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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.

BAX Student Exhibition

The Bachelor of Arts Exhibition (BAX), which features works in the creative arts by students at Grinnell College, will open with a reception at 4:15 p.m. Friday, April 10, at the Faulconer Gallery, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

BAX is an exhibition of works by advanced art students. This year, the exhibition will feature works by 26 students. Though many of this year's artists major in studio art, some are pursuing an additional major such as anthropology or computer science. Other majors represented include English, theatre, and biological chemistry. Works on view include painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, mixed media, and installations.

Students on the art and art history department's student educational policy committee organize the exhibition. This year's organizers are Becky Garner ’15, Eden Marek ’15, Maria Shevelkina ’15, David Cambronero-Sanchez ’16, Hannah Condon ’16, Eliza Harrison ’16, Glenys Hunt ’16, Hazel Batrezchavez ’17, Xena Fitzgerald ’17, and Lauren Roush ’17. The organizers designed a catalog to accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition is designed by Faulconer Gallery director of exhibition design Milton Severe and coordinated by director Lesley Wright. The exhibition is adjudicated by artist in residence Laleh Khorramian, a visual artist from New York with extensive experience in painting, drawing, animation and digital media. Khorramian will select most of the yearly prizes in studio art, which will be announced at the opening reception.

The exhibition will be on view through May 3. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and admission is free.

Changing the Face of Science

Jessi L. Smith, a noted expert on social psychology, will deliver the Scholars' Convocation at noon Wednesday, April 1, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The lecture is free and open to the public with a free pizza lunch provided.

Smith, a professor of psychology at Montana State University, has conducted extensive research on theories of stereotypes, with a focus on understanding the practices and policies that create equitable environments. At MSU, she chairs a 47-member team charged with enhancing faculty diversity and equity in order to foster learning among all faculty and students.

Smith's talk, titled "Changing the Face of Science: How to Create a More Diverse and Inclusive STEM Community," will feature Smith's work in experimental social psychological science. Smith will present her findings on the prevalent role of unintentional biases within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community, and discuss how to create more equitable environments in these fields.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from Conference Operations.

Attitude of Gratitude

8,700 miles and 18 hours on his first plane ride separate Bazil Mupisiri ’18 from his hometown in Zimbabwe. Yet, it’s the milestones, not the miles, that truly set this first-year student apart.

Bazil (pronounced Bay-zl) first learned about Grinnell through the U.S. Student Achievers Program (USAP), which provides access to higher education “for determined, bright, low-income youth, producing highly-skilled and liberally-educated leaders for tomorrow’s Zimbabwe.”

Education was a high priority for Bazil’s widowed mother, who teaches in a rural school. “My mother is my hero and greatest influence,” Bazil explains. “She placed great value on education and would often go without eating so we could go to school and learn. We had to grow our own food and save as much as we could. I became a serious student because of her.”

He also became serious about community service. 

“Charity events are very important to me. I started a club to assist those that might quit school otherwise. We offered opportunities for study help and to get them back in school. In my country, without education, there is no hope.

“I also started an environmental club, and we planted a school orchard that supplied fruit for the students. We coordinated with the town council to organize tree planting. It’s wonderful to see the trees grow.”

Bazil also worked to prevent HIV/AIDS and support children without parents because of the disease. “I loved making a difference in my community, and these experiences shaped my life.”

The prosecutor

His true passion, he says, is public speaking and debate.

“They called me ‘The Prosecutor’ because I like argument and busting opposing teams. I especially like discussing economic and political issues. Our [high school] team won the national championship in 2011 and 2012.”

Because of his interest in local issues, Bazil expects to get involved in student government and has already joined Model U.N.

IPOP surprise

Grinnell won Bazil over immediately. “My impression of this place started at the airport, where Jon and Karen Edwards were there to greet me. I thought ‘Wow! There is no college like this in Africa.’ I immediately fell in love with the small, quiet town. People here are so friendly; it’s so secure.”

Once on campus, Bazil was immersed in the International Pre-Orientation Program (IPOP) that precedes New Student Orientation for international and global nomad students. There he met his host family, David and Susan Willig, parents of Jacob Willig Onwuachi ‘95, physics. He was also greeted by his aunt from London, who supported his education after his father died.

“My aunt surprised me by coming to see me at IPOP. I had last seen her in 2005 when I was still in boarding school.  My host family, the Willigs, who are wonderful people, invited my aunt to dinner in their home.”

“When we first met Bazil,” Susan Willig relates, “he was high on all the excitement of his first plane ride, first time in the U.S. We had a student from China last year, so we expect to involve them both in our holidays and family dinners. Our grandchildren also get to be involved and expand their knowledge of different cultures.”

Generous, grateful

Bazil Mupisiri ’18 working with child on a project

Although it’s early in his Grinnell career, Bazil feels confident that he will major in computer science and economics. “I want to be a software engineer, to design software and return home to implement,” he says. In the meantime, he’s taking full advantage of all that Grinnell has to offer, including his First-Year Tutorial, “New Worlds and Ancient Texts: Origins of Liberal Education in the Americas,” advised by Aysha Pollnitz, assistant professor of history.

