (’12: BA, Interdisciplinary Studies Arts and BS, Electrical Engineering; Creative Computing & Film and Media Arts minors), who formerly produced shows and developed attractions for Universal Orlando. Raven now serves as a project manager for software development group Mile Marker and owns a Hello Garage franchise with her husband.

The biggest challenge for Howard was ensuring that her questions were relevant and engaging, so she did considerable advance research, which Coats says was a key aspect of the assignment.

Interviewees Deepa Liegel (BFA ’17, Dance Performance with Arts Management minor) and Thane Economou (BFA ’10, Cinema-Television with Photography/General Business minor) attest that alumni relationships were important to them when they were students and thereafter.

“They really framed how I used my time at SMU and how I wanted to approach my career,” Liegel says. “I learned from them to audit other classes to expand my skill set and to study abroad.”

It was also practical.

“I spent so many winters and summers surfing on SMU alums’ couches or apartments, or they connected me with someone else to stay with,” she says. “Dance is so hard, and especially now post pandemic with not having that cattle call auditions so much anymore. It’s so necessary to know people and have those connections. If you are trying to move to a city like New York that is ginormous, those connections are a starting point.”

Economou, who lives in Los Angeles and is working on a musical romantic comedy for Lionsgate, says he wishes he had had more conversations with alumni while he was a student.

“The few interactions I did have were invaluable,” he says. “They gave me specific advice for what to do immediately after graduation and offered to help me find internships and jobs.”

Economou says he enjoys talking with SMU students.

“I find it incredible exciting that SMU students are learning these podcasting skills and was happy to help out in any way I could,” he says. “I’m a big fan of listening to podcasts, so it was definitely fun to be on the other end.”

The students were eager to jump into this project, Coats says.

Alumni director Timmie Hathorn ’09 rounded up potential interviewees — 23 in all — and Coats encouraged the students to select one who had a similar interest, major or career.

Podcast participants include American Airlines manager of diversity and inclusion Hervey Kian (BA ’12, Corporate Communication & Public Affairs); Bullish advertising creative Jolie Guz (BA ’18, Advertising) and the CW Network composer Daniel Chan (BA ’07, Music Composition).

“It’s very important to build a network, and the beauty of SMU is our alumni are big on staying in touch with the school, and if you reach out to them they are the first to want to help the students or college out in any way possible,” Coats says. “It was rewarding to see these same graduates reaching out to our students and taking them under their wing and making sure they were there to support them.”