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BIOLOGY_DEPARTMENT

Big Island Summer

Rebecca Rasmussen ’16 and Edward Hsieh ’16 helped find what turned out to be the largest super colony of ants ever recorded in North America. By large, we mean all the way from Iowa to the Appalachian Mountains.

Students sitting on ground with research tools around them.Those Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) in summer 2014 earned them both an invitation from Grinnell biology professor Jackie Brown to do a second MAP last summer. This one meant spending two months on Big Island, Hawaii.

Both students agreed enthusiastically. By mid-May, Rasmussen and Hsieh were planning preliminary field studies to help Brown and Idelle Cooper ’01 of James Madison University find out why some female damselflies are red and some are green.

Ecological or sexual selection

“I was looking at a behavioral biology aspect because we wanted to see if the females were evolving this color dimorphism because of sexual selection,” Rasmussen says. For two months, she and other researchers stalked damselflies at various sites near Na’alehu, the southernmost town in the United States.

“Our main hypothesis was ecological selection, so I was testing the alternative,” Rasmussen says. Her findings indicated that sexual selection was minimal. “What we saw goes along with what Professor Brown and Professor Cooper have been positing, which is promising for their research,” she says.

Hsieh tested for chemical properties related to the color morphs. “In the ant project I looked at their particular hydrocarbons, and in this one I looked at antioxidant chemicals to see what potentially helped protect damselflies against UV radiation depending on the elevation.”

Finding the unexpected

Damselfly sitting on a notes that track flies sex and behavior for June 18, 2015, 10:12 a.m.Hsieh’s early findings contradicted expectations that red pigment signals protection from UV stress. He found that the redder the damselfly, the lower its antioxidant capability. “We have a couple of theories as to why that might be so,” Hsieh says. “It’s still pretty open ended and we’re actually continuing to work on it right now.”

Brown, who along with Cooper received National Science Foundation funding for the damselfly project, says, “Working with Edward and Rebecca on two different projects has highlighted for me both their talents and the value of our research-based curriculum in preparing students for meaningful participation in research.

“Each has built on their particular experience with the ant project, but in a completely new setting,” Brown says. “We’ll be working hard together during their senior year to submit these results for publication.” 

Serious contributions

Rasmussen says the collaborative research processes have made her feel “more prepared for going to graduate school in biology, if that’s the route I decide to take. Going through the planning stage, executing it, and then summarizing it is, I think, applicable to any career field.”

Rasmussen says it is satisfying as an undergraduate to do research that adds knowledge to a field. “It is pretty exciting to find things that could seriously contribute or that turn out to be an unusual finding that is worth reporting,” she says.

“I was originally interested in doing biological field research,” Hsieh says of his MAP experience, “and these opportunities gave me a lot of experience in what I would expect to do if I were to continue in that vein. It’s very likely that I’ll continue on to graduate school, possibly in entomological research.”

Coolest experience

Damselfly research is highly weather dependent, so on a few rainy days the research team found diversions that included Hawaii’s vast mix of Asian cuisine, volcanoes, and black sand beaches.

“One morning it was pretty rainy so we went to a beautiful beach for snorkeling,” Hsieh says. “We swam with sea turtles, and then farther out we found a giant pod of 30-plus dolphins.

“We were swimming with dolphins,” Hsieh says. “It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. And it was on my 21st birthday. It was awesome.”

Rebecca Rasmussen ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa. Edward Hsieh ’16 is a biology major from Champaign, Ill.

7 Tried-and-True Study Tips

Studying is hard, especially when you’re just getting used to college classes or transitioning from introductory courses to higher-level studies. But it doesn’t have to be so hard that you feel like you’re not getting anywhere! Read on to learn tried and true techniques for mastering your classes while still having time to enjoy your life at Grinnell.

