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Coding for a Cause

As all Grinnellians know, it’s important to use what you learn to make a difference in your community. In Grinnell’s computer science department, the students in the Team Software Development for Community Organizations class are using what they learn in class to benefit local nonprofits.

“We think our students should understand the ways in which their computing skills can make a positive difference in the world,” says Samuel A. Rebelsky, professor of computer science. “At the same time, it’s important for students to learn how to work with clients who know what they want done, but not how it can be done.”

Helping the Local Food Pantry

Students choose a project at the beginning of the semester, such as creating a website that shows the current needs of the Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) food pantry so people know what to donate. Another project the students have worked on is making an online resource portal to help MICA’s clients quickly find the support they need for food, housing, and jobs.

Zoe Wolter ’16, who worked on the MICA resource portal project, says that the class was a great way to get a feel for what she can do with the skills she’s developed at Grinnell. “Getting to actually apply what we’ve learned in class to a real project really expanded my knowledge of what opportunities are out there,” she says. “It really opened my mind to possibilities that I hadn’t thought of before.”

Developing Marketable Skills

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16, in his work on MICA’s resource portal, developed vital skills for communicating with clients who aren’t fluent in computer science language. “I found that it’s best to have them draw pictures and diagrams of what they want so that we can see what we need to do and there’s no confusion,” says Owusu-Asare. “That’s something I couldn’t have learned just sitting in class.”

Having worked on a large project with actual clients has also been useful for students seeking jobs in the tech industry. John Brady ’16, who developed the food bank site for MICA, found that his experience with that project came in handy for interviews. “Having a project that you can talk about that shows some actual real world experience working for clients was fantastic, because projects just for school just don’t have the same weight,” Brady says. He recently accepted a job offer from Amazon.

Receiving Support from Alumni Mentors

Cassie Schmitz talking with students in the courseIn addition to in-class learning, students also get support from alumni mentors who are now working in fields where they do the same kind of work the students are doing. Mentors come to campus once a semester to meet with students and Skype with them every few weeks to support them and answer questions.

“It’s just nice to have someone who went through the computer science department and is now working in the field,” says Owusu-Asare. “You see that they’re doing all these cool things, and it makes me excited for what I’ll do in the future.” Owusu-Asare plans to work as a software developer for Goldman-Sachs after graduating.

The class also supports the College’s commitment to staying connected to the greater Grinnell community. “In a lot of other college towns there’s a big divide between the town and the college, but Grinnell is really committed to bridging that gap,” says Cassie Schmitz ’05, who has been a mentor for the class for the past two years. “Students are encouraged to really engage meaningfully with the community, and this class is an important part of that engagement.”

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16 is a computer science and physics double major from Kumasi, Ghana.

John Brady ’16 is from Rosco, Ill., and is a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Zoe Wolter ’16 is a computer science and theatre double major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Tutorial in Context

The First-Year Tutorial is the only requirement for all majors and a big part of the individually advised curriculum at Grinnell. Why is the tutorial so important? And what can students expect to get out of it?

Below, Jermaine Stewart-Webb ’16 and Tyler Roberts, professor of religious studies, discuss the impact of Roberts’ tutorial, “Do You Wanna Dance? From Rock to Hip-Hop.”

In his tutorial, Roberts asked students to explore the origins of popular musical styles and the influence of music on individuals and society. Stewart-Webb was one of 12 first-year students in the course.

Here’s what they had to say:

A Fresh Perspective

Roberts: How did [the tutorial] change the way you look at the music in terms of history and in terms of its social/political aspects?

Stewart-Webb: The course gave me a perspective that I’d never really had before. In high school I didn’t really have that much of a critical lens with which to write about any kind of subject matter.

It gave me a larger frame of mind with which to critique music and to talk about it on a more interpersonal level. Part of it might have been coming to realize that I was challenged to not just blindly “like” music without explaining the implications of it.

In terms of the origins of music, I learned that everything has a lineage that leads up to its current moment. I think we, as students, have to learn to openly accept that knowledge, because sometimes I feel like we come in with this idea that we already know all of the good music that’s current.

Digging Deep

Roberts: Does [looking at music in this new way] detract from the simple pleasure of enjoying it?

Stewart-Webb: (laughs) A little bit, because I’m constantly thinking, “Where did this song come from?” or “Did it have origins in a social/political movement?” But overall I can still enjoy music without having to critically think about it all the time.

