Carson Peters ’20

As a global public health student, Carson Peters ’20 cherishes the importance of working with community. In June, she launched Essential Cards Campaign, a card-writing campaign to thank essential workers in College Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“Their contributions are integral to our lives and their efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed,” she says. “They put their health and safety at risk.”

Peters collects handwritten notes from the community and she writes her own notes, then packages them in an Essential Cards envelope and ribbon. She’s hand-delivered them to workers at restaurants, gas stations, banks, and grocery stores, and to postal workers and public works employees.

At Grinnell, she served as a class ambassador for four years, a tour guide, and a mentor at local schools. She’s currently a class agent and working as a contact tracer for the Maryland Department of Health. Peters has completed her master’s of public health degree and is applying to Ph.D. programs.

“At Grinnell, I learned the importance of service and the impact of sharing positivity with communities,” she says.

Christopher Maag ’95

In his more than 20 years as a journalist, Christopher Maag ’95 has covered everything from the waning days of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to the devastating floods that overran Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s why, at age 46, he remains committed to journalism, despite its tribulations.

Maag has alternated between columnist and investigative reporter, but his goal has always been to report the news with the heart of a poet.

“At age 28 I discovered Tom Wolfe and found what writing could be,” he says. “I read The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and thought, ‘This is amazing. I’m feeling things.’ I had never read anything where art was the point.”

For the past seven years, he’s been at the northern New Jersey-based Record, covering New Jersey and New York City and topics ranging from cranberries to a local serial killer. “I never let an idea go, and the quirkier the better,” he says.

Karen Smith Hirshon ’73

When Karen Smith Hirshon ’73 takes the stage, the possibilities abound. The versatile Grinnell alumna plays more than a half-dozen stringed instruments: fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, bass, and hammered dulcimer.

Prior to the pandemic, Hirshon (pictured above right) and her Simple Gifts bandmate, Linda Littleton (above left), entertained audiences at colleges, churches, libraries, schools, and senior centers. The duo also teach elementary school students to play the ukulele, help high school students arrange compositions, and do musical work with the elderly and people with severe disabilities.

During her first year at Grinnell, Hirshon befriended guitarist Celia Millington-Wyckoff ’72, now a bluegrass bass player in North Carolina, and Michael Drayton ’72, an old-time fiddler and violinist in California. While most students at the time were into pop music like the Beatles, Hirshon and friends gravitated to country music and prison songs.

“Grinnell really did expose us to the whole concept of just following your curiosities,” Hirshon says.

Face Shields from Scratch

When Jonathan Rebelsky ’20 and Sage Kapland-Goland ’20 learned about an effort to support local hospitals by using 3D printers to create face shields, they sprang into action. They found an open-source face shield plan, connected with Erik Sanning ’89, technical director in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and got to work.

Using a pair of 3D printers, including one typically used to build props, they honed a process for the delicate, time-consuming tasks and have completed dozens of shields. (A single shield, which consists of two distinct pieces, takes more than five hours to print.)

“I am lucky to have both the tools and skills to print the parts,” says Sanning. “I’m pleased that, in at least some small way, I’m able to contribute to the safety of those who are really doing the hard, dangerous work.”

Rebelsky agrees. “I’m glad that I can do something to help make the situation better,” he says.

Have you used your skills to help others during the pandemic? Tell us about it.

Nightly Piano Bar Show Takes Off Online

Jon Richardson ’10 has been a full-time performer since graduating from New England Conservatory in 2017. But the weekly piano bar shows that were his bread and butter vanished as COVID-19 accelerated.

His solution? Creating a nightly virtual piano bar on Facebook and Instagram. The lively events have drawn thousands of regular viewers. The interest has been so high that he’s brought in a partner to manage it. New artists have joined the roster to help maintain the schedule.

While there are challenges to the format (“It’s really tough to get used to finishing a song and not hearing applause,” he admits), he says he’s learning at a breakneck speed — and hopes his performances may just be a bright spot in someone’s day. “Music is a therapeutic treatment during this difficult time,” he says.

To learn more, search for “Jon Richardson Music” on Facebook.

A Transformation for an Event Space

Like many other businesses, the Central Collective, an event space in Knoxville, Tennessee, closed its doors in mid-March. But co-founder Dale Mackey ’07 has worked hard to fulfill its mission in different ways during the pause.

Instead of its regular “Good Sport Night” — a mystery event that encourages people to “be ready for anything,” Mackey sold a “Good Sport Box.” Buyers received an array of art and goods made in Knoxville. She’s also hosted a successful virtual art reception on Instagram Live, with a portion of the proceeds going to local relief efforts.

Mackey says that while the events don’t come close to replacing the income the space had during normal business, she’s proud of the work the organization has been able to do. “Seeing people banding together, helping to support each other, and finding new and innovative ways to stay afloat has been really inspiring to me,” she says. “[We’ve tried to] provide a little light during a very dark time.”

If you’ve made a surprising adaptation as a result of the pandemic, we want to hear your story.

Artist Creates Team of "Social Distancing All-Stars"

For graphic facilitator Brandy Agerbeck ’96, the pandemic has taken a brutal toll on her business. Her spring teaching tour in Europe was postponed, and her live workshops are on hold.

If there is any silver lining, it is the clarity with which she sees her role in this moment. “I’m turning to the same tool I teach,” she says. “Drawing.”

That sense of purpose led her to create a series of mascots that she calls the Social Distancing All-Stars. The lighthearted cartoon animals — from “Shelter in Place Turtles” to “Frontline Fighters” — are sold on T-shirts, mugs, and stickers.

