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Lindy Hopping Around the World

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

“So what kind of dancing do you do?” my grandmother asked me when I visited her for lunch one day this past summer. “Swing,” I tell her again and then try to explain a little better. “Like Lindy Hop, or the Charleston.”

“Oh,” she said. “I used to do those.” She’s surprised, of course, because a year ago if she’d talked to me about swing dancing, I would have said, “No way doll, you’re not getting me to flash my feet on the dance floor.” You know those kids in high school who just stand against the wall at prom, arms crossed, glaring at all their friends making fools of themselves with their crazy rave moves? Yeah, I was one of those kids. Wouldn’t even sway to music for a free iPod.

I tried to break out of that once I got to Grinnell. They had this club called the Grinnell Swing Society. Okay, cool. Went to one meeting, tried it out, felt like an idiot, and never went back.

Until the next year, when I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I needed to challenge myself, and getting over my fear of public embarrassment seemed as big a mountain as any to start on. I went to every single class and still felt like a fool, but I had a whole lot of fun feeling like one.

Then it happened. I got addicted.

And gosh darn, it’s all Grinnell’s fault.

But let’s shim-sham this story back a bit. The leaders of the Swing Society were always urging members to attend swing exchanges. It’s a chance to visit someplace fun and dance with new people, they said. Each place has its own sense of dancing. Yeah right, I thought. Swing is swing is swing, and there’s only so many moves you can learn.

But then, with this new addiction running through my veins, I went to my first exchange. And boy, was I a million times wrong. It wasn’t completely different, of course, but the boys threw in quite a few moves I didn’t know. “Dude, show me that again,” I’d say, and they would, and I’d show my Grinnell friends, and we’d come back to campus with a sweet new move.

And that’s how you learn to swing dance. You visit places. You pick up their new moves.

The best part: you make a bazillion new friends.

I went home to Madison over the summer desperate to keep dancing. Now Madison’s not very far from Grinnell, but I still encountered some new moves I’d never seen before. By the end of the summer, my style had melded into a mixture of Grinnell and Madison. Grinadison Swing. And then, come August, I moved to London for the semester.

Woah.

When you visit various countries, the differences invariably stick in your head, be it foods, clothing styles, or even television commercials (British commercials make no sense!). When I flew into the old Swing Capital of the World, what I noticed, it seems, was their difference of dance. Behind the back? I’ve never done that before. And what’s with all these aerials? But hey, these are kinda fun. I guess I can figure them out.

Grinnell Swing Girl Becomes Grinnell-Madison-London Swing Girl … Grinadon Swing Girl.

While swing dancing started in the United States, over the century it has spread to the entire world. In each place I visit, I learn a new move and meet new friends. What I learned in a small town in Iowa opened up a whole new Aladdin-and-his-magic-carpet world for me, a whole new bit of culture I can search out and find wherever I go. Sweet.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

ABBA Fans Unite

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

It’s a strange feeling, accomplishing a goal you didn’t know you had. It’s happened to me a few times at Grinnell, most markedly, when my former professor, Tim Arner, turned to me in the campus pub and said, “People who don’t like ABBA are bad people.” It happened again a few days later, when he wrote on his [plan], our Grinnell blog community, “If I could have a genie grant me just one wish, I would wish that everyone I know would sit down and watch Teen Wolf. Then I would wish that I had more wishes, but it would be too late because I already used up my one wish on the Teen Wolf thing.”

Who was this man? I wondered. He was my professor; he has a Ph.D. in the most painful period of British literature; and he had practically cried over the last lines of Beowulf, for God’s sake. Could he actually be cool?

I embarked on this road of professor-student friendship with my comrade-in-arms Jess Issacharoff ’09. Throughout my Grinnell career, I’ve often taken for granted the fact that I know my professors — until now. Because there’s no other way to say it: being friends with a professor is so cool. As undergraduates, I feel we’re often flailing for understanding. Knowing someone who knows so much more than I do — and plays video games — is both inspiring and comforting.

