Campus News

Construction update

The east side of Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH, originally opened in 1916) and Carnegie Hall (opened in 1905 as the College library and used since the 1950s for classrooms and offices) are being enclosed by a new structure. In this photo from the front of the Noyce Science Center, the top of ARH can be seen next to the pillar supporting the crane. The completed complex consisting of the new construction and remodeled ARH and Carnegie will be known as the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC).

Exterior of the upper levels  of the two-story lecture hall inside ARH.

Exterior of the upper levels of the two-story lecture hall inside ARH. 

North wing of the HSSC seen from inside what will becomethe glass atrium.

North wing of the HSSC seen from inside what will become the glass atrium. 

See updates and project overviews on our Construction Central webpage. 

Readers Speak Volumes

How do our readers think we’re doing with The Grinnell Magazine? That question was the main focus of a reader survey conducted by Grinnell’s Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research for the Offices of Communications and Development and Alumni Relations in October and November 2017. Survey invitations were emailed to 15,313 people who receive the magazine; 1,862 people, 12.2 percent, responded. 

In spring 2015, the College conducted a reader survey to gather feedback and solicit ideas for a planned redesign of the magazine, which was implemented with the fall 2015 issue. Two years after the redesign, the magazine staff wanted to see what changes resonated with readers.

We listed 10 new or significantly modified sections of the magazine and asked readers whether they read them regularly, occasionally, or never. 

Department TItle




Type of Content

Then and Now




photo spread

In Memoriam





That's So Grinnellian




photo spread

Artists and Scholars





Quote Board





Back Talk









reader submitted

Strategy Session




from campus leaders











We also asked survey respondents which of our regular, unchanged departments they read regularly. Classnotes (35 percent), letters (26 percent), and the Iowa View photo on the back cover (22 percent) received the most responses.

To get a sense of whether we’re writing feature stories our readers want to read, we presented a list of six stories from the Spring or Summer 2017 issues and asked which ones people recalled reading, skimming, looking at the images, or skipping altogether. “Portrait of a Teacher: George Drake ’56,” a Summer 2017 cover story, was the runaway top vote-getter, with 57 percent of respondents saying they read it and 30 percent skimming it. The next top story, also from the summer issue, was “Excavating the Peace Rock,” with 39 percent saying they read it and 32 percent skimming it. The least read story of the six was “Studying Arabic for Fun” from the Spring 2017 issue. About half the respondents said they read or skimmed it but 35 percent said they skipped it.

We also asked several open-ended questions soliciting readers’ views on the following: the “Campus News” section, a memorable article or topic from the last year, what readers like most and least about the magazine, and story ideas or suggestions. Respondents were generous with their answers, which totaled about 70,000 words, or the length of a novel.

Whether the feedback was positive or negative, we’re taking it all in and will use these results in a couple of ways. One, to help us make some modest changes to our content. For example, we’re trying a new “Campus Notable” profile in this issue; see Page 41. And two, to reflect on what we can improve on and what we’re doing fairly well, such as choosing topics and stories of interest to a wide range of our readers. 

Art and Science Unite

Jackie Brown, professor of biology, and Lesley Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery, have teamed up to curate an exhibition that explores the relationship between visual art and biology. On display at the Faulconer Gallery until June 10, Making Life Visible: Art, Biology, and Visualization takes its inspiration from Brown’s research with former student Idelle Cooper ’01 on Hawaiian damselfly color. Both the research and the exhibition are funded, in part, through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Brown and Cooper.

“Every NSF grant is evaluated in terms of both its intellectual impact and its broader impact,” says Brown. When he and Cooper applied for funding for their damselfly research, they thought carefully about how they could engage the community with their work. 

Cooper, who double-majored in art and biology at Grinnell, suggested that the grant could be the perfect opportunity to showcase how artistic practice and biological research intersect. Currently an assistant professor of biology at James Madison University, Cooper frequently uses her own art to visualize her research; drawings from her postdoctoral work on sticklebacks and previous research with Brown are included in the exhibition. Brown and Wright also saw a chance for the exhibition to build on their history of collaborative teaching about the history and potential of the art/science interface.  