1. Ask for Help
One of the best ways to get ahead in your education is to take advantage of your professors’ office hours. Zach Liebman ’16 says, “Not only will going to office hours help you better understand the material and expectations of the class, but it also gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with your professor.”  
You can also take advantage of the many helpful resources that the Academic Advising Office has to offer, including tutoring, appointments at the Writing or Reading Lab, and tons of great worksheets and tips.
2. Test Yourself
When it comes to studying for a test or brushing up on an area you’ve struggled with, Evelyn Weidman ’17 suggests inventing your own problems for practice. “By making your own problems and examples, you do a whole other level of thinking than if you just review the examples from class and homework that you already have,” says Weidman. This process can help you to identify areas that you need to work on and will help eliminate the fear of “trick questions” many experience on test day.
3. Visualize Success
To deal with math problems that seem complicated, Karin Yndestad ’17 recommends using visual learning techniques. “Whenever possible, draw a picture. Visualizing the problem that you are working on often gives you unexpected insight on how best to solve it,” Yndestad says. She also suggests students write out and prove theorems from scratch without using notes, rather than just repeating from memory. “This forces you to really understand the methods behind the proof, and it also helps you commit important ideas to memory.”
4. Procrastination = Motivation?
Having trouble staying motivated when all you want to do is relax?  Try setting up a reward system to turn activities that you normally use to procrastinate into prizes for a job well done. After completing a reading or homework assignment, Carlina Arango ’16 rewards herself with a TV show on Netflix or a massage in the Wellness Lounge. “It helps you stay focused, and time goes by faster if you learn how to balance studying with a bit of relaxing in between,” says Arango.
5. Talk the Talk
Vocabulary flash cards not doing the trick? For increasing fluency in a language, Philipp Gemmel ’17 advocates practicing paraphrasing. “When learning a language, it is completely fine to not know something, but knowing how to say something you don’t know by describing it with something you do know helps a lot,” Gemmel says. Too shy to practice with other people? Try talking to yourself! Gemmel says this is a good way to build confidence through “perfectly pressure-free practice.”
6. Begin at the End
For students wracking their brains on how to begin a paper, Katy Tucker ’16 has a trick. “Try writing the first draft of your paper backwards. This strategy can help identify your strongest thesis and has the added benefit of motivating you to keep writing,” Tucker says. “I think it’s less overwhelming to feel as though you’re continually adding on evidence to your argument rather than constructing a perfectly organized paper from scratch.”
7. Sleep

It might surprise you that the study tip Grinnellians raved about isn’t even about studying.

“Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep,” says Liebman.

“Sleep is more important than studying,” Isaac Mielke ’18 says.

“Get sleep. Really,” says Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17.

It may seem like a good idea to take advantage of all Grinnell life has to offer by following the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” philosophy, but if you’re tired your brain isn’t working at full capacity. Trying to function on only a few hours of sleep means it takes you longer to understand what you’re studying, finish a problem set, or write a paper. Sleep equals more efficient studying, which equals more time to enjoy life!

Zach Liebman ’16 is an economics major from Evanston, Ill. Evelyn Weidman ’17 is from Flossmoor, Ill. and is an economics major. Karin Yndestad ’17 is a mathematics major from Eagan, Minn. Carlina Arango ’16, a Spanish and anthropology double major, is from Chicago, Ill. Philipp Gemmel ’17 is a political science and biology double major from Gusenburg, Germany. Katy Tucker ’16, from Wellesley, Mass., is a psychology major. Isaac Mielke ’18 is an economics major from Falcon Heights, Minn. Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17 is from Titusville, Fla. and is a computer science major.

2015 Faculty Named Chair Installation Ceremony

Grinnell College faculty, staff, students, and the general public are invited to attend the College's 2015 Faculty Named Chair Installation Ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 8. The event will take place in Herrick Chapel.

This celebration provides a unique opportunity to honor current named chairs and celebrate the naming of two new designees:

Speaking at the event will be President Raynard S. Kington, Dean Michael Latham, and the newly installed chairs, among others.

Vincent Eckhart

Vincent EckhartA full professor at Grinnell since 2012, Eckhart is a specialist on the evolutionary ecology of plant reproduction, life history, and geographic distribution. His publications include 27 peer-reviewed journal articles and five book chapters and reviews. At Grinnell he has earned seven prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation to further his research and teaching. The most recent grant, a $450,000 collaboration with researchers from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, supports long-term research on what factors limit species’ ability to survive in unfavorable environments, a topic with major implications for how organisms respond to change.

Eckhart is the first faculty member to be named the Waldo S. Walker Chair in Biology. The late Margaret "Peg" Stiffler, a 1963 Grinnell graduate, endowed the chair in honor of her mentor and lifelong friend, Waldo S. Walker, professor emeritus. Walker served the College for more than 50 years as a professor of biology, dean, provost, vice president and acting president.

Jin Feng

Jin FengFeng, who became a full professor at Grinnell in 2012, is a highly accomplished scholar and teacher who provides exemplary service to her field, her students, and the College. She has developed a body of significant, interdisciplinary work that links literature to history, ethnography, gender studies, and popular culture. The author of three books and scores of articles in English and Chinese, Feng is an invited presenter at conferences around the world and across the United States. This year she received a prestigious Senior Scholar Grant from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for her most recent project, which explores food nostalgia in the Yangzi River valley.