As you read this, I will have graduated from Grinnell, and it’s easy to wonder whether there’s a place for Grinnellians in the real world, a world of people who don’t think of “social construct” as a phrase to throw around at a dinner party. Professor Arner has shown me that life goes on after college; that I will have a house, a job, and a life, and I won’t constantly yearn to be back in college.

It’s a strange and sobering lesson, I suppose. But at this point, knowing intelligent, interesting, socially capable (for the most part) 30-somethings is exactly what I need. Plus, let’s be honest, there are too few ABBA-lovers in the world. We have to stick together.

Rachel Fields '09 is an English major from Lemont, Illinois.

 

The Sea Urchins and Me

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

 

The purple spines bristled as I lifted the sea urchin from its container. Water dripped down the curve of its body as I turned it over to examine the whitish underside. Nestled in the center was a tiny mouth that also functioned as an anus (sea urchins are much less complex than mammals). Remembering that the rest of the class was watching, I raised the syringe and pierced the sea urchin in the region surrounding its mouth, pumping it with hydrochloride. I turned it over. As Professor Sullivan had predicted, sea urchin eggs were bubbling up around the spines and dripping down its sides. I placed it upside down over a beaker of seawater, and thus we began collecting sea urchin eggs.

The exact same process is used to collect sea urchin sperm.

I haven’t explained very much, have I? My apologies. This is the Biology 150 lab: Introduction to Biological Inquiry. For those of you are considering biology as a major, you will begin with this course. There are four or five sections of the class offered every semester, each with a distinct theme, and not all of them involve sea urchins. Our section focused on cell differentiation, while other sections studied climate change or bacteria or neurons. Though each section has a distinct theme, all of them aim to prepare us for more advanced work in biology by letting us prepare our own research projects in an area within our theme.

I am not a biology major, but when reading the course descriptions for that semester, the opportunity seemed too good to miss. Nor was I disappointed. It was less than three weeks before we were introduced to our sea urchin friends, which we used to study how cells differentiate. It’s a fascinating question: how does a cell in an embryo know it’s to become a neuron or a cardiac muscle cell? How do the eyes form in the head, and how do some cells know they have to become eyes while others know they will become the head itself? These were the questions we tried to answer as we progressed through the semester.

The second half of the course was devoted largely to a research project. We were free to decide the topic, find the relevant research articles, and combine the methods and results from those articles to create and carry out our own experiments.

If there was one thing Biology 150 was, it was a hands-on. The entire class ran on students’ curiosity and the questions we asked. In fact, Professor Sullivan structured his lectures specifically around questions we wrote down and handed in before class.

I must admit there were times when I felt frustrated. Focusing a microscope, using a micropipette, and making a footed coverslip were things I had trouble learning. But those difficulties seem petty when you see in front of you with your own two eyes the sperm and egg of two sea urchins meet and an embryo emerge, an embryo that will, in its own time, become a sea urchin. When you see life unfolding in front of you, it becomes difficult to complain about technicalities.

As I said, I am not a biology major. I am a mathematics major. But now I am a math major who can type out a laboratory report and conduct my own research. Most important, I am a math major who has seen, with his own eyes, the point at which life begins.

Amar Sarkar '12 is a Mathematics and Statistics major and Neuroscience concentrator from Gurgaon, India.

Humanities Majors Can Like Science Too

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

 

I arrived at Grinnell my first year as a wannabe physicist and a wannabe writer, and I had no idea which of these subjects I wanted to follow. If I had been stuck with such diverse interests at any other college, I might have been in trouble, but at Grinnell this dilemma was not as serious as it might have originally seemed. By pure luck, I got the perfect first-year adviser to help me work through my science-humanities schizophrenia: Professor Paula Smith, an English professor who teaches creative writing. Her husband, Professor Paul Tjossem, teaches physics.

Professor Smith did her best to cultivate both of my interests in my academic plan. I ended my first year in a good position to double major in English and physics, with at least two very excited professors to help guide me through any conflicts.

But then I had an epiphany, an epiphany that had absolutely nothing to do with challenges of double majoring or balancing schedules. The epiphany was very simple and concrete: for me, math sucked. Like really really boring sucked, and any career path that included me spending the rest of my life with equations was not a career path I wanted.

So heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to English I go, never to set foot in a physics room again.

Not that my adviser didn’t try. She pushed and she pushed to get me to continue my studies in physics, but my interests had changed to gender and women’s studies. Plus, I had found an even better way to satisfy that inner geek in me. I made friends.

Science friends are awesome. Physics, biology, computer science — they all understood and appreciated the necklace I made out of circuit resistors. They get the dweeby jokes I make. Well, maybe not when they’re about Charlotte Brontë, but they do when they’re about indefinite integrals. By observing as my friends learned and synthesized knowledge and repeated it back to me, I in a way got exactly what I had been looking for in physics: the science community. And I didn’t have to do a single problem set to get there! I got to write my postcolonial, my poststructural, my postfeminist papers for all the lit classes I wanted — something I actually could see myself spending the rest of my life doing — without having to give up that attachment to science.

And yes, I was a bit of a phony, a science groupie, if you will. I made T-shirts and traveled everywhere with the science band during their semester tour without ever actually picking up an instrument myself. But that’s what I wanted, and had I wanted to double major I could have done that as well. By virtue of its close community, Grinnell allows students with such diverse majors to interact all the time. It doesn’t trap you within your area of study. I like being around science people even if I don’t want to be a science person myself.

When I officially declared English as my major and asked Professor Smith to stay on as my adviser, I received an e-mail consisting only of one line: “Do you promise to take Modern Physics your senior year?” I balked. I could promise I would hear from my friends all about the awesome experiments they were doing, so by osmosis, yes …

A few minutes later, I got a second e-mail:

“Just kidding. Of course I will.”

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's Studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

Serving the Community via Dorm Life

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

 

One of the first people I met when I came to Grinnell College as a student was my future friend Alyssa. As I hauled my huge bags out of the car, Alyssa approached me and my family with a big smile. “Hi! Welcome to Grinnell!” At first, I thought she was just volunteering to help first-year students move in, but later I found out she was my floor’s student adviser (SA). As my first year progressed, not only did I become close friends with Alyssa, but I also learned about the unique structure of residential life at Grinnell.

With such positive first-year memories of living on the third floor of Rawson, I decided to apply to be a student adviser myself my second year. Now I am the SA on the second floor of Smith and I’ve completely enjoyed my experience of being on student staff. As an SA, I work as a voluntary student leader and am in charge of fostering community and overseeing activities on my hall’s floor. While these tasks might seem rather vague, I basically serve my peers as a campus resource. So if anyone wants to rant, chat, jump around, or ask a question, I’m there to help.

Because of our system of self-governance — which encourages students to take responsibility for their actions and to be respectful to their community members — I have a fairly easy job of keeping my floor in check. I don’t patrol the floor during the weekends, reporting bad behavior to my superiors. Instead, I mediate conflicts through dialogue.

One of my favorite parts of being an SA is throwing study breaks. Each semester I get to spend some of the student government’s money to throw mini parties on my floor. How cool is that?! I’ve thrown all kinds of study breaks, from a kindergarten theme study break — where we made goop and had juice boxes and goldfish crackers — to a candy sushi study break. During midsem exams week, I bought four large pies to share with my floor.

Aside from giving my residents an excuse to avoid a paper for a few extra minutes while still trying my hardest not to make them diabetic, I’ve enjoyed talking to them, getting to know them better, and building a community on my floor. And bonding doesn’t just occur during study breaks. There have been many times throughout the year when I’ve sat in the hallway and chatted with my peers about old school Nickelodeon cartoons while sharing a big bowl of popcorn (ah, more food), or stood in the doorway and talked to students while holding a big bowl of candy (even more sugar).

Even though it has not always been particularly easy, at the end of the day, with all the laughs, tears, jokes, and smiles, being an SA is very rewarding. It’s satisfying to know I can help contribute to the community and make self-governance function, and thus make our unique Grinnell College student life work. I’m looking forward to returning to staff next year and getting to know a whole new batch of people on my new floor.

And judging by how much sugar I’ve given out on my current floor throughout the year, I just hope my new residents like their sweets as well.

