Finding Connection

One choice opened up a whole web of campus-community connections for first-year student Ruth Isaac ’17.

Thursday, Apr. 24, 2014 9:23 am

Ruth Isaac ’17 enjoyed her Making History class last fall and wanted to take another history course in the spring. With her interest in the Civil War, she selected The American Civil War and Reconstruction with Professor Sarah Purcell ’92.

What Isaac didn’t know until the class started was that it would fulfill another of her desires — to develop a connection with the community of Grinnell.

Connection: Teachers

When Dan Covino ’10, a social studies teacher at Grinnell High School, learned last year that he’d be teaching a special Civil War history class this year, he contacted his former adviser, Sarah Purcell.

Purcell and Covino developed their respective Civil War courses to include a major collaborative research project for their college and high school students.

Campus-community collaborations are common at Grinnell College and contribute to academic and civic excellence.

Connection: Students

Each of Purcell’s college students is matched with two or three of Covino’s students based on shared interests. Topics ranged from Civil War cartoons to Jefferson Davis to the role of religion in the Civil War. Students ranked their top five topics.

Isaac and each of her high school teammates chose women and warfare as their top pick. Her teammates include Jonah Benning-Shorb, a sophomore, Lily Hamilton, a junior, and Amaris Bates, a senior. “I think I have an easier time relating to them since I’m close to their age,” says Isaac, a first-year student.

Bates, Benning-Shorb, and Hamilton have been friends since well before this class. All three play tennis and sing in the choir, and they teamed up in the high school’s spring musical, Beauty and the Beast.

Connection: The Community

Isaac went to see her group members perform in the musical a few days after meeting them for the first time.

She also had college friends playing in the pit orchestra for the show.

Isaac says, “It was really nice seeing the Grinnell community come out and support the high-school students. I saw lots of parents and grandparents in the audience.”

Connection: Family

Isaac’s group had experiences that helped her make connections in the community, because the students were well-connected in town, and on campus:

  • Benning-Shorb’s parents are alum Heather Benning ’96 and Deanna Shorb dean of religious life and the college chaplain.
  • Hamilton’s parents are both alumni: Sarah Hamilton ’91, who works at the Pioneer Bookshop downtown, and Andy Hamilton ’85, an associate professor of physical education and head tennis coach.
  • Hamilton’s brother, William Hamilton ’17 is a first-year student and plays tennis for his dad.

And the Research Project?

The students working together

The college student mentors are teaching their high school partners about using and analyzing primary source materials at Burling Library. At the same time, mentors are learning project management skills.

The high school students are learning what the research process is like for a college class. “I’m becoming a better researcher,” Benning-Shorb says.

And of course they’re learning about their topics. “We’re constantly reviewing and growing our ideas,” Hamilton says.

The interactions between college and high school students are limited to several scheduled face-to-face meetings and the use of an OrgSync portal, a monitored, online collaboration and project management space. The purpose is twofold: to maintain everyone’s personal safety and to comply with FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I get so excited about getting emails [through OrgSync] from my high school partners,” Isaac says. As the group leader, she delegates several small research tasks and has been impressed by the students’ work.

“I’ve learned to trust others,” Isaac says. “They have exceeded my expectations by far. I learned to stop doing all the work, and that it’s more about team work.”

Isaac, Bates, Benning-Shorb, and Hamilton will display their work during a poster presentation in the second-floor lobby of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, May 2. The session will feature the work of 20 other research project teams, too.

Ruth Isaac ’17 is thinking about majoring in history and biological chemistry. She’s from Silver Spring, Md.