Team members: Clay Adams, Alesia Brown, Cori Burnett, Jason Donnelly, Kristin Garner, Matt Logan, Corley Moore, Lora Tucker


In a progressively globalized world, the economic vitality of South Carolina’s businesses and citizens demands a level of competitiveness that extends beyond state borders, rivaling entities both nationally and internationally. The Riley Institute, aware of these shifting dynamics, has pioneered the award-winning Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI). The DLI program is founded on the principle that diversity, when effectively leveraged, can spur significant improvements in organizational outcomes and fuel socio-economic progress within South Carolina.

A key aspect of the DLI program is the development of community action projects, which serves as a platform for participants in the DLI program to address real-world challenges and opportunities within their communities. In alignment with the philosophy of the DLI program, our group partnered with Communities in Schools – South Carolina and Furman University to assist in the creation of a student-led podcast. This project embodies the true spirit of the DLI program, leveraging diversity and innovation to empower students, enhance their educational experience, and positively impact their lives. By guiding students to create and manage their own podcast, we aim to provide them with a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions and foster an environment that encourages intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and skills that transcend beyond academic boundaries.

Project Overview

The proposed project revolves around the development of a student-led podcast, specifically targeting high school students. This project acknowledges the power of peer networks in the lives of teenagers and their critical influence on mental health. Furthermore, our research highlighted the growing popularity of podcasts among young people and the potential effects of integrating them with popular social media platforms, like Tik-Tok or Instagram, for easier consumption.

Research shows the importance of friends and social circles in a teenager’s life. Peer support has been associated with mental health improvements, including increased happiness, self-esteem, effective coping mechanisms, and reductions in depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Teenagers find it easier to communicate with their peers, suggesting fewer roadblocks when accessing peer-driven initiatives compared to traditional mental health services. In terms of media preferences, nearly half of all surveyed teenagers aged 13-17 reported listening to podcasts in 2020. This number, coupled with the fact that one in five children between the ages of six to eight are also engaging with this medium, illustrates the viability of a podcast-based approach.

The need for this project is reinforced by an alarming escalation in reported poor mental health among our targeted age group. Suicide has been the second or third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 14-18 years for over a decade. In 2021 alone, 22% of students seriously considered suicide, and 10% attempted it. The student-led podcast aims to address these issues by fostering open discussions, encouraging peer support, and disseminating information on mental health resources and coping strategies. By aligning with popular social media platforms, we hope to extend the project’s reach and create a positive impact on adolescents’ mental health in our community.


Our methodology began with a thorough exploration of several key areas—youth, education, access, experiential learning, and transportation—which was instrumental in understanding the unique challenges and opportunities present in Greenville and its surrounding areas. This research phase allowed us to develop an evidence-based strategy, grounded in an understanding of our target demographic and the existing infrastructures available to support our initiative.

The next phase was characterized by establishing strategic partnerships. We joined forces with Communities in Schools of South Carolina, an organization with a proven track record of supporting student success and empowerment. This collaboration provided us with invaluable insights into local school environments and extended our network within the education sector. In addition, we established a strong link with Furman University, particularly its mass communications department. This partnership could potentially grant us access to high-quality resources, technical expertise, and the opportunity to integrate university-based insights and infrastructures into our project, enhancing its potential for success.

Following this groundwork, we initiated a focus group involving 16 students from Carolina High School. The students’ firsthand perspectives and experiences were vital in steering the project’s direction, ensuring its relevance, and fostering engagement. Their voices were instrumental in defining the podcast’s content, tone, and delivery methods. Moreover, their input ensured the initiative would meet their unique needs and preferences, ultimately establishing a strong foundation for the project’s success. The focus group demonstrated the importance of student-led initiatives in enhancing engagement, representation, and impact in initiatives aimed at the youth population.

Expectations and Goals

As we move forward with our initiative, we have identified several key milestones and targets that we strive to meet. The first significant milestone is the release of our inaugural podcast from Carolina High School, scheduled for launch in the fall of 2023, around September or October. We envisage a steady output of fresh content thereafter, with new podcast episodes being launched every 6 to 10 weeks throughout the academic year. Ultimately, we aim to reach a consistent pace of one podcast per month, fostering a regular channel of communication and engagement with our audience.

A fundamental aspect of our strategy is the creation of collaborative relationships with key partners like Furman University. By leveraging these partnerships, we can tap into a broader resource base, promote diversity in content, and reach a wider audience. Additionally, we will utilize our existing networks to foster connections, amplify the narratives shared in our podcast episodes, and provide tangible examples that resonate with our listeners.

The energy and fluidity of this project are among its core strengths. As the podcast gains traction and the infrastructure solidifies, we will reassess our goals and modify our strategies. This flexible approach will ensure that our project continues to evolve in alignment with the needs of our audience, the changing landscape of youth mental health, and the broader educational context, ultimately providing a sustainable product for years to come.


Our efforts to create and establish a student-led podcast as part of the DLI is, at its core, an investment in the youth of our community. By creating a platform that not only encourages but also values the input of teenagers, we hope to facilitate meaningful dialogue surrounding mental health while simultaneously fostering a sense of empowerment among our young population. The success of this initiative hinges on our capacity to respond effectively to the evolving needs of our audience and the broader socio-cultural context.

This project stands as an embodiment of the principles and objectives set forth by the DLI program. As we step forward into the future of this project, we are reminded of the importance of our mission—to harness the power of diversity and channel it toward positive societal transformation. By doing so, we are committed to helping shape an environment where all students feel heard, valued, and capable of making a difference, fostering a healthier, more inclusive, and brighter future for South Carolina.