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Novel Experience

Most students have to worry about finishing 20- or 30-page research papers or equally long essays in their final semester of college. Emily Mesev ’15 will hand in a 300-page novel.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Mesev considered attending a university in the United Kingdom but decided Grinnell would better accommodate her disparate interests in science and literature. She hadn’t thought of combining her interests until the idea she is fleshing out in her novel came to her.

The novel started as a short story in professor Dean Bakopoulos’ fiction seminar. Bakopoulos, a National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellow, is the Department of English’s writer-in-residence. He has published two acclaimed novels and has a third, Summerlong, which has already received advance praise from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly, coming from Ecco Books in June.

He asked the students to write three different one-page openings to short stories. Mesev had been taking a plant physiology course at the time and wrote one opening about a photosynthetic human from the future and the scientist studying it.

Mesev and two other students completed a novella-writing Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) with Bakopoulos in the fall. At the end of the semester, Mesev realized she could take the story she wrote and the world she had created — an institute for the study of post-historic organisms from thousands of years in the future — further. Bakopoulos agreed. “I took the novella and pulled it apart, adding more detail and making a larger story,” says Mesev.

During the first half of the spring semester, Mesev completed the 78,000-word draft. “I’ve been spending a lot of time working on structure because this size of manuscript is new to me,” she says. Bakopoulos has been encouraging her to give the story more urgency. “That’s one thing I struggle with in my short stories too,” Mesev says.

Mesev has had ample opportunities to learn from Bakopoulos over the last few years. She has taken two fiction-writing courses and a creative nonfiction-writing course in addition to the novella MAP and her current novel-writing MAP with him.

Bakopoulos generally takes on three or four MAP students a year, offering promising students a chance to deeply immerse themselves in a project that goes far beyond traditional creative writing coursework. “It’s a chance for students to experience the obsessive kind of discipline and focused creativity that goes into the work for any published author,” he says.

“I feel lucky to have this opportunity. It’s a really great experience,” she says. “It’s impressive that he can make time to work on this with me.” They have been meeting once a week this semester. “He can give me a critique and send me off to generate 100-150 pages during spring break,” she says. “That helps me as well, so I have to discipline myself on top of getting feedback from him. That’s one of the most valuable things I’m getting from the MAP.”

Mesev draws from her experiences researching lung cancer at the University of Minnesota and blood cancer at the Mayo Clinic. “A lot of what I know about biomedical research comes from there,” Mesev says. She also credits Grinnell with giving her the background knowledge to invent the creatures in her novel and ground them in real science.

Mesev plans to pursue biomedical research immediately after graduating. After that, graduate school in the same field. As for her novel, “I want to polish up the first 50 pages and submit them to an MFA writing program.” She does hope that with further revision and rewriting she can “turn this manuscript into an actual novel.”

Emily Mesev ’15 is a biological chemistry/English major from Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

Research Is Integral

When you take science classes at Grinnell, research is part of the learning experience from your very first course.

Biology 150, an introductory course, “gives students an authentic, accurate experience in what it’s like to do research,” says Clark Lindgren, professor of biology and Patricia A. Johnson Professor of Neuroscience.

Students aren’t simply learning the specific steps for conducting research, Lindgren says. They identify the questions they want to address and try to find answers to them the way scientists do. “They design experiments, do experiments, and write it up,” he says.

One sign of student success, Lindgren says, “is when the research project becomes their own. They get committed to finding the answer.” He says that most students get to that point, whether they end up majoring in science or not.

Think Like a Scientist

Mike Fitzpatrick ’16 appreciated the laboratory component of Bio 150. “Doing experiments, finding more information. I liked the questions I could ask and the answers I could get,” he says.

As the bio chem major delves deeper into his science courses, he’s enjoying the lab work. “It’s not so clear cut,” Fitzpatrick says. “There are more subtleties to sink my teeth into.”

In addition to his courses, Fitzpatrick is working on a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) that involves extensive laboratory research. “There are so many thing to think about with experiments,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s fun to learn from them and move on. I’ve learned from each failed experiment.”

With Lindgren’s guidance, Fitzpatrick is studying lizards’ neuromuscular junctions, specifically glial cells, in order to see how they function. Humans have glial cells too, which is one reason lizards make good model organisms. “Ideally, I want to study glial cells in the human brain,” Fitzpatrick says.

Although he came to Grinnell with the idea of becoming a doctor, conducting research has confirmed for Fitzpatrick that he wants a career in research. He intends to pursue an MD/PhD program. 

