If you’re interested in astronomy, “Grinnell is one of the best places you can go,” says Bob Cadmus, professor of physics. Grinnell — without offering a major in astronomy — has graduated about one student per year who goes on to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy.
Cadmus attributes that strong record to students’ focus on physics and the liberal arts as well as their independent work in astronomy.
Some of that work occurs in the Grant O. Gale Observatory, which sits on the north edge of campus, within easy walking distance of residence halls. Cadmus says the proximity to campus was intentional, to make it more accessible to students. Another plus — since the town of Grinnell is small, there’s little light pollution.
The Search for Exoplanets
Jack Muskopf ’16 and Andrew Baldrige ’17, both physics majors, are working in the observatory this summer on Mentored Advanced Projects. Their faculty mentor, Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics, studies exoplanets. More than 1,000 exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — have been discovered since 1995.
“We can look at transiting exoplanets fairly easily with our telescope,” Kempton says. The observatory has a 24-inch Cassegrain telescope. “We do real research with this thing.”
Muskopf and Baldrige have been testing a new camera, which will be installed on the telescope soon. Then they’ll be pulling all-nighters in the observatory, processing digital images of exoplanets that are passing in front of their own stars, up to 100 million light-years away.
Muskopf says he’s excited to work in the observatory and “get really high quality photos of stars and have some interesting, useful data.”
Baldrige says, “Every once in a while I sit back and think that I am looking at numbers on a screen right now, but these numbers represent that 100 million light-years away, I know that there’s a star that has a planet orbiting around it.”
Kempton hopes to start training students to use the telescope and help with the data processing. She says it’s an ideal place to get students involved, and they don’t need to be physics majors.
Attracting the Masses
All students are welcome to the observatory during open house events held throughout the year. Baldrige visited it during New Student Orientation his first year. “I looked at a galaxy and it was really clear in the telescope. It was cool because it was something you could never see with a hobbyist’s telescope,” he says.
Cadmus offers open house events to everyone from pre-school children to adults in the community, from current students to alumni. Every summer he offers a workshop for middle-school children and especially tries to interest girls in astronomy.
Jack Muskopf ’16 is from Millstadt, Ill.; Andrew Baldrige ’17 is from Ames, Iowa.
Curious about the new group of first-years?
Here are a few facts about the class of 2019:
- 81 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their secondary school class.
- 40 percent were varsity athletes.
- 54 percent participated in the fine arts (music, theater, dance, visual art).
- 24 percent are U.S. students of color.
- 16 percent are first-generation college students.
- 18 percent participated in student government.
Want to know more? Take a peek at a virtual conversation with two of them.
Grinnell College: We’re excited to begin the 2015–16 academic year. Renowned faculty and transformative research experiences here and abroad await you. Ready?
Haley Jo Cutrone ’19: I’m both nervous and excited. I love the people — every interaction I’ve had with students and faculty has been friendly and everyone seems so excited about the school. And, my roommate seems wicked cool, so that’s very exciting.
Hassan Thompson ’19: I’M very anxious and eager to study at Grinnell. One of my passions is traveling, and I’d never been to Iowa before. Grinnell will be my home for the next few years. This will be a huge culture change for me.
Grinnell College: What do you plan to study your first year of college?
Hasan Thompson ’19: I plan to major in physics. My primary goal is to get mentally ready for both the academic year and football season by letting it sink in that Grinnell will be my home.
Haley Jo Cutrone ’19: I’m undecided on my major. I enjoy history so I could potentially major in something related to that field of study.
Grinnell College: We had a great summer in Grinnell preparing for your arrival. What adventures did you have last summer?
Haley Jo Cutrone ’19: I spent my summer working as a camp counselor in Maine. I also got outside a lot on the weekends — hiking in Acadia National Park and the White Mountains, kayaking, biking.
Hasan Thompson: I’m both a Posse Scholar and a Gates Millennium Scholar. Other than working at Popeye’s fast food restaurant, I spent the summer attending pre-collegiate training with 10 other future Grinnell scholars who are my Posse. We spent our entire summer learning more about each other and just creating moments and bonds that has brought us closer and will last a life time.
Grinnell College: If you had to describe yourself in 160 characters or less, what would it say? We’ll go first.
Liberal Arts College located in the middle of everywhere. Home to social justice crusaders, status-quo challengers, and investigative globetrotters. Go.
Hasan Thompson: A genuine and gracious leader who is confident, trustworthy, and creative. Also, sees no need for violence when you can kill them with success.
Haley Jo Cutrone: Outdoorsy reader intending to travel the world, hoping to make an impact, and aiming to discover new passions and new ideas.