I remember one specific assignment where we had to really dig deep and think about the vocabulary we used to describe a song we really liked. My presentation was on “Take on Me” by A-ha, one of my favorite songs ever … 

Roberts: Something I’d never heard before …

Stewart-Webb: I was talking about how it was ’80s-esque, and I remember you positing the question, “What do you mean by ’80s-esque?” and saying, “You have to unpack this and explain exactly what that word means.” It made me think about the weight behind the words that I use and not to blindly use words without putting them in proper context.

Roberts: I wanted to have students write not just in a critical academic way about music but also in an appreciative way. It’s also really important to be able to express yourself to an audience about what is meaningful for you and why it enriches your life.

Stewart-Webb: Right. My oral presentation was on the anti-folk movement that took place in Greenwich Village [New York]. I remember being struck by how that movement emerged. I realized that music is not produced in a vacuum, but it comes from all of these artists who collaborate with one another and fight for the validity of what their music stands for. It really helped me understand that genre.

A Richer Advising Relationship

Stewart-Webb: The tutorial in general helped me understand how I fit in the grander scheme of academe as it relates to other forms of study. I was straightforward about not being really good at math and science, so it was good to be pushed to take classes outside of the humanities and social sciences. Having a tutorial adviser who understood the discomforts that I had about specific subject matter allowed me to establish a relationship before jumping in to declare a major.

Roberts: I get a much better sense of my advisees from being in class with them twice a week than I would otherwise. I can develop a rapport in the classroom that translates to the advising sessions. It’s a much richer relationship.

Stewart-Webb: I think I move about the world in a very different way now. It’s as if I can’t “unsee” things at this point in my life, and I have to pay close attention to everything I come in contact with. I’m constantly asking myself why I think the way I do about certain things and probing my peers about why they see things the way they do. So, I enjoyed the tutorial experience for that reason … but it also has been, like, a slight curse (laughs). 

Roberts: It’s called critical thinking.

Stewart-Webb: It’s a good frame of mind to have. It definitely prepared me to take on the arduous demands of the courses I’m currently in as a senior.

Jermaine Stewart-Webb ’16 is an English and French double major from Los Angeles, California.

Acclimated to Success

Born in Ambato, Ecuador, Alfredo Colina ’17 emigrated from his homeland to Washington, D.C., when he was 10 years old. Coming to Grinnell as a D.C. Posse Foundation scholar marked his first real experience outside of a big city.

“Being in a rural area surrounded by farms and corn was a change, definitely,” Colina says. “It wasn’t so much a culture shock as much as just a very distinct environment that I was placed in. I was, like, ‘This is new, but doable.’”

Arriving on campus for the first time with 9 other Posse cohorts seemed strange initially, but Colina says he adjusted very quickly. “Once you’re here,” Colina says, “you’re open to the great opportunities Grinnell has, and the Grinnell Science Project (GSP) was one of them.”

Settling Into College

A weeklong pre-orientation program, the GSP aims to develop the talents of first-year students interested in science and math, especially those from groups underrepresented in the sciences. To familiarize students with college life, they are invited to participate in mentoring opportunities and sample classes.

“[In the GSP] you are able to work with professors from Grinnell and other students who are potential science majors,” Colina says. “It helped before orientation to settle down and realize ‘You’re in Grinnell, it’s different, and it’s not the city.’ I really liked that I was able to go through that opportunity.”

Eye-Opening Experience

Alfredo Colina ’17 conducting resesarch in corn fieldNow a biology major, Colina worked last summer with associate professor Shannon Hinsa-Leasure on a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) focused on bacteria and antibiotic resistance in agricultural settings. In November, he made an oral presentation at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Seattle.  

“It was super cool,” Colina says “I was feeling a little bit nervous because I was a student trying to explain what I did to all these major professionals that are big in the field of microbiology.”

Colina says he became more comfortable as he realized that his research — and his presentation style — stood out as distinct.

“A lot of students who presented were trying to explain the mechanisms of various genes,” Colina says. “I kind of took a macro approach to explain a microbiological problem and tried to make it accessible for everyone to understand even if you weren’t a science major.

“It was eye-opening to have people come up afterward and say, ‘Your research is really interesting; I would like you to potentially work for my lab for a summer.’” Colina says. “It was a really great networking opportunity.”

