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The Scoop on Shovel Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Love of Food

From a young age, Ami Freeberg ’10 was in touch with where her food came from. “I grew up in Fairfield, Iowa, and there were a lot of people running sustainable farms there,” says Freeberg. “My mom fed us organic food from our garden and my sister, my mom, and I even set up a kind of farm-to-table café at the farmer’s market while we were in high school.”

This love of good food and interest in agriculture led her to pursue an internship with Cultivate Kansas City (formerly known as the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture) during her second year summer at Grinnell. She got funding from the Center for Prairie Studies so that she would be able to afford an unpaid internship. As it turns out, that experience was hugely important for her future.

Getting Her Hands Dirty

“I just fell in love with the organization and the work,” Freeberg says. “I had known I was interested in food and sustainable farming, but that internship really solidified those interests.”

As an intern, Freeberg worked on a program called New Roots for Refugees, a partnership between Cultivate Kansas City and Charities of Northeast Kansas to help refugees learn the skills necessary to establish successful farm businesses in the Kansas City area.

“We were working with people from all over the world who were resettled refugees, and they came with a lot of knowledge and experience in farming but didn’t have access to land or resources,” Freeberg says. “So we provided land and training and support to help them gain the skills they needed to graduate off of our training farm and start their own farm businesses.”

After graduating from Grinnell, Freeberg began working full time for Cultivate Kansas City as a program assistant. Over the years, she has transitioned into a variety of roles focusing on community outreach and communications in the organization. In February, she began working as the community organizer for the organization’s most recent project, the Westport Commons Farm, which is set to open in the next few years.

Cultivating the City Center

The Westport Commons Farm will be run as a farm business but will also have many opportunities for community engagement, participation, and education. The farm will be in the city center of Kansas City, Mo., in a field that used to belong to a school.

“It’s really exciting because we’re putting urban agriculture right in a highly visible place, in the middle of the city,” says Freeberg. “Our vision is to create a beautiful urban farm that gets people thinking about their food and gets them engaged with where their food is coming from.”

Because of the organization’s pursuit of this vision, Freeberg has thoroughly enjoyed working for Cultivate Kansas City for the past six years. “It’s always interesting and different. I’ve been able to progress and learn and develop my own skills in a context that I feel is really important,” Freeberg says.

“I have always valued good food. I think it’s the foundation of being a healthy, happy person, and I want other people to be able to experience that.”

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.

Advocating for Men’s Health

While life events have helped Ryan Brown ’16 shape his aspirations, he has largely carved out his own path toward fulfilling them.

“My dad is a pediatrician, so I was raised thinking I was going to be a doctor one day,” Brown says. “I didn’t really know where I wanted to go with that until my mom got breast cancer and I realized I really wanted to do something about it.”

Originally recruited from the Chicago area to play baseball for Grinnell, Brown is a biological chemistry major who’s become intensely focused on oncological research. He has spent the past three summers interning at University of Chicago research labs that deal primarily with late-stage prostate cancers.

“More specifically, cancers that don’t respond to the normal androgen deprivation therapies,” Brown says. “Our lab works with different genetic manipulation approaches to establish models for various stages of prostate cancer progression.” 

Motivated by Coach

Thankfully, Brown’s mother is a success story. Brown’s inspiration to study men’s cancers came from another survivor — Grinnell pitching coach Casey O’Rourke (2008-2013). An all-conference phenom in his first year at the University of Iowa, O’Rourke was sidelined as a sophomore by testicular cancer.

“[O’Rourke] kind of refined my interests into men’s cancers and testicular cancer,” Brown says. “After working with him in my first year I had this motivation to work with male cancers. I just cast the net out to cancer labs that were close by me and the prostate lab was one of them.”

Early Lab Experience

Brown’s efforts to secure an internship were entirely self-directed. He sold himself as a candidate for an unpaid internship in his first summer, and he returned in a paid capacity after his second-year science classes provided the requisite knowledge.

“My first summer in the lab I really knew nothing about biology and it was pretty difficult to catch up on what everyone else knew,” Brown says. “After my second year I came back and everything made sense.”

Brown also successfully advocated for two other Grinnell students, Matt Godinsky ’16 and Shane Comiskey ’18, to work in the lab — one in each of two consecutive summers.

Creating Awareness

Last November, Brown organized a group of 20 Grinnell students and staff to join with the lab’s Moustaches in Movember team in raising funds for men’s health issues through the Movember Foundation. Grinnell’s contingent raised $1,751 of the lab’s total of $6,816.

“It’s an awareness-type thing,” Brown says. “You see a guy with a ridiculous moustache and people are likely to say, ‘Hey, what’s up with that?’ You say, ‘Sorry, I look like an idiot, but it’s for a good cause. I’m raising money for men’s health issues through Movember.’ It’s awesome. It opens conversations.”

A Better Understanding

After graduation, Brown will be working full time in the lab where he’s interned the past three summers, driving his own projects and working to publish them. He says he’ll concentrate on research for a couple of years before applying to medical school.

“I want to be a translational physician scientist,” Brown says. “A physician who’s able to translate work between the lab and exam room gains a much better understanding of what their patients experience, as well as issues that interfere with treatment.”

Ryan Brown ’16, from Chicago, Ill., is a biological chemistry major with a concentration in neuroscience.

Hands-on Liberal Arts

Providing students with hands-on experience in a way that impacts the local community may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of anthropology, but that’s exactly what Monty Roper’s Applied Anthropology course is all about. “Anthropology is applied across a huge range of different professions, in the business world, in the NGO world, in development and health,” says Roper, associate professor of anthropology and Donald Wilson Professor of Enterprise and Leadership.