Two alumni from the Class of 1908 established the Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professorships of Literature. Orville Routt went on to serve as president of Scripps College. Mary Patterson Routt was a renowned national columnist and journalist and long-serving trustee of Scripps College. This professorship is a living example of the deep appreciation they had for Grinnell College.

 

Sameness and Difference

Paul Vanouse at microscope

 As 21st century racism unfolds and recedes under scientific scrutiny of human sameness and differences, the American studies concentration in collaboration with the art & art history and biology departments, have invited Bio-Artist Prof Paul Vanouse. 
 
 Over the last decade, Vanouse's work has been specifically concerned with forcing the arcane codes of scientific  communication into a broader cultural language. 
 
 In "The Relative Velocity Inscription Device" (2002), he literally races DNA from his Jamaican-American family members, in a DNA sequencing gel, an installation/scientific experiment that explores the relationship between early 20th Century Eugenics and late 20th Century Human Genomics. The double entendre of race highlights the obsession with “genetic fitness” within these historical endeavors. Similarly, his recent projects, “Latent Figure Protocol”, “Ocular Revision” and “Suspect Inversion Center” use molecular biology techniques to challenge “genome-hype” and to confront issues surrounding DNA fingerprinting.  
 
Vanouse will present "Sameness and Difference," at 4 p.m. Thursday, September 17, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The talk is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be available.
 

 

Climate Reality

Elizabeth QueathemLiz Queathem, senior lecturer in Biology and co-chair of the Sustainability Planning Committee, will deliver a public lecture on the current state of climate change, and the prospects for progress at the United National Climate Change Conference that will take place in Paris Nov. 30—Dec. 11, 2015.

Queathem will present "Climate Reality:  Problems and Solutions on the Road to Paris" at 4 p.m., Friday, October 2, in Robert N. Noyce '49 Science Center, Room 1023.

The presentation is co-sponsored by the Rosenfield Program and Center for Prairie Studies.

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

Nature - A Walking Play

Grinnell College will host three outdoor performances of “Nature — A Walking Play” about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau from Sept. 11-13 at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA).

TigerLion Arts will present the mythic telling of Emerson and Thoreau’s mutual love affair with the natural world. Grounded in the story of their friendship, the production offers a perspective on their lives that is strikingly relevant, richly complex, and yet utterly simple. 

A professional ensemble of actors will take the audience on a journey through the natural environment as scenes unfold around them. Bagpipes, ancient flutes, drums and rich choral arrangements will be intricately woven into the experience. 

“Nature” is an extraordinary, family-friendly journey that co-mingles story, spirit, and nature, as a means to reconnect its audience with the natural world. This original work was collaboratively created with writer and actor Tyson Forbes, a direct descendant of Emerson. 

Two Grinnell College alumni have key roles in the production. John Catron ’02 plays Thoreau, and Sara Shives’97 serves as production manager.

For more information, including ticket and transportation information, see Nature — A Walking Play.

Gallery + Students = Alternative Classroom

The Faulconer Gallery’s thought-provoking art exhibitions benefit more than the casual visitor. Students in courses across science, social studies, and humanities disciplines find that the Faulconer is more than just an art gallery — it’s an extension of the classroom. 

Gallery as biology lab 

“One of the reasons I do art that incorporates biology is the wonder aspect,” says Becky Garner ’15, who took Professor Jackie Brown’s History of Biology course.  

Brown has long been interested in the intersection between art and science. Last year he incorporated From Wunderkammer to the Modern Museum, 1606-1884, a Faulconer Gallery exhibition of books documenting cabinets of curiosity, into his History of Biology course. The exhibition demonstrated the change in scientific thinking over the course of nearly 300 years. Connected to the exhibition, there was a panel discussion of the role of wonder in scientific inquiry.  

Brown has also incorporated the gallery into his First-Year Tutorial. “Lesley Wright, director of the gallery, leads a close looking exercise,” says Brown. It’s a way of teaching students how to examine things closely without going as far as interpretation. Brown’s tutorial performs the exercise in different settings ranging from looking at an animal to looking at art. 

Gallery as race and gender studies classroom 

Last year, Professor Michael Gill incorporated a student-curated exhibition, Decay: The Ephemeral Body in Art, into his Feminist and Queer Disability Studies course. This year, he structured an advanced special topic course on masculinity around an exhibition at the gallery, Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument. This exhibition showed how Time magazine shaped a photo essay by Parks to fit a particular narrative of black masculinity.  