When designing Making Life Visible, Wright and Brown wanted to ensure they represented a broad range of biological inquiry in various artistic mediums. To this end, they enlisted the help of Julia Shangguan ’18, a studio art and biology double major, to research potential artists for the exhibition. Shangguan also participated in Brown’s Hawaiian damselfly research (see “The Essence of Inquiry,” Spring 2016, Page 25). “It was exciting — and reassuring — to see that many individuals already recognize the beauty of an arts and sciences union,” Shangguan says. 

With the help of Rita Clark ’18, Wright and Brown settled on 16 contemporary artists and scientists, with pieces ranging from Dutch portrait-style photographs of insects to charcoal sketches of bones to neurons micro-etched in gold. The exhibition also includes works from naturalists of the 16th–19th centuries, putting the connection between art and science in its historical context. 

“In the past, artists were often trained in observation, and scientists were trained in drawing, because they had no other way to record what they saw,” says Wright. How naturalists chose to represent their subjects could influence how those subjects were perceived. 

Along with being a great opportunity for an alum, biology professor, art curator, and current students to work together on their shared interests across disciplines, Making Life Visible challenges gallery-goers to see something as humble as a honeycomb in a new light and question the divide between art and science that many take for granted. 

Artwork courtesy of the artist, Tara Shukla, Skull, 2016, charcoal on paper, 30 x 22 inches. 

Can you see yourself here?

When Brendan Hyatt ’21 began his college search, he knew that he was looking for a school with small classes and an open curriculum. Beyond that, where he would end up was anyone’s guess.

After touring several colleges, Brendan flew out to Iowa to visit Grinnell. Though he had lived in cities all his life, it didn’t take long for the New York and Washington, D.C. native to feel right at home.

“There was a warmth that emanated from the campus and the students who were here, I could see it in the way people were interacting,” he says.

“It just seemed like the kind of community that I really wanted to be a part of.”

Grinnell’s academics were another deciding factor. With just one required class, students have the freedom—and responsibility—to approach their curriculum with intention. Brendan was looking for a college where he could walk into any class and know that students were only there because they truly wanted to be there. He found it at Grinnell.

Convinced that Grinnell was the college for him, Brendan decided to apply Early Decision. One month into his first semester on campus, he is confident that he made the right choice.

“When I arrived on campus, I met so many different types of people. I really don’t think there is a Grinnell stereotype,” he says. “But they all seem so excited to be a part of this community. And I think I know why:

“It’s a self-selecting group of people who choose to come together in this smaller, warmer, intimate environment. Whether they came for the academics, the social life, or the culture, they made an intentional choice to be a Grinnellian. So when they get here, they fall in love.”

Just take it from Brendan:

“If a bunch of people are out here in the middle of Iowa, there must be a good reason. Find out what it is.”

Senior Wins Prize in France on Campus Award Competition

Taylor Watts ’16, a French and anthropology major, recently received second prize in the 2015 France on Campus Award competition, sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. 

 “The France on Campus Award competition is open to all U.S. colleges and universities, so Watts’ second prize is proof of the strength and creativity of her proposal,” says David Harrison, professor of French. 

Applications for the France on Campus Award were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated interest in expanding the reach of France and French culture on campus.
  • Originality and creativity of the project.
  • Potential to reach a broad audience, including university students, professors, and other organizations on campus and beyond.

Watts’ proposal, “A Choreographic Exploration of the ‘commerce triangulaire,’”combines her study of dance with her study of French literature. The choreographic piece is inspired by, and set to, a series of texts in French that discuss the impact of slavery on the Caribbean. 

 “Subjects such as these need to be brought to light because they continue to affect the world today,” Watts says. “I believe knowledge and understanding are the only ways to move forward.”