Sarah Henderson ’16 and Liz Nelson ’17 decided to tackle the project proposed by the Grinnell Historical Museum — increasing attendance, which has been decreasing in recent years. Museum board members asked Henderson and Nelson to research why people weren’t using the museum and what could be done to get more people in the door.

Understanding the Community

Henderson and Nelson conducted interviews with community members who have extensive knowledge of museums. They also conducted random interviews with townspeople and Grinnell students on the street and in the local coffee shop to find out what could be done to attract more people to the museum.

“The experience taught me a lot of practical skills about how to approach people I didn’t know, which I was nervous about at first,” Nelson says. “I feel more confident approaching someone about my research, and we ended up having some really great conversations and learning a lot.”

Henderson, who has been interested in museums for much of her time at Grinnell, relished the opportunity to learn to apply what she’s learned in class to an organization in the community.  “Actually getting to work on a real project for real people has been incredible. I care about it a lot because it feels like something meaningful and real is going to be done based on our work,” says Henderson

Solving the Problem

After a semester of research, Henderson and Nelson wrote a final report with recommendations for the museum, which they presented to the board of directors. “The board was extremely receptive and is moving forward with several of our suggestions,” says Henderson.

One of those suggestions was incorporating a student intern at the museum during the school year to establish a better connection between the museum and the College. The museum has hired several to begin work this summer.

Putting New Skills to Good Use

But the museum wasn’t the only party to benefit from this research experience. In an interview for a graduate school program in museum administration, Henderson was able to talk about the project and what it taught her about the possibility of starting a museum consulting business. “The director was thrilled, and I actually got accepted into that program later that week,” says Henderson.

Nelson adds, “This practicing anthropology class has been my favorite anthropology course, because you always read about theories and ethnographies, but actually getting to do something with that knowledge is so much fun!”

 “It all comes back to the same set of skills that anthropologists employ,” Roper says. “Learning that by doing a project of your own in the community really shows students how to apply those abilities creatively.”

Sarah Henderson ’16 is an anthropology/art history double major from Wilton, Iowa.

Liz Nelson ’17 is an anthropology major from Grinnell, Iowa.

2016 Creative Writing Contest Winners

The winners of this year’s creative writing contests are:

Nick Adams Short Story

Nelson Ogbuagu ’16, winner — $1000 for “Playing It Safe”

Grace Lloyd ’16, honorable mention — for “Crush”

James Norman Hall '10 Aspiring Writer Award

Alejandra Rodriguez Wheelock ’17 — $2000 for “The Basic Principles of Long Distance Running”

Selden Whitcomb Prize

Clara Trippe ’18, winner — $500 for “The Year of Cicadas; Lechuguilla Cave; Atmosphere; and Yours: Flesh and Ground”

Maya Elliott ’18, 2nd prize — $100 for “Bruises, CHURCHGOING, A HYMNAL?; and The Physicality of Atheism”

Emma Soberano ’17, 2nd prize — $100 for “Mi papá me llama ‘chile’; Duloxetine, 30 mg; Bruises are like post-it notes; and Cielito Lindo”

Henry York Steiner Memorial Prize for Short Fiction

Emma Soberano ’17, winner — $500 for “Sex”

Josie Sloyan ’18, 2nd prize — $100 for “Long Way Out”

Emma Thomasch ’16, 2nd prize — $100 for “Hold Your Peace”

Lorabel Richardson Prize, Academy of American Poets

Maya Elliott ’18 — $100 for “Witchblood: A Fantasy”

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.

New Golf Course Manager Named

Shane HartShane Hart, a longtime Grinnell resident and member of the Grinnell College Golf Course community, started his new position as general manager of the Grinnell College Golf Course on Friday, April 29.

Grinnell College purchased the Grinnell Golf and Country Club in March and opened the course for the season on April 1. Consistent with the College’s social values, the private course is now public, available for use by all — the College community, the broader Grinnell community and visitors to the area.

Hart, who has left his position as a real estate agent for Ramsey-Weeks Inc., has been involved with the former Grinnell Golf and Country Club for several years. He served as a board member since 2014 and was a past president. He stepped in as interim general manager during several vacancies dating to 2014.

As general manager, he coordinated, budgeted, and oversaw various golf events to ensure player enjoyment and profitability. He also gained knowledge of the course’s facilities, equipment, members, and events.

After a national search for golf course manager, Shane Hart emerged as our top choice for the position, says John Kalkbrenner, assistant vice president for auxiliary services and economic development at Grinnell College. Shane’s unique knowledge of the Grinnell community, Grinnell College, and the golf course, along with his tireless drive, compelled us to choose him.

He will bring immense experience and passion to the role of general manager, Kalkbrenner added, as someone who is both committed to the future of the College and the Grinnell College Golf Course.

I am excited to bring my experiences and energy together to help make the Grinnell College Golf Course a top-notch facility, Hart said. I look forward to welcoming back the past members, and reaching out to promote the facilities to the greater Poweshiek area. I couldn’t be more pleased or honored to have been chosen for this position.

Hart is an active member of the Grinnell community at-large, serving on the board of the Chamber of Commerce since 2015, as a volunteer coach for the youth golf and basketball programs since 2008. He has chaired the Iowa Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Open Golf Tournament since 2010. He also has directed many other tournaments and socials at the former country club.  

He enjoys various recreational activities, including racquetball, golf, basketball, football, and going on nature hikes.