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The Triton Tools & Tidbits podcast covers topics including career advice, student life and more. Photo credit: iStock_coffeekai

Triton Tools Podcast Propels Producer to a National Stage

UC San Diego senior Sam Tshibangu never expected to work on the Triton Tools and Tidbits podcast, let alone become a producer. But after a friend introduced him to the project—created by the Office of Student Affairs at the start of the pandemic—he decided to join the production team. For the past two years, Triton Tools has featured topics that engage and enrich the lives and education of UC San Diego students during the pandemic.

“I knew working with Triton Tools was a role where I would expand and grow my skill set and my time here was nothing short of amazing,” said Tshibangu, who manages voice editing and audio production and proposes ways to continually improve the podcast. “I didn't know what it would entail for me; however, it has opened up new doors and helped me to learn new things about my craft that I otherwise would not have known.”

While Tshibangu was working on Triton Tools and Tidbits, he also got the chance to work with the music education institute 1500 Sound Academy and the NFL on creating “Ode to South Central.” The piece was a tribute to the city of Los Angeles, part of the NFL’s Black History Month Special that aired during 2022’s Super Bowl LVI. As a result, he was nominated for three ESPN Emmy awards.

Still, while Tshibangu’s story is one of success, it came about in the wake of the devastation left by COVID-19. Triton Tools was introduced in March 2020 when the sudden switch to remote learning left students, staff and faculty struggling to adapt to an instantaneous change in modality. What just days before had seemed clear was made murky and intimidating: in an online environment, how are we supposed to relate to each other? How can we build meaningful connections in the strange cyberworld of Zoom?

Ebonée Williams, who served as UC San Diego’s director of Virtual Experience and Peer Engagement Initiatives before recently leaving to assume a new leadership position at UC Santa Cruz, felt called to help facilitate those connections and make sure students were supported by the university during the darkest days of the pandemic. Through her efforts, and in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, a podcast was born.

“From the start, our goal was always to meet students where they were and serve them holistically,” Williams shared. “Triton Tools and Tidbits has covered topics like mental health, inclusion, community service programs and cultural celebrations.”

Being seen in a remote environment

One of the most recent Triton Tools episodes, “Be Seen,” explores different ways that students can connect with faculty in an online or hybrid environment. Williams, who often served as host of the podcast, spoke with Veronica Abreu, assistant dean of Academic Advising at Revelle College, and Adam Burgasser, an astrophysicist and UC San Diego professor of physics. They shared myriad insights during the episode, including:

Burgasser, on forming meaningful connections: “Anytime you make a connection, it’s forming a relationship. You need to know each other and be together in a space to talk about things other than just transactional information about your class. Coming to things like office hours is beneficial; I’ll have a class of 400-plus students and I might have eight students in my office hours and those might be the eight students I know from my class.”

Abreu, on attending student hours: “The phrase ‘office hours’ sounds a little intimidating to some students. What I recommend is to stop thinking of them as ‘office hours’ and start thinking of them as ‘student hours.’ The instructor has set aside that time to meet with their students. Thinking about it that way helps to make it less intimidating.”

Burgasser, on faculty conversation starters: “If you ask any of your professors to tell you about their research, you’re going to see their eyes light up. They’re going to go off for hours because we love to talk about the work we do and the discoveries we make. When you start to learn about what your faculty member is doing beyond the classroom, you start to open doors to other possibilities. You learn there are these kinds of research and work opportunities out there.”

Abreu, on other opportunities: “Connecting students with faculty is such a big deal on campus and there are so many programs that are meant to do that, like Dine With a Prof and Coffee With a Prof. It’s about finding the right program. When I’m meeting with a student, I ask them, ‘What are the barriers that you’re having?’ so we can find a way to get them in with a faculty member. Even if the faculty member that they may initially connect with is not necessarily the right one, they may be able to give a good referral to meet with another faculty member.”

Williams, on gaining momentum: “You don’t always need to find the right program—it’s more important to get in motion. Find a program to start with and then you may end up exploring the others or you might stay if you enjoy it. It’s okay if it doesn’t work the first time or you need to find another one, and that’s why there are so many programs out there.”

The future of Triton Tools

“Be Seen” is one of approximately 50 episodes of Triton Tools. The series covers topics ranging from healthy relationships to career advice to student life at UC San Diego. The full podcast can be found here in the podcast archives.

“I think some of my favorite parts of being involved have been being able to help curate great episodes that are informative and helpful,” said student producer Tshibangu. “We have been able to help the community in overcoming difficulties and to greatly understand that we’re not alone no matter how much it had seemed that way during the pandemic.”

Still, now that the future looks a little lighter as the hustle and bustle of the world starts up again, everyone looks forward to connecting with students in person once more. After eight seasons of Triton Tools and Tidbitseach spanning one academic quarter—with biweekly episodes, the podcast will be retired at the end of this season.

“I am proud of the collaborative work we have done to highlight the breadth of resources at UC San Diego,” Williams said. “We were part of a movement and joined several campus podcast launches during the pandemic. It was great to have been a part of fostering connections and supporting resilience during the pandemic.”

For students interested in gaining production experience, Williams encourages students to consider launching their own podcast or exploring UCTV—a systemwide media outlet that features programming designed to enrich the knowledge, culture and dialogue generated at the University of California’s 10 campuses.