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A Pioneering Spirit

It’s not often that you get the chance to create a career for yourself that’s never existed before. Many graduates have planned their college years around jobs they want to have in the future, but for Hilary Mason ’00, carving out a place in an existing field just didn’t cut it.

A pioneer of the growing data science movement, Mason has combined her computer science background with statistics, engineering, and technology to make sense of the massive amounts of data that pile up in businesses and other enterprises.

“It’s a very rare thing to have the chance to be at the leading edge of something that has become a fairly significant movement,” Mason says. “It’s been really interesting to see it evolve.”

After working as the chief scientist at bitly.com, a well-known URL-shortening service, Mason has quickly become the face of data science. She’s been interviewed for Fortune Magazine and NPR’s Science Friday, and even cofounded a nonprofit called HackNY that connects hacking students with startup companies in New York City.

In 2014, Mason finally decided to take a leap and start her own business called Fast Forward Labs. She and her team analyze large amounts of data from their client businesses and develop prototypes for innovative technological products. The goal is to inspire their clients and show them what kinds of options are available to them.

“I saw an opportunity to add value by providing expertise to people building real products around data technology,” says Mason. “It’s a win for all, because we’re working on the most interesting technology that we can come up with at any given time!” A recent prototype they created was a program that identifies and categorizes users’ Instagram photos to provide more information about their interests.

For Mason, the Grinnellian spirit of combining multiple disciplines and thinking critically about the world we live in helped her to be a leader the field of data science. “Grinnell teaches you to think critically, communicate well, and analyze the world,” Mason says. “It’s an excellent grounding for entrepreneurship. Being able to think in that way is really helpful no matter what you end up doing.”

At Grinnell, students take classes in a wide variety of disciplines rather than just sticking within their majors. This makes them the perfect candidates for a world where thinking innovatively and combining multiple fields of knowledge is the hallmark of many of the most interesting jobs out there.

Goldstein Earns Academic All-America Honors

Grinnell College’s Daniel Goldstein ’16 joined elite company Tuesday when he became the 24th Pioneer in history to earn Academic All-America recognition.

Goldstein made the At-Large Team after enjoying a stellar diving and scholastic career at Grinnell.

The team is chosen by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), The At-Large category covers 16 sports, including Grinnell’s offerings of men’s and women’s swimming and diving, golf, and tennis.

Goldstein, a computer science/mathematics major from Ann Arbor, Mich., qualified for the NCAA Division III National Championships for the third year in a row this season. He earned honorable mention All-America honors twice.

A three-time Midwest Conference Diver of the Year, he won five league titles in his career and owns school and MWC records in 1-meter diving for 11 dives (score of 529.45), 1-meter diving for six dives (333.55) and 3-meter diving for six dives (335.90).

Goldstein three times earned Academic All-District recognition and in 2016 collected Grinnell’s Morgan Taylor ’26 Award for outstanding senior athlete.

The Scoop on Shovel Knight

Although millions of people around the world enjoy playing video games, not many people have the talent or motivation to make a game of their own. For David D’Angelo ’08, however, the spark, the drive, and the talent were all there.

D’Angelo was heavily involved in music while at Grinnell, participating in the orchestra and serving as president of the acapella ensemble G-Tones. He was also an avid gamer and had always been interested in the process of making video games. After a short postgraduation stint writing commercial jingles, the dual music and computer science major moved to Los Angeles and began to pursue a career in video game design.  

He got a job as a video game programmer at WayForward, a work-for-hire video game company that produces games at the request of companies like Warner Brothers, despite the fact that the economy was crashing for many other industries. “Video games are kind of recession-proof for some reason,” he says.

After working on retro-style 2-D games like “Double Dragon Neon” and “Contra 4,” an idea began to bud in D’Angelo and a few of his coworkers. In 2013, they broke off from WayForward and began their own video game company, Yacht Club Games.

“We wanted to create a retro game that was the first in a new franchise rather than a continuation of an old series,” D’Angelo says. “We were looking at ‘Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’ and observing the underused down-thrust attack of Link, and we just thought ‘How cool would it be to base an entire game around that simple mechanic?’”

After much debate over what kind of weapon would work best for flipping enemies over and attacking their underbellies, the team decided on a shovel. “Then we thought that ‘knight’ is the funniest word you could put next to ‘shovel’, so we wound up with a game called ‘Shovel Knight,’” D’Angelo says.

D’Angelo and his team started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game, in which they had 30 days to reach their monetary goal through online donations. To get the word out, they went to conventions to show off the game, released live-streamed video updates on the project daily, and communicated heavily with their fans.

“We streamed ourselves making the game, we streamed ourselves talking to our fans, we responded to every single email and comment we received,” D’Angelo says. “We wanted people to see how passionate we were about this game.”

The Kickstarter campaign was launched in the middle of March 2013 with a goal of $75,000; they reached that goal in just a few short weeks. By the end of the campaign in mid-April, the team had collected a total of $311,502 for the development of the game. The game was released in June 2014, and has since sold more than a million copies. It can be now purchased for Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Windows, Amazon Fire TV, Mac, and Linux.

