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A letter to my Tutorial students (#1095)

Topics/tags: Teaching, things I was writing anyway

I received my list of new Tutorial students today. I’m excited to work with them. From my first glance, it looks like I’ll be working with a great bunch of students with different interests. Now it’s time to start composing a letter to them.

Dear Tutorial Students,

I’m Sam Rebelsky, your Tutorial instructor. I’m writing to cover some initial administrative details, to introduce myself to you, and to introduce you to each other.

As I hope you know, we’ll be using our Tutorial to consider what a liberal education should look like in the twenty-first century while exploring Grinnell’s approach to liberal education. We’ll talk more about the particulars later. However, I will note that, if you are amenable to the goal, we will try to put together a short anthology on the topic as a product of our Tutorial.

From the little bit I’ve learned about you, I feel very fortunate to have you twelve in my Tutorial. However, I do not yet have your information sheets and probably won’t for about a week. When I do, I’ll likely have questions for you.

As you likely know, the week of July 27–31 is New Student Advising Week. We will meet as a class, in small groups, and individually to make your course plans for the fall and to get you registered. It would help me if you sent me your available times that week (Central Daylight Time, please).

The first meeting, which I hope to have on Monday, July 27, will be for the full class and will give us a chance to meet each other. We’ll also go over registration, discuss issues to consider as you start planning courses for your first two terms, and go other issues of common interest. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll likely do small-group meetings to give you a chance to discuss your prospective schedules with each other. (Since liberal education is a topic of our Tutorial, it’s never too soon to share perspectives and see how they affect your choice of courses.) We’ll follow those with individual meetings. Along the way, I hope that we’ll have the opportunity to talk more about what you hope to do during your time at Grinnell, to explore ways you learn well, and to build a community.

Next week, I’ll send you some more detailed plans for those meetings along with some work for you to do in preparation for the meetings.

These meetings will, of course, be online. When we meet online, we will use Webex as our primary platform. Webex is the video conferencing software that Grinnell chose instead of Zoom. We will also use Microsoft Teams for individual and group chat and quick calls. Once the semester starts, I hope to be able to hold Tutorial meetings in person, but that will depend on many still-to-be-determined factors.

If there are accommodations I should plan to make to better support you in these meetings, please let me know. If you have a documented disability, we should also begin working with Grinnell’s Office of Disability Services to make sure that we provide you with appropriate support. If you have a disability that is not yet documented, but that you’d like to get documented, we can also discuss that with Disability Services. The folks there are awesome.

Since I’m about to learn a lot about you, I should share some things about myself. As I said, my name is Sam Rebelsky. I sign things SamR. You should address me as Sam. Please do not address me in the generic. (That is, don’t write Dear Professor.) I identify as an overweight adult heterosexual cisgender male. I am culturally Jewish; in today’s climate, that makes it difficult for me to call myself white, although I do have the privilege of appearing white to most people. I use they/them/theirs as pronouns because I believe they should be the standard. If you are uncomfortable using those pronouns for me, you can use he/him/his. I’ve been married for about thirty-three years and have three sons. The oldest one went to Grinnell, majoring in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Economics. He also played football and swam. He’s now in graduate school in Computer Science. The middle one also went to Grinnell, majoring in Music and Chemistry. He dove (and swam), participated in a variety of musical ensembles, and dabbled in student government. He’s heading off to graduate school in Chemistry. My youngest son is starting his second year in college (not at Grinnell).

In addition to Tutorial, I primarily teach computer science but also dabble in other areas. I’ve been at Grinnell since the fall of 1997. I do research in a variety of areas, including computer science education and the intersection of computing and the arts. I took studio art courses during my sabbatical of seven years ago and creative non-fiction writing during my sabbatical in spring 2020. I like to read, write, and play board games. I maintain a ’blog about life in academia. I also like to make art, but don’t find enough time to do so.

I know that you’ve been asked to complete a fourteen-question survey for me. I’ve written my own answers to that survey and will distribute them to you when the College sends yours to me. (Turnabout is fair play, or something like that.)

Feel free to reach out to me via email with questions or comments. I’ll also be available in our Microsoft Teams Team once that gets set up. My schedule is almost completely full next week, so I will be unlikely to be able to participate in synchronous meetings then. But I’m happy to communicate asynchronously.

In any case, I look forward to meeting with you, working with you, learning with you, and supporting you during the start of your Grinnell career.

Take care and be well,


p.s. I apologize for the overly long introductory message; as you will discover, I tend to write a lot.

Version 0.1 of 2020-07-16.