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Academic Life

Religious Diversity in the Heart of Iowa

Timothy KnepperTimothy Knepper, professor of philosophy at Drake University, will discuss religious diversity in Iowa at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

The free, public lecture, titled "Religious Diversity in the Heart of Iowa," will explore dialogues between Christianity and other religions practiced in Des Moines.

Knepper is a part of the Religions of Des Moines Initiative, which seeks to develop and practice a philosophy of religion that is diverse. The initiative explores, documents and places Christianity in dialogue with other religions practiced in Des Moines, such as Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Chair of the department of philosophy and religion at Drake, Knepper also directs The Comparison Project, a public program in comparative philosophy of religion. His scholarship centers on the philosophy of religion, comparative religion, late ancient Neoplatonism and mystical discourse.

Knepper has written several books on the future of the philosophy of religion, including The Ends of Philosophy of Religion. He is working on a textbook about the global philosophy of religion and a photo-illustrated book on the religions of Des Moines.

The Center for Prairie Studies and Department of Religious Studies are co-sponsoring Knepper's lecture.

 

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.

Visualizing Mass Communications and State Institutions in Wartime China (1937-45)

In China, the study of history has always gone hand-in-hand with the study of geography. When studying China’s modern history, however, focus has shifted toward large-scale processes, such as revolution, and large-scale sociological transformations, such as changing class relations. More recently, however, some historians are starting to bring geography back in. Pathbreaking endeavors such as the China Historical GIS project and Harvard University WorldMap platform-based ChinaMap allow researchers to visualize the transformation of China across space and time. The result has been a new understanding of China and Chinese history highlighting the spatial distribution of ethnic and linguistic diversity, economic development, elite networks, and state institutions. One exciting result of this new understanding is that it allows students and researchers alike to visualize large-scale processes across time periods, which can in turn lead to new questions about how different places might have experienced the same era or event. Through the use of spatial approaches, we are challenged to rethink the applicability of national historical narratives to local human landscapes.

As a teacher and researcher of East Asian history, much of what I do focuses on how media, institutions, and person-to-person networks have connected the modern Chinese state to populations both inside and outside of China. Working in tandem with DASIL, I have begun to build and visualize datasets which describe how the “connective tissue” of state-building looked during the period of China’s War of Resistance to Japan (1937-1945)—a period of intense destruction and dislocation which some historians have also described as key period of modernization. This data is drawn from two editions of The China Handbook: a publication of the Chinese Ministry of Information released in 1943 and again in 1946. I discovered this publication quite by happenstance while searching the Grinnell College Library collections for local gazetteer data related to the period of China’s Republican Era (1911-1949). The value of The China Handbook is that it provides comprehensive provincial and urban data for a number of indicators of state development; here we (myself and DASIL’s outstanding post-bac fellow, Bonnie Brooks ’15) have focused on data concerning communications, education, and health care. To be fair, and as admitted by The China Handbook’s original editor, Hollington K. Tong, this data is not exhaustive, nor is it necessarily reliable given the rapidity of changes brought about by war and resulting partition of China into competing political zones. It does, however, represent at least a starting point for visualizing what China’s wartime states looked like “on the ground,” viewed through the lens of communications and other institutional infrastructure.

Below the level of national boundaries, modern China is divided into numerous separate administrative units known as provinces. However, the number of provinces has changed with time and successive governments, which poses a challenge for those seeking to visualize data at the province level for eras during which the number of these units was larger than it is today — as was the case during the latter half of the Republican Era, which witnessed a proliferation of efforts to tame China’s restive and geopolitically fragile borders through the process of province-building. A key part of Bonnie’s contribution, then — the results of which will hopefully be used and refined by other researchers working at the intersection of geographic information systems (GIS) and modern Chinese history — was the creation of new shapefiles corresponding to each province that existed during the 1937-1945 period. The resulting maps are thus entirely new creations, and will hopefully serve to help bridge the current gap which lies between geospatial research on imperial China and research on contemporary China after Mao.  The shapefiles are available for download in DASIL’s Downloadable Data section.