Aki Shibuya '11 is a History major from Orinda, CA.

Flaking Out

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

 

On Friday afternoons I flake out with my archaeology professor, some of his friends, and any students interested in giving up two hours of their weekend. We hang out, relax, talk, and get down to the serious business of what’s known to everyone who’s anyone as flintknapping. Flintknapping is the process of creating flaked or chipped stone tools — projectile points, knives, scrapers, and awls. Those arrowheads in museum display cases — those are what I aspire to make. You start with a smooth, uniform rock, the glassier the better. Chert and obsidian work well. When you hit them with another rock at the right angle, you force the smooth rock to shatter in a conchoidal fracture (a phrase that I think is only used when talking about flintknapping — think of how a chunk of glass would break if you hit it). This process creates long flakeshaped rocks that you refine and sharpen until they’re ready for use.

As one of my friends put it, “You’re hitting rocks with other rocks to make sharp rocks.”

Talk about a hobby with a history: the earliest flaked stone tools date to 2.5 million years ago. For most of human history, stone tools have been the main technology of humankind. Only recently (archaeologically speaking) did metal tools become the norm in the Old World. Even then, stone tools were still a mainstay in the New World, and some parts of the Old World as well.

Flintknapping’s modern incarnation as a specialized hobby can be traced to a Californian American Indian, Ishi, who taught academics interviewing him how to use stone tools for survival. In recent years, archaeologists have increasingly used experiments with flintknapped tools to recreate prehistoric technology.

The basics of flintknapping are pretty easy to learn, but six months after starting, I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Hitting rocks with other rocks is harder than it sounds, especially for people such as me, who have problems with something called “accuracy.” And there are tricks to it that I haven’t mastered — the ones that don’t involve accuracy mostly require upper body strength, which is also something I lack. At one point last semester, after I’d managed to create a rather crude-but functional point, my professor turned to me and said, “Congratulations, you’re now the technological equivalent of a Neanderthal.” As I said, I’m still getting the hang of it.

One of the fun things about flintknapping is you have an automatic product. Two hours of sitting outside of the anthropology building, flaking chert, and I’ve made two arrowheads. I now have a toolbox under my bed filled with points in various stages of completion. Some are nothing more than mangled bits of dull rock, but they have sentimental value. I’ve never been very crafty, so being able to actually make something is a treat for me. And my distorted, inelegant tools illustrate my point: you don’t have to be strong or creative or talented to flintknap — you just have to be interested in history. That’s not to say I have no aspirations for my lithic experiments; eventually, I’m hoping to progress to Neolithic technology. But while I work my way up the evolutionary ladder, I get to spend my Friday afternoons playing with rocks and flaking out.

Beth Miller '10 is an Anthropology and English major from Iowa City, Iowa.

Alternative Break and Our Dream Man

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

Issue:  Spring 2009

When my fellow Alt Breakers and I started to give each other nicknames, I knew all barriers between us had vanished. It surprised me — after less than a week together on our spring break service trip, our group skipped the polite acquaintance period that exists after introduction and went straight to familiarity. After all, you don’t call someone “Creepy Voice” or “Lost in Boys” until you feel they won’t take it the wrong way. The nicknames signaled we had become family.

I applied to the Mt. Madonna County Park, Calif., Alternative Break trip in spring 2008 for a chance to reconnect with the outdoors and experience an intentional community of service. I definitely didn’t expect the loving camaraderie that resulted. Weed-pulling doesn’t sound like your usual bonding activity, but done in the context of an Alternative Break service trip, almost any project can turn a group of 10 strangers into fast friends. It usually takes me a good while to loosen up around unfamiliar people, but something about the two weeks of intensive outdoor work, chilling temperatures, and spirited campfire conversations quickly brought us together.

As in other bona fide communities, iconic symbols began to spring up around day four. The imaginary “Dream Man” was a group favorite — a Scottish accent, casual good looks, a happy trail persona, and a habit of closing his eyes while singing and playing guitar rounded out this much discussed ideal character. He was born out of group musings and quickly became a presence in daily conversation. Needless to say, Dream Man’s existence summed up the idiosyncrasies of our group dynamics.