Grinnell College: Good luck, Haley Jo and Hassan, and the entire of the Class of 2019. We’ll get to know each other better during the next four years. We know you’ll do great.
Haley Jo Cutrone is from Hollis Center, ME, and Hassan Thompson is from New Orleans, LA.
For the residents of Food House, the road to personal development is paved with comfort food, cupcakes, and a community of growth and learning.
“As a first-year student, I had a floor that was very committed to creating a community,” says Sheva Greenwood ’16. “I wanted to make sure that I was going to continue getting that kind of interpersonal support. Food House in particular seemed like the place to be because I think that sometimes we put wellness on a back burner in college.”
At Food House, residents rally around the idea that cooking food together is a centering activity. It’s a break from the constant stress of classes, papers, and group projects. “Even the application is kind of funny,” Greenwood notes. “We have questions like ‘what is your relationship to garlic?’ and stuff like that.”
Greenwood, a Food House resident from 2013–15, sees project houses as an extension of the College’s ideal of self-governance. “It makes sense to me that as an extension of self-gov you have these spaces where people can really work out what their values are, work out what they want to do with their lives and how they want to live, in a more holistic way than just figuring out what they want as a future career.”
Residents of Food House cook “family dinners” together Sunday through Thursday, which are open to anyone on campus in search of a home-cooked meal and good company. They host fun outdoor movie nights, fancy cupcake soirees, and a Thanksgiving dinner for students who can’t go home for the holiday.
“For us, community building is not just for the members of Food House. We try to create ways for other people to connect to us,” Greenwood explains.
“Adulthood on Training Wheels”
Project houses like Food House are a long established tradition among Grinnellians. Past houses have included Music House, Art House, Dag House, Bird House, Bohemian House, and Tennis House. The project house program allows any group of 10–12 students to
- unite in a common interest
- delve deeper into their extracurricular passions
- experiment with a more independent living situation.
Many students jokingly refer to project houses as “adulthood on training wheels.” They’re a way to learn the skills necessary to thrive after graduation while having a safety net of College support when needed.
That doesn’t just mean learning how to clean an oven or a toilet. It means learning how to say that you can’t eat another bite of that casserole your roommate made three weeks in a row. It means getting up the courage to ask everyone if they want to watch Broad City with you, even though you think they might be busy. It means learning to let loose and eat that weird recipe you found on Pinterest, just to see if it might taste better than it smells! In a project house, you’ll learn how to have fun, make friends, and overcome your fears.
“I think it’s just hugely important to have spaces where you can grow in the way that you want to,” Greenwood says. “I don’t think you need to know a massive amount about food justice to live in Eco House, and I don’t think you need to be an amazing artist to go live in Art House. And you certainly don’t need to be a chef to live in Food House. Everyone acknowledges that this is just another space of learning, and that you’ll get there. It might be a bit of a crash course. But you’ll come out of it with a lot more skills than you had before!”
Sheva Greenwood is a gender, women’s and sexuality studies major from New York City.
Two traditions bookend student life at Grinnell.
The day before classes begin, the entire class of 2019 will gather in Herrick Chapel, where alumni will welcome them into the Grinnell community; the next time these students will gather as a whole class will be to celebrate their commencement.
At the aptly named Medallion Ceremony, each new student receives a silver medallion engraved with their class year.
In 1846, James Jeremiah Hill, a member of the Iowa Band, laid a silver dollar on the table. He announced the coin would be the cornerstone of a new college—the first dollar in its treasury. That act laid the foundation for the College. The medallions students receive symbolize the care more than 150 years of Grinnellians have taken to continue the work begun that day.
Four years later, the class of 2019 will gather with friends and family to celebrate its Commencement. With degrees in hand, the new graduates will head off on their next big adventure.
And later, some of them will return to welcome a new generation with medallions of their own.
As Grinnell’s Student Alumni Council tells students, “Years from now, when you hold your medallion, remember you belong to a unique community—you are a Grinnellian.”
In a recent list of most liberal college campuses, Grinnell came in fourth, reflecting its long-standing, politically liberal reputation. Yet over time, both conservative and non-partisan, cause-related groups have also made their voices heard.
Rosenfield Professor of Political Science H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., who has observed Grinnell campus politics for more than 40 years, says that while “there’s a liberal tinge to most of the student organizations, the liberalism is not focused on politics but on causes. The central theme is helping people.”
Yes, There Are Conservatives
“Young Republicans have been active at times,” Moyer observes, “as have the Campus Democrats. We have conservative students but they tend to be moderate to liberal Republicans who identify less with the national Republican party than they might have 40 years ago.”
