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Germination rate, length, and weight differences in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata and Sorghastrum nutans seeds

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Germination rate, length, and weight differences in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata and Sorghastrum nutans seeds
D. Achio, E. Evans, and N. Repreza
Biology Department, Grinnell College, Grinnell IA 50112, USA
An important aspect of tallgrass prairie reconstructions is the origin of the seeds being planted. Our experiment questions whether or not there is a difference in the lengths, weights, and rates of germination in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata (Gray-headed Coneflower) and Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) seeds. We collected samples from the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) near Kellogg, Iowa, which we then measured, weighed, and incubated to test their rates of germination. The results showed that the total weight and length of the non-native S. nutans was significantly greater, and the total weight of the non-native R. pinnata was significantly higher, but the mean length and germination rates of the latter were not significant. The significant variations in seed length and total seed weight support conservationists’ claims that only local seeds should be used in tallgrass prairie reconstruction.
Restoration of tallgrass prairies has existed for almost a hundred years since remnant prairies became more fragmented due to agricultural conversion. Not until the 1970’s has prairie reconstruction become an important environmental concern (Mutel 2007). In recent years, biologists have begun to plant non-local seeds in attempts to increase diversity and plant performance within reconstructed prairies. Wimp et al. (2005) argue that a greater genetic diversity of a dominant plant is beneficial for the entire ecosystem. However, Gustafson (2004) states that genetic differences and ecological performance among local and non-local seeds are more of a concern than diversity. In many prairie remnants, there can already be a great amount of genetic diversity (Gustafson, et al 2004). Therefore, the aim of prairie reconstructions should be the success of the populations, not the genetic diversity of the prairie as a whole (Mutel 2007).
Seed origin not only affects the genetic composition of the population; it also affects the success of the population as a whole. Sanders and McGraw (2005) found that plant populations consisting of seeds from only one source are, on average, more successful, growing larger rhizomes and having a greater leaf area. This result illustrates how prairie reconstructions that use seeds from multiple sources, including non-local sources, could be hindering plants’ net primary production (NPP).
We chose to study two plants species that are present in both prairies: Ratibida pinnata (Gray-headed Coneflower), a forb plant, which is commonly found in dry prairies, and Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) which also commonly grows in dry prairies, open savan-nahs, pastures and fields. R. pinnata and S. nutans’ growing seasons allowed us to collect their seeds because they extend into fall (Ladd and Oberle 2005). Also, S. nutans is a C4 grass commonly found in tallgrass prairies, making our study more relevant to tallgrass prairie reconstructions (Damhoureyeh and Hartnett 2002). R. pinnata has a short germination period which allowed for the completion of our study (Smith 1980).
The S. nutans seed and R. pinnata seedhead samples were collected from the reconstructed Lab Prairie (formerly agricultural land) and the Remnant Prairie at the Conard Environmental Research Center (CERA) located outside of Kellogg, Iowa. The seeds and seedheads from these two prairie sites experienced the same environmental disturbances such as spring fires that occur every three years. The reconstructed prairie used non-local seeds because there were no cultivars nearby in Iowa at the time of the reconstruction in 1987. The grass seeds, for example, were imported from Nebraska (Brown 2009).
In our study, we tried to determine whether the origins of a S. nutans seed or a R. pinnata seedhead has an effect on the seeds’ weight, length, or rate of germination and if these variables indicate significant differences between local and non-local seeds and seedheads. Variances in seeds’ weight, length, or rate of germination would indicate that seeds from one origin are genetically stronger than the other (Wulff 1986, Stanton 1984). We hypothesize that there will be differences in the lengths, total weight, and the percentage rates of germination of native and non-native seeds and seedheads, because tallgrass prairie seeds’ genotypes have evolved over time to specifically suit different environments (Kurtz 2001).
On the 8th and 10th of October, 2009 we took random samples of R. pinnata seedheads and S. nutans seeds from the reconstructed and the remnant prairies in CERA. Then, we measured and weighed the seeds and seedheads of all samples. Finally, we measured the samples’ rates of germination.
On each prairie we created five systematically assigned transects and randomly selected sampling points along these transects. Seeds and seedheads were collected from the plant closest to the sampling point. Twenty-six R. pinnata seedhead samples from the remnant prairie were collected using the haphazard sampling method due to the scarcity of the plant while twenty-six R. pinnata seedhead samples from the recon-structed prairie were collected using random sampling. S. nutans seeds were collected from twenty sample plants using random sampling on both remnant and reconstructed prairies.
From the twenty collected S. nutans samples, we took 10 seeds at random, digitally photographed them, and measured the seeds’ lengths in millimeters using the program ImageJ. All of the seeds and seedheads were weighed separately by mother plant using an electronic balance. We also recorded the plant from which each seed originated in order to understand the effects of its genotype.
Finally, ten seeds were randomly selected from each R. pinnata and S. nutans sample and placed in a Petri dish lined with filter paper. Next, 1.5 ml of distilled water was added to each Petri dish. The Petri dishes were then sealed with Parafilm, and placed in a drawer to be incubated at approximately 23.5˚C. The samples were observed each day in order to record their percen-tage rate of germination per mother plant.
Before germinating, many seeds require cold stratification, the process of simulating natural conditions that a seed must endure prior to germination (Nelson n.d.). Cold stratification is not required for the seeds of the R. pinnata to grow; however, S. nutans seeds do require cold stratification (Smith and Smith 1980).
T-tests were used to determine whether the differences between seeds of different origins were significant. We calculated the difference between mean seed lengths of native and non-native seeds and seedheads, as well as the difference between mean seed weight of native and non-native seeds. We also calculated the difference between the percentages of R. pinnata seeds germinated per Petri dish. However, we did not perform a T-test on S. nutans germination percentages because none of the seeds germinated.
Non-native S. nutans seeds have 11.53% larger mean lengths than native seeds (Figure 1, T = 11.76, P [image:47837|||height=400]
Figure 1. Mean length of S. nutans seeds. (+/-1 S.E., n= 40). *** P[image:47838|||height=400]
Figure 2. Mean total weight of S. nutans seeds. (+/-1 S.E., n= 40). *** PThe difference of the mean lengths of R. pinnata seedheads is not significant (Figure 3, T = -1.42, P = .159). The mean weight of non-native seedheads was greater (71.03%) than that of native seedheads (Figure 4, T = -6.94, P [image:47839|||height=400]
Figure 3. Mean length of R. pinnata seedheads. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). (t = 1.42, p= 0.159).
Figure 4. Mean weight of R. pinnata seedheads. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). *** PFor the first two days of incubation, none of the R. pinnata seeds had germinated. The total germination percentage for non-native R. pinnata (8.46% germinated) seeds was double the germi¬nation percentage for native seeds (4.23% ger¬minated). Although the percentage of germinated non-native seeds per Petri dish was 33.5% greater than the percentage of native germinated seeds per Petri dish, this difference was not significant (T = 1.37, P = 0.195). No data is available on the germination rates of S. nutans seeds, because none of the seeds germinated within the 10 day period of our study.
Figure 5. Percentage of R. pinnata seeds germinated per plant. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). (t = 1.37, p= 0.195).
Table 1. Percentage of the total R. pinnata seeds germinated.