When it came to the designing and marketing of “Shovel Knight,” D’Angelo says his Grinnell experience has been a valuable asset to his work. “I didn’t learn how to make games at Grinnell, but I did acquire the knowledge and tools needed to face any programming problem, and my music background helped me create and implement sound in our games,” he says. “Even the course I took in Japanese literature has come in handy as I draw on Japanese art and customs when engaging with our partners there in preparation for the game’s release.

“You get a taste of a little bit of everything at Grinnell, and that has been so important in what I do. I think the best thing you can do is to explore all your options while you’re there, because you just never know what skills you’ll end up using later on!”

Coding for a Cause

As all Grinnellians know, it’s important to use what you learn to make a difference in your community. In Grinnell’s computer science department, the students in the Team Software Development for Community Organizations class are using what they learn in class to benefit local nonprofits.

“We think our students should understand the ways in which their computing skills can make a positive difference in the world,” says Samuel A. Rebelsky, professor of computer science. “At the same time, it’s important for students to learn how to work with clients who know what they want done, but not how it can be done.”

Helping the Local Food Pantry

Students choose a project at the beginning of the semester, such as creating a website that shows the current needs of the Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) food pantry so people know what to donate. Another project the students have worked on is making an online resource portal to help MICA’s clients quickly find the support they need for food, housing, and jobs.

Zoe Wolter ’16, who worked on the MICA resource portal project, says that the class was a great way to get a feel for what she can do with the skills she’s developed at Grinnell. “Getting to actually apply what we’ve learned in class to a real project really expanded my knowledge of what opportunities are out there,” she says. “It really opened my mind to possibilities that I hadn’t thought of before.”

Developing Marketable Skills

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16, in his work on MICA’s resource portal, developed vital skills for communicating with clients who aren’t fluent in computer science language. “I found that it’s best to have them draw pictures and diagrams of what they want so that we can see what we need to do and there’s no confusion,” says Owusu-Asare. “That’s something I couldn’t have learned just sitting in class.”

Having worked on a large project with actual clients has also been useful for students seeking jobs in the tech industry. John Brady ’16, who developed the food bank site for MICA, found that his experience with that project came in handy for interviews. “Having a project that you can talk about that shows some actual real world experience working for clients was fantastic, because projects just for school just don’t have the same weight,” Brady says. He recently accepted a job offer from Amazon.

Receiving Support from Alumni Mentors

Cassie Schmitz talking with students in the courseIn addition to in-class learning, students also get support from alumni mentors who are now working in fields where they do the same kind of work the students are doing. Mentors come to campus once a semester to meet with students and Skype with them every few weeks to support them and answer questions.

“It’s just nice to have someone who went through the computer science department and is now working in the field,” says Owusu-Asare. “You see that they’re doing all these cool things, and it makes me excited for what I’ll do in the future.” Owusu-Asare plans to work as a software developer for Goldman-Sachs after graduating.

The class also supports the College’s commitment to staying connected to the greater Grinnell community. “In a lot of other college towns there’s a big divide between the town and the college, but Grinnell is really committed to bridging that gap,” says Cassie Schmitz ’05, who has been a mentor for the class for the past two years. “Students are encouraged to really engage meaningfully with the community, and this class is an important part of that engagement.”

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16 is a computer science and physics double major from Kumasi, Ghana.

John Brady ’16 is from Rosco, Ill., and is a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Zoe Wolter ’16 is a computer science and theatre double major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Scholars' Convocation: Hilary Mason ’00

Hilary Mason '00The Scholars' Convocation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, will feature Hilary Mason ’00. Mason is founder and CEO of Fast Forward Labs, a data science and machine learning firm, and the data scientist in residence at Accel Partners .

Mason's lecture, which is free and open to the public, is titled "Data, Machines, and People: Data Science, Products, and Society," and will take place in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Mason received her bachelor's degree in computer science from Grinnell and went on to study computer science at the graduate level at Brown University. When asked to describe herself, she says, "I make beautiful things with data."

Fast Forward Labs is a new kind of research company that helps recognize and develop new product and business opportunities through emerging technologies helps organizations accelerate their data science and machine intelligence capabilities. Every quarter the company profiles a different near future technology, producing a report on its development and a prototype demonstrating its application.

At Accel Partners, Mason advises Accel's portfolio companies and assists with evaluating new technologies and investment opportunities.

Mason, who previously served as chief scientist at bitly, also co-hosts DataGotham, a conference for New York's data community. In addition, she co-founded HackNY, a nonprofit that helps engineering students find opportunities in New York's creative technical economy. She is a member of Brooklyn hacker collective NYC Resistor and the Anita Borg Institute Board of Directors. She also advises numerous companies, including Sparkfun Electronics and Collective.

Grinnell College welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. 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 the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Old Maps, New Technology

Old maps are rich sources of historical information, but manually cataloging the information on them is time-consuming and costly.

