A SUNY Oswego computer science faculty member’s podcast, “Meditations with Ryan Zlomek,” includes conversations with an interesting variety of guests while also supporting his students’ creativity and skills.

“I dreamed up ‘Meditations with Ryan Zlomek’ two years ago when I was having a hard time finding podcasts that let the person being interviewed truly tell their story,” Zlomek recalled. 

“I got excited about creating a platform where I could find interesting people and help them share their stories while also putting those documentary interview skills to work,” he added. “Over the last year I developed the structure for the show, developed marketing materials and graphics, scheduled guests, and this past August went live with a consistent biweekly posting schedule."

Zlomek earned his master of fine arts in media arts production at the University at Buffalo, with a special focus on documentary filmmaking. “When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time studying interview techniques and have found myself utilizing those skills daily in teaching and collaboration,” Zlomek said. “The more we know about the people around us, the better we all work together and the more opportunities tend to present themselves.” 

The podcast medium intrigues Zlomek “because it democratizes the broadcasting space to the point at which most podcasters and YouTubers are using the same, if not better, technology than the premiere news channels around the world,” he said. 

This is especially relevant as somebody preparing the next generation of storytellers to use technology, for which he can serve as a role model.

“As someone who teaches media development, I always want students to feel empowered with the tools at their disposal and there is no better way to demonstrate what you can do with them than role model by creating your own content,” Zlomek said.

'Eye-opening' insights

Seeking out guests and having those conversations have provided "eye-opening" insights and perspectives that Zlomek finds “exhilarating,” and he hopes to provide similar experiences to audiences. A particular highlight was a December episode interviewing Tim Allen, an animator whose credits include “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” –- the recent Netflix sequel to “Chicken Run,” the highest-grossing stop-motion film of all time -- as well as many other popular films.

“Interviewing Tim Allen, a UK-based stop motion animator, and talking about working directly with Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson was amazing,” Zlomek said. “I love ‘Pinnochio,’ ‘Frankenweenie’ and ‘Isle of Dogs,’ so getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the way he interprets their scripts, notes and directions was wonderful.” 

Another highlight coming out in January features Phil Vigeant, who owns Pro8mm, the world’s largest supplier of Super 8 film, cameras, processing and scanning. 

“After a big boom of use of professional film productions in ‘80s music videos, it's now used in everything from major motion pictures like ‘Oppenheimer’ and television like ‘Winning Time’ but is also a fun way that people document weddings,” Zlomek said. “Despite its commercial use, Super 8 is still the best and most cost-effective entry point for future filmmakers. It was a pleasure to just talk about analog technology with the biggest in the business and see where his knack for film, creation and invention stemmed from.”

He also enjoyed highlighting the work of a former student, CJ Butler, now the communications manager for the Salt City Market, as “it was wonderful to sit down and hear all about the amazing work she's doing in social media marketing and graphic design,” Zlomek said. “Being able to showcase these hard-working people who are behind the scenes powering the resources we utilize every day has been a joy and the listeners seem to respond positively to it.”

Promoting classroom creativity

In developing the show, Zlomek wanted it to be useful to his students, serving as a case study they can consider in developing their own media. ISC 105, “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” includes a podcasting unit where students learn about actively listening, conducting interviews and producing their own shows.

I scheduled that unit in tandem with the release of episode 6 ... a ‘meta episode’ where I interviewed two podcasters to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the ways the podcast medium can be used and the work that goes into it,” Zlomek said. “My perspective is only so valuable in the classroom, so encouraging students to listen to this episode and hear from other people making media in the same space added to their worldview on the subject.”

This resulted in some very impressive student productions, Zlomek said.

“I was pleasantly surprised when a number of my ‘Intro To Digital Humanities’ students developed podcasts for their final projects surpassing my production value by incorporating programming with guest hosts and adding Ken Burns-style audio to further immerse the listeners,” he recalled.

The podcast’s first episode featured a pair of educators –- Ben T. Matchstick and Pete Talbot –- who own the Cardboard Teck Instantute. Their company manufactures the Pinbox 3000, a cardboard pinball machine popular in STEM (science, technology, engineering in technology) classrooms. 

Since Zlomek knew he would be teaching CSC 103, “Computing Tools and Information Literature for Educators,” “I wanted to have an episode that students could listen to that would get them thinking about alternative methods of hands-on education,” he said. “It's also been a great resource for them to think of ways they can make podcasts for their students or teach their students how to develop content of their own.”

On top of its use in his courses, Zlomek said the show has exceeded expectations, catching on with people he wouldn’t have expected and garnering a listener base in 24 countries. 

“In my own circles, people I haven't talked to in years have reached out to catch up and express their enjoyment of the show, which has brought me great joy,” Zlomek said. 

“Meditations with Ryan Zlomek” features new guests biweekly and is available at meditationswith.podbean.com, as well as on all major podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. On social media, The World of Ryan Zlomek is regularly updated on Instagram and Facebook.

Animator Tim Allen works on the set of the film Corpse Bride

Animator Tim Allen, shown working on the set of the acclaimed film "Corpse Bride," recently was a guest on the podcast “Meditations with Ryan Zlomek,” hosted by a computer science faculty member.