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Teaching and Learning

Double the Fun

At Grinnell, students are encouraged to find ways to pursue as many of their interests as they can. This can mean participating in clubs and athletics in addition to academics, but some students want to take their interests even further by declaring a double major.

A double major may seem overwhelming, but it’s actually very common for students to merge two seemingly unrelated interests into a major that fits their aspirations.

Becoming a better doctor

Micah Iticovici ’16 working at a table with books, papersMicah Iticovici ’16, a biological chemistry/economics double major, arrived on campus intending to be a philosophy major. However, he soon discovered an interest in biochemistry and the medical profession.

Then, during his Introduction to Economics course, he began to see an overlap between how economists study decision-making and how medical professionals and their patients interact.

“Patients are really not great decision-makers,” Iticovici says. “They make a lot of really small decisions without looking at the overall impacts of those choices.”

Using the principles he learned in economics, Iticovici has pursued independent research to try to gain a better understanding of how and why patients make decisions that aren’t in their best interests. By delving into behavioral economics with a medical spin, he hopes to be able to advise and relate to his future patients more effectively.

Combining economics with a medicine-oriented biochemistry major may be unexpected, but it has many practical applications. But a down-to-earth major like economics can add a lot to a major that is less logic-oriented as well.

The economics of art

Alex Neckopulos ’17 is a studio art/economics double major who was interested in art from a young age. Her talent was encouraged until high school, where she got very different feedback from her teachers. They viewed artistic pursuits as less valuable than math and sciences, and her interest in art faded.

Neckopulos regained her passion for art when she came to Grinnell, but she discovered that the analytical side she developed in high school was still calling. At first, the notion of combining her interests in art and economics seemed unrealistic. “Honestly I had no idea how they would work together! It felt like I was trying to stick a circle in a square hole,” Neckopulos says.

After taking a job as an assistant in the Faulconer Gallery, however, Neckopulos discovered that her knowledge of economic models and principles came in handy. “Working in a gallery, you have the art that you’re passionate about, but it’s also a business, and you have to know how to get people in the door and really manage your funds,” Neckopulos says.

She hopes to obtain an internship at a larger, public gallery in the future to see what it’s like to pursue those interests on a grander scale. “My advice to anyone who has multiple interests would be to seek out that job that you think might combine them, because there’s nothing more eye-opening than applying what you learn to real life,” says Neckopulos.

Look for the overlap

“Double majors are really doable,” Iticovici adds. “You can combine anything and there will be some kind of overlap, as long as you’re willing to look for it. And that makes everything you learn more fulfilling and interesting.”

For Grinnell students, the ability to delve deeply into more than one subject helps to transform their varied interests into new, more fulfilling career paths. So if you’re having trouble deciding what you want to do, fear not! You just might be able to do it all.

Asking for Help

Joyce Stern ’91“One of the most important things for Grinnell students is to get past the idea that adults are completely independent,” says Joyce Stern ’91, dean for student success and academic advising. “Adults are constantly consulting each other when they run into a challenge.”

While this advice might seem counterintuitive, it might be the first step in making more out of your time in college. When you arrive at Grinnell, a whole new world of independence is opened up to you. Suddenly, you have almost complete freedom in your social life, extracurriculars, and even your academics. You get to choose what clubs to join, which classes to take, when to study, and who you want to go to dinner with each night.

For many students, seeking help during high school means you’re doing badly or falling behind. But at Grinnell, using all the resources at your fingertips is part of what it takes to succeed! By choosing to come to Grinnell, you choose to ramp up your game. You could go someplace easy. You could shoot for the easy A, but instead you choose to challenge yourself. You’re smart, hard-working, motivated, and you’re very successful.

As a smart, successful student, you’re looking to make the most out of your investments. That includes making use of all the resources designed to support you when you take risks, save you time and energy, or get you back on track quickly when, inevitably, real life comes up and kicks you in the pants, which you know it will do at some point in your college years!

