When I first decided to do a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) on the School of the Americas Vigil and social movement, I had no idea that Professor Michael Thompson had written numerous papers on the topic in graduate school. I had never taken a class with Michael Thompson, be it a small seminar of nine people or even one of Grinnell's larger classes of around twenty people. Because he had started teaching at Grinnell only recently, I had never even seen him at a sociology event like the annual barbeque, where students and professors get a chance to chat and relax outside of class. However, I scheduled an appointment with him to discuss this idea anyway, hoping that in spite of our lack of professional or personal relationship, he would still be interested in supervising me in a rigorous, semester long project that could culminate in research publication.
My fingers were crossed.
However, I didn't have any reason to worry: Michael was excited about the opportunity to expand on his research and collect data with student researchers, and enthusiastic about helping me carve out precisely what I wanted my research project to entail. We even made plans to travel to the event itself in Fort Benning, Georgia, with ten other students. This semester, we have spent countless hours together or on the phone, desperately trying to solve last minute funding crises, pouring over social movement literature, and . We have taught each other various software programs that the other did not know (I'm still embarrassed that I didn't know how to use Excel until we worked together), and have too many shared Google Documents to count. We even put together a panel on social movements for the Midwest Sociological Association's annual conference: Michael's encouragement has me vetting papers written by professors, which would be unthinkable if it weren't for his guidance. It's strange to think of this class as a class, when this project has been more of a collaboration than anything else, partially because of Michael's enthusiasm for nonhierarchical learning and cooperative effort, as well as because of the attitude professors have towards students. Any passion for a subject is actively encouraged, and a rapport between students and professors beyond the classroom is more than common: it's kind of the norm. Only at Grinnell would I have a professor that I had never met before working together with me on such a daunting project.