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Alumni in the Classroom

For students in Grinnell’s Introduction to Sociology class, the central question they must ask themselves is this: “How do my own personal struggles fit into a wider public issue, and how can I use sociology to solve that problem?”

“For example, if students are struggling with debt, they need to explore how that is reflective of a larger trend or problem in society,” says Patrick Inglis, assistant professor of sociology. “This semester, I wanted to bring someone in who really exemplifies that ability to make that connection and find solutions to those big problems. And I immediately thought of Damon.”

Casually dressed, Damon Williams and students talking over pizza in a casual environmentDamon Williams ’14, who was a sociology and economics double major, is currently a member of BYP100 and the Let Us Breathe Collective, both of which are Chicago-based black liberation movements. Williams worked in a variety of other movements after graduating from Grinnell, including raising money to send gas masks to Ferguson during the 2014 conflict and teaching financial literacy classes to young black men to help alleviate poverty through investment.

“I graduated from Grinnell having studied social media, feminism, black power movements, and other social movements around the world,” says Williams. “When I left, I knew I wanted to be a game changer.”

Inglis was able to bring Williams back to campus to share his experience with current students in sociology and philosophy classes. Williams also met with the student group Concerned Black Students about social media and black liberation, and held jam-packed office hours in the Spencer Grille. His presentation and workshop entitled “Bigger than the Cops: Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives” was standing room only.

“It was incredibly inspiring to learn from someone directly involved in the struggle against racism on a community level,” says Rosie O’Brien ’16. “His perspective gave me hope for the future of Chicago and the future of global economics more generally, and I learned a lot about the power of community-based movements.”

According to Inglis, bringing alumni back into the classroom is an important way to connect students’ learning to the work they can do after they leave Grinnell. “Alumni are already familiar with Grinnell, and that helps them make a more personal connection with the students,” Inglis says. “They know the real world and the Grinnell world and they can help students bridge those worlds in a way that professors aren’t always able to do.”

Rosie O’Brien is a political science and studio art major from Lawrence, Kansas.

Alumni Begin Year of Service

This August, a dozen Grinnell alumni began a year of service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national service-leadership program that unites people to work for peace with justice. The program is popular among Grinnellians, and Grinnellians are popular with the organization, as well. Holding more than 10% of the 104 positions, the Grinnellians represent the largest group of alumni from any college or university in this year’s cohort of volunteers.

After the week of intensive training and orientation on topics including anti-racism work, self-care and intercultural communication, the volunteers dispersed to 13 U.S. cities, each person committed to serve full-time for one year with a particular social justice organization, while practicing simple, sustainable living in household communities of four to seven people.

The Grinnell alumni are serving in a variety of positions — including case managers, program assistants, and academic associates — and in everything from marketing and communications to farm and gardens to academics. They will serve in six cities this year:

Chicago, Ill.
Hannah Bernard ’15, Chicago Community Loan Fund
Elaine Fang ’15, Lakeview Pantry
Eleni Irrera ’14, Free Spirit Media
Katherine Quinn ’15, Lincoln Park Community Shelter
Milwaukee, Wis.
Ankita Sarawagi ’15, Bread of Healing Clinic
Seattle, Wash.
Rebecca Carpenter ’15, Jewish Family Service
Tacoma, Wash.
Fatima Cervantes ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Brittany Hubler ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Twin Cities, Minn.
Jordan Schellinger ’15, Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity
Alex Sharfman ’15, Our Saviour's Community Services
Washington, D.C.
Georgina Haro ’15, La Clinica del Pueblo
Alexa Stevens ’15, Thurgood Marshall Academy

The LVC says they are “proud of the continued partnership with Grinnell College and congratulates these 12 Grinnellians as they begin their year of service!”

LVC, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is open to persons from all spiritual traditions and welcomes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in all aspects of the organization. It supports volunteers as they explore the spiritual aspects of justice, community, and sustainability.

The Grinnell alumni earned degrees in a wide variety of areas: anthropology, art, biological chemistry, economics, French, psychology, philosophy, political science, Russian, sociology, and Spanish.