Even within a small community like Grinnell, meeting people outside one’s normal social circles (no matter how large they are) can be difficult, and I treasured the opportunity to connect with a different set of Grinnellians whom I might not have known otherwise. Some of my closest friendships and warmest memories resulted from this Alt Break trip.

As I write this, I can’t wait for this spring break to come around. My roommate and I are leading another trip out west, this time to the Redwood National and State Parks in northwestern California. With three weeks until spring break 2009, I can already tell my group is going to be as awesomely eclectic as the last. New nicknames and defining moments will crop up, sing-a-longs will fill our lengthy car rides, and maybe we’ll come up with our own “Dream Man” to keep us smiling long after spring break has ended.

Alisha Saville '09 is a Sociology major from Carbondale, Illinois.

Bringing Imagination to Life

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

 

The Neverland Players was started around six years ago by a Grinnell student who, while visiting a friend at Northwestern, saw a great children’s theatre production and decided to bring the magic she had found back to Grinnell. Neverland Players is an independent theatre group that transforms stories written by local third and fourth graders into short skits. A cast of Grinnell College students performs the stories on campus for the children as well as other college students. It is a great way to give back to the community and promote the spirit of Grinnell.

The whole process takes about four weeks and begins with an audition session, followed by a week of warm-up acting games, then three weeks of working and shaping the actual stories. The work put into Neverland is very intense and sometimes demanding. That being said, it has to be one of the most de-stressing activities on Grinnell’s campus. The cast and directors get to spend three-hour rehearsals laughing and acting like children. It is a great experience.

I started with Neverland in 2006, my first year at college, after my friend Barbara forced me to audition with her. It was perhaps the best thing I could have done. Immediately, I fell in love with the whole program and realized it was something I wanted to do all four years of my time at Grinnell. I acted in both performances my first year, as well as the single performance my second year. This year, my third year, I returned from studying abroad, and it had been a whole year since a Neverland Show had happened. So together, Barbara and I made the decision to bring Neverland back to Grinnell — better than ever.

The problem this semester was that the theatre department already had many shows planned, and all the “traditional” actors were already committed. Undaunted and unafraid, Barbara and I set out to find the “diamonds in the rough” — those actors who did not know they were actors yet. We assembled an excellent cast of talented and hilarious people. It was the first time Barbara or I had directed, and we had a rough start. However, we quickly learned what worked and what did not. In the end, our actors were fantastic, and we were able to work with them to create something truly beautiful. Our show went up and it featured Zombys (intentional spelling), Icebergs, Dinosaurs, a color-changing girl, and jaguars! The magic of the Neverland Players had been brought back better than ever, and this time it is here to stay.

The Neverland program is fun for everyone involved. While it is built from the foundations of stories written by children, it is important to remember that college students are the ones acting it out. While it always will be for the children first, as directors we make sure there is humor everyone can enjoy. The program is a great opportunity for the College to get involved with the community.

We have no shortage of big ideas either. Barbara and I have plans to begin a “Neverland Writers’ Workshop,” in which we college students will write stories with children, giving them pointers and ideas. We still have much planning to do, but it is something that Neverland is looking forward to exploring.

Overall, Neverland has been one of the greatest things I have done with my college career. It is something that I can look back on and say, “I made a difference.” Neverland is giving children the chance to see their dreams come to life, and that is something very powerful.

Mitch Avitt '10 is a Psychology major from Des Moines, Iowa.

Singing Outside the Mold

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

 

I was extremely active in my high school’s choir. I spent more time, and certainly got more joy out of it, than I did in most of my classes. Not that I was a fantastic singer, but I found happiness in the group’s sound.

Coming to Grinnell, I assumed I would leave that world behind. I knew I would have a work-study job, I knew I wanted to concentrate on building friendships more than anything, and most of all, I was terrified of the work load I had heard college brought with it. So I assumed that whatever time was not spent in the dishroom or making friends to last a lifetime would be spent studying.

Silly me — I thought I would be OK with that sacrifice.