To design and develop the choreography for her proposal, Watts is completing a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) under the direction of Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance.

 “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.”

Watts’ project draws from her off-campus study experience in Nantes, France, once one of the most important slave-trading ports in Western Europe. The methods she is using for her choreographic approach began with a summer MAP in Atlanta, also directed by Miller, working with theatre and dance companies whose work addresses social justice issues.

Watts studied Nantes’ role in the French slave trade, then took a seminar at Grinnell about French Caribbean literature from Gwenola Caradec, assistant professor of French. The works read in this seminar inspired Watts to transform the words into movement with a cast of Grinnell students.

Watts says she also was inspired by the campus visit of choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, hosted last winter by Miller. Tarpaga, from Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, incorporates historical speeches and other spoken words into his choreography to explore the history of decolonization in Africa.

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, in partnership with Kickstarter and OrgSync, have established the France on Campus Award, under the patronage of film director Wes Anderson, to discover, celebrate, and support initiatives that explore France in new and creative ways. 

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. 

Grinnell Takes Student Well-Being to the Next Level

In the midst of the national outcry about student safety on college campuses, concern about alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault is central to many conversations surrounding student well-being. While it’s clear that students on every campus are facing these issues, it can be difficult, from the outside, to see what steps are being taken to increase student safety. What is Grinnell doing to address these problems? One of the most promising answers, according to Jen Jacobsen ’95, wellness director, lies in the College’s active bystander training.

“Active bystanderism is an opportunity to empower people to interrupt a situation that looks like it might be harmful, to find out if they can change the direction of that situation,” says Jacobsen.

This intervention can be as simple as offering to walk someone home from a party if they seem like they’ve had too much to drink. But direct intervention isn’t the only thing active bystander training encourages. Students learn about campus resources they can turn to in case they feel uncomfortable addressing a situation themselves. For example, a student with a roommate who hasn’t been to class all week may not know how to start a conversation directly but can alert the on-call residence life coordinator (RLC). 

The most compelling and unique part of Grinnell’s active bystander program is the intense amount of student involvement. Training sessions are often run by student mentors, and the students receiving the training have input into what scenarios they learn about. 

Students talk in groups about situations they’ve encountered where they wished they’d known how to help — for instance, how to talk to a friend who’s obsessing over a final paper about taking it easy and making time for wellness. Another common concern is how to act when seeing someone who is drunk leaving a party to “hook up” if it seems like he or she might not be safe or able to give consent. Understanding that students are dealing with these kinds of situations and are unsure of how to navigate them helps Jacobsen tap into what really matters to students.

“The greatest learning comes from that discussion where the students talk among themselves about what scenarios they’ve encountered, what they have seen, what they think someone should do,” Jacobsen says. “It also gives me a good pulse on what’s actually relevant and happening on campus.”

Grinnell students are eager to learn how they can be active bystanders in their community, likely due to the self-governance ethic of campus culture. When asked whether they would like information on how to help others in distress on campus, 83 percent of Grinnell students responded that they would, compared to only 56 percent of the national undergraduate population. Furthermore, 96.7 percent of Grinnell students see active bystanderism as important to the success of self-governance.

Colton Silvia ’17 has been so involved in active bystander training on campus that he presented alongside Jacobsen at the Heartland Safety Summit last November. His knowledge and confidence impressed many of the student affairs and violence prevention professionals from other schools who attended the conference, and Silvia walked away with some important takeaways as well.

“The thing that really struck me was the importance of being intentional about how you reach certain communities, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing,” Silvia says. “The experience spurred me to keep pushing to revive the group Real Men, because men teaching men about gender-based violence has proved to be really effective.” 

Student organizations like Real Men target specific groups on campus to provide them with training and role models that will most effectively teach and inspire them to participate in harm reduction on campus. Jacobsen, who is also assistant track and field coach, has developed training sessions that provide targeted examples to athletic teams, who have been campus leaders in engaging in active bystander workshops, faculty, and other groups on campus to make sure that the training has the biggest possible impact. 