2014 graduate Sam Mulopulos is among those self-described conservatives who thrived on campus. “When I first came to Grinnell, I fell in love with the place and its people. In fact, because of my contrarian learning style, Grinnell probably made me more conservative or at least led me to more fully develop my conservative ideology.
“People often joke that the only people in the closet at Grinnell are the Republicans,” Mulopulos says. He started a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in fall 2013. “I believe a group like YAL has a tremendous role in promoting political diversity and social justice. The goal was to provide a forum for conservative students to ‘come out’ and cogently speak about their beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, and free markets.”
Don’t See What You Like? Start Your Own
A new club — the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network — like YAL, a chapter of a national organization, was co-founded in 2014–15 by Isaac Andino ’17 and Jenny Chi ’17. “Roosevelt is committed to progressive change, especially focusing on the local level since we feel that is where students can have the most direct change,” Andino explains.
“We are currently focusing our efforts on sustainability via socially responsible investing, investigating the college's endowment holdings in fossil fuel and defense companies and ways to possibly reduce our exposure/support to them,” Andino says. “We founded this organization because we felt it was a good fit with the values of Grinnell and was broad enough that it could be directed at any number of pressing issues. Other organizations on campus focus on one specific issue, while Roosevelt could be used as a general umbrella to address issues in the future.”
RISE Grinnell, led by Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, also addresses progressive issues. “The goal of RISE Grinnell is to organize and participate in activism across a broad spectrum of progressive issues,” Metz-Lerman says. “Although we shy away from the term social justice, that is exactly what we stand for — issues that threaten justice, peace, love, and equality.”
A Focus on Issues
For those interested in targeting more specific issues, the Grinnell in Latin America Solidarity Society (GLASS) organization may have appeal.
For Jason Camey ’16, the focus on Latin American issues through GLASS came after a trip to Guatemala, through a co-curricular grant, where he and other Grinnell students witnessed “how U.S. foreign policy affected people in the country.
“The goal we established for the GLASS was to start talking about issues and getting people connected with partner organizations in Latin America,” Camey says.
“Grinnell is a community filled with amazingly brilliant students who aren't just citizens of the U.S. but of the world, and I think more and more students are realizing worldwide issues are something we also have to look at. Many of my peers are unaware of how our foreign policy affects people directly. I think if more people knew then they'd raise questions, they'd think a little more critically, they'd approach foreign policy with more caution, pointing out how these policies affect people.”
From broad to specific, local to international, progressive to conservative, there is always room for more campus political organizations, asserts Mulopulos. “What a boring place the world would be if we all agreed on every issue all the time? Where is the intellectual challenge in that? The ultimate goal as humans is to make the world a better, safer, healthier, and more prosperous place for everyone.”
Isaac Andino ’17, a political science major, is from Miami Springs, Fla. Jenny Chi ’17 is majoring in political science and economics and is from West Hills, Calif. Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, a political science major, is from Roslindale, Mass. Jason Camey ’16 is majoring in Spanish and political science.
The Faulconer Gallery’s thought-provoking art exhibitions benefit more than the casual visitor. Students in courses across science, social studies, and humanities disciplines find that the Faulconer is more than just an art gallery — it’s an extension of the classroom.
Gallery as biology lab
“One of the reasons I do art that incorporates biology is the wonder aspect,” says Becky Garner ’15, who took Professor Jackie Brown’s History of Biology course.
Brown has long been interested in the intersection between art and science. Last year he incorporated From Wunderkammer to the Modern Museum, 1606-1884, a Faulconer Gallery exhibition of books documenting cabinets of curiosity, into his History of Biology course. The exhibition demonstrated the change in scientific thinking over the course of nearly 300 years. Connected to the exhibition, there was a panel discussion of the role of wonder in scientific inquiry.
Brown has also incorporated the gallery into his First-Year Tutorial. “Lesley Wright, director of the gallery, leads a close looking exercise,” says Brown. It’s a way of teaching students how to examine things closely without going as far as interpretation. Brown’s tutorial performs the exercise in different settings ranging from looking at an animal to looking at art.
Gallery as race and gender studies classroom
Last year, Professor Michael Gill incorporated a student-curated exhibition, Decay: The Ephemeral Body in Art, into his Feminist and Queer Disability Studies course. This year, he structured an advanced special topic course on masculinity around an exhibition at the gallery, Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument. This exhibition showed how Time magazine shaped a photo essay by Parks to fit a particular narrative of black masculinity.
“The cropping and lighting choices made a specific judgment of Red Jackson, the subject of the photo essay, and flattened his expression of gender for a white audience,” says Gill. Gill’s students responded to the exhibition by creating their own as a final project for the class.