“This tutorial has really changed my interest in history,” Bazil says. “I hated history in high school. Now I love it and will try to take another course, plus all of the others I want to take.”

While there is much for Bazil to experience before returning home to give back, there is much for Grinnell to learn from this first-year’s spirited enthusiasm for generosity and gratitude. 

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.

Inside the Web

Larry Boateng Asante ’17 is a problem solver, although that’s not his official job title.

Asante took a job as a web assistant in the Office of Communications at Grinnell shortly after he arrived in September 2013 as a first-year student.

That was right before the College launched a new website. “The site wouldn’t have launched without the help of Larry and the other students,” says Sarah Anderson ’98, director of interactive communications.

Since then, including through the summer, Asante’s been handling campus requests for content changes. That includes entire pages of content down to a single word. He updates faculty biographies, changes photos, and posts documents. Asante also monitors a tool to fix broken links, misspellings, and accessibility issues.

“Students in this position learn the concepts behind a content management system, especially Drupal,” Anderson says. They also learn customer service skills and the ins and outs of the College. “A computer science major is not required,” she adds.

Nevertheless, Asante intends to major in computer science. “It’s a useful tool for being a problem solver,” he says.

Last year during winter break he learned HTML, which isn’t required knowledge for the web assistant position, but he’s found it helpful.

Larry Boateng Asante '17 between two monitors “I get to use my technical skills,” Asante says. He enjoys solving technical problems and having the resources at hand to do so. “It’s given me a broader perspective on thinking.”

The work itself gives Asante a great deal of satisfaction. “It gives me a sense of responsibility. I have an expectation I must meet,” he says.

The work requests come through a web form and sometimes require a good deal of back and forth discussion with the person who submitted the ticket. “It’s challenging communicating this way,” he says. “People try to explain what’s wrong, but I have to figure out how to fix it.”

In addition to his job in Communications, over the summer Asante worked with Jerod Weinman, assistant professor of computer science, on a research project to improve the recognition and visualization of place names on old maps. "I learned a lot of things, academic and non-academic, from it," Asante says. Such as managing his time well, a skill that will be useful during the school year too.

Larry Boateng Asante ’17 is from Accra, Ghana. He’s currently undeclared but intends computer science.

For the Love of Science

Before classes begin, the Grinnell Science Project (GSP) brings together selected students who are interested in science and creates a community that helps them feel comfortable with college life both inside and outside the classroom.

“GSP was a huge blessing. For one thing, the program got me a head start on understanding the confusing passageways of the mysterious Noyce Science Center. But it did so much more than that. I met a lot of people who shared my common interests, was acquainted with professors that I had class with later in my college career, and gained a lot of confidence in myself during GSP,” says Lizzie Eason ’17, who participated in the program last year.

GSP students meeting with a birdOne aspect of the program is a week-long pre-orientation  program.  Over the course of a week, students learn about the services and structures of the College.

The program responds to different learning styles — favoring workshop- and project-based classes in addition to lectures — and provides both role models and contexts for the study of science. “Grinnell students feel that they are part of a scientific community, we accommodate different learning styles with different pedagogical approaches, and we involve students in faculty research from the beginning of their experience here,” says Jim Swartz, Dack Professor of Chemistry.

Faculty members discuss various aspects of Grinnell’s academic program and strategies for excelling in science and mathematics courses. The GSP students participate in both sample classes and a research project.

“It was nice to just get used to the college environment without having to stress about classes. I could take time to really make friends, get advice from professors, and just enjoy myself, which is something I don't think I would have had much time to do if I had come to Grinnell when classes began,” says Eason.

Students work together to solve a puzzleIn the early 1990s, Grinnell observed that students — especially women, first-generation college students, and students of color — would enter Grinnell intending to major in the sciences, then fail to do well in the introductory courses and choose a major in another division. With data gathered from students, the College discovered that environmental and socioeconomic factors were interfering with students’ academic success in the sciences.

GSP teaches science the way science is actually practiced. It also creates a peer as well as faculty and staff support network for students. In addition to GSP participants, lots of other students have benefitted from curricular changes that accompanied the Grinnell Science Project.

“One of the most significant measures of success is that components of the Grinnell Science Project are now mainstream throughout our science curriculum,” says Swartz. Grinnell’s introductory biology course, which is required for all biology and biological chemistry majors is project-based. Introductory computer science courses are designed similarly, and mathematics, chemistry, physics, and psychology courses use a number of active learning techniques.

In the three years before GSP began, an average of 42 women and eight students of color graduated with science degrees each year. By 2008, each number had more than doubled. Ninety women and 21 students of color graduated with science degrees that year. Hundreds of students have participated in GSP, and thousands more benefited from curricular changes and mentoring relationships established by the program.

Lizzie Eason ’17 is from Lamoni, Iowa and has not yet declared a major.