For the map:

  • The Contents button() will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon () below the layer name.
  • To examine other variables, find the “Change Style” button () below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired variable from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu. You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size. You may also alter variables (e.g. normalize variables by population).
  • Click on an individual Chinese province to see available data.
  • The shapefiles featured in the map are available for download on the DASIL website.

Read more at DASIL.

Testing Utopia: My Summer MAP

I meet up with my guide in the Argiro Student Center.  She’s a Maharishi Vedic Science (MVS) Ph.D. student at Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa, and she’s agreed to show me one of the meditation domes today. The two domes are where the many hundreds of practitioners of Transcendental Meditation who live in Fairfield come twice a day to meditate.  The principles of Vastu architecture, the origins of which date back over a  thousand years, require all meditator buildings to be surrounded by a white fence, and as we pass through the gate in the fence surrounding the dome I have a feeling that I've just passed a metaphorical threshold. There's no going back now, you're really in it this time! I think as I close the latch behind us and make sure my face is composed to reveal none of my incredulity, excitement, and skepticism. I turn around and face the Bagambhrini Golden Dome for the lady meditators. Here we go….

This past summer, I completed a Mentored Advanced Project with Professor Andelson in which I conducted seven weeks of ethnographic research in Fairfield (pop. 9,500), the county seat of Jefferson Co. in southeast Iowa.  I engaged in participant-observation and conducted interviews with a focus on the surprisingly numerous sustainability initiatives in Fairfield.   Among the questions we addressed were why so many sustainability projects were occurring in Fairfield and whether the community’s accomplishments in this area could be models for other communities such as Grinnell.  My final report, “A Taste of Utopia: Cultivating a Community of Sustainability in Fairfield, Iowa (PDF)", is posted on the Center for Prairie Studies website.

While I was pleased with the outcome of the MAP and the paper, I did not feel as though I was quite finished with Fairfield.  In particular, I wanted to explore the spirituality component of the town in greater detail.  As part of my MAP research, I learned a lot about the role the Transcendental Meditation Movement has played in fostering sustainability initiatives in Fairfield.  However, the role of the Movement is much larger than its impact on sustainability.  The story of the Meditators’ arrival in Fairfield, their influence on the town’s character, the nature of TM (is it a religion, a philosophy, a world view?), divisions within the Movement, and the Movement’s response to the death of its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,  in 2008 are topics I hope to explore in a senior thesis in the spring semester. 

 

So You Think You Can Write

Grinnell alumni return to campus for a two-day symposium on written communication Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19 and 20, 2016.

The free, public symposium features informational panels, writing challenges, an internship and information fair, and plenty of opportunities to talk directly with successful alumni in the field.

Schedule

Friday, Feb. 19

4 p.m. Freelance Writing Panel
Tequia Burt ’98, Courtney Sherwood ’00, and Molly McArdle ’09
Alumni Recitation Hall, Room 302
5:30 p.m. Dinner (Open only to those who preregistered by Feb. 12)
Rosenfield Center, Room 101

Saturday, Feb. 20

10 a.m. Writing Challenge Events
Students can take part in writing challenges judged by
Christa Desir ’96 and Katie In ’13.
Rosenfield Center, Room 101
12:30 p.m. Lunch With Alumni
Rosenfield Center Marketplace,
Rooms 224 A and B
2 p.m. Writing Careers: Years in the Making Panel
Dan Weeks ’80, Jeanne Pinder ’75, Jim Bickal ’82, and Molly Backes ’02
Rosenfield Center, Room 101
3:30 p.m. Internship and Information Fair
Speak one-on-one with our guest alumni.
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts rotunda
5 p.m. Networking Hour with Alumni
Refreshments will be served.
Rosenfield Center, second floor lobby
6 p.m. Dinner (Open only to those who preregistered by Feb. 12)
Rosenfield Center, Room 101

Guest Alumni Panelists

M. Molly Backes ’02

M. Molly Backes ’02 is the author of the young adult novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press, 2012), which was named Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Fiction for Teens (2013) and Forever Young Adult’s Best YA Books of 2012 and was a finalist on NPR.org’s Best-Ever Teen Novels list in 2012. She has performed her personal essays at reading series including Essay Fiesta, Funny Ha-Ha, Is This a Thing?, and Sunday Salon and is a frequent guest at writing conferences and festivals across the country. Since graduating from Grinnell, Backes has had a number of careers, including middle school English teacher, wildlife conservation educator, arts administrator, marketing department copy writer/editor, and writing coach. She is currently an M.F.A. candidate at Iowa State University, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

