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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.

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.

Grinnellian Receives Gilman Scholarship

Emma Lange ’16 has been awarded a federally funded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to support her study abroad during the spring 2015 semester.

Lange plans to study the impact of technology on democracy and citizenship at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Denmark is hailed as having a strong democracy and deeply happy citizens," Lange says. "Learning from Danish political scientists and experiencing Danish life will be formative in my studies of political and social science. I also will have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the social integration of technologies and politics through a course titled Rewriting Democracy: iCitizenship and e-governance in a Nordic Context."

At Grinnell College, she is active in mock trial and serves as administrative coordinator for the Student Government Association and as an advocate for first-generation college students.

"I am extremely appreciative of the Gilman Scholarship for making my semester abroad a possibility," Lange says. "In addition to academic growth, my semester in Copenhagen will provide great personal growth.

"This will be the first time I meet my father's extended family. After World War II, my grandparents emigrated from Germany to the United States, while other family members resettled in Denmark. We have recently reconnected with my father's family in Copenhagen, and I am very excited to meet and spend a few months getting to know my relatives."

Lange is the third member of her family to attend Grinnell. Her older brothers, Adam and Andy, graduated from the College in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Andy also received a Gilman International Scholarship, which supported his study abroad in Freiburg, Germany.

About the Gilman Scholarship

The Gilman Scholarship is a competitive federal grant program that "provides awards for U.S. undergraduate students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding to participate in study abroad programs worldwide." The program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go by supporting undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints.

Emma Lange ’16 is majoring in political science and technology studies and is from Carroll, Iowa.

Map App

College campuses are constantly changing, but students only see a brief window of this change. A building might be the centerpiece of an institution, but a few years after it has been razed, it resides largely in the minds of alumni and in the College’s archives.

Eric Mistry ’14 is not willing to let the memories of campus past rest. Instead, he created an app for iOS and Android that makes Grinnell’s campus history accessible to all.

Mistry’s Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) uses images, maps, and information from the College’s archives to paint a picture of Grinnell’s campus over time.

The app offers both a guided tour of the current campus and a historical tour in which sites of former buildings are superimposed on an aerial view of the College, courtesy of Google Maps.

Initially, Mistry planned to make an e-book documenting the College from 1996 — when the last official history ends — to the present. Instead, he decided to more fully embrace the emerging field of digital humanities. Digital humanities applies computer science to humanities subjects. Instead of writing a paper or an e-book, Mistry created an interactive experience.

Prior to undertaking this project, Mistry took a design course as part of his technology studies concentration, but the history major had no experience building mobile apps. With online lessons from Codeacademy and some assistance from members of the Grinnell AppDev team who lived down the hall, Mistry was able to create an app on Intel’s XDK platform.

At the same time as Mistry was using online resources to teach himself how to build mobile apps, he was searching through the card catalog in the basement of Burling Library. Although he acknowledged the irony of relying on an analog resource for this digital project, he admitted that electronic searches lacked a crucial ability: serendipity. “I would search through these boxes I found with the card catalog search,” he said, “and find things I never would have thought to look up.”

Mistry prefers to be on the border of analog and digital, old and new, drawing from both to create something better than either. Referencing a long since demolished campus building that he fixated on during this project, he said, “We weren’t able to save Blair Hall, and we probably won’t be able to build anything like it again. I love it when you can improve on something that’s already there and when you can get something that looks old but works like it’s new.”

He’s taken that philosophy beyond the digital, too. Mistry, a hall wellness coordinator, was a member of the the board of directors for the new wellness lounge in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center. The project improved an existing space, which now functions at a new, higher level.

For more information about Mistry and his mobile app, visit his blog.

TourGrinnell app on a phone, with research images from the archives

Value Sensitive Design

“How do technologies help or hinder the expression of human values such as accountability, fairness, privacy, and democracy?” Janet Davis, computer science, asks students in her Value Sensitive Design course.

Students in the course study value-sensitive-design theory and methods, analyze stakeholder roles and value tensions, design new technologies, and study how people experience values when using technology.  Each student also develops practical skills, applying value sensitive design to a semester-long project of their choosing.

Davis says value sensitive design was pioneered by Batya Friedman of the University of Washington's iSchool, and is primarily concerned with values that center on human well being, human dignity, justice, welfare, and human rights. It connects the people who design systems and interfaces with the people who think about and understand the values of those who are affected by the systems. “Ultimately, value sensitive design requires that we broaden the goals and criteria for judging the quality of technological systems to include those that advance human flourishing,” she says.

Several students in the course went on to apply what they learned in a Mentored Advanced Project, using technology to change sleep behaviors


Waking the Machines


Artist, researcher, and writer Sara Hendren opens the Center for the Humanities’ ongoing series “Science, Technologies, and the Human Condition” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, in Rosenfield Center Room 101. The series explores how different technologies have transformed the ways we perceive the body, time, space, and our environment.

“Among the themes we hope to explore this year are the human experiences of technology and the relationship between moral and scientific thought,” says Shuchi Kapila, the Center’s director.

“Hendren thinks about representations of technological innovations and their connections with the human body as an exploration of design and artistic production,” says Kapila. “Her work on disability and prosthetics, for instance, is interested in its aesthetic and technical dimensions.  She will explore adaptive technologies and the medicalized body in her talk.”

Hendren's presentation is “Waking the Machines: Art, Design, and Adaptive Technology.” 

She writes about adaptive technologies and prosthetics, critical design, the medicalized and biopolitical body, and cultural representations of disability and health.  Her projects at various stages include: an investigation of the inclined plane, one of Galileo's "simple machines;" cardboard carpentry; personal genomics; and prosthetics for invisible conditions.

Hendren runs the Abler web site.

Students Pursue Independent Studies

Grinnellians bring their interests into the classroom, using assignments to study the things they are most interested in. But when they can’t otherwise fit a topic into their curriculum, they turn to guided reading (200-level) and independent study (300-level) coursework to explore it further.

Students in guided readings and independent studies design an independent project and work closely with a faculty directory. The courses might include things like reading of a body of literature, reproducing published scientific experiments, learning advanced techniques, or exploring an art.

Some topics being pursued Fall 2013 include:

  • Voices from Cairo
  • Interdisciplinary Studies of Wine
  • The Philosophy of Science in Education
  • The History of Myanmar
  • Hellenistic Ethics
  • Poisson-Dirac Brackets
  • Modern Board Game Design
  • Advanced Web Application Development — Local Foods
  • Gender in Malaysian National Identity
  • Food Sources
  • Dido and Aeneas in 17th Century Politics
  • Anomalous Magnetism