Jerod Weinman, associate professor of computer science, and his co-researchers have plans to make them “searchable the way scanned books have become accessible to web search.”

With a National Science Foundation grant, he and Erik Learned-Miller, University of Massachusetts Amherst, have set themselves and their students a lofty goal — helping others search and analyze historical maps by automatically recognizing place names and other text, and aligning them with modern geography.

The National Science Foundation awarded the computer science professors nearly half a million dollars in a three-year grant for their project, Adaptive Integration of Textual and Geospatial Information for Mining Massive Map Collections.

Grinnell’s share will support up to 14 student researchers who’ll work with Weinman on the project.

Drawing Information From Old Maps

“Libraries and archives are digitizing historical maps for widespread online access. Without technology for searching them, large map collections relevant to a given problem or question may remain obscure even in online archives,” Weinman and Learned-Miller say. “If all of the text in a map can be read automatically by computer, a wealth of information becomes quickly available — location names, geographic features, and often statistics.”

The group is developing techniques that will — working back and forth between old maps and a world atlas — make text and geographical information available to researchers.

This information can help in a variety of ways. For example, scientists and policymakers can establish changes in land usage, waterways, or borders over time.

“Right now we’re targeting pre-digital era 19th century maps because they represent geography with reasonable accuracy while still being typeset by hand or handwritten,” Weinman says.

Why at Grinnell?

The hands-on research experience, say the professors, will “train a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students in constructing, learning, and making predictions with adaptive models.”

Many of the Grinnell students working on the project will be doing so through Mentored Advanced Projects (MAP). Weinman’s approach to mentored projects emphasizes “not only scientific methodology, but also the philosophy of computing as a science.”

He and fellow researchers — including David Lopatto, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, and David Jensen, director of Knowledge Discovery Laboratory at University of Massachusetts Amherst —  have shown that computer science students report more benefits from their research experiences using this method than they would with methods that are more traditional.

The researchers will share their findings through journals and conferences in the computer vision, artificial intelligence, and GIS communities.

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.

Balanced Performance

Ever wonder about handling the rigors of both academics and athletics at Grinnell?

Fully one third of Grinnell’s student body participates in varsity athletics. And while many Grinnell students achieve big things in sports (search Jack Taylor 138), all Grinnell student athletes find their own way to combine passion for athletics with academic priorities.

Anushka Joshi ’18 holds tennis racket with book, balls balanced on topAnushka Joshi ’18 came to campus two weeks before classes to prepare for the fall tennis season. “Coach (Andy Hamilton ’85) sends us a workout schedule for summer, so he expects us to be in top form with our tennis as well as our fitness,” Joshi says. “The first two weeks we played five hours a day.”  

Joshi is among six to eight players on the squad of 20 who traveled most weekends and played every Saturday until fall break in October. This year, having built a 9-1 record in a tie for second place after fall conference play, the team will also have a short spring season before going to the 2016 NCAA automatic qualifier tournament.  

Joshi says sports at The British School in her native Nepal were not nearly as intense as they are at Grinnell. She handled her first year here fairly easily. But with 200-level courses this year, she questioned if she could pull it off all season.

“The first weekend, six of us played for six hours straight,” Joshi says. “I was thinking ‘can I do this every week?’ I had so much studying to do on Sunday. But, I mean, I couldn’t quit. We have seniors on our team doing biochem and they’re managing, so I thought to myself ‘I can do this, too.’”

Joshi says getting a head start on her reading and doing homework as soon as it is assigned are strategies for a workable balance.

“It’s a handful, but it’s fun,” Joshi says, “Definitely you have to focus on academics, because it is academics first at Grinnell.”

Joel Baumann ’18 says athletics and academics fit together well at Grinnell because “coaches here respect academics. They’re very clear on emphasizing that you are always a student first.”

Baumann runs cross country and specializes in the 800 meters during indoor and outdoor track seasons. Training is “pretty much continuous” with a two or three week break between each season. “For all intents and purposes, it’s year-long running,” he says.

This fall Baumann is combining a rigorous cross country regimen with macro economics, a 200-level poli sci course, French, and environmental studies. “We have an open curriculum and a wide variety of courses to choose from, so I’m able to schedule my day in a way that makes sense for me,” Baumann says.

On a typical day Baumann goes to class the entire morning, then works afternoons in the Admission office as overnight host coordinator for prospective male students. He takes an hour to relax or study before a two-hour practice that starts at 4:15 p.m. Following dinner with the team, his evenings are dedicated to homework for the next day.

Baumann says daily discipline “allows your body and your mind to adjust to doing certain things at certain times throughout the day.

“I enjoy being in athletics because it forces you to plan your day and develop good time management skills,” Baumann says. “You have to be really strict with your regimen.”

Anushka Joshi ’18 is from Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Nepal. She is considering computer science and economics as possible majors, and hopes to study abroad next year. Joel Baumann ’18, a native of Grinnell, intends to pursue a double major in political science and economics.

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.

 

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.