My non-traditional senior thesis: a podcast series on Mayor Pete

Author: Mary Bernard

Bernard Spotlight On South Bend

When I was brainstorming ideas for my senior thesis, I knew I wanted to incorporate my studies in both anthropology and journalism, but I didn’t know how.

It was August, just a few weeks before heading back to campus for the school year. I was at a restaurant with friends, and someone mentioned the presidential race. At that point, there were more than 20 candidates, one of them being South Bend’s own Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

In a matter of months, Mayor Pete had quickly become one of the first things people mentioned when they heard I was a Notre Dame student. This dinner was no different — when talk turned to Mayor Pete, the guests turned to me.

At that moment, I realized I had the perfect subject for a thesis. Researching Mayor Pete from South Bend, I’d have access to the people who knew him best, personally and professionally. I’d get to see the city he grew up in, the places he frequented, the legacy he forged. The project was newsworthy, and Mayor Pete’s presidential run was historic. What better topic to choose?

Bernard Spotlight On South Bend

As I continued to develop the idea, I decided not to do a traditional, written thesis. Instead, I wanted to make a podcast series, taking the opportunity of this huge project ahead of me to also learn a new way to present my findings.

The research took off quickly when I got back to campus. I began reaching out to people who knew Mayor Pete, and at the end of every interview, I’d ask: “Who else should I talk to?” My list of interviews grew exponentially, and I became very familiar with Mayor Pete’s reputation in South Bend and around the country.

I ordered a small microphone that could attach to my phone and I reserved the Library sound studios religiously. Adobe Audition Tutorials dominated my free time, as I learned how to produce professional-sounding podcasts. A class I took this semester, Applied Multimedia Technology, helped a lot, too. 


Using ethnographical techniques from both anthropology and journalism, I completed around 50 hours of interviews and transcribed hundreds of pages of notes by the end of January. My focus turned to the podcast, starting with his childhood in South Bend and finishing with his concession speech at the Century Center in March. In the end, I made a five-episode series called “Spotlight on South Bend.”

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Give it a listen and learn more about the former South Bend mayor — the city he came from, his presidential run, and where he could be heading next.