Visit Modern Campus

The EdUp Experience Podcast 2020 Year-End Review

2020 has been a year full of ups and downs–EdUp Experience highlights their top favourite episodes filled with insights from higher ed leaders.

Sometime in early January of 2020, Elvin Freytes texted Dr. Joe Sallustio.  The text read, “Hey, I have an idea”.  Joe typed back to Elvin and sent the message, “I don’t care what it is, I’m in”. That is the short story about how The EdUp Experience podcast was created.  

We stumbled, bumbled, and somehow made it through the first five episodes before coming up with our best idea to date – adding Elizabeth Leiba as our partner and co-host! There have been so many reasons for us to look back on 2020 and discuss why it was an unprecedented and unique year both inside and outside of higher education. For The EdUp Experience, 2020 was the year we created, promoted, and grew our podcast to heights we didn’t think possible – this has cemented our original thought that the higher ed space was hungry for new content and new voices. In this year-end summary, we thought we could provide some insights into our goals, favorite episodes, and milestone moments.

Our goal at The EdUp Experience is to inspire and educate people to pursue a lifelong learning mindset no matter the path they choose. This goal has resonated with our guests and listeners allowing us to bring on influential voices both inside and outside higher education while focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and most importantly, students! We began the year with The EdUp Experience Podcast but added different series throughout the year including the EdUp President Series, EdUp Elites, EdUp Embedded, EdUp Experts, and our EdUp Unplugged series on YouTube discussing Race in America.  

Once we settled into our groove, moving from phones and Airpods to microphones and editing software, we discovered that we had frequent listeners and saw many of our guests and supporters share our episodes throughout social media – which contributed to exponential growth in our episode downloads. Our original goal of 10,000 downloads by the end of 2020 quickly turned into a goal of 40,000, thanks to our loyal listeners. We’ve also developed great partnerships, one of the most important being with EvoLLLution!

Here are some facts about The EdUp Experience and our phenomenal year.

  • ~25,000 – Total EdUp Experience episode streams as of mid-November 2020
  • 100+ – episodes released in 2020
  • 98 – Total countries where EdUp experience episodes have been heard
  • 56% / 42% – Our male and female audience percentages respectively
  • 34% – audience between the ages of 35-44
  • 19% – listening audience outside the United States

*One of the very special moments of 2020 was a November episode with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, George Anders. George is also the Senior Editor at large for LinkedIn.  During the episode, George informed us that Elizabeth Leiba was selected as one of the Top Voices in Education for 2020 – what an incredible honor!

Here are our favorite episodes of 2020

Bracken Darrell (Episode #83)

When we started this podcast, we were not sure we would be able to get any guests.  Imagine our surprise when the CEO & President of Logitech (valued at over 12B) agreed to come on the show. This was a moment of validation for The EdUp Experience and we were thrilled to bring our audience discussion on the value of a college degree directly from a CEO of one of the largest technology companies in the world. Though we reached outside of higher education to interview Bracken, the insights on higher education that he brought to the audience were simply incredible. In the episode Bracken explains how Logitech was able to ramp up their production of hardware to meet the needs of K-12 and higher education institutions to support online learning during COVID-19. He also shares his goal to use his public platform as a change engine to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion within his organization, while emphasizing transparency to ensure accountability.  

Listen to the episode here.

Dr. Philly Mantella (Episode #32), President, Grand Valley State University

As the first female President in the history of Grand Valley State University, it was an absolute honor to talk with Philly and hear about her story. She was also our first female President guest on EdUp – so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to deliver a great episode. In the episode, Philly highlights higher education fundamentals, and most importantly, she stresses why higher education needs to take the outside in view for institutional operations rather than the inside out view. What makes Philly’s story so relevant is her non-traditional pathway to her Presidency – she didn’t come through academics, she came up the ranks through enrollment and student services and has more than 30 years of impact on higher education (and counting!).

Listen to the episode here.

Dr. Claudia Schrader (Episode #77), President, Kingsborough Community College

Elvin, Liz, and I had a conversation very early on about booking as many diverse guests as possible – to give voice to different perspectives. Not for a lack of trying, it took us much longer than we thought to bring a black female President on as a guest. Well, Dr. Claudia Schrader was our first black female President on the podcast, and she is also the first black female President of Kingsborough Community College. In this episode, we gain Claudia’s insights on serving as an inspiration in breaking glass ceilings for Black women, supporting mentorship and retention of Black women faculty, staff and students, and her core mission driven by a passion to help others. She also describes her student-first success and retention model that consistently ranks among the leading community colleges in the country in associate degrees awarded to minority students. 

Listen to the episode here.

Dr. Christopher Brown (Episode #79), President, Kentucky State University

Historically black colleges and universities are a part of the fabric of higher education and are critically important to serving diverse populations. Dr. M. Christopher Brown II came on to the podcast to talk about how the public is rediscovering the role and impact of HBCUs in the United States. HBCUs have been known for producing solid graduate outcomes and Christopher shares why he thinks that is – also hear more about Kentucky State University, the most diverse HBCU in the country. KSU saw record enrollment in fall of 2020 and the institution is thriving despite Covid-19. Christopher is mesmerizing in the way he describes the importance of higher education even when considering what society has labeled fewer complex careers.  

Listen to the episode here.

Dr. Irma Becerra (Episode 38) – President, Marymount University

This episode with Irma is significant as she makes the case for in-person learning at a point when there was indecision on the fall 2020 return. She feels it is her responsibility to deliver what the students want, and in her opinion, that was in-person instruction. We also ask Irma about the value of a college degree, and she passionately responds that a degree is still the golden ticket for economic and intellectual mobility. She stresses helping underrepresented minorities and the importance of community in higher education. Dr. Becerra is known for expanding educational access for students and keenly targeting programming to meet societal needs and changing demographics. 

Listen to the episode here.


Scott Pulsipher (Episode #15), President, Western Governors University

In this episode, which is one of the very few featuring all of us as hosts, we talk with Scott about reinvigorating the promise of higher education. With over 130K students, Scott delves into the competency-based model of learning and how it addresses tuition affordability and financial aid debt – and why WGU was created for a world where online delivery is central to learning. Though we discussed embracing disruption during CV-19, Scott addresses why access and a commitment to underserved populations and adult learners is critical for the future of economic mobility and education in the United States.

Listen to the episode here.

BONUS – Beyond Education

We have been able to interview some incredible people outside the world of higher education. One of the most powerful stories of failure, perseverance, and reimagined success came from former NFL athlete Marques Ogden. Marques tells his story of leaving the NFL with millions of dollars, starting a construction company, and losing every single dollar due to his toxic style of leadership. With no money left to his name and in severe debt, Marques rebranded and rebuilt himself to become a motivational speaker, executive coach, and humble leader. This is a powerful story of grit and will leave you ready to take on something big.

Listen to the episode here.


Needless to say, 2020 has been a year the world will never forget. Through our podcast, we were able to chronicle the great higher education pivot during the Covid pandemic. These episodes will be stored for posterity to learn about one of the most important historical moments of our time! As we look to 2021, we plan to continue providing content of value by interviewing guests from diverse backgrounds and continuously using our platform to create innovative methods of inspiring people to develop a lifelong learning mindset no matter the path they choose…stay tuned, we are only getting started!

Joe, Liz & Elvin