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Teaching and Learning

Alumni in the Classroom

For students in Grinnell’s Introduction to Sociology class, the central question they must ask themselves is this: “How do my own personal struggles fit into a wider public issue, and how can I use sociology to solve that problem?”

“For example, if students are struggling with debt, they need to explore how that is reflective of a larger trend or problem in society,” says Patrick Inglis, assistant professor of sociology. “This semester, I wanted to bring someone in who really exemplifies that ability to make that connection and find solutions to those big problems. And I immediately thought of Damon.”

Casually dressed, Damon Williams and students talking over pizza in a casual environmentDamon Williams ’14, who was a sociology and economics double major, is currently a member of BYP100 and the Let Us Breathe Collective, both of which are Chicago-based black liberation movements. Williams worked in a variety of other movements after graduating from Grinnell, including raising money to send gas masks to Ferguson during the 2014 conflict and teaching financial literacy classes to young black men to help alleviate poverty through investment.

“I graduated from Grinnell having studied social media, feminism, black power movements, and other social movements around the world,” says Williams. “When I left, I knew I wanted to be a game changer.”

Inglis was able to bring Williams back to campus to share his experience with current students in sociology and philosophy classes. Williams also met with the student group Concerned Black Students about social media and black liberation, and held jam-packed office hours in the Spencer Grille. His presentation and workshop entitled “Bigger than the Cops: Racialized State Violence and the Movement for Black Lives” was standing room only.

“It was incredibly inspiring to learn from someone directly involved in the struggle against racism on a community level,” says Rosie O’Brien ’16. “His perspective gave me hope for the future of Chicago and the future of global economics more generally, and I learned a lot about the power of community-based movements.”

According to Inglis, bringing alumni back into the classroom is an important way to connect students’ learning to the work they can do after they leave Grinnell. “Alumni are already familiar with Grinnell, and that helps them make a more personal connection with the students,” Inglis says. “They know the real world and the Grinnell world and they can help students bridge those worlds in a way that professors aren’t always able to do.”

Rosie O’Brien is a political science and studio art major from Lawrence, Kansas.

Artistic Collaborations Online

Sasha Middeldorp ’18 and Arch Williams ’18, both members of Grinnell Singers, are helping launch a new project called the Grinnell Virtual Choir. In the project's most recent video, 25 singers used the technology to perform a movement from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil.

In a virtual choir, each participant records one or more individual singing parts of a particular song, and the videos are then synchronized and combined into a group performance.

In the current video, Middeldorp and Williams are among the singers testing virtual choir technology and demonstrating how it works. It’s the first step in introducing both a testing tool for better choir singing and a new opportunity for musical interaction among alumni and current students.

User Friendly

Middledorp says she found her initial singing experience to be “simple and straightforward” from a technological standpoint. “I only had to practice once or twice to figure out some of the logistics,” Middeldorp says. “I was in a practice room, and I just recorded it on whatever video recorder is built in on the computer and watched John [Rommereim] conduct on the same device.”

Williams did the same “after finding a quiet spot in my house where I could sing,” he says. “I did a couple of takes before submitting my video. I adjusted based on the recordings of my own voice and as I got a better handle on the music.”

Taking Ownership

One of the goals of the virtual choir project is to develop innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Using videos to record individual parts may provide a better way to test and evaluate the contribution of singers and improve their accountability in the chorus.

“Often in choir you think you know your lines but you’re just relying on the person next to you,” Middeldorp says. “When it’s just you singing alone you really take ownership over the music. One of the great benefits of this is that you know if you’re truly solid on your part independently.”

The Grinnell Singers have already begun putting virtual choir technology to the test as a rehearsal tool. They are using it to practice Duruflé’s Requiem for a combined concert with the Grinnell Oratorio Society later this spring.

“I think that using virtual choir capabilities will be an exciting experience and will help us learn the music in a new, cool, and different way then we normally do in class,” Williams says.

Learning the Technology

Austin Morris ’15, a mathematics major and Grinnell Singers alumnus, is the talent behind the scenes. He says learning to synchronize audio and video files from various devices has been challenging but worthwhile. Innovation Fund support for the project helped secure dedicated equipment for his work.

“Once we get the videos from all the people that we contact, it’s my job to put them all together in the final project,” Morris says. “My goal is to make it look as good and complete as possible.”