Against Reason: Anti/Enlightenment Prints

“Against Reason: Anti/Enlightenment Prints by Callot, Hogarth, Piranesi and Goya,” an art exhibition exploring the darker side of the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, opens Friday, April 3, at the Faulconer Gallery, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, France, and elsewhere in Europe began to question religious and political authority, embracing the notion that humanity could be improved through critical reasoning. The Enlightenment produced scientific discoveries, legislative reform, pioneering philosophical texts, wars, and revolutions. It also supported the institution of slavery. 

Featuring prints by Jacques Callot, William Hogarth, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, "Against Reason" examines the dangers of secularism, nationalism and a scientific method that dismisses rather than exalts the qualities that make us both human and humane.

The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, was curated by Timothy McCall ’15, Maria Shevelkina ’15, Dana Sly ’15, Emma Vale ’15, Elizabeth Allen ’16, Mai Pham ’16, and Hannah Storch ’16. The students worked under the direction of J. Vanessa Lyon, assistant professor of art history, during a fall 2014 exhibition seminar.

"With Good Reason: Conversations, Celebration and Music" will be held at Faulconer Gallery at 4:15 p.m. Friday, April 17, featuring the opportunity to speak with student curators and hear music from the Enlightenment period. Faculty members from the departments of philosophy, English, and French will join student curators in a roundtable discussion on the themes of the exhibition at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, at the gallery.

"Against Reason" will be on view through Sunday, Aug. 2. The Faulconer Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. This exhibition includes a loan of four prints from Legacies for Iowa: A University of Iowa Museum of Art Collections Sharing Project, supported by the Matthew Bucksbaum Family.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Bucksbaum Center for the Arts has accessible parking in a lot behind the building just north of Sixth Ave. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

 

KGB and the Soviet Surveillance State

Cohn EdwardEdward Cohn, assistant professor of history, has won two grants that will support his archival and oral history research on KGB tactics to manage threats to political stability in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

He has been awarded a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society.

Cohn says “My work analyzes how the KGB and its victims defined anti-Soviet activity, highlighting the ways that 20th-century surveillance states sought to prevent crime by collecting information on their citizens, who were forced to adapt to an intrusive and ever-vigilant state."

In recent years, half of all Grinnell applications received NEH funding, compared to 8 percent nationally. Previous winners include Shanna Benjamin, Tammy Nyden, Dan Reynolds, and Ralph Savarese.

About Edward Cohn’s Research

Cohn's research deals with the KGB's efforts to fight political unrest in the Soviet Union's three Baltic republics, which were part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991 and became the center of strong anti-Soviet independence movements. In particular, he focuses on the KGB's efforts to prevent dissent by summoning low-level offenders to supposedly informal meetings with secret police officers, who warned them to change their ways.

Cohn will spend about two months doing research in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Tallinn, Estonia. "KGB archives are almost entirely closed in Russia, but are far more open in the Baltic states," he says.  Cohn will also spend time completing oral history interviews.

Scholars' Convo: David Schmidtz and Phi Beta Kappa

David Schmidtz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on political philosophy, will be the keynote speaker at the Scholars’ Convocation at noon Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in the Joe Rosenfield ‘25 Center, Room 101. Schmidtz has been named the National Phi Beta Kappa Scholar in Philosophy for 2014-15.

His address, “On the Pretense of Consent,” is part of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholars program. The event is free and open to the public with a free pizza lunch provided.

Newly elected members of Grinnell’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Beta of Iowa, will be recognized at the Convocation, as well as the winners of the annual Joseph F. Wall ’41 Phi Beta Kappa Scholar’s Award and the Neal Klausner Sophomore Book Awards.

In his address Schmidtz will explore how many political theories that represent justified political authority are grounded in the consent of the people. But if we start from there, according to Schmidtz, we end up spending our time defining consent in abstract ways in service of a lame pretense that we live under justified consent-based authority.

In contrast, Schmidtz will contend that, “If we start with actual politics, that is, from the idea that disagreement is an inevitably central feature of our lives together, then the objective becomes to make it safe to disagree, and at very least not ensure that politics is war by other means.

“The point of politics,” he will conclude, “is to create realms where the operative virtue is nonthreatening diplomacy — realms in which people are not a threat to each other. In practice, seeking consent is our most important way of keeping the peace and of treating each other with respect, but it is not the moral foundation of keeping the peace or of mutual respect. Its importance is derivative, not foundational. When we do not acknowledge the actual role of consent, we fail to take it seriously.”