We hypothesized that there would be differences in the lengths, total weights, and rates of germination between the native and non-native seeds of R. pinnata and S. nutans. The mean weights of both non-native R. pinnata seedheads and S. nutans seeds were significantly greater than that of native ones (Fig. 2, Fig. 4). Only the difference in the lengths of S. nutans seeds proved to be significant, while the lengths of R. pinnata seedheads did not (Fig. 1, Fig. 3). This evidence points to a variation in the physical characteristics of both species of seeds. However, our data regarding the germination rates of native and non-native seeds was not statistically significant.
Non-native R. pinnata and S. nutans seed-heads and seeds have greater mean weights than native seeds and seedheads. This data implies that the R. pinnata and S. nutans' seeds either weigh more individually or that the plants themselves produce more seeds. Previous research shows that heavier seeds have less concentrated energy than lighter seeds, yet they have equal amounts of nitrogen (Gross and Kromer 1986). Therefore, both lighter and heavier seeds have equal potential for germination. Our results show that seed weights have little effect on germination because both native and non-native seeds germinated. There may have been some variability in our results, because seedheads from each
R. pinnata plant were weighed together to find the total weight of each plant’s seeds. Thus, some samples had the potential for having more seedheads than other samples.
Our data on non-native S. nutans seeds showed greater mean lengths, reflecting a difference between native and non-native seeds. Such difference may be due to the origin of non-native seeds, some genetic variation between the native and non-native seeds, or a healthier mother plant (Gross and Kromer 1986). Tallgrass prairie seeds of the same species can differ genetically within prairie fragments and between distant locations (Gustafson, et al 2004). Research has shown that seed size is positively correlated with the performance of seedlings (Baker, et. al 1994). Our data shows that the non-native seeds of S. nutans were significantly longer, which could give them an advantage over the native seeds in the long term as they grow, but not necessarily in germination.
The total percentage of germinated non-native seeds doubles that of the germinated native seeds. However, the results of our seed germination experiment were not significant which may have been caused by an abundance of seeds placed in each experimental Petri dish. The overcrowding of seeds may have hindered germination by limiting the water resources necessary for each seed. When the germination results are compared per experimental units (Petri dishes) our results are still statistically inconclusive. Had our results been significant, they could have been the outcome of a genetic difference of non-native seeds or a healthier mother plant (Gross and Kromer 1986). The trend seen in our results regarding native and non-native R. pinnata seeds’ germination led us to believe that these two types of seeds have adapted to two different environments. A previous study demonstrated local adaptation in prairie plants, especially to soil conditions (Schultz, et al. 2001).
Our results in terms of seed dimension and weight, in the case of S. nutans, support the claims of certain ecological conservationists that native and non-native seeds differ significantly. Thus, only one type of seed should be used in the reconstruction of tallgrass prairies if the goal is to preserve a specific species variety and have a healthy population. If instead the goal is to preserve an entire ecosystem then the seeds can have multiple origins and benefit other populations (Sanders and McGraw 2005). Some non-native seeds may compete with native seeds and become the dominant genotype because of their increased performance (Baker, et. al 1994). Future studies regarding the use of native versus non-native seeds for prairie reconstruction or restoration may look at how competition between local and non-local plants affects each species in prairies. Also, the growth rate of these species when planted in on one another’s environment could be measured, along with their biomass, height etc. Since we germinated our seeds under identical conditions, future studies could account for the effects of soil nutrients, weather conditions, and local predators on plants’ growth.
We would like to thank Professor Brown, Sue Kolbe, Matthew Nielsen, and David Montgomery for helping us successfully carry out our study. We would also like to thank Larissa and Erik Mottl for their advice and guidance in the field and in the greenhouse. J. Scheibel, I. Luby, and J. Kreznar provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft.
Literature Cited
Baker, K., A.J. Richards, and M. Tremayne. 1994. Fitness constraints on flower number, seed number and seed size in the dimorphic species Primula farinosa L. and Armeria maritima (miller) willd. New phytologist 128: 563-570.
Brown, Jonathan, PhD. Professor of Biology. Personal Communication. September 16th, 2009.
Damhoureyeh, S.A. and D.C. Hartnett. 2002. Variation in grazing tolerance among three tallgrass prairie plant species. American journal of botany 89: 1634-1643.
Gross, K.L. and M.L. Kromer. 1986. Seed weight effects on growth and reproduction in oenothera biennis L. Bulletin of the torrey botanical club 113: 252-258.
Gustafson, D.J., D.J. Gibson, and D.L. Nickrent. 2004. Conservation genetics of two co-dominant grass species in an endangered grassland ecosystem. Journal of applied ecology 41: 389-397.
Kurtz, C. Nature Conservancy of Iowa. 2001. A practical guide to prairie reconstruction. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.
Ladd, D.M., Oberle, F., and Nature Conservancy. 1995. Tallgrass prairie wildflowers: A falcon field guide. Falcon Press, Helena, Mont.
Mutel, Cornelia F. 2007. The emerald horizon: the history of nature in Iowa. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa.
Nelson, S. n.d. Seed stratification. http://gardenline.usask.ca/misc/seed_str.html. December 4, 2009.
Sanders, S. and J.B. McGraw. 2005. Population differentiation of a threatened plant: Variation in response to local environment and implications for restoration. Journal of the torrey botanical society 132: 561-572.
Schultz, P.A., R.M. Miller, J.D. Jastrow, C.V. Rivetta, and J.D. Bever. 2001. Evidence of a mycorrhizal mechanism for the adaptation of andropogon gerardii (Poaceae) to high- and low-nutrient prairies. American journal of botany 88: 1650-1656.
Smith, J.R. Smith, B.S. 1980. The prairie garden: 70 native plants you can grow in town or country. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wis.
Wimp, G.M., G.D. Martinsen, K.D. Floate, R.K. Bangert, and T.G. Whitham. 2005. Plant genetic determinants of arthropod community structure and diversity. Evolution 59: 61-69.