Redefining His Goals

Colina says his research experiences at Grinnell have reshaped his academic and career aspirations. Previously, he had been aiming for an M.D. program. His current plans are to apply for research opportunities next summer and eventually pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program.

“I have a strong connection to research now. Before I thought research was boring, and I didn’t want to be in a lab from 8 to 5, but I fell in love with it last summer,” Colina says. “I want to do microbiology research, dealing with bacteria and antibiotic resistance or some pathway that might lead to prevention of antibiotic resistance.

“I really like microbiology. I don’t see myself doing any other kind of research,” Colina says. “It’s interesting because people might not perceive that bacteria are all over the place, and not all bacteria are bad.

“Learning about what kind of bacteria help, making those distinctions, and making an addition to a scientific field that might have bigger applications in the future is super important.”

Alfredo S. Colina ’17 is a biology major and Posse scholar from Washington, D.C.

Exploring History Through Dance

Taylor Watts ’16 had never danced before taking a salsa lesson during her New Student Orientation. She discovered she loved dance.

Her passion for French goes back a little further, to her sophomore year in high school. Watts is combining both passions in a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), “A Choreographic Exploration of the ‘commerce triangulaire,’” under the direction of Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance.

Watts had the idea for this MAP after several powerful academic experiences. One was a summer MAP in Atlanta, also directed by Miller, working with theatre and dance companies whose work addresses social justice issues.

Another was a semester abroad in Nantes, France. While there she learned about the history of France’s largest slave port in the 18th century in a course taught by a black Frenchman. “Why is it so much easier to study [slavery and race] in a different culture’s history? I was very interested in the class, but I wasn’t going to do anything with it,” Watts says.

When she returned to campus the next semester, Watts took a class on Caribbean authors from Haiti, Guadalupe, and Martinique with Gwenola Caradec, assistant professor of French. The impact of slavery on the Caribbean was a topic that spoke to Watts.

Taylor Watts performanceShe says, “I really questioned doing it because I’m not French or from the Caribbean. Do I have the right to write about this? So I chose words directly from the text. Dance adds another layer of emotionality.”

“Taylor’s ‘Choreographic Exploration’ is a rich example of how dance, because of the undeniability of the body, can be a powerful and visceral use of the arts to examine complex and difficult topics,” Miller says. ”It is a choreographed embodiment drawn from research into both her topic and the aesthetic of the art form of dance.”

“Because of the emphasis spoken French places on connecting each word so that a sentence flows together, just listening to French I can visualize movement,” Watts says.

Watts was already planning the MAP when she heard about the France on Campus Award competition. She had just watched the film The Royal Tenenbaums, written and directed by Wes Anderson, one of the France on Campus Award patrons. The timing seemed auspicious. She won second place.

Watts will perform her work at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, in Flanagan Studio Theatre in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. As part of her award, she also will receive mentoring from the French Embassy and from Kickstarter to raise funds that will enable her to perform the work on other U.S. college campuses. 

Taylor Watts ’16 is a French and anthropology double major from Sacramento, Calif.

National Scholarships Support Study Abroad

Six Grinnell College students in the class of 2017 have received federally funded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships to support their study abroad during the 2015 fall semester or the 2016 spring semester. Winners were chosen from a group of approximately 1,600 American undergraduates from 355 colleges and universities across the United States.

Two of Grinnell's scholars, Lizzie Eason ’17 and Lily Galloway ’17, studied abroad during the fall semester, and four are studying abroad this spring.  

Mathematics Meets Migration

Lizzie Eason '07 in front of Vajdahunyad Castle

Eason at Budapest's Vajdahunyad Castle

Eason, a mathematics major from Lamoni, Iowa, was in Budapest, Hungary. There, she studied with world-renowned professors of mathematics and witnessed first-hand the refugee crisis in Europe.

"I returned to my home college, Grinnell, with a broader perspective both on mathematics and foreign policy," Eason said. She noted that her school was only two blocks away from Keleti Pályaudvar, the train station shut down by police to stop migrants from the Middle East from traveling through the European Union.

"On the day Keleti shut down, it was more crowded than I had ever seen it," Eason recalled. "There were narrow paths on the ground with no blankets where people could walk, but every other space on the floor was taken up by blankets on which refugee adults and children were begging for money and food."