Bakopoulos Receives 2016 NEA Fellowship

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded individual creative writing fellowships of $25,000 each to 37 fiction and creative nonfiction writers, including Dean Bakopoulos, writer-in-residence at Grinnell College. 

Dean Bakopoulos headshot

The NEA selected Bakopoulos from among 1,763 eligible applicants evaluated by 23 readers and panelists. This is his second NEA fellowship, a rare accomplishment. Fellows must wait 10 years before applying for a second fellowship. Bakopoulos won an award for fiction in 2006; the 2016 award is for creative nonfiction.

“I’m so grateful to the NEA for recognizing my work for a second time,” Bakopoulos says. “This is an important boost for me on many levels, not just financially, but also emotionally. I’m finishing a difficult and somewhat perplexing book, and this fellowship has given me the courage to keep working, to finish the manuscript I was very close to throwing away.

“The nonfiction manuscript, titled Undoings, is a book-length meditation on the way things fall apart, and how we, as individuals, as families, as artists, often become undone by our own obsessions and our own pasts. I wrestle with many demons and blessings in that book: marriage, divorce, and parenthood; my own family’s history as war refugees and the long shadows cast by war trauma; as well as everything from country music to fast food to the role of religion in clinical depression. Right now, it’s a mess of a book, and this fellowship gives me the time to give it the focus it needs.” 

Bakopoulos, who teaches fiction and creative nonfiction courses at Grinnell, is the author of three novels — Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, My American Unhappiness, and Summerlong. The film version of his first novel, co-written by Bakopoulos, wrapped shooting in January and stars James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jeffrey Wahlberg. The film version of Summerlong, also adapted by Bakopoulos, is in the works. In addition to his two NEA awards, Bakopoulos is the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship. 

For Love of Opera

During Grinnell’s weeklong fall break, 11 students in Opera, Politics, and Society in Modern Europe left the classroom for San Francisco with Kelly Maynard, assistant professor of history, to get an up-close look at how politics and culture influence the development of modern opera. 

The idea for the trip began years earlier, when Maynard met Craig Henderson ’63, an opera enthusiast and Grinnell College trustee, on the ride back from the interview for her position at Grinnell. Discovering their shared interest in the world of opera and its importance as a window into history and politics, she later invited him to come speak to her class as a guest lecturer. Henderson was impressed with the students’ discussions and pitched the idea of a class trip to San Francisco. 

While it took time for Maynard to work out the details of how the students could receive funding for the trip, she finally decided to take Henderson up on his suggestion. He generously offered up his home and his opera contacts to make sure that the students had an unforgettable experience.

“Everyone they met in San Francisco was impressed with their intellectual sophistication and seemed to derive the same pleasure from the association that I did,” Henderson says. “I hope we can do it again next year.” 

Students spoke with opera singers, saw orchestral rehearsals, met with opera critics, and got exclusive backstage glimpses into set design and media suites. They also saw two live opera productions at the San Francisco Conservatory and the San Francisco Opera House, The Magic Flute and Lucia di Lammermoor.

“You can read about how people used to make sets or how people designed opera houses centuries ago, but you can’t get a real feel for it without seeing how everything operates with your own eyes,” says Austin Schilling ’17.

“We got to see firsthand that the history we’re studying in class is alive and functioning today, and is still as rich and complex as it was 200 years ago,” says Elizabeth Allen ’16

What students didn’t expect was the opportunity to meet with David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera, during one of their tours. With half a semester of in-class study and a rigorous week of immersion in the world of opera under their belts, students were prepared to ask Gockley questions that helped them to discover the modern correspondences to what they learned in class. 

“I was so proud of the students; I could tell they surprised him with the quality of their questions,” says Maynard. “He really had to think about his answers, and they walked away with all these fantastic contemporary parallels that we could map back onto the content of the class.”