“I help students who want to go into science get there,” Lindgren says. He’s studied chemical synapses for several years and won a National Institutes of Health grant in 2014 to continue his work.

“Some students who do independent research projects are still exploring,” Lindgren says. “Some discover that yes, they like research, and some learn that no, they really don’t. I think both are excellent outcomes. The earlier you can discover what your interests and aptitudes are, the better off you are.”

Blend Science with Art

Erica Kwiatkowski ’15 uses images from her research to inspire dance choreographyErica Kwiatkowski ’15 has said yes to research over and over. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD program in the fall. Currently in her last semester at Grinnell, Kwiatkowski is working with Lindgren and Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance, on a MAP that’s exploring how science and medicine can inform and inspire dance.

Like Fitzpatrick’s, Kwiatkowski’s research with Lindgren is about neuromuscular junctions — but in mice rather than lizards. Kwiatkowski is researching how their endocannabinoid receptors signal hunger and satiation. She likes this practical question.

“The endocannabinoid system still has places that need explained,” she says. “I’d love to be part of finding an answer.”

At Grinnell, she says, she’s able to be self-directed. “What keeps me interested is that I can ask questions and find answers with my hands, using incredible tools to see and figure out things.”

She’s using images from the neuroscience part of her MAP in the dance part of it. She shows the “visually beautiful” images to a group of fellow Grinnell College dance students. They use the images to generate movement ideas that Erica will then use to create the  choreography.

“With dancing and merging it with science, it’s given me a much better appreciation of how the arts and sciences can come together and create something really important,” Kwiatkowski says.

Mike Fitzpatrick ’16 is a biological chemistry major from Lakewood, Ill. Erica Kwiatkowski ’15, also a biological chemistry major, is from Weston, Mass.

Explore Education Marketing

A first-person account by externship participant Trang Nguyen ’17.

At 12, I wanted to become a mathematician. At 16, I studied English to become a diplomat. Now, at 19, I strive to do marketing.

It’s good to know what you like, isn’t it? But here is the fact: you don’t marry all of your crushes. You marry someone you like, who likes you back, and whose lifestyle matches yours. Likewise, not all interests can become your future career. Whether in relationships or a career, we all need a dating phase. And dating is fun!

One way Grinnell offers “career dating” is through its spring break job shadows, which it calls externships. Externships last 3–5 days and are offered by Grinnell alumni throughout the United States. Many include a home stay with the alum too.

So I scanned through the list of spring 2015 externship possibilities with the keyword “marketing.” I was quite surprised to come across an externship in Grinnell College’s Office of Communications because to me, communication is information driven rather than marketing related. I then looked it up on the Internet and discovered that marketing in education is really a thing. So why not give it a try?

This spring break I did a three-day externship with Michele Regenold ’89, editorial director at Grinnell.

Marketing in Higher Education

On the first day, Michele walked me through the concept of marketing in higher education. She explained how the Office of Communications represents Grinnell to alumni and prospective students on the website and in print materials. Within the office, different teams — editorial, web, media, and creative — collaborate with one another and with other offices, like Admission, to achieve marketing goals. “The editorial team writes stories for the web that match up with the admission cycle,” Michele says. “For example, this summer when prospective students visit campus, we’ll have some stories related to our location and facilities.”

Before the externship, I didn’t know that higher education involves such considerable and even sophisticated marketing strategies. “The way you promote a regional or local school is different from the way you promote a national or globally known one,” says Jim Powers, director of communications. To give prospective students the most accurate sense of the culture at Grinnell, the school has been working with a marketing firm that can understand Grinnellians well and produce materials that “feel like” Grinnell.

Exploring Possible Paths and Cool Things to Learn

Trang Nguyen ’17 I had the opportunity to talk to different teams in the office. Sarah Anderson ’98, Larissa Stalcup, and Adrienne Squier all studied marketing but they now have different specializations: Sarah coordinates the website, Larissa is a graphic designer, and Adrienne manages all social media platforms. Talking with them broadened my perspectives on possible options in a marketing career and gave me some guidelines about how I can prepare myself for each approach. Larissa introduced me to some design software and how to study it by myself. Adrienne shared some cool media tips and how to measure the effectiveness of media strategies quantitatively.

Sarah says, “Even though I’m in charge of studying web behaviors and brainstorming ideas, I still need to have some technical knowledge to know what is possible and what is not.” Taking her advice, I plan to take more computer science classes even though I’m more interested in the strategy part.