Agerbeck says the response has been positive. “Folks get relief from humor,” she says. “There’s the fun of picking your team and feeling more of a sense of teamwork, even in isolation.”

See all of Agerbeck’s “Social Distancing All-Stars.”

Nurse Cares for Vulnerable People During the Pandemic

As a registered nurse at Minnesota Community Care, Mira Miller ’94 provides a range of care to low-income and homeless adults. A critical job during normal times, her work has become even more important during the pandemic. “Homeless patients have no homes in which to shelter in place,” she says.

Miller follows a range of new protocols to help keep her and her patients safe, including working in an outdoor tent that is erected and deconstructed daily — a challenge in Minnesota’s chilly spring temperatures — and limiting work to essential services. Those services include screening and testing for COVID-19.

While Miller says the job has gotten more challenging, she and her team are as committed as ever to their work. “We are a provider of last resort for our patients, pandemic or not,” she says. “We keep showing up to deliver the best care we can to our vulnerable patients.”

How has your work changed as a result of the pandemic? Share your story.

An Illustrated History

In her search for an interesting research topic related to Asian American history, Sam Nakahira ’19 found her attention snagged by one compelling detail. “The first frost-resistant orange was hybridized by a Chinese American farmer in Florida,” she says. She was instantly intrigued, “because that really isn't part of the narrative of what we think of American agriculture.”

Nakahira discovered that although Asian Americans have made significant contributions to American agriculture, they haven’t really been recognized for their accomplishments. Since most research had been done on the period before World War II, she decided to focus on Japanese American farmers and food retailers in California from the 1970s to the present.

Her research project was the culmination of her Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF). As a second-year student, Nakahira was invited to participate in the MMUF program at Grinnell (see related story, Page 16). A major part of the program is for each fellow to conduct a significant research project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Nakahira, who is fifth-generation Japanese American, chose Sarah Purcell ’92, L.F. Parker Professor of History, as her Mellon adviser (see related story, Page 22).

In addition to being an excellent history student, Nakahira is a skilled illustrator. Turning her research paper into a comic was a natural next step.

She decided to focus on one case study from her research, Bill Fujimoto, a Berkeley food retailer. “He was the first person to source Alice Waters, who is a chef at Chez Panisse,” Nakahira says. “People credit her for sparking California cuisine during the 1970s and through that, impacting local farm to table movements.”

In the comic, Nakahira asks herself and the reader questions about Japanese culture and its influence on Bill Fujimoto. She doesn’t explicitly answer the questions, instead guiding the reader to see her point, “but not forcing it over them,” she says.

Incorporating Japanese culture in her comic, especially the Japanese work ethic, also helped Nakahira see herself differently. “I gained more pride in my heritage and background,” she says. By sharing her own quest for learning, she thinks it adds resonance for her readers and makes them more invested.

“I think that direction was really helpful in creating this story,” Nakahira says. “It was suggested by my adviser, Professor Jeremy Chen.” Chen is a member of the studio art faculty and specializes in printmaking, drawing, and sculpture.

The two worked together throughout the 2018–19 school year (a two-credit independent study in the fall and a Mentored Advanced Project in the spring). During the fall semester, Nakahira created the story, and in the spring, she experimented with different art techniques.

Last fall she began a master of fine arts program at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. See her illustrations at her website. She’s considering going on for a doctorate in American studies. Whatever she does, her hard work at Grinnell has prepared her quite nicely.

How to Overcome Your Resistance to Change

When English major Deborah Helsing ’88 initially arrived at Grinnell College, she felt incredibly out of place. “It was a very different culture than what I had grown up in,” she says.

Helsing had come from a pretty homogenous environment, and Grinnell, she says, “was so open to experimentation and had all kinds of people who claimed diverse kinds of identity and difference, that it was shocking to my system.”

Ultimately, Helsing says it was “powerful” attending school with students so open to defying traditional ways of thinking. Even late professor Peter Connelly’s unconventional teaching of Oedipus Rex in her First-Year Tutorial opened her eyes to new literary ideas.

It has been in that “transformative” spirit that she has approached her job as a lecturer at Harvard University Graduate School of Education and as co-director of Minds at Work, where she coaches education, business, finance, and nonprofit leaders to diagnose and overcome their resistance to change.

“Often there is something deeper involved when we find ourselves unable to confront a crisis. Our work helps people identify the underlying barriers and unconscious beliefs that we have about ourselves or the world that keep us from being able to make change or grow,” Helsing says.

The coaching that Helsing provides, which grew out of theories of adult development and learning, helps people see more clearly the obstacles in their work and personal lives and why they might struggle to face these challenges. Helsing’s coaching helps to serve as a change-agent for leadership at organizations experiencing pressure to evolve.

Her work can also help people with individual problems, such as trying to lose weight, quitting smoking, or stopping procrastination. But it can also be vital when identifying fundamental cultural beliefs and values related to important and uncomfortable issues like, for example, race in America.

“Our approach helps people begin to explore those core beliefs, where they come from, and how are they impacting their life right now,” she says. “We might ask people to do things like imagine that you find out these beliefs aren’t true. What would your life be like? What could you do? How would you think differently? How did you feel differently? When do you notice that your assumptions are operating?”

It was at Grinnell that Helsing first learned the importance of being able to deeply examine your core beliefs in order to be able to grow and flourish.

“It was fundamentally jarring to have these conversations with people who approached an issue opposite than I did or saw the world completely differently,” she says. “Being able to have a really open conversation with them taught me how considering another perspective can lead to growth.”