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Students Pursue Independent Studies

Grinnellians bring their interests into the classroom, using assignments to study the things they are most interested in. But when they can’t otherwise fit a topic into their curriculum, they turn to guided reading (200-level) and independent study (300-level) coursework to explore it further.

Students in guided readings and independent studies design an independent project and work closely with a faculty directory. The courses might include things like reading of a body of literature, reproducing published scientific experiments, learning advanced techniques, or exploring an art.

Some topics being pursued Fall 2013 include:

  • Voices from Cairo
  • Interdisciplinary Studies of Wine
  • The Philosophy of Science in Education
  • The History of Myanmar
  • Hellenistic Ethics
  • Poisson-Dirac Brackets
  • Modern Board Game Design
  • Advanced Web Application Development — Local Foods
  • Gender in Malaysian National Identity
  • Food Sources
  • Dido and Aeneas in 17th Century Politics
  • Anomalous Magnetism

Nightfall on the Prairie

8–10 p.m., Fri., Sept. 6, Conard Environmental Research Area
Rain date: Sat., Sept. 7. Call 641-269-4384 for rain-call information.

Experience the allure and beauty of the prairie after the sun sets as you explore the College’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA). Transportation from campus is available.

This family-friendly event is open to the public. Activities include:

  • An exhibition of several live raptors, including information on the owls of the prairie, their habitat, and conservation, and the release of two recently rehabilitated Eastern screech owls;
  • an exploration of nighttime invertebrates such as beetles and moths, using UV lights and moth bait to attract insects;
  • an introduction to the evening songs of cicadas, katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers;
  • lessons on exploring the night sky and constellations, stars, and planets;
  • poetry portraying nightfall on the prairie; and
  • a chance to explore the prairie.

Bring binoculars, flashlights, and headlamps if you have them. 

CERA is a 365-acre preserve used for teaching, research, hiking, bird watching, photography, painting, drawing, and other facets of the study and enjoyment of nature. It contains woodlands, oak savanna, restored prairie, and wetlands, as well as the Environmental Education Center, the first building in Iowa to receive a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.

If you choose to drive yourself, parking couriers will help you find your way. Call the Center for Prairie Studies at 641-269-4384 to reserve a place on the bus.  The bus will leave from the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center at 7:30 p.m. and will return to campus by 10:30 p.m. 

In case of rain, Nightfall on the Prairie will be held on Saturday, September 7. If the weather is questionable, please call 269-4384 on Friday evening to confirm which evening the event will be held.

Research in Mathematics and Statistics

Research Opportunities at Grinnell

Current Grinnell College students will find a list of research opportunities on the Science Division GrinnellShare site (login required). You will find descriptions for research projects with professors on campus, as well as a number of off-campus opportunities.

Faculty Research Areas

  • Jeffrey Blanchard: Applied Mathematics, Applied and Computational Harmonic Analysis, Wavelets, Compressed Sensing.

Using Technology to Change Behavior


Grinnellians are helping Grinnellians get enough sleep.  

This summer four computer science majors worked on project designed specifically for Grinnellians that will help students track their sleep and encourage good sleep habits.

Janet Davis, associate professor of computer science, is leading the students — Kyle Moorehead ’15, Benjamin Wagnon ’14, Nediyana Daskalova ’14, and Nathalie Ford ’15 — in a Mentored Advanced Project this summer and fall. Ann Hu ’14, psychology and neuroscience, stopped in regularly this summer and officially joins in the fall.

They are learning to use participatory design, a process in which those who will be using a new tool help design it. 

If you’ve ever struggled to find something — whether it’s a web app, an alarm clock, or a messenger bag — that is exactly what you need, you can appreciate the process.

Instead of coming up with a design on their own, the MAP students collaborated with students from around campus. The diverse group, Wagnon says, “can see nuances and approaches we might overlook. The variety of approaches helped us design something for all of Grinnell. “

Daskalova says “first we tabled outside the dining hall asking what the basic issues were on campus.  We focused on sleep because so many people are concerned with it.”  They refined their ideas through several workshops with student volunteers.

Moorehead says “because we already know these people, we’ve been able to get very specific and honest responses that have really helped the MAP.”

In one workshop, Wagnon says, the volunteers made cardboard and paper mockups of “a piece of hardware, a mobile app, a website, anything they could think of.” Based on the workshop feedback and their research, the MAP students decided to focus on a web application that they will develop this fall. They’ll continue to work with fellow students as they test their design, eventually offering a Grinnell-specific tool to help their fellow students get enough sleep

The project has one added benefit, they say: they are all more aware of their own sleeping patterns.


Van Court & Meyers win Gilman Scholarships

Two Grinnell College students will have an opportunity to pursue longstanding interests while studying abroad, thanks to scholarships from the Gilman Foundation.

Jordan Meyers '15 

Meyers, a third year from McMinnville, Ore., is spending summer and fall at Beijing Foreign Studies University in Beijing, China. A pre-med student with an English major and a concentration in East Asian Studies, Meyers will study Mandarin intensively, while also taking a Chinese history course and shadowing a physician through an internship at Beijing United Family Hospital.

He is the founder and director of Volunteers at Grinnell High School, a student organization that helps Grinnell College students volunteer at the high school by tutoring, providing technology support, designing Web sites and tutoring in the English as a Second Language program. Meyers volunteers in the surgery department waiting room at Grinnell Regional Medical Center for four hours every week. After graduating, he hopes to volunteer with the Peace Corps and then attend medical school.

Rachel Van Court '15

Van Court, a third year from Niwot, Colo., will spend the 2013-14 academic year participating in a program on Human Evolution and the Ecology of the Serengeti, sponsored by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. Very active in food and sustainability issues at Grinnell, Van Court also will conduct anthropological or biological research while in Tanzania.

Van Court is a double major in anthropology and biological chemistry. At Grinnell, she has been active in sustainability issues, volunteering for Oxfam, coordinating the College's Food House and the local food co-op, and managing the Food House garden. She was on campus this summer to conduct a Mentored Advanced Project on the industrialization of agriculture. After graduating from Grinnell she says she "is very committed to helping the world food and agriculture system," perhaps through permaculture farming. She is also thinking of attending medical school.

About the Gilman Scholarship

The Gilman Scholarship provides awards to U.S. undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grants so that they can take part in study-abroad programs worldwide. The program encourages students to choose non-traditional study-abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This international study is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.