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Christian Elliott

Elliott '20 brings home Webby Awards for NASA

While at Augustana, Christian Elliott '20 never envisioned a future as an award-winning podcast producer or spending his days interviewing NASA engineers about their work.

Yet, Elliott recently traveled to New York City to the 28th annual Webby Awards to accept honors for "Suiting up for Space," the April 2023 episode he wrote and produced as an intern for the podcast "NASA's Curious Universe."

Earning two awards — Webby Winner and People's Voice Winner — was a huge honor for Elliott, who said "Curious Universe" was up against a lot of other established science podcasts.

"It was great to get to go in person and accept the award in New York, see the sights and go to the fancy awards dinner," he said.

It wasn't until the environmental studies and anthropology double major began working with then-Augustana professor Dr. Cyrus Zargar on the "Lives of the Mind" podcast that his interest in the field was sparked.

"The podcast at Augustana, that was definitely my start in this field," Elliott said. "I didn’t really think about journalism until my junior year."

"It was great to have that liberal arts experience, to take all sorts of classes — French, computer science, environmental science — to kind of find my own way into what was really exciting to me."

Christian Elliott '20

The student-led podcast, which ended its run in 2020, explored the passions and pursuits of Augustana professors and residents of the Quad Cities. Initially recorded at Old Main, the podcast was eventually produced in cooperation with WVIK, Quad Cities NPR.

After Augustana, Elliott earned a master’s in science and environmental journalism from Northwestern University.

He gained additional public radio experience during that time as an intern for WBEZ Chicago.

Fresh out of grad school, he accepted an internship for NASA’s audio team and then was asked to stay on as a fellow. This month he is being promoted to a full-time audio producer role. Elliott now lives in Springfield, Ill., working remotely for NASA and traveling to the East Coast a few times a year to meet with team members.

Working as an intern for NASA's audio team, which includes just a few people, gave him a lot of responsibility and the opportunity to try new things. For the space suit episode, Elliott interviewed NASA engineers about new space suit technology and wrote the script. He worked with more senior team members on the audio production.

"It's a lot of fun because NASA has all of these archival recordings of the Apollo program and tests of old space suits," he said. "It was exciting to get to take that on as an intern and to talk to these amazing NASA scientists and ask them about what they do. I got to make the entire episode from beginning to end."

In addition to "Curious Universe," considered NASA’s flagship podcast that features a narrative style and is hosted by astrophysicist Padi Boyd, NASA has a few other podcasts that are more interview-focused. Elliott recently finished a "Curious Universe" mini-series about the sun, in which he and another producer ventured into the field across the path of totality to interview "space nerds and eclipse scientists" about the April 8 solar eclipse.

Elliott said his time at Augustana shaped his future and prepared him for the science journalism he does today. That includes the interviewing and research skills he learned from the anthropology department and his experience working as a writing tutor at the Reading/Writing Center.

"It was great to have that liberal arts experience, to take all sorts of classes — French, computer science, environmental science — to kind of find my own way into what was really exciting to me," he said.

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