“The cropping and lighting choices made a specific judgment of Red Jackson, the subject of the photo essay, and flattened his expression of gender for a white audience,” says Gill. Gill’s students responded to the exhibition by creating their own as a final project for the class.  

Gallery as education seminar 

Professor Kathryn Wegner took her students to both the Faulconer Gallery and the gallery in Burling Library to view two Chicago-related exhibitions. Students reacted to the narrative construction of Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument and spent time studying Sandra Steinbrecher’s The Education Project Photo Exhibition. The latter was a photographic study of three struggling Chicago high schools. In addition to images and stories of teachers and students, it also profiled journalists, activists, and politicians. Wegner constructed the syllabus for her course on education reform around both the Steinbrecher exhibition and a number of speakers brought to campus by a Rosenfield symposium.   

“We are always seeking ways to make works in our collection and in the gallery a dynamic part of the learning process,” says Wright. “And we work with artists, critics, and scholars — as well as faculty and other on-campus experts — to create a richer context for our exhibitions.”

 

A Greener Grinnell

For the past decade, Grinnell College has prioritized environmental sustainability, which is itself a social justice issue, in both constructing new buildings and maintaining century-old ones.

Building a Sustainable Campus

The Conard Environmental Research Area’s Environmental Education Center was the College’s first major sustainability effort. “It was a smaller building and gave us a chance to do everything right,” says Chris Bair 96, environmental and safety manager. “Plus, if you can’t build an environmental education building sustainably, what can you do?”

The Environmental Education Center was the first LEED gold-certified building in Iowa and was the College’s first building with a wind turbine, water reclamation, and geothermal heating and cooling. Now the College’s preschool and pool buildings also use geothermal heating and cooling. The Noyce Science Center and the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center have cisterns that collect rainwater. Noyce’s provides water to the greenhouse and the Bear’s is used to water the football fields.

Facilities management is also working on a number of solar projects, including the recent installation of a 20-kilowatt solar unit on the facilities management building in addition to the solar hot water unit of Eco House. “And we’re exploring the possibility of putting 200 kilowatts worth of solar power on campus,” says Bair.

Global Research and Collaboration

Six students conducted research on sustainability in several German cities during spring break. They were accompanied by Bair and facilities manager Rick Whitney, as well as Lee Sharpe, associate professor of chemistry, and Liz Queathem, a biology lecturer. In this group Mentored Advanced Project, each student focused on a different aspect of sustainability with the intent to make recommendations to the College:

  • Sophie Neems ’16 examined how change happens and what societal factors in Germany have caused increased sustainability efforts that just aren’t happening in the United States.
  • Emma Leverich 16 looked at the efficacy of a waste-to-energy process that uses biodigesters; the methane gas that the biodigesters produce would be siphoned off and burned for fuel.
  • Zhi Chen ’17 investigated the potential implementation of solar energy on campus by surveying the available space and calculating the cost of installation.
  • Ben Mothershead ’16 and Liza Morse ’15 compared the building certification programs and building codes of the United States and Germany. They spoke with several architects in both countries about their experience with sustainable design.
  • Samantha Snodgrass ’16 researched storm water reclamation and infiltration.

When the students returned, they each wrote a paper on their research and presented the papers to the local city government, the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Importance of Visibility

One of the major lessons learned on the trip was the importance of making sustainable efforts more visible. If students are more aware of the resources they are consuming, they are likely to do more to curb their consumption.

Many of the College’s ongoing sustainability efforts are significant but may go unnoticed by students. Each summer facilities management updates a residence hall with LED lights, low-flow toilets, and efficient showerheads. They also connect each hall to the College’s central building automation and add set points to thermostats and window sensors that shut off the heat or air conditioners when windows are open.

In Germany, virtually every hotel in which the students, faculty, and staff stayed had a display in the lobby indicating how much energy had been produced by the building’s rooftop solar panels.

Starting this summer, facilities management will install submeters in residence halls to monitor water and electricity use. The hope is that once that information is on display, students will be more aware of their consumption. There has even been talk of starting conservation competitions between halls. “Renewable energy is out there and everyone is bragging about it,” says Bair. The group also took tours of green roofs and rainwater collection features.

“On Grinnell’s campus, you’re always aware of the social justice implications of pretty much everything,” says Bair. “I’d like sustainability to rise to that level.”