Jim Bickal ’82

Jim Bickal ’82 began his career in 1984 as an unpaid intern for Minnesota Public Radio News. He has worked as a reporter and producer for MPR and Twin Cities Public Television. Some of the stories he has covered include the Minnesota Twins’ improbable 1987 World Series championship, the election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota in 1998, the 2002 Minnesota Senate campaign after the death of Paul Wellstone, and the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007. He has produced two hour-long radio documentaries. One traces a song (“The Rock Island Line” by Little Richard) to its origins, and the other looks at how growing up in Minnesota shaped Bob Dylan’s music. He is currently developing a podcast centered around the events of May 10, 2013. That’s when an unarmed man fleeing arrest broke into Bickal’s home in Minneapolis and was killed by police officers in his basement.

Tequia Burt ’98

Tequia Burt ’98 is a veteran editor and writer with more than 10 years of experience covering marketing, business, media and government. Before becoming a freelancer last year, she was editor in chief of FierceCMO. Burt earned her M.S.J. from Medill in 2005.

Christa Soule Desir ’96

Christa Soule Desir ’96 writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include Fault Line, Bleed Like Me, and Other Broken Things. She lives with her husband, three children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside Chicago. She is a founding member of the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit organization for rape survivors that conducts an international survivor-based testimonial writing workshop, including working with incarcerated teens. She also works as a romance editor at Samhain Publishing and once a week can be found working the stacks at Anderson’s Bookshop.

Katie In ’13

Katie In ’13 is an interdisciplinary media artist and musician based in Grinnell. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2013 with a B.A. in sociology and was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and recipient of the Ladies Education Society Award. A socially-minded observer of the world and creator of things, In uses video, music, and performance to tell stories and communicate ideas. She is part of the collaborative group Tiny Circus as well as the Midwest-based collective and band called The Plain Mosaic.

Molly McArdle ’09

Molly McArdle ’09 is Brooklyn Magazine’s books editor and a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure. She’s also founding editor of The Rumpus’ Tumblr (The Rumblr) and the creator of The Daily GIF. Her essays, criticism, and reporting have appeared in The Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, BuzzFeed, The Rumpus, Atlas Obscura, Bitch Magazine, Pacific Standard, Audubon Magazine, The Oyster Review, Fusion, and Library Journal, where she was an editor on the book review. She was a member of Grinnell’s first D.C. Posse and is working on a novel.

Jeanne Pinder ’75

Jeanne Pinder ’75 is founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City journalism startup bringing transparency to the health care marketplace by telling people what stuff costs. She founded ClearHealthCosts after volunteering for a buyout in 2009 from The New York Times, where she worked for almost 25 years as an editor, reporter and human resources executive. Pinder is a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. She was born and raised in Grinnell. She started working as a journalist in middle school at The Grinnell Herald-Register, her family’s twice-weekly independent paper. Before The Times, she also worked at The Des Moines Register and The Associated Press. She is a graduate of Grinnell College with a bachelor’s in Russian and studied Slavic linguistics in graduate school at Indiana University. She used to teach Russian, and she lived for a time in what was then the Soviet Union.

Courtney Sherwood ’00

Courtney Sherwood ’00 worked in newspapers for 12 years, first as a reporter then as an editor, before frustrations with the shrinking print industry prompted her to quit her day job to freelance in 2012. She continues to cover hard news from Portland, Ore., with pieces appearing in a wide range of outlets, including Science magazine online, Vice, The Irish Times, the Canadian Broadcast Corp., and many others. Most of her time is divided between NPR-affiliate Oregon Public Broadcasting, where she is a radio editor and web producer; Thompson Reuters, a news service for which she is one of two Oregon correspondents; and The Lund Report, which publishes her wonky analyses of how money moves the health care industry.

