Sometimes I love riding with NYC subway…

A number one train in motion

…Yeah, I know it’s a pain— especially in rush hour, at the weekends when there’s limited service, or if the guy sitting next to me is manspreading.

But there are also times of unexpected delight on the New York City subway, when a stranger makes you smile.

Friday nights are often the best time, with trains full of happy young people, heading out on dates, parties or planning to start the weekend at a bar. Their laughter and energy are infectious.

Then there are those times such as 9:30 this morning on the number 1 train heading south, when a young woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a shiny light blue cloak with a Columbia University logo, hopped on.

This was her graduation day and she could barely contain her smile.

The people sitting nearby all congratulated her. “It’s a big day— a real milestone”, one middle-aged man said, perhaps thinking of his own kids.

The young woman with long blonde hair was positively beaming. Just before she left the train at W. 116th Street, I asked about her degree. “Masters in International Relations,” she said, almost embarrassed that she was smiling so much.

Someone else nearby said: “Go make the world a better place. I think we need it.”

So, best of luck to her and all graduates who are launching new lives in this commencement season of possibilities. May they find not only work and a way to pay the bills— and the crazy high costs of student loans— but also purpose and a belief in the abundance and blessings of life.

We need their hope, energy and optimism to make the world a better place.

And sometimes we also need the subway and other public places to introduce us to the unexpected.

Richard Davies is the co-host of the news solutions show “How Do We Fix It?” and a podcasting consultant. He tries to listen to at least one new podcast each week.

Professors on Podcasts: A Rant.

It’s baseball season, thank goodness. So before I get into my windup and start hurling metaphors, let me say that I love interviewing professors on our podcasts .

These learned souls are almost always thoughtful, highly intelligent, and often funny. Their bases are loaded with interesting ideas. Professors understand nuance and are good at reminding the rest of the world (including Donald Trump) that most issues are far more complex, and indeed more interesting, than they first appear.

This is the nature of the human condition, and why it’s so difficult for data experts to design algorithms that take account of all the delightful complexity of human behavior.

The recent rush to judgement over self-driving cars, universal health care and privacy on Facebook are just three current examples of how so many current debates are poorly framed.

Professors have the luxury of escaping from the daily pressures of the business world, taking a long-term view of the subjects they study.

But they are usually different… especially tenured professors.

What is it about one-YEAR sabbaticals? Say what? For the rest of us workers, small business owners, gig economy freelancers, and salaried professionals, a one-MONTH break would be a total luxury.

And try interrupting professors. Good luck with that! The preferred platform for many university lecturers is neither a chat, seminar nor a brainstorming session. They speak from behind a lectern.

Before each episode with a professor on our weekly solutions news show, “How Do We Fix It?” my co-host, Jim Meigs and I do some podcast batting practice.

Jim starts the interview with a very polite warm-up, telling guests what’s about to happen.

“We’re a fast-paced show,” Jim explains in a somewhat professorial, yet almost apologetic tone. “We try to keep the answers to questions to under a minute. We may jump in.”

Sometimes, this approach actually works. We are able to ask lots of questions and enjoy bantering with our guests.

But in many cases, professors, who give “talks”, and “presentations” aren’t entirely comfortable with the back-and-forth of conversations. They’d rather give five examples than three.

But don’t get me wrong.

Before I get too deep in the count, let me say with as much force as I can muster: Academics are among our favorite podcast guests.

If you’re looking for someone to add intellectual heft, who could be better?

And in our age of distraction, we need to listen more carefully and at far greater length to deep thinkers.

Professors know their subjects inside and out. And many are happy to venture forth with contrarian opinions that challenge the dominant zeitgeist.

However, Jim and I agree: among our absolute favorite podcast guests professors who have also spent some time in careers outside academia— in business or journalism. Not only do they know their stuff, these women and men understand bullet points and deadlines. They tend to be both clear and disciplined in their thinking, and have learned the art of sound-bites and relatively short declarative sentences.

If you are a podcaster or broadcast host, before inviting a professor on your show, get ready to step up to the plate and take a few swings at interrupting your guest.

And also make sure you’ve taken some batting practice first. Read their book before you open the mike.

Richard Davies is a podcasting consultant, producer, interviewer and host. DaviesContent makes podcasts for companies and non-profit groups.

How Do We Fix It: Our Neighbors Just Across The Border

  
With audio/visual media class at UTEP.

El Paso:

Sometimes we learn a lot more than we expect to from the kids that we’re supposed to be teaching.

And so it was during my visit to Kate Gannon’s audio/ visual production class at UTEP – The University of Texas, El Paso.
I was asked to speak to the young students about my career in journalism, radio and podcasting. But during our 90 minutes together, I’m pretty sure these smart, switched-on students gave me something of much greater value than I was able to share with them.

The majority of the undergrads at UTEP are Mexican-Americans. Many come from poor families and struggle to keep up with tuition. But thanks to this school and its visionary President, Diana Natalicio (named to the TIME list of the world’s 100 most influential people), they’re on the up escalator.

That’s true of this class. Some come from the city of Juarez, which shares the same crowded valley as El Paso – just across the Mexican border. 

Their stories of what they must do to get to campus are moving. One young woman told me about her friend from Juarez, who wakes up at 5 a.m. each day, rides three buses and makes a time-consuming trip across the border to make a 10 a.m. class. 

   The crowded border border between El Paso and Juarez.

Armed with the right documents, you can walk across the bridge from Juarez. But going to a job, a University class or visiting a family member isn’t nearly as easy as it once was. And if Donald Trump gets his way, it could get much more difficult.

Another young Mexican in Ms. Gannon’s class burns with irritation over how Jaurez is portrayed by the media. After graduating, she wants to do something to change perceptions of her home town. 

“It’s nothing like what they say,” she says, speaking of Juarez’s stark reputation for murderous drug gang violence. Another student tells the story of a young Italian man who fell in love with a woman from Juarez and moved there. 

“He says he feels safer in Juarez than he did in Italy.”

Perhaps the crime statistics tell a different story. And there’s no doubt that the gangs are still a malevolent force in Jaurez and many other parts of Mexico.  

But a city or a country is more than numbers or abstract concepts. It is the sum of its people, its families, workers, grandparents and students. The vast majority of Mexicans shares the same hopes for a better tomorrow as we do. Dreams don’t stop at the border.

For far too long, Mexicans have been considered “the other.” The U.S. immigration debate needs to be reframed. As with Canadians, Mexicans are our neighbors. We are all North Americans together.

In this bilingual city, the people on the other side of the valley are not “them.” They are “us”. More than three-quarters of the residents in El Paso are of Mexican descent. This region has the largest bilingual-binational work force in the Western Hemisphere. 

None of this means the border should be forgotten or that U.S. immigration law can be flouted. Those who are here illegally should face deportation or other penalties.

But both countries need to have an understanding of their shared history. Since 2007, the border flow has changed dramatically. More Mexicans are leaving than coming to the U.S. 

One gesture that could send a powerful message and change the conversation: The next President should come here, walk across the bridge to Jaurez, arm-in-arm with civic and business leaders from both cities and speak of our shared humanity. 

  
Walking on the bridge to Juarez.