Through learning about the many complicated components that go into an opera production, these students discovered aspects of opera that they had never expected to be interested in. Allen even discovered an area that may turn into a topic of future research — the way globalization and art collide in modern opera. 

“Thinking about The Magic Flute, which is an 18th-century Viennese opera, translated into English in the 21st century by David Gockley, using set design that includes the aesthetics of contemporary Japanese ceramics … it’s something global and contemporary, but still rooted in the past,” Allen says. “Seeing that was a really pivotal experience for me, and I realized that that’s the way I want to look at things in the future.”

“I think my biggest take-away from this experience is that you need to look at things from many different angles,” says Sam Hengst ’18. “When we do readings, we’re so used to just thinking about things in one way, but on this trip we saw that the world of opera is complex, from the actors and singers to set design and the use of technology. It’s a network, and we couldn’t have gotten such a great understanding of that from just reading about it.” 

Second Annual Grinnell Lecture

Bill Ferguson ’75 headshotBill Ferguson ’75, Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics, gave the second annual Grinnell Lecture to his fellow faculty members Feb. 5. Collective-action problems arise whenever individuals pursuing their own interests cause undesirable outcomes for a group. This relatively simple notion applies to a huge array of problems, Ferguson says.

Large-scale examples are global climate change and the war in Syria, while a small-scale example is who does the cooking in a household. “Collective-action problems can focus our thoughts on social, political, and economic interactions that are extraordinarily complicated,” he says. “If we can separate the important pieces from the details, they might help us theorize about these problems, generate hypotheses, and test the hypotheses with data.” 

Teaching for Fun

Since fall 2014, nearly 150 Grinnell College students have volunteered to teach workshops on campus to children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“I hope they discover something about teaching they didn’t know,” says Ashley Schaefer, Ignite Program coordinator and Lawrence S. Pidgeon Director of the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The Ignite Program began in the 2014–15 school year, offering classes on three different Saturdays last year — in November, February, and April. Attendance averaged 175 students for each day. For the first class in November 2014, they expected about 80 children but had 198 attend. 

In November last year, 256 children from Grinnell and the surrounding area participated. Classes included Dive into Archaeology, Iron Chef Grinnell, and Act Out Your Imagination in Improv 101. Children may take two different classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and have lunch on campus. 

Classes are taught by teams of two or three College student volunteers. These volunteers, dubbed “teacher scholars,” write a course proposal that includes a brief description and lesson plan. About half the teacher scholars are in the education program.

Schaefer meets with each team to review lesson plans. She emphasizes that the nearly 2-hour class isn’t a lecture and discussion. “It’s a workshop,” she says. “If you’re doing something with chocolate, the kids will expect to eat some chocolate.”

Cassandra Miller ’16, a biology major from Las Vegas, N.M., developed and taught Fun with Fungi last year for third and fourth graders. She chose that topic because she was taking a fungal biology course that she loved with Kathy Jacobson, associate professor of biology. 

In November 2015 Miller adapted her class for first and second graders. “I wanted to see what would happen,” she says. Her favorite part is trying to make the science accessible to young children. 

One of the activities, “fungal detective,” involved using microscopes and dried specimens. It was the first time many of these children had used a microscope. They could see the gills, pores, and teeth of their specimens. “They appreciate mushrooms more,” Miller says. 

Offered free of charge, the Ignite Program is sponsored by local philanthropists Helen Redmond and Pete Brownell, the College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement, and the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The program was modeled on other colleges’ programs that bring high school students to campus for a day to experience classes. Schaefer wanted to start with the young kids. “The number of opportunities for academics for little kids was small,” she says. “This is the only opportunity for our students to teach elementary school students.”

In April the program is expanding to high school students. Even though Miller doesn’t intend to become a K–12 teacher, she’ll participate again. “I think education will always play a role in my future,” she says.