Dan Weeks ’80

Dan Weeks ’80 majored in American Studies at Grinnell and earned an M.A. in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa Graduate Writing Program. He has spent the past  30-plus years as a magazine and book writer, photographer, editor, ghostwriter, editorial manager, publishing consultant, and freelancer. His magazine profiles, features, essays, and photographs on subjects ranging from adventure travel to zinnias have appeared in dozens of national, international, and regional magazines. His book Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours, a companion to the Emmy-nominated reality show about Bering Sea crab fishermen, was a Discovery Channel best seller. He edited The Grinnell Magazine from 2010–2013 and currently edits The Iowan magazine.

Why Americans Love the Welfare State

Spencer Piston '01Spencer Piston ’01 — an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University — will present “Why Americans Love the Welfare State in an Age of Economic Inequality” at noon, Tuesday, Feb. 16, in ARH 102.

All are welcome to the free public event. Lunch will be provided.

Piston's research examines the influence of attitudes about social groups — with particular attention to racial and class groups — on public opinion and political behavior.

His work has been published or accepted for publication in leading political science journals, including The Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Behavior, Political Communication, and Political Psychology. He has been named a Distinguished Junior Scholar by the Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association.

Piston's visit is sponsored by the College's Alumni in the Classroom Program.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. ARH is wheelchair accessible. Automatic door operators are located on the southeast and southwest sides. Accessible parking is available along Park Street. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Conceal and Reveal Study Break

Join Friends of Faulconer Gallery and the Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies Student Educational Policy Committee for a study break inspired by Beverly Semmes: FRP (or Feminist Responsibility Project).

Take inspiration from Semmes’s work, currently on display, to creatively re-invent images while considering the implications of editing and censoring.

The study break is 8–9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts Rotunda and Faulconer Gallery.

Various art materials will be available, along with fruit, treats, and chocolate fountains.

 

Antibiotic Resistance and Microbial Diversity

Shannon Hinsa-LeasureShannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology, along with her students and collaborators, are researching ways to develop novel technology to study the diversity of antibiotic-resistance genes and how the genes can be transferred between bacteria.

The research is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant of $999,346 awarded to a team of researchers including Hinsa-Leasure, along with her collaborators at Iowa State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

In addition, Hinsa-Leasure has received a one-year $20,262 grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to expand on the USDA grant by investigating bacterial community structure in soils fertilized with animal manure. Both grants will support undergraduate research at Grinnell College.

The grants will enable researchers to monitor hundreds of genes related to antibiotic resistance, the spread of resistance, and microbial diversity in environmental samples at one time, providing a more in-depth characterization of environments than current technologies. The technologies can be used for many types of environments including, hospitals, farms and water systems, and will allow researchers to study if and how antibiotic resistance genes move in particular environments.

“I am delighted that Shannon has received these grants that will create new opportunities for our students to conduct collaborative, cutting-edge research,” says Michael Latham, dean of Grinnell College. “This research reinforces Grinnell’s commitment to active scholarship and inquiry-led learning opportunities that reach beyond our campus.”

Adina Howe, assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State, leads the three-year USDA grant. This grant will support technology development, field sampling, laboratory experiments and workshops to disseminate the open-access bioinformatics pipelines to the broader research community.

“I feel very fortunate to be collaborating with a tremendous team of scientists, who are all sharing their expertise to address an important environmental issue — how do we detect and monitor movement of antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment,” Hinsa-Leasure says.

Hinsa-Leasure, an environmental microbiologist, first began investigating antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment near Grinnell in 2014. This project was instigated by one of her former students, Evan Griffith ’15, who was interested and concerned about the local environment.

“Evan and I began this work with a directed reading course to learn what was happening in the field,” recalls Hinsa-Leasure. “That course led us to the USDA in Ames and the development of a partnership that continues to flourish today.”

“I am excited that this project is continuing and that I made a small contribution,” says Griffith, who received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell. He recently returned from Australia, where he worked as a research intern on a project between Arid Recovery and the University of New South Wales. He hopes to pursue a master’s degree in conservation medicine at Tufts University.

Griffith is one of eight Grinnell undergraduates who already have participated in the project he and Hinsa-Leasure initiated.

