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Enriching the Lives of Zoo Animals

It was straight out of Wild Kingdom.

Misha, an Amur tiger at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, approached the horned zebra, batted it with her front paws, then knocked down the prey, which clattered onto a pile of rocks. Resuming her attack, Misha tore off pieces with her powerful teeth, before slashing off the gold unicorn horn and then the entire head.

students constructing zebra-unicorn for tigerBut no live animals were harmed in the making of this production. The zebra, which indeed sported a gold unicorn horn, was constructed by Grinnell College students from animal-safe papier-mâché, paint, and cardboard.

The activity stemmed from Grinnell's Community Service Work-Study program and the Grinnell Science Project, a pre-orientation program for first-year students designed to increase representation from groups underrepresented in the sciences.

Group carries the painted zebra through the zoo“Creation and destruction — together that's our purpose with this project,” says Sunny Zhao ’18, a biology major from Naperville, Ill. “It would have been sad if the tiger hadn’t played with the zebra and destroyed it.”

“It was really satisfying to see the tiger tear the zebra apart,” adds Mackenzie “Max” Semba ’19, an undeclared major from Portland, Maine.

It helped that the zebra’s hollow stomach received a helping of meat before a zookeeper placed it inside the tiger exhibit.

Grinnell students have collaborated with the zoo for four years to make new and exciting enrichment items: giant bowling pins for rhinos and puzzles made from twine, milk cartons, raw pasta noodles, and origami cardboard for monkeys and birds.

Spectators watch though a window as Misha, the tiger, demolishes the zebra-unicornThose items help keep zoo animals active, says Megan Wright Walker, area supervisor for animal health at the zoo. “Here in the zoo we provide food for the animals,” she says. “They don’t have to hunt for a mate. They don’t have to hunt for somewhere to sleep. Enrichment items help to mentally stimulate the animals by giving them a challenge.” 

Sunny Zhao ’18 is a biology major from Naperville, Ill. Mackenzie “Max” Semba ’19 is an undeclared major from Portland, Maine.

7 Great Reasons to Study Off Campus

Given that over 60 percent of Grinnell’s students participate in study-abroad programs, it’s no wonder Grinnell has a reputation for being globally focused. Not only is off-campus study an awesome opportunity to expand your international education, it’s also an unforgettable life experience. Third-year Grinnellians share their favorite parts of the study-abroad experience:

  1. Your perspective will broaden like you wouldn’t believe.

Joseph Galaske ’17 says his home-stay in rural South Africa has changed his outlook: “It was one of the most incredibly enlightening experiences of my life. There were definitely experiences that pushed my boundaries, like the living conditions.” Experiencing daily life in such a vastly different culture opened Galaske’s mind to a whole new way of living.

  1. You’ll finally lose that feeling of panic when speaking another language.

For Jinna Kim ’17, a sociology and Spanish major, studying abroad in Argentina has been an awesome way to improve her skills in Spanish. “I never felt entirely comfortable speaking Spanish, despite having taken many classes, and always broke out in a cold sweat when I had to speak it,” says Kim. “I can already feel myself becoming more confident, and I’m more eager to jump into conversations!”

  1. You can travel with your program for a one-of-a-kind research experience.

Emily Adam ’17 enrolled in a public health course while studying in Denmark and got to visit public health organizations and clinics in Denmark, Estonia, and Finland as part of her class. “Getting an inside look at how public health policies work in other countries has been really valuable,” Adam says. “There are differences in culture that I wouldn’t have expected, and it’s been interesting to learn about the challenges of their systems.”

  1. International foods will become your bread and butter.

“Sometimes my friends and I just walk around and find random restaurants,” says Trang Nguyen ’17, an international student from Vietnam who is currently studying in South Korea. “What’s special about my daily experience in Korea is eating ramen at the convenience store, ordering street food while listening to the live music that’s everywhere … We haven’t had a bad experience yet!”

  1. Your confidence will soar.

“Adaptability, confidence, intuition…I feel as if living abroad is like a workout for your intangible traits,” says Jonathan Sundby ’17, who is studying in India this spring.

  1. You can experiment with new habits.

“A new experience gives you a chance to try some different lifestyles,” says Nguyen, who was always very organized and plan-oriented in the United States. “Planning like I used to doesn’t really work in Korea, so I had to change the way I operate. I feel more relaxed and outgoing here. I really enjoy the change!”

