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McKenny named NPR Student Podcast Challenge winner

Senior+Georgianna+McKenny+won+the+grand+prize+in+National+Public+Radios+Student+Podcast+Challenge+for+her+podcast+How+the+Jackson+Water+Crisis+Affects+Education.
Ray Taylor
Senior Georgianna McKenny won the grand prize in National Public Radio’s Student Podcast Challenge for her podcast “How the Jackson Water Crisis Affects Education.”

National Public Radio named MSMS senior Georgianna McKenny as the grand prize winner of its National Student Podcast Challenge on June 21. McKenny’s podcast triumphed over 3,300 other podcasts submitted to the contest this year. 

McKenny’s winning podcast, “How the Jackson Water Crisis Affects Education,” features her 17-year-old cousin Mariah and an administrator from a school in Jackson. Throughout the podcast, McKenny talked about how not having water affects her cousin’s daily routines and her education, things most people would have never considered to be impacted. 

Thomas Easterling, an MSMS English instructor, teaches University Composition classes where students are challenged to develop original podcasts on their hometowns. McKenny developed her podcast as part of his class. 

Before conducting research for her podcast, McKenny said she never considered how the water crisis affected other aspects of students’ lives beyond a lack of clean water. In the podcast, she mentioned how water pressure affected hot and cold lunches, and sometimes students needed an entire class period to go to the bathroom due to a lack of water. 

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“I had never thought about how the water crisis could affect school lunch because you couldn’t cook certain foods,” McKenny said. “I also talked about how the water crisis affected the restrooms.”

McKenny said she discovered inspiration for her podcast after writing an essay about a hometown hero for her University Composition class’ first essay assignment. 

“For my hero, I was going to do [the essay] on Angie Thomas. I really liked her writings and her works, and she’s from Jackson,” McKenny said. “But through her words and through what she represented, I wanted to move on to something bigger…That’s when I read an article on the Jackson Water Crisis.”

Even though she departed from her original plan of making a podcast about Angie Thomas, McKenny said she was passionate about her new topic. 

The Jackson water crisis was big at the time, and it still is big. I always see things on Google about what’s happening, so, I did some more research and was like, ‘I really want to write about this.’

— Georgianna McKenny

“The Jackson water crisis was big at the time, and it still is big,” McKenny said. “I always see things on Google about what’s happening, so, I did some more research and was like, ‘I really want to write about this.’”

McKenny said she still had some doubts about her new essay even though she was passionate about the topic.

“I didn’t think it was as good as my first essay because I switched topics at like midnight, but I just kept writing,” she said. 

Soon after she completed her essay, McKenney applied it in writing a script for her podcast. This podcast was then entered into the NPR Student Podcast Challenge where McKenny gained a finalist position. A few days later, McKenny’s podcast was announced as the grand prize winner of 2023. 

After finding out her podcast won, McKenny said she was excited, but it wasn’t a complete surprise. 

“I had a feeling because [Easterling] emailed me the night before [the announcement] saying something great happened with NPR, so I thought maybe [the call was] related [to the contest],” she said. “I was excited; I mean who wouldn’t be?”

Easterling said McKenny’s hard work led to well-earned praise.

“I’m incredibly proud of what Georgianna did through her podcast,” Easterling said. “Reporters from around the country came to Mississippi and came to Jackson to report on the water crisis. They certainly did important work in letting people know of the origin of the crisis and why its solution has been so difficult and politicized, yet Georgianna was the only person I know of who bothered to tell what it was like to be a student going through those times. She didn’t get caught up in the blame game like most adults covering the issue. Her reporting was way more visceral and effective.”

To listen to the podcast, visit “How the Jackson Water Crisis Affects Education.”

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on September 9, 2023.