When I began this week, I could feel my heart beating in my throat. I was still in disbelief that I had been accepted into Next Gen, but actually being in CPR’s office and immersed in the newsroom with established journalists? My brain completely short circuited and it wasn’t even day one.

Once the cohort hit the ground running, I felt completely in my element. Hours felt like minutes, writing was effortless, and editing audio, while difficult at first, took me back to Todd Olander’s farm with each clip of crunching alfalfa and sifted grain.

There were some struggles, of course. After driving an hour to Loveland for our interview, my mentor, Paolo Zialcita, and I discovered we’d forgotten the recording equipment. But the Next Gen Radio team was consistently there for support, with Doug Mitchell taking time out of his schedule to bring us the kit, allowing us to have a successful interview.

I truly could not have done any of this without the help of my mentor. Paolo was a guiding force throughout all of this, sharing his experience with the program in 2017 and explaining how to apply best practices. He knew exactly where I needed help when I needed it, and was constructive and cynical in all the right ways. Talking about HBO’s The Rehearsal and our favorite musicians while we carpooled was a plus, too (and so was watching him trip and fall every single day).

I also owe everything to the editors: Gabriela Saldivia, Michelle Faust Raghavan, Megan Verlee, Kevin Beaty — your help has elevated this project substantially and I’ll be taking your advice with me throughout the rest of my career.

And the illustrators! Shideh Ghandeharizadeh, thank you for breathing life into this story. Yunyi Dai, thank you for getting all my good angles.

I’m still in shock from this experience. The friends I’ve made in this program, the knowledge I’ve learned and the fun I’ve had made all the late nights worth it. Todd, I’ll be cracking open a beer later just for you.

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