Currently the Kendrick Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, Schmidtz is founding director of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. He has published extensively on ethics, environmental philosophy, and rational choice. He is author of Person, Polis, Planet and editor-in-chief of the journal Social Philosophy and Policy, which has the largest circulation among philosophy journals in the English-speaking world.

Phi Beta Kappa is an academic honor society with more than a half million members in chapters at nearly 300 American colleges and universities.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Joe Rosenfield ‘25 Center has accessible parking in the lot on the east side of the building. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

Sexual Promises

Hallie LibertoHallie Liberto, a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, will present “Sexual Promises” at 4:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 17, in Steiner 106.

Liberto’s work explores moral rights, promises, and the ethics of markets.

Her publications in 2014 include “The Exploitation Solution to the Non-Identity Problem” and “The Moral Specification of Rights: A Restricted Account.”

At Princeton, she is working on a series of articles related to problematic promises.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the philosophy department or Conference Operations.

 

Art to Algorithms

“Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?” That’s often the eye-rolling question in a first interview.

For Natalie Larson ’06, the quick answers could be “NASA,” “Norway,” and “ ’net congestion” — a few of her hefty résumé builders since graduating with honors as an art major eight years ago.

“At Grinnell, I oscillated between choosing philosophy and studio art as a major, but after taking time off to pursue life as a Carmelite nun (another exploration), and subsequently dealing with many inner philosophical battles, I chose art.” She credits faculty members Bobbie McKibbin, Matthew Kluber, Jill Schrift, and Lesley Wright as influential mentors.  

Grinnell, though, came after Larson found a math error on a national standardized test while in high school, but before she discovered a mistake in the GRE, which led to work for The Princeton Review and ACT. These experiences she counts among her “most satisfying to date,” followed quickly by “my internship at Harvard in 2010 and the 2011 program on quantum computing I attended at MIT, which were extremely gratifying. Learning about the strange, mind-bending, humanity-altering potential consequences of quantum computing from foremost researchers was an amazing experience.”

Art to algorithms

Larson in flight suit in front of planeWhat qualified the artist to conduct research in quantum computing? After graduation from Grinnell, philosophy was still on Larson’s mind. “I found myself drawn more and more to logic, eventually realizing that I should just study pure mathematics,” she says.

In 2012, Larson earned a second bachelor’s degree, double majoring in mathematics and computer science with honors from Vanderbilt. She also attended NASA’s Aeronautics Academy, where she wrote software to simulate in-flight Internet usage. Today, she’s in the midst of a Ph.D. program in computer science from the University of California, San Diego.

“In my Ph.D. research I study Internet congestion, both from a technical point of view, and a socio-economic point of view, looking at reasons why networks might be motivated to allow certain pathways to remain congested,” Larson explains.  

For example, “In early 2014, we saw especially heavy congestion between Cogent – one of Netflix’s transit providers – and virtually all other service providers with the exception of Cox, which has a special agreement with Netflix. When Netflix agreed to pay Comcast this March, nearly all congestion on paths between Cogent and other service providers disappeared,” Larson says.

“Identifying sources of congestion and finding ways to mitigate them can make the Internet fairer, faster, and more reliable.”

Larson’s research is funded by a Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), in return for her commitment to work for the DOD the next two summers and at least three years upon completion of her doctorate.

This summer, she’s working at the Simula Research Laboratory in Oslo to analyze congestion in Norwegian mobile broadband networks. And in her spare time, she ran a marathon in Helsinki to prepare for another in Oslo – all leading to her next goal, “my first 100-mile ultra.”

“When I ran my first marathon at Grinnell in 2005, I thought, ‘I’ll be satisfied if I never achieve anything else in running!’ but meeting that goal opened up the possibility for new ones. In 2007 I qualified for the Boston Marathon, and last year completed my first 50-mile ultra. I’ve already run two marathons this year (San Diego and Helsinki) and will run another (Oslo) in less than a month.”

