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Using Sound to Tell Stories People Will Remember

Libby Lussenhop ’22 found her way to sound “by accident,” as she describes it.

Studying arts/humanities and professional writing with a focus on writing, editing, and publishing at Michigan State University, she also graduated with minors in Spanish and Portuguese—a unique combination that reflects her passion for everyday learning, language, and storytelling.

After graduation, her interests led her to the field of instructional design. She began her career as a technical writer, working alongside instructional designers who were responsible for everything from facilitating employee onboarding to creating e-learning for professional development.

Although she enjoyed her work, she missed the frequent opportunities undergraduate school offered to be curious and produce creative work. To bridge that gap, she began the Craigslist Curio podcast a few years ago with her cohost.

Libby Lussenhop

“We were baffled as we looked through Craigslist ads,” she explains. “We wondered, ‘What’s up with some of this stuff? There’s got to be more to it: people looking for volunteer ice-cream truck drivers or someone selling hundreds of bottles of laundry detergent out of a garage for half-price.’ ”

The two cohosts connect with the individuals behind the postings to get a first-hand look at what’s going on—and to tell the human stories behind the ads they find so compelling. 

As Lussenhop worked on this project, the pieces started to come together: She wanted to put qualifications and genuine expertise behind her audio work because she could see a future for herself in sound.

“All signs pointed to this degree from Northwestern,” she says. “I knew I wanted to expand on this area that brought me so much joy. The idea that I could get a degree that combined my love of arts and humanities, build a technical repertoire in audio, and learn how to use audio as a tool and contextualize it in science, history, and literature—it was the perfect fit. It seemed like the only option that would give me a multifaceted understanding of the industry and practice.”

As a part-time student who works full-time, Lussenhop has completed two MA in Sound Arts and Industries courses so far. Introduction to Sound Production with Stephan Moore has helped improve her technical proficiency to carry out creative visions. “He told us: ‘If you learn the technology well, it disappears for your audience so they only notice your vision.’ ”

Introduction to Sound Studies with Neil Verma has given her an understanding of the history of sound and how people contextualize themselves and their work. The class is supported by readings and discussions about deconstructing and analyzing sound arts—questioning what sound really is, the many forms of practice and implementation of sound, and the various ways people listen.

“From these two classes alone, I already feel like I have a multifaceted approach to sound arts, and it’s only going to get better,” says Lussenhop. “Because the professors are active artists and professionals, we get to engage with their work. It’s exciting to know we’re learning from well-respected individuals in the world of sound.”

In 2019, she joined Palo Alto Networks as a digital learning designer, and she’s already seeing connections between what she learns in class and her professional work. Recently, she created a podcast for internal communication about COVID-19 and the company’s place in the “new normal.” It features updates from the company president and insight from salespeople who share how the pandemic has impacted their work.

“When you hear those things, it can be a lot more impactful and memorable than reading those statements. Using audio can build understanding, empathy, and retention. That’s what drew me to instructional design—the ability to connect directly with people through stories and learning,” she says.

She also says she’s processing discussions with coworkers in new ways as a result of being back in an academic environment. “It’s energizing to be in a program for a field I’m so passionate about. I have one foot in the professional world and one foot in academia, and I get so much energy from both!”

As she builds digital learning materials—from training content on topics like management or new cybersecurity products being rolled out—Lussenhop is taking e-learning far beyond the traditional PowerPoints or dull videos that many people imagine when they think of training. “I think the best way to teach someone something so they’ll remember is to tell it in a story. And that’s what we’re learning to do.”

Read more on our blog and follow Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program on Facebook and Twitter.