Rocky Pierson (right) and her partner in crime, Pa Ying Vang (left). Photo by Ryan Johnson '19
"I'm Caroline Smith, and I'm a Woman of Substance," says the voice on the other end of the phone with Rocky Pierson '18. Pierson, an electronic media student at St. Kate's, has just finished interviewing the singer-songwriter for the Woman of Substance podcast series. Pierson and her partner in crime, Pa Ying Vang '17, finished editing the interview and were able to publish the podcast later in the day — just in time for Smith's performance at The O'Shaughnessy that night. (Click here to listen to the podcast.)
Pierson's Woman of Substance podcast series, which has featured previous St. Kate's guest performers such as Ananya Dance Theater and Dessa, is only one slice of the extensive reboot rolled out by Pierson. Nurturing a rejuvenation of the radio and audio production community, her work springs up everywhere: through SisterStory, in the O'Shaughnessy-facilitated Woman of Substance podcasts, in her leadership of the shiny new re-vamped campus radio station — even in the official faculty welcome video for the newly inaugurated President Roloff.
Over the summer, the President's Office approached SisterStory with the concept of creating a video that featured welcome messages from St. Kate's departments. Pierson and Vang, both of whom began as SisterStory oral historians, found themselves at the helm of the month-long project. "It was so much bigger than I even imagined initially," says Pierson. "It's great when those moments happen, because it's in some way a recognition that your skill is not only good, but valuable. To work on something that had that kind of weight was very cool."
Vang also has taken her production skills into other areas, such as the film festival organized by herself and the rest of SHE Pab: Voices of Hmong Women last February. The festival, "Hmoob Through My Lens," was a "great success," says Vang, who estimates an audience of around 50. The next festival is set for the coming March.
Pierson and Vang interview Caroline Smith for the Woman of Substance podcast series. Photo by Michelle Mullowney '17
The duo's manifold ventures grew from their positions as oral historians at SisterStory, the Hilton Sisters Project aimed at fostering awareness of women religious. Finding that her work at SisterStory had ignited an interest in audio production, Pierson took over management of the St. Kate's radio station, Radio Here, which had lain dormant for several years before she picked up the reins in Spring 2016. It was a "ground-up operation," says Pierson. "There's not a lot of the old station left, in terms of structure."
The new station, however, boasts a growing array of DJ shows and podcasts. From DJ KAM's "Eclectic Sound" to Pierson's podcast series on the Sisters of St. Joseph, it's all part of the extensive station re-launch Pierson has pioneered.
What drives the work Pierson and Vang do? One word: storytelling.
"I've always grown up with storytelling in my family, because that's how stories are told, orally — at least in the Hmong culture," says Vang. "But I never realized how important it was until SisterStory came along. It's something that helps me reflect on my life and the people around me."
"Podcasting is a really reflective art," agrees Pierson. "It's cheesy, but as a person who's storytelling, you have the power in that situation, and you need to think about what your responsibility with that power is. Storytelling is extremely powerful, especially when you're dealing with other people's stories — especially other people's stories."
"Stories are much more accessible when you can't see the people telling them. All you have is the story," she continues. "It's so intimate. You have to be really careful and considerate when you're the producer, and it's a challenge I love. I think we both find joy in that," she adds, sharing a smile with her colleague.
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By Michelle Mullowney '17