Fun and Inspiring

“The main goal of the Grinnell Virtual Choir is to create an online platform that facilitates choral performances that are connected virtually,” says John Rommereim, Blanche Johnson Professor of Music. “It’s a way to engage alumni in an artistic way so they can collaborate with current students and with each other.”

Current singers and alumni are invited to contribute additional vocal parts on All-Night Vigil and other works via the website. In addition to instructions for accessing the score and conducting video, the site offers musical and technical tips for getting a workable recording.

Essentially, singers can make it as simple as putting on earbuds and singing into their phones or laptops.

“We want it to be fun and a little inspiring,” Rommereim says. “We’re hoping it will blossom into a significant artistic endeavor.” 

Sasha Middeldorp ’18 is an anthropology major from Northfield, Minn. Arch Williams ’18 is a chemistry and political science double major from Minneapolis.

Mark Christel Named Librarian of the College

Mark ChristelMark Christel, director of libraries at the College of Wooster in Ohio, will be the next Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Librarian of Grinnell College. He was selected through a national search and will begin his new position on Aug. 1.

"Mark Christel brings an impressive record of leadership and innovation to the Grinnell College Libraries," said Michael Latham, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Grinnell College. "His experience in promoting student and faculty research, interdisciplinary digital initiatives, external grants and collaborations, facilities design and strategic planning makes him well suited to this role. I am confident that he will provide outstanding leadership for the Grinnell College Libraries, and I am grateful to members of the search committee for their efforts."

Christel has served with distinction in positions of increasing responsibility over the past 22 years at Hope College, Vassar College and the College of Wooster. Since joining Wooster as Director of Libraries in 2008, Christel built close collaborations with faculty to support student learning, carefully stewarded collections, and championed emerging technologies to promote open access and scholarship. 

He is a committed advocate for the application of digital technologies in teaching and research. He also was the lead author of two Mellon Foundation grants awarded to the Five Colleges of Ohio and has served on the steering committee for the Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship. 

"I am so honored to be joining Grinnell and its exceptional library staff," Christel said. "Grinnell’s foundational commitment to undergraduate research and teaching creates an exciting context for exploring the traditional and evolving facilities, services and collections offered by contemporary academic libraries.  

"I look forward to many engaging conversations about what the libraries are and might become, and then working with key campus partners and my colleagues within the libraries to achieve that vision over the coming years."

Christel succeeds Julia Bauder, who was named interim director of Grinnell's libraries last October after Richard Fyffe, Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Librarian of the College and associate professor, began permanent medical leave. He died on Nov. 5, 2015, due to complications from ALS.

"It is very humbling," Christel said, "to follow in the footsteps of Richard Fyffe, a friend and colleague whom I greatly admired."

An award-winning librarian, Fyfe made vital contributions to many national partnerships and consortia. He also was an eloquent advocate for libraries' central role in fulfilling the educational mission at Grinnell and other liberal arts colleges.

In announcing Christel's appointment, Latham said, "I want to thank Julia Bauder for her great commitment and dedication in serving as interim director of the libraries. At a time when Grinnell sought to recover from the loss of Richard Fyffe, she brought great energy and vision to a challenging task, and she excelled at it. We are all in her debt."

Lopatto to be Honored for Excellence in Science Education

David Lopatto headshotDavid Lopatto, the Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal professor of natural science and mathematics, professor of psychology, and inaugural director of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, will receive the 2016 Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education.

The American Society for Cell Biology selected Lopatto for the award for his leadership in assessing the benefits of undergraduate research experiences. The award is named after former ASCB president Bruce Alberts.

“It is significant that professional scientific organizations are recognizing work in science education,” Lopatto says. “Understanding the student experience and the best practices for science learning are essential for inspiring the next generation of scientists and science teachers.”

Central to Lopatto’s research and national impact have been several survey instruments that capture student self-reported feedback and enable analysis of the impact of experiences on student self-perceived gains in knowledge, skills, and confidence in research.

The Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE) was developed by Lopatto in 2004 and was the first instrument available to faculty and program directors for assessing the impact of research programs. It was quickly adopted by faculty for use in diverse applications.

Since the introduction of the SURE (now in its third iteration), Lopatto has directed the development of related instruments, including measures of perceived student impacts of classroom-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) research; interdisciplinary STEM curricula; and research in non-STEM areas. These assessment tools are now used by over 150 institutions with more than 10,000 students annually.