It was also very interesting to listen to stories behind the recent redesign of our website. Every single update on the content and design of our website involves lots of studies on brain development and web behaviors. Their explanation shows examples of practical applications of what I studied in my Introduction to Psychology course.

More than just an informational interview: Trying what I have never tried

An externship is also an opportunity for me to get some hands-on experiences. I shadowed Michele in two phone interviews. Interviewing someone for a story is really an art. It is not just a matter of asking the right questions; the interviewer must also keep control of the flow of the interview and keep the interviewee comfortable. “I do background research before interviews so I can ask thoughtful questions,” Michele says.

I also tried doing an interview by myself. I interviewed Kelly Guilbeau, career counselor in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, to get more information about the spring 2015 externship program. I asked her if externship hosts have as good of an experience as us students. Kelly says that most alumni externship hosts give positive feedback about it.

During the interview, Michele helped point out key ideas in Kelly’s answers and analyze important elements of an interview that I should take notice of. She said I did a good job so I guess I do have the potential.  

Although this three-day “date” cannot give me a clear answer to my career confusion, it shows me some hints to figure out the answer by myself.

Trang Nguyen ’17 is a mathematics major from Hanoi, Vietnam. The externship program is coordinated jointly by the CLS and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

Communications Office

The Office of Communications facilitates all of the College’s internal and external communications. This includes helping faculty and staff members and students publicize events; creating publications such as brochures, newsletters, and invitations; providing photography; and working with the news media. The communications team also produces The Grinnell Magazine quarterly and manages content on the Grinnell College website.

Shaping Campus Culture

Every student pays a few hundred dollars a year to the College in the form of the student activities fee. The College immediately gives that money back to the student body to do with as it wishes, from bringing speakers to campus to having concerts nearly every weekend.

Any student can have a say in how the money is spent.

The student activities fee is split between the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC). Two-thirds goes to SGA, and one-third goes to SPARC.

SGA further divides its portion of the money between a number of committees, which take recommendations from students on speakers and performers to bring to campus. The students can also serve on any of the committees — Concerts, All-Campus Events, Student Planning, and Service. “Grinnell’s student government has a lot of freedom and money,” says former SGA treasurer Gargi Magar ’16. “It’s up to students to determine what kind of things they want on campus.”

The two committees with the most funding are the Concerts Committee and the All-Campus Events (ACE) Committee. The ACE Committee handles events that are open to all students on campus — mainly speakers, but also Harris parties and other events not connected to a specific student group. “ACE Committee serves as a conduit to the student body, both to turn their ideas into reality and answer questions that they may have regarding events and policies,” says ACE co-chair Abby Goreham ’15. “As chair, I enjoy doing my part to make sure that the Grinnell traditions I've come to love in my time on campus continue.”

 “SGA at Grinnell has more independence and ability to create student events than most other colleges,” says ACE co-chair Ryan Hautzinger ’15. “The All-Campus Events part of SGA is a perfect representation of that power. The money is there solely to put on events students want.” Last semester, ACE brought Malcolm London, a Chicago poet, and Hudson Taylor, who founded Athlete Ally, to campus. This semester, the committee is working to bring standup comic and frequent visitor Hari Kondabolu back to campus.

The Concerts Committee brings more than 50 artists to campus each year. This semester, Concerts Chair Violeta Ruiz Espigares ’15 is especially excited about Baltimore-based rapper-producer duo TT The Artist; Mighty Mark; Lust for Youth, a Swedish dream-pop group; and Saba, an up and coming rapper from Chicago.

In addition to suggesting speakers and performers, students can propose and vote on initiatives each semester to address issues on campus. In the past, successful initiatives have resulted in more printers being installed in academic buildings and a swingset being constructed outside the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center.

Each year, students host more than two dozen concerts; 100+ all-campus events ranging from speakers to parties in the Harris Center to the Grinnell Relays; events, such as an Eid al Adha dinner and the Titular Head film festival, which are hosted by student groups; and more. Most importantly, though, any student can have a hand in shaping the culture on campus.

Abby Goreham ’15 is a political science major from Queen Creek, Ariz.

Ryan Hautzinger ’15 is a history and political science major from Grand Junction, Colo.

Violeta Ruiz Espigares ’15 is a German and philosophy major from Granada, Spain.

Gargi Magar ’16 is a chemistry major from Plainfield, Ill.