Ali Brown 4

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Here we have another late report. Apparently Africa is still in my blood and I am still doing things slowly. I am back in the States. So is my luggage. So is Lauren. The latter two almost didn't make it. Just as my luggage was lost when I arrived in Lesotho last January, it was also lost when I left Lesotho this December. Just as Lauren realized her money belt was missing when we arrived at the Joburg airport last January, she realized her ticket was missing at the Joburg airport the day we were leaving this December. But in the end we and our luggage arrived back in the States. Now I am sitting here in a coffee shop with wireless internet trying to think about Africa while strong Wisconsin accents echo in my ears. Because the accents are so thick I have trouble understanding what the people are saying - it's almost like I'm still in Africa.

People keep asking me, "SO, how was Africa?" I haven't figured out how to answer that question in a clever and witty two to three sentences yet. I usually wait a moment or two, tilt my head upward toward the ceiling, put on my most profound-looking face and say, "It was good." At this point the other party decides that I have lost my command of the English language (which is not entirely untrue) and leaves me looking like an idiot studying the ceiling. At least they save me from saying, "Will you borrow me your pen for a moment?"

I've never lived in a place I had to leave knowing that I may never see it and its people again. Sure we all graduate from Grinnell and are sad to leave, but we know that we will be dragged back at some point. We know Grinnellians will continue to infiltrate our lives. But, I don't know about St. Rodrigue. Unless I can trick someone else into paying for the plane ticket, the chances are pretty slim that I will see Lesotho again in the near future.

Of all the things that I had to leave, I think it was hardest to leave the students - these students I have gotten to know, in whom I have invested my time, who have amazed me, made me want to cry, made me laugh - they are going to go on with their lives next year and I won't be there to see their struggles and successes. I don't know how teachers do it year after year, coming to know and care about a group of students only to say good-bye to them a year later. And there are routines and skills that took me a year to build, to develop and now I won't be there to sustain them. There are students who I know have a chance at making it to university and I want to be there to continue to encourage them. There are students who I know will never make it to university, but who I have watched gain confidence in themselves, become proud of things they have accomplished. I want to be there to continue to emphasize the value of their successes no matter how seemingly small. I suppose this is what it means to be a teacher.

Another question I have been asked, "So, was it worth it?" Another long pause and a contemplative look and I answer quite brilliantly, "Yes." Little scenes flash before my eyes. One example is the way that the students would sometimes alter their standard greeting when I walked into the classroom. Their usual greeting goes like this:

Class: Good morning 'M'e Aliiiii. (said with a drawn out raised intonation at the end of Ali)
Me: Good morning B2's.
Class: How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?
Me: I am just fine. How are you?
Class: We are very well, thank you, 'M'e Aliiii.
Me: Good.
Class: (say little prayer)
Me: And you may be seated.
Class: Thank you 'M'e Aliiiii.

Now if on that day, let's say the students have found out that I have a visitor from "America" and I have not brought this visitor to meet them then the greeting will go as follows:

Class: Good morning 'M'e Aliiiii.
Me: Good morning B2's.
Class: How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?
Me: I am just fine. How are you?
Class: We are NOT WELL!
Me: Good-What?!
Class: (say little prayer)
Me: And you may be seated.
Class: Thank you, 'M'e Aliiiii.
Me: Now what is the problem?

The class erupts into chaos as 45 students try to tell me how I have wronged them.

Now one particular day, let's say on Wednesday November 3, 2004, I went into class with my heart heavy (like most democrats, I would assume), and when they asked, "How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?" I was the one to say, "I am NOT WELL!" It amused me to no end to see their startled little faces. Following my little outburst, we talked about the politics in the United States briefly and then they began to tell me about the politics of Lesotho. Virtually everyone had an opinion on the matter- a very strong opinion. I put an end to the discussion before any physical violence occurred. After school a few of them came up to me and told me some more about their political system. I loved to see them demonstrate knowledge about a topic in which they felt invested.

During my year at St. Rodrigue there were times I questioned whether the students were improving at all, whether my presence was helping or hindering them. A friend who has just finished her first semester teaching was telling me that she can't see any improvement in her students yet. I told her that I thought half a year was too soon to judge. So future Lesotho fellows take note, I know I saw small changes in the students by the end of the first term, but I couldn't have said that I thought their English was better, that they understood me better. But they were learning. By November I was coming home every couple days impressed with something my students had done that I know they couldn't have done a year before. My students put together a newspaper (full of errors but still readable). My maths class demonstrated through a competition that they knew how to communicate with each other, to work in a group. I found myself spending 3-4 minutes on directions as opposed to my 15-20 in the beginning of the year. I consider all of this progress when I remember that I started my year unable to communicate what I meant by, "What is your name? What should I call you?"