Possible, probable, Grinnell

How is all this possible? Larson makes it sound so, well, Grinnellian. “By emphasizing ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, holding classes in a discussion format, and heralding the value of many different disciplines and the connections between them, a liberal arts education gives us an appreciation for diversity — of vocations, of opinions, of ways of thinking — and an ability to think exceptionally critically and creatively.” About art, algorithms and Internet congestion.

2014 Mellon Mays Fellows Selected

Three Grinnell College students have been chosen as Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows (MMUF): Alexandra Odom ’16, Jermaine Stewart-Webb ’16, and Connie Wang ’16. They are the sixth MMUF cohort from Grinnell.

“Mellon is such an incredible opportunity and it’s so life-changing,” says Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English, coordinator of the Mellon Mays program at Grinnell College, and a former Mellon Mays fellow herself. The MMUF program aims to give students, particularly African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Native Americans, and other underrepresented minorities a path to an academic career.

“Mellon Mays is a program that follows our undergraduate fellows from the time they are sophomores in college to the moment they are tenured professors. There is no other program that does what Mellon Mays does,” Benjamin says.

The program provides fellows with a faculty mentor who oversees their work on a two-year research project. Fellows will also meet regularly with their peers and get help with planning for an academic career. If they pursue doctoral work in eligible fields, fellows will receive assistance with repayment of undergraduate loans.

Meet the Fellows

Fellow: Alexandra Odom, history

Mentor: Albert Lacson, assistant professor of history

“For my research, I’m going to compare the British and American civil rights movements and minority women’s roles within them,” Odom says. During her study in the Grinnell-in-London program in fall 2014, she hopes to make good progress on the British portion of her topic.

Fellow: Connie Wang, philosophy

Mentor: Johanna Meehan, professor of philosophy and McCay-Casady Professor of Humanities

“I would like to explore how externally projected images become internalized in racial conceptions of identity and how the ‘colonizer’s gaze’ becomes the paradigm through which the ‘colonized’ view and come to desire themselves,” Wang says.

Jermaine Stewart-Webb and Shanna BenjaminFellow: Jermaine Stewart-Webb, English

Mentor: Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English

“The National Institute of Health reports that homelessness runs rampant within the LGBTQ community,” Stewart-Webb says. “My research asks, how do LGBTQ communities of color here in the United States, and those in Paris, France, imagine home and recreate familial bonds through Ball Circuit Culture?" He plans to study at the American University Center of Provence in spring 2015 to research the part of his project pertaining to LGBTQ communities in France. 

During their senior year, these fellows will present the results of their research on campus.

“The MMUF program aligns perfectly with our commitment to social change, social justice, excellence in undergraduate research, and advising and mentoring as an overarching philosophy of the college,” Benjamin says. “It’s a perfect way to demonstrate achievement and diversity. It takes what Grinnell is doing to another level, and it gives students an opportunity to really see what a life in the pursuit of a career of the mind looks like.”

Alexandra Odom ’16 is from Baltimore, Md. Jermaine Stewart-Webb ’16 is from Hawthorne, Calif. Connie Wang ’16 is from San Gabriel, Calif.

Wonder, Culture, and the Scientific Method

 

Panel: 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, Bucksbaum Center Faulconer Gallery
Panel: 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, Bucksbaum Center Faulconer Gallery

A “Wunderkammer,” or room of wonders, was at once a study, a laboratory, and a social space wherein people collected oddities and were inspired to learn more through the cognitive emotion “wonder.” Two panels with Grinnell College faculty investigate the concept of wonder and its manifestations in culture and science.

On November 19 the panel on “Wonder and Culture” will explore how wonder infused and shaped cultural expression in the early modern period.

Speakers are: Vance Byrd, assistant professor of German; Vanessa Lyon, assistant professor of art history; and Catherine Rod, special collections librarian and archivist of the College.

On November 21, “Wonder and the Scientific Method” integrates the seemingly subjective concept of wonder with the development of science as we came to know it. Panelists include: James Lee, assistant professor of English; Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy; and Joshua Sandquist, assistant professor of biology.

Both panels take place in Faulconer Gallery, 641-269-4660.

 

 

Study Abroad

Off Campus Studies

You will find ample off-campus study opportunities through Grinnell. Some Grinnell philosophy majors, through a cooperative agreement, have studied at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Leuven in Belgium, where they focus on the historical development of philosophy along with major contemporary movements.