“We expect that all Grinnell students can handle this place,” Stern says. “You’re admitted with great credentials, but there are still things that get in students’ way.” Things such as difficulty adapting to professors’ standards, social anxiety, the death of a loved one, or struggles with time management can all have a big effect on your college experience.

The Academic Advising office can connect you with resources all around campus, from tutoring and counseling services to project planning worksheets and appointments at the Reading, Writing, or Math Labs. The staff at Academic Advising is there for you, to make sure that you get whatever you need to advance in your academics and build the life you want for yourself.

So when should you seek support? According Stern, there’s no such thing as “too early,” and there’s also no “too late.”

“We love to work with students who are simply trying to find a better approach to their studies. Students can and should approach us before the first sign of difficulty,” says Stern.

But even if you wait until you’re already having trouble, Academic Advising can still help.

“We know that people are only able to use good information when they are ready to do so, and even if we can’t help a student salvage a class or the semester, our work together could make the next semester go much better,” Stern says.

Seeking help isn’t a sign that you’re “not making it,” it’s a sign that you’re willing to challenge yourself and give yourself the best possible chance to succeed. So if you’re curious about finding new ways to study, if you’re struggling with a class, or if you’re simply curious about what’s available to you, Academic Advising is here for you!

For more information or to schedule an appointment, check out the Academic Advising website.

Tannhäuser, Live in HD

This fall Grinnell is streaming four of the Metropolitan Opera's productions live and in high-definition as the Met celebrates its 10th anniversary of Live-in-HD movie theater transmissions.

The opera talk for Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser starts at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 31, in the Harris Center Cinema, with the opera beginning at 11 a.m.

Otto Schenk directs the Met's first production of this early Wagner masterpiece in more than a decade. Experienced Wagnerian tenor Johan Botha takes on the complex title role alongside soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek as the heroine Elisabeth. The production takes place in and around Wartburg Castle, in Thuringia in central Germany in the 13th century. James Levine conducts. Kelly Maynard, assistant professor and department chair of European Studies, will present the opera talk.

The next opera of the season is Alban Berg's Lulu on Saturday, Nov. 21, with an opera talk by Eugene Gaub, associate professor of music theory and music history

Refreshments will be available for purchase in the lobby of the cinema before each opera.

Tickets are available at the Pioneer Bookshop, the Grinnell College Bookstore, and at the door on the day of the show. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, children and Met Opera members.

The Office of the President has generously funded tickets for Grinnell College faculty, staff, and students, and these tickets are available for free at all locations. Family members not employed by the College are required to purchase tickets.

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

Students Win Awards in National Statistics Competition

USPROCTwo groups of Grinnell College students won awards at this year’s Undergraduate Statistics Project Competition (USPROC) sponsored by the American Statistical Association and the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education. USPROC is an annual national competition among undergraduate students in the United States.

Alex Schmiechen ’17 and Zina Ibrahim ’17 won first place in the subcategory “First Course in Statistics.” Their project, titled Upvote or Downvote: What Makes Yik Yak Posts Popular?, was completed as part of the course Applied Statistics (MAT 209).

Their study examined Yik Yak, the anonymous social medial platform that is widely used on college campuses, in which users can indicate their liking for a post by “upvoting” or “downvoting” it. Schmiechen and Ibrahim’s study aimed to “determine potential indicators of popularity” and counted the upvotes of posts based on categories such as amount of humor, academic level, love life relevance, and whether or not it was a question.

Clark Fancher ’15, Josh Vernazza ’15, and Zack Davis ’16 won second place in the subcategory “Intermediate-level Applied Statistics Course.” Their project was titled An Examination of Age of First Drink and Effects of Church Attendance by Gender, and was carried out in the course Statistical Modeling (MAT 310).

They initially came up with this topic due to its relevance on college campuses. “Since underage alcohol consumption is so rampant throughout college campuses, we thought a study examining the age of first drink consumption would be interesting,” Davis said. They used survival analysis to model drinking patterns in Iowa youth. They also found that male church-goers have their first drink later than their female counterparts, which was different from conclusions reached in previous literature.