Language Expands Archeological Options

Galloway, an anthropology major from Westchester, Illinois, spent her fall semester in Tanzania. There, she planned and executed with other undergraduates an archeological excavation of a 700,000-year-old elephant carcass. She also studied Kiswahili, one of the most spoken languages in Tanzania. She plans to pursue a career in archaeology.

"With this background and continued study of Kiswahili as part of Grinnell's Alternate Language Study Option program, I'll be able to promote dialogue between English-speaking archaeologists and Kiswahili speakers," Galloway said. "This will help improve communication about heritage preservation and lead to more collaborative scientific work on human origins in East Africa."

From Chile to the Czech Republic

Four of our Gilman scholars are studying abroad this semester:

  • Jinna Kim ’17, a sociology and Spanish major from Bellevue, Washington, is in Argentina.
  • Hankyeol Song ’17, a media and cultural praxis (independent) major from Bettendorf, Iowa, is in the Czech Republic.
  • Aniqa Rahman ’17, a biological chemistry and French major from Hillsboro, Missouri, is in Morocco.
  • Robin Crotteau ’17, a political science major from Boise, Idaho, is in Chile.

About the Scholarship

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs. The program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the countries and regions in which they study by supporting undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints. 

Students receiving a Federal Pell Grant from two- and four-year institutions who will be studying abroad or participating in a career-oriented international internship for academic credit are eligible to apply.

Students can apply now on the Gilman website for funding for study abroad during the 2016 fall semester or the 2016–17 academic year. Applications are due March 1.

Six Appeal, World-class A Cappella

Six Appeal, an award-winning, six-member young men's vocal ensemble that performs with the energy of a rock band, but without instruments, will give a free, public concert on at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, in Herrick Chapel.

The versatile vocal band from Minnesota is one of the most popular touring a cappella groups in the nation. In fact, Six Appeal achieved the title of National Champion at the 2012 National Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival in San Rafael, California.

6 Appeal members hamming it upThe six members of the ensemble — Jordan Roll, Michael Brookens, Trey Jones, Nathan Hickey, Reuben Hushagen, and Andrew Berkowitz — met at Concordia College in Minnesota. Performing together since 2006, the group became a professional ensemble in 2010. The band has released two records, including covers, original songs, and holiday music.

The Grinnell concert will span decades of music, featuring classic oldies, current chart toppers, and catchy original tunes.

Although the March 8 concert is free and open to the public, tickets are required for admission. They will be available starting March 2 in the box office in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accessible parking is available in front of the chapel. You can request accommodations through Conference Operations and Events.

The Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality: Modern Imaginary Worlds as Sites of Creativity

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 7:30pm
Joe Rosenfield '25 Center Room 101
Michael Saler
Professor of History, University of California, Davis

Today, millions of people throughout the world literally “inhabit" imaginary worlds, often in the company of others, for extended periods of time. But are fans of Sherlock Holmes, the Lord of the Rings, or Worlds of Warcraft merely escaping from reality, or are they learning to see that reality itself is partly an open-ended fiction amenable to revision? This talk will examine the history of imaginary worlds as a source of modern enchantment, encouraging both entertaining escapism and social engagement.

Michael Saler is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches Modern European Intellectual History. He is the author of The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: ‘Medieval Modernism’ and the London Underground (Oxford UP, 1999) and As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford, 2012). With Joshua Landy, he co-edited The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford UP, 2009), and he is the editor of The Fin-de-Siècle World (Routledge, 2014). He writes for the Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and is currently working on a history of the modern imagination and its relation to contemporary fantasy and science fiction.
 

#Charlestonsyllabus Display in Burling Library

On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot to death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  The shooting was a racially motivated hate crime against black lives perpetrated by a young white man, Dylann Roof.  In response to the news of the horrific event, historians, scholars, and non-academic readers alike took to Twitter under the hashtag #Charlestonsyllabus to amass a list of resources any person could turn to in order to educate themselves about the history of race and racial violence in America.

Dr. Keisha N. Blain, the co-founder of the #Charlestonsyllabus movement, keeper of the online syllabus, and author of the forthcoming book, Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence, visited Grinnell College to speak to the community in the college’s 2016 celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. Blain discussed the bridging of scholarship and activism and the immediate connections made possible by social media.