I find myself just wanting to write about various students' accomplishments. Some of these accomplishments might seem small, but the small accomplishments need to be celebrated. At some point while in Lesotho I realized that I had to adjust my expectations, expectations of my students as well as myself. No matter how much I would like to believe that all of these girls could go to University if they wanted to, the truth is that most of them won't. But that does not mean that they can't feel successful, or that they are failures. These students that I got to know are amazing. Some of them have gone through so much to be at school. Some of them are living with no parents. But every single one of them is able to take care of herself in a way that most American girls do not. The girls living at the hostel live on their own, cooking and cleaning for themselves every day. It is not just school that defines them. They demonstrate their abilities in many ways.

I am so glad to have had this opportunity to teach in Lesotho. While not always perfect, it was a wonderful experience. I think it is an exciting time at St. Rodrigue right now. In the last few years the students results on their tests have improved, the volleyball team won the national championship, and they now have a computer at the convent! Sister Armelina, the principal, is always looking for ways to improve the school. She is progressive and always open to new ideas. I found her to be an excellent resource, comfort, and partner in the effort to educate our students to the best of our abilities. People are often asking how they can help the school so I just wanted to mention some of the things that Sister Armelina is trying to work on for the school. She is trying to get funding for stoves for the girls' hostel, a school vehicle, teachers' housing, and a computer for the school. One of the things that she wants to try to change is the way the library works. She is looking for help on how to reorganize it and how to use it to run extra-help sessions during the day, almost as classes. I also think that the school would benefit tremendously from a school newspaper or newsletter and Sister Armelina is enthusiastic about the idea. If I was able to stay longer that is one thing I would want to continue to work on.

To those of you who have read my reports during the year, who have sent me mail and packages, who have answered my phone calls, and sent me good thoughts across the Atlantic, thank you. To those of you who are applying or going to St. Rodrigue, good luck and enjoy it!

Day in the Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

If I haven't been awakened by the roosters already, my alarm gets me up about 6:30. I used to get up closer to 6:00 and go jogging with Ali twice a week, but I've gotten lazy and its getting to cold for me to jog. If it was sunny the day before, there's the chance of warm water for a bath. Sometimes when it hasn't gotten too cold the night before, we both get a bath. Otherwise, we've fallen into a more or less alternating day schedule on hygiene.

Then I get to making breakfast. Usually I grate a couple of potatoes and make myself hashbrowns topped with an egg, overeasy, and pour a cup of tea or coffee. Once in a while I'll break out oatmeal or make porridge with maize-meal.

After breakfast I rifle through the stack of clothes that seems to perpetually reside on the second bed in my room and find something I've only worn a couple of times. (When laundry has to be done by hand, it gets done less often.) I slip on the $3.00 watch I bought on the street in Maseru into my pocket. (I quickly discovered why it cost me $3.00-the band fell off the second day I had it and it gains about 5 minutes every week or two.)

At about 7:30 or 7:45 I make the three minute trek to school and get my desk in the staff room in order before assembly at 8:00. Assembly is the daily gathering of all the students and teachers in the main hall for the recitation of the rosary, the national anthem (in three part harmony) a Bible reading, a Sesotho hymn, and the pledge to the cross which bears a striking resemblance to the pledge of allegiance. Following assembly we all file out, the students head to their respective classrooms and we go back to the staff room until 8:25 when the first period begins. (I'll include my time table at the end). We break for tea at 10:25 and lunch at noon. The students either bring a lunch or make their own at the hostel. We teachers all go home for lunch.

At the beginning of any given class that I teach, the students all rise as soon as I enter the room. I greet the class, they greet me in unison. Then they launch into a brief prayer at the end of which I say they may be seated and class begins. Also, throughout class, whenever a student speaks, she stands at her desk.

Classes end at 3:00 pm except on Fridays, and from 3-3:30 the students have free time. At 3:30 the students go to an hour long study hall (except on Wednesdays and Fridays-Wednesdays alternate between clubs and sports during that time and Fridays everyone is done at 2:20 so people can catch the bus at 3:00 to Maseru.)

On Mondays, many of the Form B's come over to our house after study hall for silent reading. Ali and I have started a reading club where students can earn stickers, candy, and prizes for reading books from the library. Tuesday after study hall is the Form A's turn. On sports Wednesdays I spend from 3:30 to 5 coaching our own rag-tag, but very enthusiastic, soccer team. Not only am I on the esteemed sports committee, I'm the head soccer coach. It remains to be seen whether we will play a real game this year. On Thursdays from 4-5 I tutor the son of one of the nurses in physics. His name is Liteboho, pronounced dee-tay-bo-hoe, who completed high school last year but would like to try for a higher score on the Cambridge exam in November. And on Fridays Ali and I make a ritual hike to Mpontane, a village about a 25 minute walk away to buy two large, cold Castle lagers and a couple liters of Coke.

Typically we spend our evenings working on assignments cooking dinner, and reading or playing cribbage. Periodically we'll visit another teacher or have some of them over for dinner and on Mondays as soon as the generator comes on, Violet the daughter of our neighbor and colleague Me Libe (dee-bay) comes over for our weekly Sesotho lesson. Violet is a student in Form D, but she's 23 with a little girl of 4 years, named Zanele (zah-nell). She finished school, or dropped out, 6 years ago and got married. Now she's back to try to improve her Cambridge marks so she can go to college. Like her mother, she's a lot of fun and her daughter, who often visits, is quite the cute little girl.

On the weekends that we stay home, we often play kickball or basketball with the other teachers and students. The teachers really like kickball. Or we tend our small garden plot where we are attempting to grow pumpkin, beans, peas, cabbage, garlic, radishes, and carrots. The soil's not so good and we don't weed enough, but we've had successes here and there. Before all the peaches disappeared with the onset of autumn, we would spend a lot of time peeling peaches so we could can and dry them. We're now the proud owners of 6 jars of canned peaches and innumerable dried peach slices.