“I am thrilled,” Hinsa-Leasure says, “that through this funding additional Grinnell students will have access to cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatics, which will allow us to advance the field.”

Ignite Institute for Middle/High School

Middle and high school students can learn salsa dancing, international cooking, storytelling, political campaigning, spear throwing and more at the first Ignite Institute on Saturday, March 5, at Grinnell College.

The College will launch the Ignite Institute with a day of free, fun and fascinating academic mini-courses taught on campus by Grinnell College student teachers.

Ashley Schaefer“These engaging mini-courses will be fun and accessible to students, plus they will introduce them to the physical environment of a college campus, helping to develop college readiness,” said Ashley Schaefer, director of the Careers in Education Professions program.

“The Grinnell College students who teach the courses gain experience developing a course from start to finish, build their organization and planning skills, and get a taste of the complexities of teaching,” Schaefer added. “Most teachers sign up because of their desire to contribute to the Grinnell community and because they love the topics they plan to teach.”

With this new crop of 44 teachers conducting mini-courses for middle and high school students, more than 180 students at Grinnell College will have taught an Ignite course within two years.

Ignite is open to all Iowa students in grades 7-12 who wish to attend. All participants will receive a free T-shirt, lunch, and snack. Students are welcome to take either a morning or afternoon mini-course, or both. Registration is open and continues through Friday, Feb. 26.

The Ignite Institute is inspired by the successful Ignite Program, which offers free courses to students from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade. The program began last year, and by last November, 256 students had registered for the Ignite Program's 21 mini-courses.

The 21 mini-courses offered on March 5 are designed for specific age groups. For example, seventh and eighth-graders will choose from seven courses, including How to Take Over the World Using Algorithms and Robots as well as Tour de France: Food Edition!

Ninth and tenth-graders also will have seven courses to select from, including GMZ: Grinnell's Celebrity Hot Seat and Amazing Atlatls: Spear-Throwing Fun. Among the seven courses for 11th and 12th graders are The Nature versus Nurture Debate and Lay Down the Law.

Morning check-in will begin at 10:15 a.m. for students who haven’t already picked up their information folders and T-shirts from Schaefer the week of Ignite. Check-in will take place in the lobby of Alumni Recitation Hall, 1226 Park St., Grinnell.

Students who already have their information will head directly to their classrooms and classes will start promptly at 10:30 a.m. Students in middle school must be signed in by an adult. There will be a lunch break for all students at 12:30 p.m., at which time parents of middle school students who have not signed up for an afternoon course may pick up their students.

The afternoon session will start at 1 p.m. and students will be dismissed at 3 p.m. Parents should pick up their middle school students. High school students do not need a parent to drop them off or pick them up.

Making the Ignite programs possible are Grinnell College Careers in Education Professions and Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement, as well as a generous gift from Helen Redmond and Pete Brownell.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations through Conference Operations and Events.

Scholars' Convocation: Hilary Mason ’00

Hilary Mason '00The Scholars' Convocation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, will feature Hilary Mason ’00. Mason is founder and CEO of Fast Forward Labs, a data science and machine learning firm, and the data scientist in residence at Accel Partners .

Mason's lecture, which is free and open to the public, is titled "Data, Machines, and People: Data Science, Products, and Society," and will take place in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Mason received her bachelor's degree in computer science from Grinnell and went on to study computer science at the graduate level at Brown University. When asked to describe herself, she says, "I make beautiful things with data."

Fast Forward Labs is a new kind of research company that helps recognize and develop new product and business opportunities through emerging technologies helps organizations accelerate their data science and machine intelligence capabilities. Every quarter the company profiles a different near future technology, producing a report on its development and a prototype demonstrating its application.

At Accel Partners, Mason advises Accel's portfolio companies and assists with evaluating new technologies and investment opportunities.

Mason, who previously served as chief scientist at bitly, also co-hosts DataGotham, a conference for New York's data community. In addition, she co-founded HackNY, a nonprofit that helps engineering students find opportunities in New York's creative technical economy. She is a member of Brooklyn hacker collective NYC Resistor and the Anita Borg Institute Board of Directors. She also advises numerous companies, including Sparkfun Electronics and Collective.

Grinnell College welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.