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‘Her voice is worth listening to’: Marielle Segarra ’10 starts as host of NPR

Segarra, friends reflect on time at Brown, career paths

<p>“She’s done it. She’s on the radio, hosting her own show,” Diana Geman-Wollach ’10 said about Marielle Segarra ’10, who she met as an undergraduate at Brown.</p><p>Courtesy of Anthony Segarra</p>

“She’s done it. She’s on the radio, hosting her own show,” Diana Geman-Wollach ’10 said about Marielle Segarra ’10, who she met as an undergraduate at Brown.

Courtesy of Anthony Segarra

When Marielle Segarra ’10 joined WBRU, the University’s radio station, at her RPL’s urging her sophomore year, a career in radio wasn’t on her radar. She wanted to be a journalist, but she thought she would end up working in print.

“I didn't know what a career in radio would look like,” Segarra said. “I didn’t even really know what (National Public Radio) was.”

But Segarra quickly fell in love with broadcasting. Segarra worked at The Herald during college — sometimes writing alumni profiles of her own — but she found her passion in radio.

Last month, Segarra started a new job as the host of NPR’s “Life Kit,” a podcast and radio show that provides advice on topics ranging from investing to making playlists.

Segarra compared the sounds she heard on the radio to those she heard in dance as a child.

“I loved tap because I loved the feeling of my tap shoes on the wooden floors. It was this sound thing that I really liked the resonance of,” Segarra said. “There’s something about that to radio as well, when you’re talking to a mic and you hear those voices in your headphones. It feels really resonant and tactile to me, working with sound.”

“I think that’s when I started feeling that connection,” Segarra added. “We just have to kind of follow those breadcrumbs, right?”

Diana Geman-Wollach ’10 met Segarra during their second year at Brown through an English class and the two became fast friends. They worked together at WBRU.

“Marielle’s very easy to get along with,” Geman-Wollach said. “She's always got a lot of banter, great comments, and we just clicked right away.”

That easy banter fueled Segarra and Geman-Wollach’s work together on WBRU, whether they were “tagging each other on air” or “dancing in the newsroom.”

Segarra worked at WBRU during the school year as well as during two summers. Her entertainment news name was Daphne — inspired by “Scooby Doo,” she said.

“We had a couple cars that were pretty beat up, but we would drive them around Rhode Island and report on different things. It wasn’t just stuff on campus,” she said. “I felt like a reporter already.”

After graduating with a degree in English nonfiction in 2010, Segarra faced challenges in the job market.

“There were still a lot of scars from the recessions, and so there was a build up of people who wanted journalism jobs and not enough to go around,” Segarra said.

She worked in unpaid intern positions for 10 months, including at WBUR. During that time, Segarra lived with Sarah Rosengard ’11, whom she met while volunteering to teach ESL to recent immigrants in downtown Providence. They lived in Providence during Rosengard’s senior year, then in Boston.

“We tried to establish what we (would) do as adults that year,” Rosengard said. “We would have roommate nights where we cooked together, and we had a lot of parties for every season.”

“There was this time that I was away for five weeks on a research ship across the ocean, and Marielle said she sometimes slept in my bed because she missed me,” she added.

While in Boston, Segarra found a job writing for CFO, a financial magazine, through a Brown alum. Financial reporting was “definitely not a thing that I was naturally interested in” or had “any experience with,” she said.

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“The audience members were experts in this thing. It wasn’t the usual — for most audiences you are trying to really simplify things and (are) assuming that they might not be experts on this particular thing,” she said. “But if you’re writing for experts and you’re not an expert, then you’re really turned around. You have to learn it for yourself first, simplify it for yourself and then put it back into semi-technical language and not over explain.”

Segarra’s job paid for an accounting class at night, where she learned to write out financial statements.

“On one of our exams, we got a bunch of information about a company and we had to write, by hand on a blank sheet of paper, the statement of cash flows and the balance sheet,” she said.

Beyond learning about finance, Segarra’s position at CFO challenged her to find her voice.

“I also was interviewing corporate executives at a very young age, and they were always like, “You, really?” she said. “But I learned confidence from that and to not be afraid to talk to powerful people and ask them questions.”

“She’s a small … woman. She’s short. And sometimes that means it’s hard to impose yourself in a boardroom, to say, ‘Hey, my voice is worth listening to,’” Geman-Wollach said.

Segarra still had her heart set on radio, and after three years, she “invested in buying (her) own recording equipment and just started pitching stories,” she said.  She moved to Philadelphia after landing a reporting job at WHYY, an NPR charter member.

After two and a half years at WHYY, Segarra moved to New York to work as a reporter for Marketplace, a radio program that focuses on business and the economy. Starting with general assignments and features, she branched out into podcasting over her six years at the publication. Focusing on consumer psychology, Segarra found a way to bring a personal side to her financial reporting — including a long-form piece about an unlikely nude model.

“I liked that I got to branch out into the more emotional side of money,” she said.

At Brown, Segarra stopped studying economics after the introductory class, instead focusing her course load on her interests in Shakespeare and political science.

“It would’ve been helpful to take more econ classes, but at the same time, I just was not going to do that,” she said.

But since then, Segarra has developed an understanding of finance and economics through her work. After focusing on corporate finance at CFO and government finance at WHYY, Segarra felt that learning about macroeconomics at Marketplace was “completing the circle.”

“Over the past decade plus, I’ve almost gotten a degree in finance and business and economics because I’ve covered it from all these different angles,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that any of these things are my great love … I just happened to learn a lot about it.”

Now, Segarra draws on this knowledge of finance at “Life Kit.”

“I have this foundation where I can do money stories for 'Life Kit,' where I can talk about it really simply and break things down for people and help make their lives a little easier,” she said.

Since graduation, Segarra has remained close with her friends from college despite the physical distance. Segarra now lives in New York, Geman-Wollach in London and Rosengard in Chicago.

Segarra and Geman-Wollach “send each other voice notes on WhatsApp, which is kind of funny for two radio people to do,” Geman-Wollach said. “We have our own little non-live podcast going.”

Similarly, Segarra has maintained her friendship with Rosengard. They FaceTimed almost daily at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was the first person to visit Rosengard, who was stuck in Canada when border closures ended.

“She's always been there to solve my crises,” Rosengard said.

Segarra’s friends praised her openness and compassion.

“She came to visit me in London recently, and I brought her to dinner at one of my friend’s houses. She didn’t know anyone, but she came in there and charmed everyone,” Geman-Wollach said. “I love that you can have a meaningful conversation with Marielle, whether she’s your best friend of 15 years or whether you just met her that night.”

Segarra strives to maintain this authenticity and openness in her work: In her first episode at “Life Kit,” she covered the nerves of starting a new job.

Geman-Wollach said that she couldn’t be prouder of her friend.

“She’s done it. She’s on the radio, hosting her own show,” she said. “Her voice is worth listening to.”

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