The generator usually kicks off about 9:30 and we are left in darkness save the little light we get from our candles and paraffin lamp, so I'm often in bed before 10:00. And if I'm lucky, the cows and dogs and ducks and chickens that roam all over will choose to make their nightly racket somewhere besides right outside my window and I'll get an unheard of in my college days 9 hours of sleep.

So I'm constantly staying busy, but enjoying the simplicity of things here. Its nice to look at the night sky when there are no lights for 50 miles and its nice to buy milk from a neighbor when its still warm from the cow.

Well this has turned more into a week in the life of Ian Besse, so I'll stop here. Hope this gives you a better idea of when life is like for me these days. Much love from Lesotho.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7:45         E Physics
8:25 B3 English E Physics B3 Lit A1 English B3 Lit
9:05 B3 Lit B3 English B2 English   B2 English
9:45 B2 Lit B3 English A1 English B3 English  
10:40 A1 English     B2 Lit  
11:20 A1 English A1 English      
1:00     B3 English E Physics A1 English
1:40   B2 English B3 English E Physics B2 Lit
2:20 B2 English B2 English   B2 English Early Out


Preparing Seniors For the Transition Out of Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Helping Seniors With the Transition Out of Grinnell

This is an example of a pro-active advising strategy. The simple act of sending an email communication such as this can send many direct and indirect messages to your advisees. First, it provides straight-forward, factual information about things seniors should be pursuing in their final semester or year at Grinnell in order to be prepared for life after graduation in May. Second, it sends a less-than-subtle message that you, as their adviser, believe that this kind of planning is important, and that the tools to do this while they're still an enrolled student are readily available to them. This allows students to rise to their new (rather frightening) obligations to look beyond Grinnell to the life they must create for themselves.

Keep in mind that, for the first time, these students' next steps in life aren't a matter of applying to a few (or a dozen) places and one will pan out. Prior to this time in their life, determining next steps has been relatively straight-forward; but now every opportunity (and yet no concrete opportunities) seem possible. This very fact can be daunting for so many students that they put off the crucial steps they must take.

Below is an example of an email you might consider sending to your senior majors.

From: Karla Erickson, Sociology

Subject: Post-Grinnell Planning and Preparation

Dear Sociology Seniors---

I am writing to you because you are either my advisee or are someone I have worked with extensively over your four years here. I am writing to offer support, encouragement, and if needed, a nudge in moving toward your post-Grinnell plans. Below I outline some resources that are available to you and some "best practices" as I think of them, for making the transition from Grinnell to the next step in your life and career deliberately and with intention. Feel free to share this with other seniors not included in this email. The ideas below represent my views only about recommendations for a rewarding search. I know that this is an anxiety-producing transition, but it can also be a fabulous experience, both in the transitioning itself, but also in the planning and taking control of your future. I hope it will be so for all of you. Here are some ideas:

1) Treat your post-Grinnell preparation like a course. Set up a series of deadlines for yourself, and tasks, assignments and goals to be completed. Approach it with the same focus and discipline you would a course for which you are graded, ultimately this is substantially more important than a grade. Tasks to include will be big and small:revise resume, develop credential file, conduct informational interviews with people in the field, search databases, prepare applications, use alumni network to make connections and identify opportunities, talk to family, talk to recent grads, meet with CDO, spend time researching in the CDO, library and online, meet with profs, meet with other seniors. . . And the list goes on.

2) Maybe you do not want to decide right away. Maybe you want the summer "off" with a less demanding job to figure out what to do with yourself next year. That is fine and can be a necessary step for many people. However, what is not fine is failing to make use of the resources that are available to you now that will be much more difficult to access from wherever you make your post-Grinnell home. So whether you aim to have this all figured out by April or early in 2008, there are some skills you need to exercise, and resources you need to make use of now, before you graduate. I have included examples below from the most recent campus memo, these opportunities tend to be ongoing, and so you should plan to do most of them at some point in this semester. Treat this process as an exploration, not only goal oriented, but educational. If by conducting this search you learn several things you do not want to do, that is just as useful as learning what you do want to do, so keep an open mind. Never, ever will programs like those listed below be made available to you in your life after Grinnell, you will have to do this work largely alone, and that takes a lot more effort, so do some of it now while you have infrastructure and institutional support near at hand.

3) Think broadly. Undergraduate majors are not determinative of your future, there are very few avenues that you have foreclosed by choosing to be a sociology major. You may already know that you don't have what it takes to be an opera singer, but beyond that, there are still many interesting possibilities that lay before you that are not immediately connected to Sociology, but will still use analytical and intellectual tools that you have been developing. 4) Start talking to people. The biggest mistake I see seniors make is that they get quiet, and hold in fear and anxiety and that then builds. Contact recent grads about their advice for someone in your position, spend time at the CDO, use the files outside my office (Soc files) to browse, if not for specific opportunities, then just to think about a range of possible futures. I don't know how many of you attended Professor Johanna Meehan's convo 2 weeks ago, but I would agree with her that in this search, you are not looking for the one right answer, you are exploring the connections between your self, your skills and the sorts of opportunities that exist. I think you are looking to develop not a plan A, B and C, but rather a working list of possibilities to which you are open and curious.

5) Talk with each other. You are not competing directly with each other for these possible futures, so you might as well pool resources, share strategies and help each other through.

6) That's all for now, but feel free to sign up to see me or contact me by email if none of the times on my schedule are a possibility for you. Know that if you work with me through this process, I will want you to do some of the things on this list, but I will be an enthusiastic supporter of wherever the process takes you! Call on your other professors, coaches, and staff too - this search need not be bound by discipline. And finally, one of the invaluable, and it really is impossible to put a price on it, of a Grinnell education is that you are forever embedded in a network of Grinnell students who have come before you and, it turns out, are doing pretty amazing stuff with their post-Grinnell lives. Even if it is challenging for you to use networks, networks are what get people into positions, for better or worse, and as networks go, the Grinnell network is one you can feel confident and proud to make use of, so please do not let that resource go to waste. 

