An Interview On
Grinnell College

Background

Interview Date:February 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Caucasian
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public school outside of Pittsburgh, PA with a graduating class of about 160 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Computer Science
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I work for the Student Government Association as a Technology Advisor. I am part of the International Soccer Club where we play casual pick up soccer. I DJ a weekly radio show on the college radio station. I also have worked as a community advisor, which is our version of an R.A.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Participating in International Soccer Club has been really important to me. I played soccer in high school and knew I didn’t want to play here because I didn’t think I’d get much playing time and I didn’t want the time commitment. Having a zero-commitment, low stakes, but still competitive soccer club was exactly what I was looking for in terms of athletic involvement I college.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
The coursework I wouldn’t describe as problem sets, but more as mini-projects. The courses that were more theoretical and less coding-based had more problem sets which were writing proofs. Most of the big grades were exams, most were in-class, but some classes did make use of take-home exams.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
Something they do really well is they get you really strong with theory. While everything we do has applications for practicality, we only have one course that is about software engineering specifically. It’s very much so a computer science major and not a software engineering major. I don’t think that will hurt me with job prospects because learning the specifics of certain languages can come later and that’s the less important part. Also, even though it’s theory-based, you still have to write code all the time in class, so I have never felt unprepared for coding interviews or anything like that.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I wouldn’t consider it competitive at all. I think it’s incredibly collaborative. There is always the class of total wiz-kids who can work on their own, but for the majority of students, and especially in my experience, people rely on working on homework together with other people and going to study groups. Everybody’s trying to do well, but nobody’s of the mentality that I should succeed and others will do worse than me. Everybody hopes that everybody else can do as well as they can.

How accessible are your professors?
They’ve been very accessible, especially considering how the Computer Science department is struggling to hire enough professors to keep up with the astronomical increase in interest in taking Computer Science courses. I’ve still been impressed with the accessibility I have to my professors. Any time I would need to meet with them in office hours to discuss something that I’m stuck on or a plan for the future, I would always be able to do that. It also helps to have small class sizes and to be in such a small college.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
I’m incredibly happy with my choice. I came into college thinking that I was going to be a Physics major but my second semester of freshman year I took Intro to Computer Science and liked it a lot. I took the next class the next semester, and at that time Physics was really getting tough and I was struggling to keep up with all the math, so I just decided to switch over and I haven’t looked back. I absolutely love it because of the types of problems I’m solving are really interesting.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Cowles Hall with one roommate

Sophomore: I worked as a Community Advisor, so I had a single in Clark Hall.

Junior: I worked as a Community Advisor in Cleveland Hall first semester and went abroad the second semester.

Senior: I live in an off-campus house with my friends.

What has been your favorite living situation?
I really enjoy living off-campus. That probably comes with the bias of being older and having already lived independently over the summer and when I was abroad. But, I really do think that some of the dorms have fantastic communities. Especially in South Campus, there are really tight-knit communities and people are always hanging out in lounges. Having an off-campus house is nice because we can have people over and host parties and stuff like that.

How was transitioning from Pittsburgh, PA to Grinnell, IA?
I hadn’t really thought about going to a small town, but I didn’t find it that jarring because I don’t live in the city in Pittsburgh. I barely left campus my entire first semester. Especially as a first year, everything you need is on campus. Every single one of your meals is in the dining hall, there’s a mail room, the only thing you’d need to go to town for is to buy textbooks from the bookstore.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
It’s a very safe town. I’d say my perception of that is definitely skewed by me being a White male, but all of the events that make people feel not safe is motorists driving by yelling slurs from their cars at minority groups. That’s the main form of non-safety around here. I don’t think many people have a fear of violent crime.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
Currently, my house because I live off campus. When I wasn’t living off campus, I like to go to the lake in town. It’s really beautiful in the fall and I really enjoyed going, talking with friends, and looking at the leaves.

Pros and Cons of being in Grinnell, IA?
Pros: (1) The cost of living is really low. My rent is cheap, groceries are cheap, and restaurants are cheap as compared to big cities.
(2) Being in a small town helps foster a campus community. People aren’t going into town much for entertainment, and they might feel stuck on campus, but it does help foster a solid community.

Cons: We’re an hour away from the Des Moines Airport. I don’t have a car, so if I’m not traveling on one of the days at the end or beginning of the semester when they offer shuttles, you’re on your own to find a ride from a friend because a taxi or Uber would be really expensive.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Grinnell?
There are often college-sponsored dances, which sounds lame at first but when it’s the main event of the night people like to go out to them. They’re often themed, so people like to dress up for those. There are also often smaller groups of people partying in dorms, lounges, or off-campus houses. There’s also the occasional off-campus house party where the entire student body is invited. When we throw a party, we just hit reply-all to a 500-person email chain and that basically sends the invitation to the whole school. There are events on Fridays, Saturdays, and there’s usually a house party on Wednesday nights that has a lower attendance.