  1. You’ll do things you never imagined (or maybe things you always dreamed of).

“I recently visited Iguazu Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world,” says Kim. “The amount of water and the size of the waterfalls are indescribable. My friends and I even hiked a mini-trail to a smaller waterfall, where we jumped in and swam just like the people in GoPro videos!”

Joseph Galaske ’17 is a biology major from Moberly, Mo.

Jinna Kim ’17 is a sociology and Spanish double major from Bellevue, Wash.

Emily Adam ’17 is a biology major from Harper, Iowa.

Trang Nguyen ’17 is a mathematics major from Hanoi, Vietnam.

Jonathan Sundby ’17 is a political science major from Stillwater, Minn.

Charity Made Easy

If you use social media, chances are you’ve heard of “slacktivism.” It’s social media activism, such as when someone signs an online petition or participates in something like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness. These actions require little effort and can help make people aware of issues in the world, but these slacktivists are often criticized for not actually doing anything to help the cause they are touting.

Tab for a Cause, co-founded by Kevin Jennison ’12, takes advantage of the ease of slacktivism while ensuring that users’ actions actually make a difference. By installing a program on your browser so that every new tab you open donates money to charity, Tab for a Cause allows users to raise money for causes they care about simply by going about their normal Internet-browsing activities. Since its inception, Tab for a Cause has raised over $175,000 for various charities.

Tab for a Cause sponsors several nonprofit organizations. Users get the opportunity to learn about organizations they may never have heard of before and to choose where their money goes — all with just the click of a button.

“The idea materialized when YouTube first started showing advertisements,” says Jennison. “I realized how massive the Internet advertising market is. In founding Tab for a Cause, we sought to redirect a fraction of the money in online advertising toward a good cause.”

Rising to the Challenge

At Grinnell, Jennison was a biology major, but learning the ins and outs of software engineering and marketing has “been a blast” for him. “More than anything, Grinnell encouraged me to be unafraid to learn new things,” he says. “I took to jumping into projects that were initially intimidating, and eventually starting this business was one of those projects.”

Tab for a Cause launched during Jennison’s senior year at Grinnell. To help the product take off, he messaged friends on Facebook, hung posters in the College bathrooms, and emailed family members. Soon, he and his partner took to the Internet to spread the word. Communities like Nerdfighteria and crowdfunding sites like Project for Awesome took Tab for a Cause from a few thousand members to tens of thousands over the course of just 18 months.

“The biggest challenge,” Jennison says, “has been learning to steady what can be an emotional roller coaster ride. I’ve learned to celebrate small victories and confront difficulties, but to take both with a grain of salt.”

Looking to the Future

To continue the organization’s growth and popularity, Jennison and his partner encourage sharing among friends and classmates by “holding competitions to see which colleges or high schools can raise the most for charity in a certain period of time.”

Through the development of Tab for a Cause, Jennison has learned the importance of sharing ideas with the people around him. “Early on, every time we talked to someone about Tab for a Cause we came away with a plethora of new ideas,” he says. “This feedback guided our product before we even built it and saved us from tragic mistakes.”

Moving forward, the team at Tab for a Cause is working more and more closely with charity partners in order to give users a personal connection with the projects they donate to. They have also recently launched Goodblock, a free Chrome adblocker that shows users beautiful ads that earn money for charity every time they are viewed.

Jennison’s final word of advice for Grinnellians with big ideas: “Do it. Dive in and get your hands dirty. At worst, you’ll learn a ton, and at best, you’ll succeed in realizing your idea.”

Acclimated to Success

Born in Ambato, Ecuador, Alfredo Colina ’17 emigrated from his homeland to Washington, D.C., when he was 10 years old. Coming to Grinnell as a D.C. Posse Foundation scholar marked his first real experience outside of a big city.

“Being in a rural area surrounded by farms and corn was a change, definitely,” Colina says. “It wasn’t so much a culture shock as much as just a very distinct environment that I was placed in. I was, like, ‘This is new, but doable.’”