In response to Dr. Blain’s visit, Grinnell College Libraries has documented the locations and availability of the resources suggested in the #Charlestonsyllabus. The libraries have 228 of the 296 books and films listed on the #Charlestonsyllabus. The #Charlestonsyllabus is listed here in its entirety, with links to the catalog for the materials that our library currently owns.  Many other resources are available through Interlibrary Loan.

The resources don’t end here, either. Look around in the stacks at the books surrounding the ones on this list, or think about additions you would make to it.  The #Charlestonsyllabus was a community effort, one that required a deeper engagement than just consumption (although in a list of over 300 materials, consumption is a good place to start). Share your thoughts and opinions on the list and the readings with those around you and/or online.

And be sure to visit the #Charlestonsyllabus display, located between the Latino Collection and the jungle gym in the southwest corner of Burling Library.

#Charlestonsyllabus is found on the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) webpage.

Optima Typewriter Owned by David Lustbader ‘65

Just before winter recess, Special Collections and Archives received a very exciting new acquisition — an Optima portable typewriter! We don’t have a large collection of artifacts, but once we heard the story behind this typewriter we knew we had to have it for our collection. This particular typewriter was owned by alum David Lustbader ’65 during his time here at Grinnell College and in his years at law school.

The summer before his first year at Grinnell, Lustbader and his father visited a typewriter shop in Newark, New Jersey.  There were two portable models available, the popular Olivetti and an Optima. According to Lustbader, the Olivetti was thin and light weight, while the Optima keyboard was not as flat. Lustbader preferred the Optima, which was manufactured in West Germany. His father, however, was very reluctant to purchase anything from Germany.

Lustbader’s father had good reason for not wanting to support German manufacturing. During WWII, he had worked in the shipyards in Kearney, New Jersey, building Liberty Ships. Additionally, several of his father’s close friends, including the best man at his wedding, had served in the army during the war. However, he relented when he saw how much his son liked the Optima. In a fun twist to the story, during his second year at Grinnell, Lustbader became good friends with a German exchange student named Wolf Grabendorff. The two remain good friends to this day.

According to Lustbader, all of his school papers and correspondence during undergrad and law school were written using his Optima typewriter. The Optima owned by Lustbader is an Optima Elite, which was manufactured between 1955 and 1961. Amazingly, the original owner’s manual and cleaning brushes are still inside the case. The manual details helpful tips such as how to type capital letters and change the ribbon, and explains the movement of the carriage. The typewriter and its accompanying case are in beautiful condition, showing how much care they were given during their years of use.

We encourage anyone with an interest to drop by Special Collections and examine this typewriter in person.  Special Collections and Archives is open to the public 1:30–5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment.

Data Across the Curriculum

Students in Monty Roper’s anthropology and global development studies classes gain practical experience in fieldwork, data analysis, and ways to deal effectively with clients when they act as consultants for both local organizations in Grinnell and internationally in an agricultural village in Costa Rica. The clients they work with get free research which is presented to them both in the form of an oral consultation and in a written report.

For a global development studies/anthropology seminar, students prepare research plans during the first half of the semester and then travel to a rural agricultural community in Costa Rica to spend the two weeks of spring break collecting data which is then analyzed and written up during the remaining weeks of the semester. The first year of the project, the class conducted an in-depth community development diagnostic. Since then, they have investigated a variety of rural development issues, mainly focusing on tourism, women’s empowerment, and organizational issues and agricultural projects of the town’s two cooperatives.

In Grinnell, Roper works with Susan Sanning, director of service and social innovation, to identify and explore possible collaborations with community partners who have research needs. In the past, for example:

  • Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) was interested in knowing why families dropped out of their Family Development and Self-Sufficiency Program (FaDSS) before their benefits were fully used,
  • Drake Library was interested in what kinds of programming would best serve the town’s “tween” population, and
  • A hair salon wanted to find out whether it was economically viable to invest in special hair care products and services for black customers.

Ideally, positive change occurs because of the class’ research.

Grinnell students Dillon Fischer ’13 and Sarah Burnell ’13 interviewed graduates of Grinnell High School who had gone on to attend college about their preparedness for college academics. According to the GHS principal, these findings led the school to revise its minimum writing standards, making them more challenging.

The local after-school youth program, Galaxy, requested a study on donor perceptions and desires and subsequently used the results to write a successful grant proposal for support.

This year’s class is planning to do more follow-ups on previous projects to ascertain longer-term results.

See more story and photos.