A Window on the Past: The Life of Mary Ellen Paine Parsons 1887

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Mary Ellen Paine Parsons 1887How did she get to Grinnell?

She was a pioneer child who grew up more than 200 miles from Grinnell, on homesteaded lands in northwest Iowa. Born just as the Civil War was winding down, she was the daughter of people who trekked from New England across a country still largely inhabited by various Indian tribes. In Iowa, the Spirit Lake Massacre had occurred just seven year earlier, fomented by desperate Sioux Indians, disgruntled at the failure of the U.S. government to live up to promises it had made for payment for ceding of the Sioux lands. Like other idealistic New Englanders, her parents followed the path of the "Iowa Band," who crossed the Mississippi and stopped in Davenport to establish Iowa College (which later moved to Grinnell, and adopted the name of the town), which would inspire and enlighten all who would follow after them. They were descendants of the Pilgrims who risked their all to sail to the new world from England to secure freedom of worship and dedication to higher learning.

Iowa had won its statehood in 1846, at about the time railroads were reaching the Mississippi. Prospective settlers traveled from there on to the west by covered wagons pulled by teams of oxen, by horseback, and often on foot, covering agonizing miles of prairie and mosquito-plagued swamps, crossing many rivers and streams. They looked for places where trees dotted the prairie -- trees that could be sawed into logs to build dwellins, create homesteads, and establish settlements. Some stopped in a place they would call Algona, in northwest Iowa.

Back in New England, a Vermonter named Chauncy Taylor dreamed of becoming a missionary in the West, and decided to follow in the steps of the Iowa Band. After securing a commission of $500 a year from the Home Missionary Society, he set out for Fort Dodge pausing en route to consult with James A. Read of the Iowa Band. From there, he went by train and stagecoach to Fort Dodge, and then made his way on foot to the place called Algona. There he found a cluster of eight log cabins near the Des Moines River, and a group of homesteaders who were eager to have a pastor among them as they labored to build their little community. The year was (probably) 1854.

In 1855, James Lawrence Paine and three other hardy souls arrived from Whittinsville, Mass., by stagecoach. Before long, Paine's wife Susan Pierce Horton joined them. Susan was likely from Rhode Island; she was a descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, and his wife Mary (for whom our subject, Mary Ellen Paine, was named). Mary's older siblings, Arthur and Emma, were among the first children born in the settlement. Mary was born in 1864, and was followed two years later by a fourth sibling, James Lawrence Jr. Their father, James Lawrence Sr., was a carpenter, and he was contracted by Chauncy Taylor to build a community meeting place to serve as the Congregational Church, the town hall, and the school. Paine became superintendent of the Sunday School, a post he held for the rest of his life. In addition to being a builder, he established a general store for the residents of Algona.

The town hall was first used as a church in 1857. Those hardy New Englanders who settled Algona were not only religious, but also idealistic and cultured individuals. One of the first things Taylor did was to establish a singing school. Some of the settlers had brought with them harmoniums or melodions, and soon money was raised to buy a pump organ for church services. The Protestants (Methodist and Baptist congregations organized before long) frowned on dancing and card playing, so one of the chief pleasures was getting together to sing in their spare time.

The school was set up in the town hall, and eventually classes for Algona College were also held there. Mary must have excelled in her studies, for by the time she was 16, she was employed as a teacher. The money she earned no doubt helped to pay her tuition when she attended Grinnell. The connection of Father Taylor to the Rev. James Read and the Iowa Band was undoubtedly a guiding factor in her decision to enroll at Grinnell.

When she was 20 years old, in the fall of 1883, Mary and a girlfriend boarded the train for Grinnell. The two were known on campus as "the Algona girls." There were not many females in the student body, and they were somewhat separated from their male counterparts. She became a member of a women's group, the Calocagathia Society -- and she also fell in love with Walter Maurice Parsons 1887 from Big Rock, who was a member of the men's social organization, the Crestomathians. They married in October after graduating in 1887, and they settled down in the town of Grinnell. The College hired Walter as its field representative, whose job was to recruit new students.

During those years in Grinnell, Mary bore him four children. The first, little Esther, died before reaching the age of 2. A boy, Mason Paine Parsons, came next; Mason was a twin whose brother was stillborn. In 1894, my father, Arthur Brewster Parsons, came along. He was to follow his parents' example and graduated from Grinnell in 1917. I upheld the tradition by graduating there in 1948.

Before the turn of the century, my grandfather joined the staff of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), rising to the position of state secretary. They sent him to California, assigning the whole West Coast as his territory. Mary followed him there and raised their two sons largely on her own, as he frequently traveled in his work. Luckily, she had a lot of support from her oldest brother and three of the Walters, all of whom had succumbed to the lure of the West. Later Walter was posted to Minneapolis, where his territory was Minnesota and southern Canada.

My grandfather's last secretariat was back home in Iowa, so they moved to Des Moines and stayed there for the rest of their lives. Having done all their traveling by trin, they did not own a car until the late 1920s. Mary learned to drive their new Essex when she was in her early 60s.

Des Moines was a welcoming place to live; their college friends, the Rev. James P. Burling and his wife, were in the pastorate of Plymouth Congregational Church, and their son, Temple Burling 1917, became my father's closest friend. Mary maintained a lifetime devotion to the church, and expressed her dedication by being a Sunday School teacher. She also enjoyed being reunited with her childhood classmates, Harvey Ingham (longtime editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune) and Gardner Cowles (founder of the Cowles media empire, which included the Des Moines Register and Tribune and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine).

I knew her, of course, as my grandmother, who loved to tell me stories of her life as a pioneer child growing up in Algona. We would sing together -- among the many songs she taught me was "My Drink is Water Bright," which reflect her ardent membership in WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union). In all the years I knew her, I never heard my grandmother complain, scold, or seem to be in a bad mood. She and my grandfather kept a spare, uncluttered home, in which visitors were always welcome. After he retired, my grandfather shared the household tasks. Although we lived 90 miles away, we were often there. I have been proud to be her namesake, and have tried to live up to the example she set.

