Here are some early favorites of the As we dive into entries for the NPR College Podcast Challenge, here's a few that we've been hitting replay on!

Love at first listen: Early favorites from the College Podcast Challenge

LA Johnson/NPR
Students listening to podcast
LA Johnson/NPR

From deep space to their own backyard, students were eager to take us on a journey for this year's College Podcast Challenge. And they brought their best storytelling to the second annual NPR contest – we've been tickled, moved, and even enlightened by some of the entries we've heard so far!

We got entries from 39 states and Washington, D.C. – and even more students than last year hunkered down with their microphones to tell us a story they cared about. Today, we want to share with you a few of the early entries we loved!

Hunting for family histories

These two entries explored family histories and gathered memories straight from the source.

Melina Kritikopoulos, from the University of California Berkeley, was tired of learning about her family history from professors who didn't live through it. So, she turned to her bà nội, her grandma, to learn about what it was like to live in Vietnam during the war, how she fell in love, and how she escaped.

Mason Hickock, of the University of Texas at San Antonio, grew up visiting his grandparents, Maw Maw and Paw Paw, all the time. He takes us on one of those visits – trips that have become even more important as his Paw Paw's health declines – and shares a bit of his family's history along the way.

An audio postcard of joyful sounds

From Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., student Troy Logan takes us on a trip around the country through the stories behind some everyday sounds. From the revving of a beloved car, to the purrs of a favorite pet, to the sizzle of a staple microwave meal, Logan collects all these sounds and leaves us with a song he composed from them.

Breaking taboos

"Pa ya vamos todos!"

We're all going there! – which is why Diana Troper Sabah and Gabriela Alejandra Lopez Gomes of Boston University believe we shouldn't be afraid of talking about death.

In their podcast "Que Dark," they share their near-death experiences to grapple with their own mortality and make these experiences more of a celebration of life.

Inside the life of a cartoon icon

"He's been called a genius, an idiot, a liberal, a conservative, a hero, and a nutcase. But he just goes by Mr. Fish."

That's how Bala Thenappan and Alex Yang at the University of Pennsylvania describe Dwayne Booth, the irreverent political cartoonist. In their podcast, Thenappan and Yang try to get inside the head of a cartoonist who seems to take no sides and pull no punches. Along the way, they dig up questions about satire, its role in politics, and how far is TOO far for a joke.

Trapped at sea for 108 days

When Macy Lipkin from Wellesley College studied abroad in the Galápagos Islands, the last thing she expected was to run into a pirate ship and its crew.

The 13-person crew fixed up a 100-year-old ship to travel from New Zealand to the Galápagos. Shortly after they set sail, COVID-19 travel restrictions shut the ports at many of the places they were planning on stopping – leaving the crew stuck at sea for 107 days. Hear Lipkin tell the story of how the crew pulled off the trip and stayed sane.

Students standing up for survivors

Andrea Valeria Diaz Tolivia and Celine Maia Mendiola documented student protests at the University of Southern California after allegations of sexual assault arose against Sigma Nu fraternity. Through sounds and student voices, they took us right to the scene of the protests – immersing us in the situation on their campus.

A racial reckoning for American Girl dolls:

Growing up, Naomi Pepper loved her American Girl doll, Kit Kittredge. Kit was just like Naomi – she was tenacious, creative and loved to write. And, they both were white. For Lindsey Gispert, there was only one doll that looked like her – Addy Walker, an enslaved girl who escapes to freedom.

"So, I'm reading about a girl who looks like me and I'm all inspired," said Pepper in their podcast. "And you're reading about a girl literally being tortured."

In the podcast, "Remember Kit and Addy?", the two friends from Walla Walla University in Washington State reflect on the vastly different backstories behind their childhood dolls and what messages kids are supposed to get from their toys.