The results of both studies are significant in part because they pertain to current issues. Schmiechen and Ibrahim’s study highlights that further analysis could “lead to further insight into popular culture” and also be “a tool to examine a student body’s mental health”. Fancher, Vernazza, and Davis’ study addresses the benefits of decreasing underage drinking, and discusses the efficacy of after-school church programs delaying the age of first drink consumption.

Both projects were from courses taught by Professor Shonda Kuiper of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. These achievements highlight the College’s advancement in statistics education. “Students of Grinnell College are doing innovative research projects related to current events in their lives, while also utilizing advanced multivariate statistical modeling techniques,” Kuiper said.

In addition to a monetary award, both groups were invited to give a plenary talk on October 2, 2015, for the First Annual Electronic Undergraduate Statistics Research Conference.

Bruce Weindruch '78 Comes to Campus to Teach a Short Course on Leadership

Bruce Weindruch ’78, CEO and founder of The History Factory, returns to campus to teach the short course Learning from Literature: Insights for Leadership in the New Workplace. 

Weindruch plans to weave timeless fictional characters with the biographies of corporate visionaries to illuminate the role of strategic planning, sales, branding, and corporate social responsibility in today’s 24/7 technology-driven workplace. He says that, in this “MBA for liberal arts undergrads,” students will learn the “why it’s done” – as opposed to “how it’s done” – that distinguishes legendary leaders. 

The Wilson Program in Enterprise and Leadership is pleased welcome Weindruch back to Grinnell. Weindruch earned his bachelor's degree in American Studies and went on to found one of the world’s leading heritage management companies, The History Factory. The company works with clients to connect their future goals with their heritage in creative and meaningful ways, consulting on projects ranging from planning business anniversaries, to developing web content, to writing books and creating films, to supporting archival management. Clients have ranged from little league baseball, to Wrigley, to Lockheed Martin.

Thomas Heath, columnist of The Washington Post noted:

When clothier Brooks Brothers wanted to mark its 175th anniversary, Weindruch's team combed the company's records to publish a book and create a corporate celebration. When Shell Oil wanted a sprawling museum for company offices in Houston, the History Factory designed it.

By building a successful business off business history, Weindruch provides a wonderful example of the value of a liberal arts education and innovative thinking in the business world. Forbes Magazine described Weindruch as the man who's "making history pay."

This one credit course will run from October 26 to November 20, 2015.

Scholars' Convo: Contesting Muhammad

Kecia AliKecia Ali, a renowned scholar on Islamic law, gender and religion, will deliver a Scholar's Convocation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Her talk, titled "Contesting Muhammad: Contemporary Controversies in Historical Perspective," will focus on modern debates about the Prophet Muhammad and his legacy.

Ali, the College's 2015-16 Gates Lecturer in Religious Studies, will give her Gates lecture the night before. She will present "Tradition, Traditions, Traditioning: Writing on Women and Islam," at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, in Faulconer Galler, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Ali will be speaking about the challenges of writing on gender, women, and Islam in a way that does justice to the diversity of perspectives in and cultural settings of Muslim communities.

Both events are free and open to the public.

"Professor Ali will provide the kind of background we need to analyze and understand some of the recent controversies surrounding the Prophet Muhammad," said Caleb Elfenbein, assistant professor in the departments of history and religious studies.

"She will discuss the history of representations of Muhammad in the West as well as in Muslim communities and how those histories, especially the way they interact, affects contemporary events," Elfenbein added. "Her talk will be especially informative regarding Muhammad's relationship with his wives."

Ali's research focuses on Islamic law, women and gender, ethics, and biography. She is the author of six books including her most recent publication, The Lives of Muhammad, about modern Muslim and non-Muslim biographies of Islam’s prophet, which will inform her lecture. She is also the author of Sexual Ethics in Islam, which provides a feminist reading of Islamic scriptural, legal, and ethical traditions as they relate to human gender and sexuality.