What’s an alternative to going to a party or a school-sponsored dance that you like for a night out?
People like to go into town to the restaurants. There are substance-free events, like the science center is host to a nerf battle every Friday night. They also host movies on campus, there are pick-up basketball games in the gym, and there’s always a variety of club-hosted activities.

How happy are you with the nightlife options at Grinnell? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’ve been pretty happy with my weekend options, but maybe a bit less so this year. That’s because I’ve had the same events every year for four years, so it’s not as new and exciting anymore. A lot of people like to complain because it’s not like we have a big city where we can go to clubs and stuff, but I like the smaller feel and being able to go to an event and know that I’ll know some people there.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I met them through having classes with them, being co-workers with them in the I.T. department, or meeting them through clubs like the International Soccer Club. There’s also a lot of meeting friends of friends just by sitting with your friends in the dining hall. You’re bound to meet people they know too [because it’s a small environment].

How would you describe the overall social scene?
Grinnell is vehemently anti-Greek life, so taking the place of those tight-knit groups would be some sports teams. They usually sit together in a big group in the dining hall, but, while they are pretty tight, I wouldn’t say they only have friends on their sports team. I don’t think there’s any primary or dominant social group of people. Because we’re a small school you have the chance to interact with a lot of different social groups and people often are connected to a few different groups of friends. This might just be me because I’m outgoing, but it’s very rare for me to come across a person that I’ve never seen before or I don’t know who they are.

There are differences in the campuses, South Campus is the most active, outgoing, and the most likely spot for you to find people partying. North Campus is more middle of the road and stereotypically athletes tend to live there. East Campus is the newest and objectively nicest dorms, but I find them lacking in character. It feels more like a hotel and people are much quieter.

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
It’s very intermixed. I have plenty of Queer friends and I’ve never felt any sort of stigma about that. I was expecting there to be a bit more intermixing of races. There are groups of races who sit together in the dining hall, but I don’t think it’s segregated or anything like that.

How would you describe the student body?
I’d describe the student body as liberal – very liberal, enthusiastic about social justice, intelligent, hardworking because a lot of the times you have to be, and interested. I think Grinnellians often have the problem of spreading themselves too thin by trying to be involved in too many different clubs, jobs, and activities at once.

How do you like the size of Grinnell in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience?
I always knew I wanted to go to a small school because I valued having close relationships with my teachers in high school, so that was the main thing I was searching for. I wanted to be able to have accessible professors, small classes, and the ability to form personal relationships with professors if I wanted to. I’ve also enjoyed the social side of that. I like being able to walk around and constantly say hi to people. I love being able to go to The Spencer Grill be able to count on meeting some friends there or go into the dining hall, scan around, and see a table of people that I know. I really value that.

Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Grinnell? Do you think people leave loving Grinnell?
I think that people are generally pretty satisfied with their Grinnell experience. By the fourth year, people are ready to get out and get on with their life, but that is pretty common at every school. As much as we complain about it, I think everybody is pretty grateful to have had a really good education.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
It doesn’t help me personally, but I know that there are some people who are definitely helped out by that. When I was a first-year and still thought I was going to be Physics major I took part in the Externship Program, which is basically an extended job shadow with an alum over spring break. For four days I shadowed a Grinnell graduate who was working as a research physicist at the Naval Research Lab and that helped me figure out a bit more what I wanted to do after college in that it helped steer me away from physics, which was important.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
The career office has been super helpful. I go to them when I want to update my resume and go over it before I send it out to potential employers. They will also give you funding to work at unpaid internships and they have internships and full-time opportunities on Handshake. I think they’re really valuable and that a lot of people use them for career path guidance or, at least, help with resumes, cover letters, and things like that.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
I’ve learned Java, C, and I’ve dabbled in some statistics software but not enough that it would help me with a job. I haven’t learned any Python.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office?
They’ve been super responsive to questions. There’s someone who I email when I have questions and they lay out the details pretty clearly.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Grinnell before entering as a freshman?
The first thing that comes to mind, I don’t know if it necessarily pertains just to Grinnell, but most of the learning happens outside of the classroom. I guess I wish I would have been more appreciative of the mistakes that I made because those are most of the time learning experiences. I wish I knew that if I was not as good at a certain class or struggling in it, I’d like to know to not worry about it.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The feeling of the social scene. It’s hard to get a sense of it when you’re just visiting and not doing an overnight. Prospective students won’t get the sense of the feeling of walking around and see people you know and have people know who you are. That tight-knit feeling isn’t expressed on a campus tour.

Reasons to attend Grinnell:
1) Top notch academics.
2) Excellent financial aid. [70% of students receive need-based aid with an average grant/scholarship award of about $45,000.]
3) The tight-knit social scene where you can be whoever you want. There isn’t the East Coast prep vibe here, it’s more of a place where you can express who you are.

Reasons to not attend Grinnell:
1) It is geographically difficult for people to access.
2) If you feel that you need what a city offers, the town of Grinnell offers very little beyond the basics of a few grocery stores and a few restaurants.
3) Don’t attend Grinnell if you’re not prepared to work hard.

Notice: Grinnell College is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Grinnell College.

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