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Planning a CS Affinity Reunion

The 2016 CS Affinity Reunion is scheduled for November 18-19, 2016. I hope to see many of you there. We’ll also try to have an un-conference or similar communal event on Sunday, November 20th.

Yesterday, I decided I should write some more positive essays. Here’s my first attempt.

A few years ago, the College started supporting a new kind of reunion. In addition to the standard class, cluster [1] and athletic reunions, they added affinity reunions, which bring together alumni who studied the same subject. After all, the reasoning was, many alums are as tied to their discipline as they are to their class. (Certainly, the sports teams clearly enjoy coming back for their designated reunion weekends. We’d hope that alumni would have similar affinity for their academic major or current profession.)

Janet Davis, my now-former colleague, and I looked ahead and said to each other Henry Walker will be moving to senior faculty status soon. He effectively created the major and the department. What a great opportunity to bring alums together to celebrate Henry and all that he’s done for the College. Plus, it will be approximately the tenth anniversary of the department and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the major. We talked to DAR [2], who seemed to think it seemed like a reasonable idea. We were also fortunate that the legendary Jennelle Nystrom ’15, a CS/Art History major, was Student Alumni Council president, and was enthusiastic about helping us.

Over the past year, I’ve been working with DAR (and with Janet and Jennelle and others) on rough planning. The normal model for these things is to have a bunch of talks by alumni. But I also know that many of the CS alums I talk to care about what’s happening in CS at Grinnell now. What are our students doing? Do we still support Linux? What does the Grinnell CS curriculum of N years later look like? Do we still try to train gadflies? (And does Grinnell treat gadflies better than Northwestern?) So I worked on setting up a broad picture schedule that included students, faculty, and alums. DAR also suggested a job/internship/externship fair, which seems like a good idea to me.

When we were first planning, the reunion was supposed to happen in early fall. So we included a trip to CERA [4], which I thought would be a nice way to get alumni to chat in a different setting. However, we eventually settled on mid-November and, well, CERA is probably too cold by then. But that’s okay, I can handle change.

You know what? It’s really hard to put together a schedule. We have too many awesome alumni. And that’s a problem, because there’s no way we can fit all of them into a one-and-a-half day schedule, particularly if we also include talks by faculty and students. I thought about holding an un-conference instead, but DAR really likes a more organized schedule than that. (And I understand that desire; some people will probably only come if they know what is going to happen.)

So, I’m stuck knowing that I won’t find a speaking slot for every alum who I’d like to hear speak (and who others would clearly like to speak). I won’t find a speaking slot for everyone who wants to speak. (And I probably won’t even know everyone who wants to speak.) I worry that some alums will feel slighted that they were not invited to speak. (Dear alums: It’s not that I don’t want you to speak; it’s that we can only accommodate so many speakers.)

I wish this could be a week-long event, which would probably come close to providing opportunities for most of our alumni to speak and to learn from each other. But people probably wont come for a week-long event.

Maybe I should try to convince DAR that this should be an every-five-year event (or every ten years, since I may move to SFS in a decade). And we can definitely find other ways to help our great alumni to share their expertise with each other, with current students, and with the College.

In any case, I look forward to seeing lots of alums in a few months. I expect it will be a lot of fun. And I’m probably going to add a post-reunion un-conference, where anyone who wants to propose a session can do so.

[1] A cluster reunion is a reunion of neighboring classes, such as 2011, 2012, and 2013. Since Grinnellians often have friends in neighboring classes, it’s a way of encouraging additional contact. Or at least that’s how I understand it. It is in no way related to a cluster bomb, a cluster f, or a cluster of grapes.

[2] DAR is our office of Development and Alumni Relations. It should not to be confused with Daughters of the American Revolution or Daniel Allen Rebelsky. DAR is also one of the too many TLAs [3] we use at Grinnell.

[3] I’ve mentioned this before, but a TLA is a three-letter acronym. It should not be confused with the CTLA, which is a four-letter acronym for the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. I adapted TLA from Sam Hurt’s Eyebeam, where it appears as TIC.

[4] CERA is the Conard Environmental Research Area. It’s an awesome research station the College owns that also happens to have a building that we occasionally use for receptions. Plus, one part of Andrew Goldsworthy’s Prairie Cairn series is there.

Version 1.1 of 2016-09-08.