Arriving on campus for the first time with 9 other Posse cohorts seemed strange initially, but Colina says he adjusted very quickly. “Once you’re here,” Colina says, “you’re open to the great opportunities Grinnell has, and the Grinnell Science Project (GSP) was one of them.”

Settling Into College

A weeklong pre-orientation program, the GSP aims to develop the talents of first-year students interested in science and math, especially those from groups underrepresented in the sciences. To familiarize students with college life, they are invited to participate in mentoring opportunities and sample classes.

“[In the GSP] you are able to work with professors from Grinnell and other students who are potential science majors,” Colina says. “It helped before orientation to settle down and realize ‘You’re in Grinnell, it’s different, and it’s not the city.’ I really liked that I was able to go through that opportunity.”

Eye-Opening Experience

Alfredo Colina ’17 conducting resesarch in corn fieldNow a biology major, Colina worked last summer with associate professor Shannon Hinsa-Leasure on a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) focused on bacteria and antibiotic resistance in agricultural settings. In November, he made an oral presentation at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Seattle.  

“It was super cool,” Colina says “I was feeling a little bit nervous because I was a student trying to explain what I did to all these major professionals that are big in the field of microbiology.”

Colina says he became more comfortable as he realized that his research — and his presentation style — stood out as distinct.

“A lot of students who presented were trying to explain the mechanisms of various genes,” Colina says. “I kind of took a macro approach to explain a microbiological problem and tried to make it accessible for everyone to understand even if you weren’t a science major.

“It was eye-opening to have people come up afterward and say, ‘Your research is really interesting; I would like you to potentially work for my lab for a summer.’” Colina says. “It was a really great networking opportunity.”

Redefining His Goals

Colina says his research experiences at Grinnell have reshaped his academic and career aspirations. Previously, he had been aiming for an M.D. program. His current plans are to apply for research opportunities next summer and eventually pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program.

“I have a strong connection to research now. Before I thought research was boring, and I didn’t want to be in a lab from 8 to 5, but I fell in love with it last summer,” Colina says. “I want to do microbiology research, dealing with bacteria and antibiotic resistance or some pathway that might lead to prevention of antibiotic resistance.

“I really like microbiology. I don’t see myself doing any other kind of research,” Colina says. “It’s interesting because people might not perceive that bacteria are all over the place, and not all bacteria are bad.

“Learning about what kind of bacteria help, making those distinctions, and making an addition to a scientific field that might have bigger applications in the future is super important.”

Alfredo S. Colina ’17 is a biology major and Posse scholar from Washington, D.C.

Antibiotic Resistance and Microbial Diversity

Shannon Hinsa-LeasureShannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology, along with her students and collaborators, are researching ways to develop novel technology to study the diversity of antibiotic-resistance genes and how the genes can be transferred between bacteria.

The research is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant of $999,346 awarded to a team of researchers including Hinsa-Leasure, along with her collaborators at Iowa State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

In addition, Hinsa-Leasure has received a one-year $20,262 grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to expand on the USDA grant by investigating bacterial community structure in soils fertilized with animal manure. Both grants will support undergraduate research at Grinnell College.

The grants will enable researchers to monitor hundreds of genes related to antibiotic resistance, the spread of resistance, and microbial diversity in environmental samples at one time, providing a more in-depth characterization of environments than current technologies. The technologies can be used for many types of environments including, hospitals, farms and water systems, and will allow researchers to study if and how antibiotic resistance genes move in particular environments.

“I am delighted that Shannon has received these grants that will create new opportunities for our students to conduct collaborative, cutting-edge research,” says Michael Latham, dean of Grinnell College. “This research reinforces Grinnell’s commitment to active scholarship and inquiry-led learning opportunities that reach beyond our campus.”

Adina Howe, assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State, leads the three-year USDA grant. This grant will support technology development, field sampling, laboratory experiments and workshops to disseminate the open-access bioinformatics pipelines to the broader research community.

“I feel very fortunate to be collaborating with a tremendous team of scientists, who are all sharing their expertise to address an important environmental issue — how do we detect and monitor movement of antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment,” Hinsa-Leasure says.

Hinsa-Leasure, an environmental microbiologist, first began investigating antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment near Grinnell in 2014. This project was instigated by one of her former students, Evan Griffith ’15, who was interested and concerned about the local environment.