2014 GSP students, faculty, and staff

2014 Grinnell Science Project

Willing to Experiment

In fall 2014, students enrolling in the newly redesigned course Computer Science 322: Team Software Development for Community Organizations will help test a new approach to alumni participation in the curriculum.

Janet Davis, associate professor of computer science, has redesigned the course to incorporate alumni mentors with industry experience. Small project teams of students will get the benefit of practical advice and assistance from alumni.

The effort comes with the support of the Alumni Relations staff and the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, which actively engage alumni in key campus programs and services.

Ian Young ’08 thinks it’s a really good idea. A computer science major, Young went into industry right after graduation. He’s a Ruby on Rails web developer and has been a freelancer since October 2013.

“There was definitely a lot for me to learn in industry,” Young says. “I had to apply what I learned at Grinnell.”

Students Will Benefit from Alumni Industry Experience

Young was one of the first students Davis got to know when she came to Grinnell in 2006. It was a conversation with him that made her realize that alumni mentors could do more than advise on the technical side of things.

Young explains, “What makes you valuable in the real world is a lot more about what you can build, your skill with tools, how well you communicate with clients and understand what they need.”

Davis is enthusiastic about inviting young alums — those who have been out of college for five to 10 years — back to campus. They remember well what it was like to be students themselves. Plus current students can relate to them.

A History of Bringing Alums to Campus

Asking alumni to share their expertise with students isn’t new, however. Doug Caulkins, professor emeritus of anthropology, was one of the pioneers in inviting alums to help with courses. He did this through Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni offerings, in which alums from many different fields come to campus and talk about their careers with students. In computer science, Professor Samuel Rebelsky also has taught classes featuring alumni.

Davis’s course is taking the approach even further. Computer Science 321 will be the first regular academic course that incorporates alumni expertise into the curriculum.

Innovation Grant Funds Pilot

It’s the first step in a three-year pilot project funded by a college Innovation Fund grant. The Fund supports promising ideas proposed by faculty, staff, and students for new approaches to teaching and scholarship, as well as student-initiated proposals that enrich campus life and learning.

The grant pays for a part-time staff person to work with faculty members across campus. This person will consult with faculty members about how alumni expertise can be effectively integrated into courses. The staff member will also handle research and the logistics involved in getting alumni to campus.

Mark Peltz expects the hire to come this summer. Peltz is the Daniel '77 and Patricia Jipp Finkelman '80 Dean in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service.

Peltz hopes the outcomes of the project will be so profound that the program will continue. Alumni bring knowledge and experience that complement what the College’s world-class faculty offers, he adds.

They also show vividly the achievement that can come for those with a Grinnell education. Peltz says, “Alumni engagement opens windows for students to see what graduates of a liberal arts college can do.”

Grinnell's Computer Science Curriculum and Major Receive International Recognition

Grinnell's new Computer Science curriculum and Computer Science major have received international recognition by the major computing professional societies.

Every 10-12 years, the international professional societies for computing publish extensive recommendations regarding undergraduate programs in computer science. The most recent recommendations, Computer Science Curricula 2013 (CS2013), were published December 20, 2013, by a joint task force of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Society of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-CS). The Final Report of the Task Force recognizes the computer science program at Grinnell in several ways:

  • Each of the three courses in Grinnell's introductory, multi-paradigm, computer science sequence are identified as "Course Exemplars".
  • Grinnell's overall computer science curriculum, under development at the time of the published Final Report, is identified as a "Curricular Exemplar".
  • Each of Grinnell's five computer science faculty is identified in the Final Report's Acknowledgments section.
  • Overall, "Grinnell" is mentioned on 23 pages of the Final Report.

Through the development of CS2013, Grinnell's computer science faculty was in regular communication with the ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force. After discussions about Grinnell's introductory, three-course, multi-paradigm sequence, Grinnell's computing science faculty were included on a panel discussing "Course Exemplars" at an international conference in March 2013 (SIGCSE 2013). Grinnell's faculty also will be included on a panel discussing "Curricular Exemplars" at a forthcoming conference in March 2014 (SIGCSE 2014).

Grinnell faculty member Henry M. Walker observed that Grinnell's inclusion in the list of "Curricular Exemplars" is particularly satisfying. CS2013 identifies curricula from only five schools as exemplars illustrating how desired topics and student outcomes might be combined into an overall framework. Two of those "Curricular Exemplars" focus on programs at two-year colleges. The remaining three are Stanford University, Williams College, and Grinnell College.

Grinnell's computer science faculty examine the curriculum on a regular basis — at least every 3-4 years. As part of this review, the faculty discuss its own experiences, feedback from alumni, insights from exit interviews with graduating majors, and discussions on the national/international scene. As part of this process, Grinnell's faculty composed several iterations of updated computer science curricula. A proposed version from near the end of the revision process appears in CS2013. Subsequently, a modest update has been approved and is slated to take effect for the 2014-2015 academic year. The approved version allows somewhat more flexibility in the basic major than the version that appears in CS2013, but all courses listed in the CS2013 version will be available to students interested specific professional careers.