Possibly the most significant impact of Lopatto’s work has been in establishing standardized faculty practice for assessment, which has laid the groundwork for development of new approaches and tools for student outcomes assessment.

Progress in the past decade has advanced assessment practice in STEM communities, and the conversation has expanded to include education researchers, cognitive scientists, and evaluation scholars, all of whom now inform practical understanding of student learning in STEM. These interactions not only advance assessment practice but also have led to new scholarship including discipline-based education research.

As noted by one of Lopatto’s nominators, Cynthia Bauerle at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “These developments continue to motivate improvements in faculty practice initiated originally by the efforts of early researchers like Dr. Lopatto, who recognized the importance of assessment practice as a driver for improved teaching, for achieving a more ‘scientific teaching.’“

Lopatto will accept the award on Dec. 4 at the ASCB annual meeting in San Francisco.

Geek Out on Policy

“I want to do foreign policy,” says Misha Gelnarova ’18, an international student from the Czech Republic who spent part of spring break in Washington, D.C., with the Rosenfield Program’s second annual industry tour. “Seeing it through the lens of the American side is really interesting.”

Gelnarova, an independent major in international relations and communications, was one of 20 Grinnell students, out of nearly 60 who applied, to participate in the policy-oriented industry tour March 29 through April 2. The trip helped students explore their interests in policy issues, network with alumni, and further their career goals.

The 2016 tour included visits with alumni at the U.S. Department of State, the Arms Control Association, the Heritage Foundation, Verizon, Politico, and the National Association of Manufacturers. They also visited the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

New View on Journalists

Students on an subway escalator, with two closest women smiling while looking at one's phone“I loved the visit to Politico,” Gelnarova says. “It was easy to connect with the young alum [Ben Weyl ’07, formerly with Congressional Quarterly]. He talked about how he got internships through Grinnell — both were in D.C. and in journalism. Even though Grinnell doesn’t have [journalism as a major], he was able to find a job quickly.

“I have this idea that reporters are going to break your leg to get the story,” Gelnarova says. “[Weyl] was the most calm and peaceful and intelligent person. He talked about the relationships he’s got on the Hill. He’s able to engage with members of Congress in a very friendly manner. So this relationship is beneficial to both of them because they can say what they want and he has a firsthand source. It can actually work in a nice manner.”

Foreign Policy from a Personal Perspective

Gelnarova is deeply interested in her home country’s international relations. While the Grinnell students were in Washington, D.C., the president of the Czech Republic hosted a visit from the president of China. “It seems to send a huge message since we’re such a small country and we’re having this very official visit,” Gelnarova says. “The whole Czech Republic transformed to welcome the Chinese with flags everywhere. This kind of shows how the Czech Republic is leaning toward the East rather than to the Western powers.”

During a visit with U.S. State Department alumni, Gelnarova presented her concerns to Aubrey Carlson ’82, director of the Office of Central European Affairs, including the Czech Republic. “I was wondering how he sees it,” Gelnarova says. “Does it degrade the Czech Republic in his eyes? He said they have great cooperation with the prime minister [the actual head of government]. They understand that the president [head of state] is leaning somewhere else than the republic and the people. So it kind of settles me down.”

Receptive to Questions

The tour also included a visit with Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former governor of Iowa. He was going to give an overview of the USDA, Gelnarova says, “but he believes Grinnell students already know that, so we went straight to questions. It was pretty fantastic to see that he was really comfortable sitting down with us for an extensive amount of time [45 minutes] for a person in such a high position and just answer whatever we had to ask.”

Alumni Network

Students were invited to alumni’s homes as well as meeting them in their workplaces.

“I feel like the whole alumni network at Grinnell is golden,” Gelnarova says. “They had the same experience in the middle of cornfields. Being able to interact with them and see that they are doing incredible stuff but also that they’re so approachable and so easy to connect with.”

The alumni presented policy as well as career issues. “You can watch today’s students imagining how they can get to different paths,” says Sarah Purcell ’92, director of the Rosenfield Program and professor of history.

Washington, D.C., is such a rich place with many alumni volunteers, Purcell says, that the Rosenfield Program’s third annual industry tour will return there in spring 2017 with a focus on technology and human rights.