“Evan and I began this work with a directed reading course to learn what was happening in the field,” recalls Hinsa-Leasure. “That course led us to the USDA in Ames and the development of a partnership that continues to flourish today.”

“I am excited that this project is continuing and that I made a small contribution,” says Griffith, who received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell. He recently returned from Australia, where he worked as a research intern on a project between Arid Recovery and the University of New South Wales. He hopes to pursue a master’s degree in conservation medicine at Tufts University.

Griffith is one of eight Grinnell undergraduates who already have participated in the project he and Hinsa-Leasure initiated.

“I am thrilled,” Hinsa-Leasure says, “that through this funding additional Grinnell students will have access to cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatics, which will allow us to advance the field.”

Our Microbial Neighbors

Adina HoweCome join in an interactive discussion of microbiology and how novel technologies have created opportunities to access and learn about our microbial neighbors and how they influence our lives.

Adina Howe, Iowa State University assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, will present the free, public biology seminar "Our Microbial Neighbors" at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, in Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center, Room 2022. 

She will lead participants to explore how our gut microbes change with our diets, the importance and challenges of soil microbiology, and how microbes can help us monitor and understand water quality in Iowa lakes.

Howe is an expert in microbial ecology, soil health, water quality, big data, and metagenomics. She has had broad, interdisciplinary training, including microbiology, sustainable development, and engineering, and has been a staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory where she continued studying microbial communities in environments such as the soil and gut.

Sharing Neuroscience Research with the World

Grinnell students, faculty, and alumni joined more than 30,000 colleagues from more than 80 countries at 2015 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Annual Meeting.

Faculty joined the students as they presented their Mentored Advanced Projects (MAP) research at the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience poster session, and met with alumni at an event sponsored by the College.

The Society for Neuroscience is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system, and the annual meeting is billed as the premier venue for neuroscientists to present emerging science, learn from experts, forge collaborations with peers, explore new tools and technologies, and advance careers.

Students and professor in front of poster titled Effect of High-fat Diet-induced Obesity on Spatial and Declarative MemoryGrinnellians at the conference included professors Mark Levandoski (chemistry, biological chemistry, and neuroscience), Clark Lindgren (biology and neuroscience), Nancy Rempel-Clower (psychology and neuroscience), and Andrea Tracy ’99 (psychology and neuroscience).

Their MAP students included Tom Earnest '16, Mike Fitzpatrick '16, Anthony Mack '16, Takahiro Omura '17, Marissa Yetter '16, and Jacob Ziontz ’16.

At least 14 alumni also attended, ranging from the classes of ’00 to ’15.

The SfN meeting is one of many professional events where Grinnell students have had the opportunity to share their research and meet others with similar interests.

Photos courtesy of Takahiro Omura '17.

Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society

Are you interested in learning more about a healthy, active lifestyle and about rehabilitation?

Two free public talks on the research and practice of movement science, with a specific focus on physical therapy, are part of the Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society.

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present "Physical Therapy: Bringing the Science of Healing and the Art of Caring Together.”

Dr. Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor in the kinesiology department and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Connecticut. 

Justin Munato

Justin Munafo will present "Research Experiences in Human Movement Science: Older Adults on Cruises" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Justin Munafo is a doctoral student in the kinesiology department at University of Minnesota.

The presentations are appropriate both for those interested in the group and pre-physical therapy as well as anyone in the general public interested in how their body moves and how physical therapy helps.

Damian Kelty-Stephen, assistant professor of psychology and adviser of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society will provide information about the group to those who are interested.

The event is being sponsored by All-Campus Events, Wellness, Students on Health-Oriented Tracks, and Pioneer Diversity Council, among others. 

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

Visual Contrast Sensitivity as a Biomarker of Neuro-Developmental Age and Connectivity

Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present “Visual Contrast Sensitivity as a Biomarker of Neuro-Developmental Age and Connectivity,” 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, in Robert N. Noyce '49 Science Center, Room 2022.

In this free public event, he will discuss his dynamical-systems theoretic research on the perception-action linkages that support motor coordination across the lifespan and that help to inform and target clinical interventions in movement.

Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor of the Department of Kinesiology and director of the Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy at the University of Connecticut. His visit is sponsored by the biology department.

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