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Fall 2008.

The Evolution of Language

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Carmen Valentin, newly tenured in Grinnell's Spanish department, also has scholarly and personal interests on two continents -- in her case, Europe and North America. A native of Spain, she received B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Hispanic philology at the University of Valladolid, and cut her teeth as an instructor by teaching the university's courses in Spanish for foreign students.

That she received her doctorate in philology -- the study of the origins of language -- would suggest Valentin came into her area of study through a passion for the nuts and bolts of Spanish. She agrees readily. However, the path she has taken into a deeper understanding of Spanish has led through poetry.

More specifically, she has studied poetry and commentary in Aljamia, a system of writing the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula began using during the Middle Ages to write Spanish using the Hebrew alphabet. The Sephardim kept this tradition alive in the new settlements they established in the Ottoman Empire after they were expelled from Spain by an edict of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492.

"The Ottoman Empire was tolerant of other people who worshiped differently, and their communities were permitted to keep their traditions and culture intact," Valentin says. "This included the use of Aljamia."

This formerly Spanish community of Jews continued to use their Middle-Ages Spanish, which then began to evolve linguistically along different lines from the language of Spain -- hence Valentin's interest as a philologist.

"The literary texts the Judeo-Spanish created are the best tool scholars have today to study the evolution of the language," she says. "After their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, the Sephardim wrote a literature exclusively in Hebrew, reserving Aljamia for mere translations of the Bible, prayer books, treatises on morality, and collections of precepts. We know of only a few Aljamia texts from the 16th century that have no biblical content. The language is barely different from the Spanish spoken at that time in Spain. The 18th century really marks the time when the Sephardim start writing original works in Judeo-Spanish."

Valentin first began to look at a group of poems called coplas and a body of rabbinical commentary called the Me'am Lo'ez. These texts provided a window through which she could look at how Spanish changed under the extreme pressures of exile and encirclement by the dominant Ottoman culture. For her dissertation, Valentin transliterated -- that is, systematically converted Hebrew characters into corresponding Latin characters -- those coplas that had moral content.

"The coplas are the first original poetic expression in Judeo-Spanish, (and) the Me'am Lo'ez is the first narrative," Valentin says. "Both were born to help the rabbis teach the Judaic religious foundations to Jews who could not understand sacred readings written in Hebrew, such as Midrash and Talmud."

It was a wide open area when she began. Almost no other scholar of Spanish had been interested in either the Judeo-Spanish exiles or the body of literature they had produced. Part of the problem lay with the peculiarities of Aljamia itself: the texts, since they were written using Hebrew letters, were mostly ignored by scholars who, though they might have been experts on the Spanish language, mostly could not read Hebrew.

"This has been one of the unknown parts of Hispanic literature," Valentin says. She was fortunate in her mentors. She was introduced to Jacob Hassan, one of the foremost Spanish scholars in the world, who took her under his wing and taught her transliteration.

Though Valentin's field of study has gotten more crowded of late, that's fine with her. She's moved on from the coplas and into uncharted territory again, studying gender and language in Sephardic drama, examining women's representation in these works.

She finds Grinnell the perfect place to do such exacting work: safe, quiet, relaxed -- something she and her husband, Santi, who is an architect, value for themselves and their son Sergio, who's nearly 5 -- and with diligent students who're likely to be interested in more than acing that day's quiz on declension.

"At Grinnell I've learned that what the students were expecting of me as a professor was that I not only be the person who taught them the material, but also that I be a person who could talk to them outside of class," she says. "Really, that was not my experience in Spain. Many of the students here are willing to be challenged. They're motivated, willing to accept risks, and they attach more importance to what they are learning than just getting a good grade.

Following the Connections

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Shuchi Kapila believes that English is an academic discipline that is anything but merely academic.

"By the time I got to university, the study of English had become a cutting-edge discipline," she says. "I felt that in studying English I would be doing something to change the world of ideas."

Kapila, who grew up in Chandrigarh and New Delhi, came of age intellectually and academically during a time of foment in Indian society, when the roles of women and questions of class were being re-examined from bottom to top.

"The best work in developing world feminism to date came out during the '80s, when I was in college," she says. "It brought together language, ideology, and the law, and the place of women really opened up in these debates. And there was a strong belief that the theoretical skills you acquired by studying English could be used to study the body of culture. I could see that the ideas I was learning about were going to go somewhere."

Kapila received a B.A. in English at the University of New Delhi, in preparation -- as she thought at the time -- for a career in journalism. She even took the exams necessary to winning an internship with theTimes of India.

"They called and said, '"Well, we're waiting for you to come down and do an interview,'" she says. "And I found I just didn't want to." Instead, she went on to complete an M.A. and M.Phil. in English at New Delhi, then became a lecturer at Miranda House, which she refers to as "India's Smith." It was the education she received from her colleagues there, as much as anything else, which confirmed her in her choice of profession.

"There were some amazing women on the faculty there who were reading theory and feminism and making all these wonderful connections," she says. "I remember in particular one Woman's Day, when I was in Calcutta, there was a scholar at Jadavpur -- a Shakespeare scholar -- who went to this park and addressed a crowd of women workers in Bengali, on the history of the women's rights movements from Victorian England to the present day. She was doing all her scholarly work on Shakespeare in English and then she was able to go to a park and do her speech in Bengali, and I formed the idea then that this was the type of versatility that I would like to develop."

Kapila concluded that developing the skills to help her realize this ambition would require her to leave India. She sent out her applications and ultimately decided to do her Ph.D. work at Cornell University.

"It seemed like it would be an adventure," she says. "I'd be able to work with people who'd done all this interesting theoretical work, and be away from my family for the first time -- truly afloat and independent. I thought I'd certainly go back after five years."

But life, as has been famously observed, is what happens when you're making other plans. While at Cornell, she met another Indian grad student, Shankar Subramaniam, a mechanical engineer whom she eventually married and with whom she had daughter Shivani, now 3-1/2 years old. And while she was undergoing changes abroad, change was continuing apace at home.