A professor of Islam at Boston University, Ali has held research and teaching fellowships at Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School. She is an active member of the American Academy of Religion and currently serves as president of the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics.

The Scholars' Convocation series was established in the late 1970s in response to Grinnell College's move to an individually advised curriculum. The College, aiming to create a common educational experience shared by the entire Grinnell College community, started the Scholars' Convocation series to offer an accessible intellectual encounter that transcends disciplinary boundaries.

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. Faulconer Gallery is wheelchair accessible, with accessible parking available at the south entrance to the Bucksbaum Center. You can request accommodations from Conference Operations and Events.

Growing Interest in Statistics

On October 2, 2015, approximately 40 students on campus watched the live stream of the first annual Electronic Undergraduate Statistics Research Conference sponsored by the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education (CAUSE). The section broadcasted was a talk by Dr. Benjamin Baumer, who is currently an Associate Professor of Statistics and Data Science at Smith College. Titled “In it to Win It,” the talk focused on his experiences as the former Statistical Analyst for Baseball Operations at the New York Mets.

Following the approval of a statistics concentration at Grinnell College, this talk is another example of students’ growing interest in the field. “I was surprised there were so many students participating in this talk,” said Ibuki Ogasawara ’17, a mathematics major. “Not only sports statistics but any applied stats field in general is such a growing field, I hope everyone is excited about having the statistics concentration available.”

Dr. Baumer stressed the importance of statistical analysis in running a sports team. He gave examples of how data can be used to answer crucial questions, such as how players will do in the future, when to trade players, and what the opposition’s tactics will be. Some of these topics could be potential topics for class projects for undergraduate students.

This talk also discussed careers in sports analytics. Baumer talked about the different positions in the Analytics Department of a sports team and the technical skills needed to succeed. He also talked about the benefits, challenges, and more practical parts of this career.

Some students found that this gave them insight on possible post-graduate options. “I’ve not decided whether or not I will apply for grad school or a job, but according to his talk it seems to be necessary to have a graduate degree in applied statistics or computer science if I want to work for a team or a company,” Ogasawara said. “I will definitely think about going to grad school if I decide to pursue a career as a statistician.”

Writers@Grinnell - Antonya Nelson

Antonya Nelson, the upcoming author in Writers@Grinnell will be on campus for two eventsAntonya Nelson on Thursday, October 29:

  • Reading at 8 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101
  • Roundtable at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 209

Antonya Nelson is the author of nine books of fiction (three novels and six collections of stories). Nelson's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, Redbook, and in many other magazines, as well as in anthologies such as Prize Stories, the O. Henry Awards, and Best American Short Stories.

Her books have been New York Times Notable Books of 1992, 1996, 1998, and 2000; in 2000 Nelson was also named by The New Yorker as one of the "twenty young fiction writers for the new millennium." She is the recipient of the Rea Award for Short Fiction, a 2000-2001 NEA Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Nelson also teaches creative writing in the Warren Wilson MFA program.

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.

Lulu, Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Alan Berg’s Lulu will be streamed live in high-definition at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, in Harris Center Cinema. The opera talk by Eugene Gaub, associate professor of music theory, will begin at 11 a.m.

Music Director James Levine—one of Lulu’s leading champions — conducts the Met’s new production from acclaimed artist and director William Kentride, who applies his unique vision to Berg’s opera.

Soprano Marlis Petersen has excited audiences around the world with her portrayal of the title role, a wild journey of love, obsession and death. She recently announced that she plans to retire the part after this season. The winning cast also features mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, tenor Daniel Brenna and bass-baritone Johan Reuter.

The Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD will return to Grinnell for the spring season.

Refreshments will be available for purchase in the lobby of the cinema before the opera and during intermission.

Tickets are available at the Pioneer Bookshop, the Grinnell College Bookstore, and at the door on the day of the show. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, children, and Met Opera members.

The Office of the President has generously funded tickets for Grinnell College faculty, staff, and students, and these tickets are available at no cost at all locations. Family members not employed by the College are required to purchase tickets.

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