Sophie Neems ’16 is an anthropology and Spanish double major from Iowa City, Iowa.
Emma Leverich ’16 is a chemistry and anthropology double major from Clive, Iowa.
Zhi Chen ’17 is a computer science and history double major from Oakland, Calif.
Ben Mothershead ’16 is an economics major from Falls Church, Va.
Samantha Snodgrass ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Studying Birds on the Prairie

Birds captivate us through color, song, and flight. Where have they been? Where are they going? Will they return?

A partnership between Grinnell College’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) and experienced bird bander Robert Van Ersvelde will help answer these questions and allow students to experience birds up close.

“It has an important educational component,” says Elizabeth Hill, manager of CERA. “There’s also something very special about holding a bird in one’s hand.”

CERA to Become Part of National Bird Banding Project

Bird banding at CERA provides students a unique way to study birds and nature across disciplines, says Hill. Hill, along with her four summer restoration assistants, is banding birds this summer at the Van Ersvelde property. The assistants have also conducted ecological restoration in prairie and savanna, assisted with citizen science workshops, and monitored bird and snake populations at CERA. They help manage Grinnell's urban prairies, too.

“It’s like the coolest thing ever,” says Sara DeRosa, intern and biology major from Eau Claire, Wis. “Bob always reminds us how lucky we are to have such an experience by asking ‘How many people got to hold a [insert bird name] today?’”

Banding is especially valuable scientifically because it can hint at climate changes that occur long before humans notice, Van Ersvelde says.

“Birds are like humans. They use a lot of the same resources we use like water and land,” Van Ersvelde says. “They’re good environmental barometers.”

“It’s a red light if a bird population suddenly decreases,” he says.

Van Ersvelde holds state and federal permits to band birds, which consists of capturing birds and placing metal bands on them for scientific research. He is also assisting Hill with obtaining permits.

At his 76-acre farm in rural Grinnell, Van Ersvelde participates in Mapping Avian Productivity Survivorship (MAPS), a program of the Institute for Bird Populations that collects data from sites across the country.

Next year, CERA plans to become a MAPS site, which would make it the only Iowa college and one of fewer than 10 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the MAPS program.

Bird Banding

The roots of bird banding go back centuries. Many cultures have marveled at the long journeys birds make — some more than 25,000 miles.

Birds are captured in 10–12-feet tall mesh nets. Researchers write down details about the birds in data sheets and use pliers to secure the metal bands that are inscribed with nine-digit serial numbers and resemble tiny bracelets.

When researchers encounter the birds again elsewhere, the data from the bands tells them about the birds’ gender, lifespan, reproductive patterns, migratory patterns, diseases, and how fast and far they travel, among other things. Today, millions of birds are banded annually.

Grinnell, CERA, and Bird Banding

CERA’s 360 acres, which contain oak savanna and prairie, provide an excellent territory for birds. Native birds include the blue jay, catbird, cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, and yellow-billed cuckoo. Banding takes place every 10 days through August.

Van Ersvelde has long helped local youngsters and now Grinnell College students learn about birds and nature.

“As a college student, I wasn’t lucky enough to have this opportunity to participate with bands and work with birds,” he says. “I’m hoping it will give some of the students a basis in research. I’m hoping it can open up some doors for them.”

 

Best Practices for Diversity, Inclusion in Sciences

Grinnell College will host a national conference June 19-20 that seeks innovative ways to train faculty and to develop creative approaches that foster diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

The conference includes four free, public keynote talks in Noyce Science Center, Room 2022:

Friday, June 19
9-10 a.m.

Denise Sekaquaptewa, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan

Social Psychological Research on Factors Shaping the Climate for Diversity in STEM
2-3 p.m.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Thriving Despite Negative Stereotypes: How Own-Group Experts and Peers Act as Social Vaccines to Protect Against Implicit Bias
Saturday, June 20
8:30-9:30 a.m.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College

From Microaggressions to Microaffirmations: Framing Constructive Feedback to Students
2-3 p.m.

Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago

Anxiety, Attitudes and Motivation: Helping Students Perform their Best under Stress

About the Conference

Grinnell College will welcome faculty and staff members involved in teaching and learning at the 15 member institutions of the Liberal Arts College Association for Faculty Inclusion (LACAFI). These schools share similar challenges in addressing diversity concerns yet have similar goals in these areas and similar resources for meeting them.

“The goal of our conference is to empower educators to initiate diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses," said Mark Levandoski, co-chair of LACAFI and professor of chemistry.

The conference also will include sessions on stereotype threat and implicit bias as well as successes and failures. Small-group discussions will enable different colleges to share best practices. In addition, institutional teams will work to develop their diversity and inclusion action plans.

Accessibility Accommodations

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to conference operations.