"I went back in the middle of my Ph.D. work and tried to find a job," she says. "But the university system is changing rapidly in India, and I had been away from it for a while. Here in the U.S., I was in the pipeline; I went on the job market, and after a few years I found a position at Kenyon."

Kapila found she loved teaching at a liberal arts college. However, as so often happens with academic couples, there was nothing close by for her husband. They kept their eyes open and finally a pair of positions opened in relative proximity: a slot for her at Grinnell, a slot for him at Iowa State University. Grinnell's status as one of Kenyon's peer institutions made the move an easy one, at least in concept.

"The reasons I got into the study of English are also the reasons I'm happy as a teacher at a liberal arts school," she says. "What's most exciting for me is when I'm able to talk about these connections and produce a moment in the classroom when everyone is able to see how language and social movements are implicated in each other. When I teach post-colonial literature here, I'm always talking about culture, politics, society, literature and difference -- as in how we structure our world."

Kapila's scholarship is one more extension of this life spent connecting things together -- continents, peoples, histories, languages, and literatures. Her main project now is to finish the manuscript for Educating Seeta: Family Romances of British India.

In more concrete and personal terms, Kapila's interest in various enclaves of people -- religious groups, racially distinct groups, gender, classes, caste -- and their interactions, positive and negative, is leading her to study the literature of the Indian partition, which emerged out of the political convulsion that severed the subcontinent from the British empire, creating India and Pakistan in the process. Kapila's mother's family was displaced during a the forced resettlement of Hindus and Muslims during this period, which cost around a million people their lives in what amounted to a bilateral genocide. Her grandparents arrived in New Delhi after having been displaced from what is now Pakistan, arriving penniless, and with little children in tow.

"The body of literature that has come out of the partition is large, and since the '80s and '90s, even more has been coming out," she says. "It's almost as if after 50 years, people feel comfortable talking about the major trauma of the subcontinent."

Kapila sees her changed status at Grinnell and changes in the world arena as helping her to press on, 17 years after she left India.

"What's made me happy recently is that, after a very long time, with globalization, the links and possibilities of travel and collaboration are greater," she says. "If it's possible to keep my feet planted on two continents, that's what I want to do."

Continuing in the Family Business

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


For Erik Simpson, English is more than a discipline; it's the family business.

He grew up in Olean, N.Y., the son of an English professor at St. Bonaventure University. His mother, too, is in academe, running the learning center at the local community college. His parents met -- as did he and his wife, Carolyn -- in an English graduate program. Simpson's father teaches the British Romantics; so does he.

That said, Simpson stresses that he never felt any pressure to walk the same path his parents walked. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"My parents encouraged me to explore other options so that I didn't go into English thoughtlessly," he says. "There's no question, however, that my upbringing made it easy to imagine life as a teacher, and that my parents knew how to give me books that would interest and challenge me."

Simpson says his decision to study British Romantics arose from "a fluke" rather than parental influence.

"When I went to the University of Virginia to do my undergraduate work, Jerome McGann, a titan of Romantic studies, had just redesigned the introductory course in English," he says. "To see how it worked, he taught a section of it my first semester; the rest were taught by graduate students he was supervising. When my father heard that McGann was teaching one of the sections, he told me that was the one to take. It was a magnificent course. At the end of that semester, I declared my English major with McGann."

Simpson says he considered other options along the way -- physics, law, music, consulting, computer programming -- but always circled back to English again. But though it's third on this list of other vocational possibilities, music has always been more than a passing fancy for him. He is, as was his father before him, a serious jazz saxophonist, and while he was an undergraduate at UVA, he was known first as a musician -- playing in Virginia's jazz band and working with musicians such as Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Bob Moses, and "some of the guys from the Dave Matthews Band, which was then playing in Charlottesville most Tuesday nights for a $5 cover."

When he moved on to do graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, music had to take a back seat to his studies.

"I have never again played music regularly," Simpson says. "I still love playing when I find the time and opportunity, as I occasionally do in Grinnell."

No surprise, then, that Simpson found a way to combine his love of music with his study of English: his dissertation topic -- literary representations of minstrels and improvisers -- when he remarked in a grad school paper that the compositional process of Byron's The Giaour had something in common with a jazz solo.

The professor suggested that I should look into what British writers were saying about improvisation in the 1810s," he says. "When I did, I discovered two things: that the language of improvisation had just entered the English language at that time, so writers were in the process of deciding what it meant; and that they largely defined improvisers as Italian figures who represented an alternative to British and Irish minstrels. Those minstrels, I discovered, were simply everywhere in the writing of the time, and in my dissertation I set out to figure out why."

Simpson is busy with a book on the idea of the mercenary in British and American literature from about 1750 to 1830. It's a project that has developed alongside another compelling project he's launched with his wife, Carolyn -- namely, their son Pete, who turned 2 in January. Simpson is quick to say that the effect on his work has been salutary.

"Academic work tends to make one feel that one should be working nearly every waking minute, and often some of the sleeping ones, too," he says. "Ours can be a guilt-driven life. Having a young child creates boundaries: if I'm at the playground or reading a book with him, I can't be grading another paper or reading another book. I can and must clear my head and pay attention to the demands and wonders of Pete's rapidly expanding world. (I don't know how many experiences can match that of watching a human mind come into language.) Contrarily, knowing that I'll be spending evenings and weekends with Pete has given me a newly intense kind of concentration during the days and nights when I'm working. I've enjoyed the clarity of this separation between my work and family time. Fatherhood has focused my professional life in many unanticipated ways."

One can't help but wonder, too, whether a third-generation English prof isn't getting his start in the family business. -- Mark Baechtel

Springer Field

Springer Field is the Grinnell women's and men's soccer competition field. Grinnell was one of the first Division III schools to have separate practice fields for the men's and women's programs. The field meets maximum NCAA specifications and terraced and berm seating is available for spectators.