Instead, I regretted not trying out for the Grinnell Singers horribly. It was painful how much I missed the camaraderie of a choir, and the satisfaction that came of being part of a wall of sound.

I was right, however, that my time would be precious. I had very few free nights, and even if I did try out for Singers later on, I knew that it would require more time than I could give. On a whim, second semester of my first year, I left dinner Wednesday night with a couple of friends and walked with them toward Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. That night I attended my first YGB rehearsal.

YGB, or Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir, is now one of my favorite activities. You may think, when hearing the name of this choir, that there is a certain type of person who is a member. But I promise you, Grinnell is a place where we fight every social construct created.

I am Christian, so for me there is meaning in the music that we sing. But the two girls I went with that first night are both Jewish. Other members of the choir are professed atheists or agnostics. Similarly, I am caucasian, so there is another criterion I might not seem to fit. We also have several members who practice with us who live in the town of Grinnell, and are not exactly “young.”

The common factor in all of us? We love to sing. Without fail, there are smiles on all of our faces. We sing, laugh, dance, and tour together. Once more, I am a member of a wall of sound that thrills me to the core.

This wall also spreads God’s word and joy to communities across the country. I said that every member of the choir smiles and laughs, but that is nothing to the expressions that I see on the faces of those we sing for. You can see that our music reaches the congregations and schools we sing to on tour. This is an awesome thing, whether you believe in God or not. Changing someone’s life while singing and dancing is without a doubt one of the best ways you can spend your time, and I have never once regretted walking into that rehearsal last year.

Karin Bursch ’12 is undecided about her major and from Iowa City, IA.

Just a Small Town Girl

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

Sure, Grinnell College is surrounded by seemingly endless cornfields. The bustling metropolises of Des Moines and Iowa City are each about an hour away. Still, you won’t believe everything you can do on campus each week. Sometimes, though, after running around from one appointment to another during the week and studying in every open nook on campus, I need a brief retreat from the College’s grounds. And that’s when I head to town.

Grinnell, the town, may not be that big, and at first glance, it may look like there’s little to do. Don’t let appearances fool you. As someone who grew up near a sizable university town, I was at first skeptical of how much fun I’d have in small downtown Grinnell. But I love this thriving and friendly community, and have many fond memories of events or activities that have taken place just a few blocks from campus.

From time to time, I like to grab a meal in town. Whether it’s curry at Thai Basil, pizza from Pag’s or Jimbo’s, breakfast at the A&M Cafe, or Chinese food from Chuong Garden, I’ve always had fun bonding with my friends over copious amounts of food. Similarly, my friends and I like to walk over to Saints Rest Coffeehouse, grab a cup of joe, and nurse it slowly while enjoying the cozy atmosphere and chatting with regulars or writing papers. For those times when we get a case of the midnight munchies, my friends and I resort to the traditional 2 a.m. bakery run to the Danish Maid Bakery, where we get fresh donuts just out of the cookers. In the fall, we head to the downtown farmers’ market to grab some produce, drool over mounds of fresh baked goods, and chat with the vendors about their products or life in general. Regardless of what time of day it is, there always seems to be a moment when food can bring you, your friends, and the town closer together.

Another great way to explore the town of Grinnell is by volunteering. A lot of my friends do community service work and have been involved in projects at local schools, churches, the community center, and retirement homes. One of my favorite volunteer experiences was with the Community Meal, which takes place every Tuesday at the elementary school. After helping prepare a meal, there’s nothing better than to sit down with members of the community and talk about non-academic subjects. We all need a break from school every now and then!

While it may seem that all of my intown adventures revolve around food, I assure you, I’ve had many fun nonfood experiences in Grinnell as well. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than to take some time off and run to one of the nearby parks with a group of friends. I’ve received some odd looks from the 5-year-olds when I swing on monkey bars and act even younger than they do, but acting like a kid can be the best of all stress-relievers.

There’s a lot more to Grinnell than cornfields, as I’ve learned over the past few years. Creative minds partnered with a town like this one make the best adventures and stories to share with people at home.

Aki Shibuya '11 is a History major from Orinda, California.