Grinnell students, faculty, and staff on Rosenfield Program DC tour

Misha Gelnarova ’18 is from Ostrava, Czech Republic. Her independent major focuses on international relations and communications. Photos courtesy of Gelnarova.

Examining Grinnell’s Culture

Grinnell is a secular institution, but does that mean students have to leave their religion at the classroom door?

Olivia Queathem ’17 is part of an unusual group Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) in religious studies that may help answer that question. Queathem and five other student researchers are conducting focus groups this spring to gather data for the Grinnell Religious Diversity Project.

The grant-funded study is exploring issues of religion, religious culture, and religious diversity on campus. The project focuses, in part, on whether classrooms in an intentionally secular environment are affected by, or in some cases impinge upon, students’ closely held religious beliefs and experiences.

Strong Emotions

“There can be some pretty strong emotional attachments to what’s being talked about,” Queathem says, “and it’s a really difficult balance to find a classroom climate that feels open so that people can say what they’re feeling and ask honest questions.

“The professors are always looking for better ways to make sure that students feel safe in the classroom expressing their views through respectful dialogue,” Queathem adds.

Project directors Tim Dobe, associate professor of religious studies, and Caleb Elfenbein, assistant professor of religious studies and history, are helping students establish the parameters for the research. But it’s the students who are driving the process.

Honest Conversations

A key goal for the MAP participants, says Alexandra Odom ’16, is to “create a project that shows people what the realities of religion are on campus.” One of their first tasks was to formulate questions that would foster open and honest conversations in their respective focus groups.

“People are used to not talking about religion and keeping it part of their private lives,” says Odom. “We have to be very intentional about how we create a space where people feel comfortable talking about their religious beliefs and engaging with people who may or may not have similar beliefs.”

Odom says the first round of focus groups indicate that students who feel personally shaped by their religion are willing to share and wish more people on campus would ask questions about their faith.

Opportunity to Speak

“It seems like people have been waiting for this opportunity to speak,” Odom says. “Even people who don’t align themselves with a religion are willing to talk, especially if they grew up in a setting where religion was always present, even if they weren’t directly involved.”

Promoting honest dialogue will not only help define the range and depth of religious experience on campus, Odom says. It will ultimately help researchers understand religious diversity in the context of core Grinnell values like self-governance.

“Grinnell prides itself on students looking out for each other,” Odom says. “We can’t promote the health and wellness of the community if we have no idea what that community is. To identify religious populations that are present is the first step to serving those populations in a way that’s meaningful for them so they can have a great experience here, too.”

Identifying Campus Culture

Since February, the MAP students have been journaling personal impressions of their research experience on a blog. For Jaya Vallis ’16, having a place for personal introspection is helpful.

“We talked a lot about objectivity, self-reflexivity, and trying to remove our own biases when we were designing questions and talking to our interviewees,” Vallis says. “I recognized almost immediately even in just describing this project to people that I had to identify and separate out my own personality.”

Vallis says the research group also discussed techniques for talking to interviewees in order to identify what people think campus culture actually is and how religious diversity plays a part in it.

“‘Campus culture is a very vague term,” Vallis says. “Once we get an idea of what it is, we’ll be better able to identify ways to maybe implement policy changes or the creation of new spaces on campus.”

Valuable Experience

By semester’s end, the MAP students will produce a group paper that will help inform future phases of the three-year study. Among the skills gained in designing and implementing the focus group process is Institutional Review Board training necessary for ethical research involving human subjects.

“Religion touches a lot of aspects of our society, and it’s really interesting to see how it overlaps with other spheres of influence in terms of how people live their daily lives,” Queathem says.

“I know that I want to do something that helps people in a concrete way, whether that ends up being activism or nonprofit work,” Queathem says. “This is valuable experience in terms of giving me an actual research opportunity that I haven’t had before so I’ll get to see if I like it or not.” 

Olivia Queathem ’17 is a religious studies major from Grinnell. Alexandra Odom ’16 is a history major from Baltimore. Jaya Vallis ’16 is a psychology and religious studies double major from Washington, D.C.

