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A group of Grinnell students

This month, I’m writing daily essays about Grinnellians you should know or know about. In general, those essays are about individual Grinnellians. However, today I find it appropriate to write about a group, rather than any individuals.

This weekend, I accompanied [1] a group of Grinnell students to the Midstates Consortium for Math and Science’s [2] annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in Physical Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science [5,7]. None of the students were CS or math majors [8]. I knew two of the students moderately well (one was a student from one of my sections of CSC 151, one was a student assistant in the Grinnell Science Project) and two of the students casually (one was a part of the large group that met at the Rebelsky household weekly for summer game night and one I think I know through the second-year science retreat).

I wasn’t thrilled to come to the symposium this weekend, particularly given that none of my research students (in fact, none of our CS students whatsoever) were presenting. I was even less thrilled because it meant that I had to miss middle son’s concert (including his performance on Jaw Harp), eldest and middle son’s first swimming and diving meet of the year, and TEDxGrinnellCollege [9]. Would I have preferred to be at those events? Definitely. Were there positives from attending? Yes, there definitely were. In particularly watching the Grinnell students at the symposium, and talking to them at lunch and elsewhere, reminds me of why I feel so fortunate to teach at Grinnell. Let’s look at some reasons.

First, and not so surprisingly, these students are strong scientists and their passion for science shows itself in many ways. They’ve done good work and they present it well, whether in presentations or posters. They also spoke well and actively to the other students. I particularly appreciate that in the morning session, the Grinnellians regularly asked good questions, and that in one somewhat under-attended afternoon session, the three Grinnell students there all asked thoughtful questions.

Second, like most Grinnell students, they are doing many good things. I know at least one student is a class mentor [10], a CA [11], a performer in the upcoming Drag show, and someone who is paying active attention to what is happening on campus. Another is a mentor, a GSP SA, a runner, and more. Given all of those activities, I particularly appreciate that, at lunch, the students also talked about how they worked to keep their lives manageable, and, as importantly, how they tried to advise new students on practices to start now to keep their lives manageable as their workload increases.

Third, as that last example suggests, I appreciate that they support one another. That’s probably not surprising. But it still was nice to see and hear.

Fourth, they talk well and thoughtfully about a variety of issues. At lunch, we talked about issues in gender and science, President Kington’s recent convocation (which many of them had already reflected on with others, rather than just judging), hosting prospective students, failures of a variety of student groups, and more. These are students who not only want to make their campus a better place, but who take positive action to do so [12].

Now, I will admit that I talked to some students more than others, and that some students talked more than others [16]. However, each of them reminded me, in some way or another, of something I value about teaching at Grinnell.

So, while I would have much rather watched my sons in their various activities (and, likely, had a bit more time to work), I did find some real benefit in going, both in reminding myself of how much I value Grinnell students and in getting to meet a different group of Grinnell students.

I hope that you’ve found that this essay falls within the theme of this month. Even though I haven’t written about any one individual, I have written about Grinnellians and why it’s valuable to know Grinnell students.

[1] I was going to say I took a group of students, but since I didn’t drive [2] (yay!), I think accompanied is a better term.

[2] Until about a decade ago, faculty used to drive students to the Midstates symposium. However, not all faculty are willing to drive a van or bus full of students, so we moved to a model in which a College driver does the driving. While I used to enjoy driving students, I’m currently busy enough that I’d rather use driving time to rest or work. I also refuse to drive the thirteen-passenger van.

[3] The Midstates Consortium is a collaboration between about ten liberal arts colleges and two research universities. It’s about thirty years old. It was created with funding from the Pew foundation, one of eight such consortia. Ours is the only one to survive. It’s now funded by our individual institutions, which is why it is no longer called the Pew Midstates Consortium [4] The Consortium funds two annual undergraduate research symposia, workshops for faculty, faculty visits and collaborations between the institutions, and other, similar, activities.

[4] We continued to call it the Pew Midstates Consortium for at least a decade after Pew stopped funding the consortium.

[5] The disciplines are not equally represented at the conference: More than half [6] of the presentations and posters seemed to be about Chemistry, next most common was Physics, then CS, then Math.

[6] three-quarters?

[7] There’s a separate URS in the Biological and Psychological sciences.

[8] Given that there were no CS students attending, why was I there? Because Grinnell is required to send a faculty representative and, a few years ago, we agreed to rotate between Chemistry, Physics, and CS. This year, it was CS’s turn and, as chair of CS, it was my responsibility. So I accompanied five Physicists and six Chemists to the meeting.

[9] Okay, the odds are that I would have missed TEDxGrinnellCollege for the Swim Meeting. However, it’s nice to pretend.

[10] The students who help out in Science classes are called mentors because we think of them as more than just teaching assistants. Mentors not only run evening review sessions, they serve as resources for their students to help them think about thriving in the sciences.

[11] CA = Community Assistant, what Grinnell decided to call the Student Assistants in the dorms this year.

[12] Yeah, I know, this paragraph seems to abruptly switch topics midway through. Deal.

[13] This footnote is intentionally left blank [14,15].

[14] Well, almost blank.

[15] I wonder if it’s time to stop the footnote 13 joke.

[16] Or, conversely, that some students talked less than others.

Version 1.0 of 2016-11-05.