Gallery as education seminar
Professor Kathryn Wegner took her students to both the Faulconer Gallery and the gallery in Burling Library to view two Chicago-related exhibitions. Students reacted to the narrative construction of Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument and spent time studying Sandra Steinbrecher’s The Education Project Photo Exhibition. The latter was a photographic study of three struggling Chicago high schools. In addition to images and stories of teachers and students, it also profiled journalists, activists, and politicians. Wegner constructed the syllabus for her course on education reform around both the Steinbrecher exhibition and a number of speakers brought to campus by a Rosenfield symposium.
“We are always seeking ways to make works in our collection and in the gallery a dynamic part of the learning process,” says Wright. “And we work with artists, critics, and scholars — as well as faculty and other on-campus experts — to create a richer context for our exhibitions.”
Wellness on Grinnell’s campus comes in as many forms as its students have passions, and they don’t have to be strictly athletic passions.
Synchronized swimming has been a fixture in Tea Cakarmis ’17’s life since her childhood, and it wasn’t something she could leave behind her when she came to Grinnell. After arriving on campus, she formed the Grinnell Synchronized Swimming Club to keep synchro in her life and make it possible for other students — regardless of skill level, body type, or experience — to fall in love with it as she has.
Bringing Synchro to Grinnell
I envisioned the Grinnell Synchronized Swimming Club as a community, one that encourages both artistic expression and the development of athletic abilities.
At the age of 13, I was selected as a swimmer of the Serbian National Synchronized Swimming Team. I was both petrified and extremely honored. The five years I spent on the team before coming to Grinnell have been the most meaningful of my life. My teammates became my sisters as we shared countless hours of training, frustrations at being away from home, and pride in our accomplishments.
While competing internationally, we traveled together from Jerusalem to Geneva, we made countless friends and memories, and we spread our love for a unique sport that unifies ballet, gymnastics, swimming, and theatre. We performed routines requiring physical abilities equal to those of any other professional athletes — endurance, core strength, and flexibility. And we executed our routines gracefully, in sync, and while smiling — even underwater, we smiled. Although we were all too aware of the fact that our sport enjoyed little recognition in our country, we knew the value of what we were doing; we were our country’s ambassadors, painting the accurate picture of our people and our culture through our talent.
Through it all, the competitions and the pressure, synchro always remained my safe space. And it’s because it is such a beautiful mixture of all different athletic and artistic disciplines that it allows the performer to communicate any type of emotion or state of mind. It gives the performer an ability to enact their own reality or create a completely new one in the water. Because it is so subjective and open to interpretation, I believe that it is enhanced by the diversity of its performers.
Synchronized swimming is traditionally viewed as a sport that strictly prescribes the body type of the performer and thus excludes a lot of possible perspectives on the discipline. Although this remains somewhat true even today, the sport in general is becoming more accepting. I formed the Grinnell Synchro Club in that spirit. I wanted all of my club members to establish their own unique approaches to synchro.
Forming the Grinnell Synchro Club offered me yet another opportunity to be an ambassador, to represent the sport I love and my home country. It is a club that, to my surprise and excitement, has been growing during the past year. During my year abroad it will be led by two inspirational swimmers — Zala Tomasic ’18 and Tess Fisher ’18 — and it will be accepting all new members, with any level of experience.
Author Teodora Cakarmis ’17 is a French and political science double major from Belgrade, Serbia; Tess Fisher ’18 is an undeclared major from Oak Park, Ill.; and Zala Tomasic ’18 is an undeclared major from Skofja Loka, Slovenia.
The 169th Commencement of Grinnell College is complete.
Find highlights from the weekend in a visual review of Commencement 2015.
Relive the full ceremony on YouTube, or pick the speech of your choice:
- President Raynard S. Kington's Charge to the Graduates
- Bill McKibben, Commencement speaker and Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
- Penny Bender Sebring ’64 and Charles Ashby Lewis, Honorary Doctors of Laws
- Mary Seely, Honorary Doctor of Science
- Kit Abel Hawkins, Doctor of Social Studies
As always, you can:
- Follow and join the conversation on Twitter: #CongratsGC2015
- Share your photos on Instagram: #GrinnellCollege
- Follow us on Facebook and YouTube for highlights from the day.
Celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors as they begin their post-Grinnell journeys.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Commencement speaker, renowned environmentalist and writer
Doctor of Humane Letters
senior research associate, University of Chicago and co-director, Consortium of Chicago School Research
Doctor of Laws
chairman, Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and managing general partner, Coach House Capital
Doctor of Laws
renowned scientist in environmental science, education, and policy in southern Africa
Doctor of Science
founder and director of the Arbor School of Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Social Studies