Critical Narratives & Creative Forms

“Critical Narratives & Creative Forms: Fresh Perspectives from the Francophone World” activities run May 1–6, and include readings, lectures, a performance and opportunities to meet with those featured:

  • Linda Brindeau, assistant professor of French, Dickinson College
  • Pascale Julio, Haitian stage actor
  • Ivanka Hahnenberger, translator
  • Taylor Watts ’16, Anthropology/French major

Professor Kristina Kosnick, Department of French and Arabic, remarks, "This week of events highlights artistic, scholarly, and activist work that addresses important issues in the contemporary French-speaking world – notably related to post-colonialism and the ways it intersects with gender, race, class, and environment. Featured presenters and performers engage with these issues through various creative forms including dance, theater, teaching, and literary translation and criticism. Events will expand on topics explored in courses at the College, and also offer opportunities for students, faculty, and members of the Grinnell community to make meaningful transdisciplinary and interpersonal connections with each other, and with our guests."

"We are very excited about our collaboration with the Translation Collective during this week of events since all of the participants will help us broaden the scope of the way in which we conceptualize translation – as cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and/or artistic in nature, for example. We hope that this week’s discussion will enrich our pedagogical or scholarly approaches to our work," adds Professor Gwenola Caradec, Department of French and Arabic.

Events for faculty, students, and staff include a French table lunch with some of the presenters, and a Karaoke night with the French Student Educational Policy Committee.

The events are sponsored by the Center for the Humanities; Center for International Studies; Department of French and Arabic; Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; and the Translation Collective.

Public Events

Sunday, May 1

7–8:30 p.m., Rosenfield Center, Room 209
Drop-in Dessert/Cheese Reception with Brindeau, Julio, and Hahnenberger

Monday, May 2

7:30 p.m., Rosenfield Center, Room 101
Brindeau presents “Re-Presenting Haiti: Why We Need Counter-Narratives”

Tuesday, May 3

7:30 p.m., Flanagan Theater, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts
Watts performs “A Choreographic exploration of le commerce triangulaire”

Wednesday, May 4

7:30 p.m., Faulconer Gallery
Hahnenberger reads “Options and Selections: The Trials of a Translator”

Thursday, May 5

4 p.m., Kallaus Lecture Hall, ARH, Room 102
Julio performs dramatic reading of La Couleur de l’aube, by Yanick Lahens

Friday, May 6

Noon, Rosenfield Center, Room 209
Hahnenberger leads round-table discussion: "The Discreet Waiter—The Business of Translating"

The Great Disruption: China's 21st Century Reemergence

It is often said these days that whenever China sneezes, the world catches a cold. Indeed, some time within the next decade, China is likely to become the world’s largest economy. This paradigm shift has wide-ranging implications, in particular for a United States that dominated the 20th century.

A generation of Americans will age into a profoundly changed world in which the rise of China will affect many facets of their lives — economic, social, environmental, perhaps even philosophical — and thus a basic understanding of 20% of humanity can no longer be relegated to specialists and policymakers.

Damien Ma will present “The Great Disruption: China's 21st Century Reemergence” at 4 p.m. Friday, April 29, in ARH Auditorium, Room 302. In his talk, Ma aims to provide an overarching picture of the Chinese political economy, where it has been and where it may be headed. More broadly, Ma seeks to explain why the US-China relationship is so consequential to global economic and environmental prosperity and stability. 

Ma’s visit is sponsored by the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; East Asian Studies; and the Department of Chinese and Japanese.

Damien Ma

Damien Ma is a fellow and associate director of the Think Tank at the Paulson Institute. His work at the institute also focuses on investment and policy-related programs. He is the co-author of In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China’s Ascent in the Next Decade. He currently also serves as an adjunct lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Previously, Ma was a lead China and Mongolia analyst at Eurasia Group, the political risk research and advisory firm. He specialized in analyzing the intersection between Chinese policies and markets, with a particular focus on energy and commodities, industrial policy, elite politics, US-China relations, and social policies. His advisory and analytical work served a range of clients from institutional investors and multinational corporations to the US government. Prior to joining Eurasia Group, he was a manager of publications at the US-China Business Council in Washington, DC. He also worked in public relations firm H-Line Ogilvy in Beijing, where he served major multinational clients.

In addition, Ma has published widely, including in The Atlantic online, New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and Bloomberg, among others. He has also appeared in a range of broadcast media such as the Charlie Rose Show, BBC, NPR, and CNBC. He also served as an adjunct instructor at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington, DC. Ma is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was named a “99under33” foreign policy leader in 2012 by the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.