An Interview On
Grinnell College

Background

Interview Date:February 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Indian-American
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Public school outside of Chicago with a graduating class of about 850 students in the graduating class. There was somewhat of a culture of going to college. Community college was very encouraged because the high school was very diverse and had a lot of students from low-income backgrounds, including myself, and a lot of people went to school in-state.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Computer Science
Concentration: Concentration in American Studies
Extracurricular Activities: I’m involved in choir here through the Grinnell Singers. I’m involved in student government and have [held leadership positions in that]. I also work at the Information Technology desk.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Student Government for sure is my favorite thing I do on campus. It’s such a great way to stay informed and connect with students in a cool way. The thing I like about Student Government the most is that there are things I want to change about my Grinnell experience and Student Government is a really cool way to put those issues into action and actually do something about it and feel like I’m making a change for other students.

I like working for the Information Technology desk because it’s fun and I gained a lot of experience that is relevant to my Computer Science major. I’ve also been a musician my entire life so it’s nice to keep that interest outside of Computer Science and, of course, Grinnell really enforces that because they’re big on being involved in a lot of different things. That’s been essential to keeping me sane.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
Right now, I’m taking two classes for my major, one of which is a lab-based class. For each lab, we have to complete a lab write up which will be one of the exercises from the lab. It is encouraged to work in pairs, or you can work on it by yourself. Every week we have homework assignments that are more like mini-projects that are supposed to take about five hours to complete. They are basically just writing a program with another person in the class and submitting it.

My other class is more math-based. We have required readings, like the other class, but we don’t have required labs and we have exercise problem sets every once in a while.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I feel that my experience as a woman of color in the Computer Science department is very different than many of my peers in that I haven’t had a lot of background experience in computer science before coming to college. That was a big challenge for me and I had a tutor for a while during my first year that was really helpful.

The Computer Science department here has expanded a lot in the past few years and the department is really struggling to keep up with it. We’re running short on resources and even faculty members. We’ve currently been in a hiring freeze so they can only hire temporary professors, and when it comes to resource and access, students who want to major in Computer Science don’t have that strong encouragement that I see in other departments because it’s so big and has such limited resources.

The intro-level course taught a really obscure language, Scheme, which is supposedly a way of leveling the playing field. I don’t necessarily know if that’s the best tactic because, for students like me who are already struggling because I have no background in it, it was harder to find the motivation and purpose in it.

Among the students, it is heavily encouraged by the department to work with partners because in the tech industry you’re usually working in teams. However, I have faced discrimination from my partners and have felt looked down up because I am a woman of color. Those daily microaggressions make it harder for me to feel welcomed in the department. In general, the underrepresentation of women and minorities is a huge issue in Computer Science.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I feel that it’s competitive by nature just because the students here are extremely intelligent and that’s the nature of the students. In the Computer Science department, because there are students who have the really heavy background in Computer Science, it’s easy to pick out who’s more comfortable and who’s not, so I feel like adds to the intimidation aspect of the learning environment. When it comes to professors and lecturers, I feel that it’s pretty good. I’ve been able to learn a lot. I’m still here, so they’ve obviously been accommodating.

How accessible are your professors?
The fact that Grinnell is so small makes it really, really easy for students to access their professors. Professors will have posted office hours and students can schedule meetings and appointments to talk to them about literally anything. Professors here really want to get to know students and know what’s going on outside of class as well, so that’s been really nice.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
I’ve always loved math and science. It wasn’t until my junior and senior year of high school did I start thinking about what I want to major in, and I also have a passion for social justice and social reform but I couldn’t find many ways math could intersect with that. My older sisters told me about Computer Science, and I started to think about Computer Science. I also have an appreciation for innovation and technology and how it has such a booming impact on society. I like that tech can be used for social good, so, especially at Grinnell, I thought I would get the perfect mix of humanities and STEM. I can’t say I haven’t had any doubts so far, but I had the opportunity to conduct research with one of my professors, who will also be my advisor, this past summer so that helped build my confidence. I am definitely happy and every day I find new things in the computer science industry that interest me because it’s so vast.

On and Around Campus

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

Sophomore: Reed Hall with two roommates.

How was transitioning from living outside of Chicago to Grinnell, IA?
Really hard. I came from a really diverse background and I grew up constantly around people of color and then coming here is harder because the majority of my peers are White, and the majority of the people who live in the town of Grinnell are also White. [26% of students at Grinnell identify as students of color. 87% of the residents of Grinnell are White.]

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
There have been incidents. I haven’t experienced anything personally but I know people who have had issues with people who live in the town of Grinnell. As I said, microaggressions are a daily thing. On campus, I generally feel safe.

Pros and Cons of being in Grinnell, IA?
Pros: (1) The community is really small so the relationships I can make with staff and faculty are unmatched compared to what I’ve been able to before. Because the area is so small and so unique, we’re kind of going through this together so it just happens like that.
(2) It’s different from what I’m used to and probably different than anything I will probably ever do in my life. It’s cool to have that experience with something different and new.

Cons: (1) It’s small and remote so it’s really hard to get away sometimes. It’s just as easy for people to clash really hard as it is for them to connect really well [because we’re in this remote area together].
(2) The issue of diversity. [87% of the residents of Grinnell are White.]

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Grinnell?
There’s not much nightlife here. I’m also under 21 so I can’t really go to the bars or anything like that. There are always events happening on campus and house parties going on, which I appreciate. I personally like to just hang out with my friends.

Are there any events on campus that your friends and you like to go to?
There is the Arts Center and sometimes different events in town we like to go to. There is also a movie theater and restaurants around. I personally really like when we have different speakers on campus and I can go listen to them talk. I also like anything that is Student Government related, we will sometimes have Harris parties on Friday or Saturday that are pretty fun.

How happy are you with the nightlife options at Grinnell? Is there anything you would change if you could?
It depends. There are so many different kinds of events that happen throughout the year, and there are certain events that I will get really into, like when there are student concerts. My happiness doesn’t depend on what’s happening, it more so depends on the company. I enjoy hanging out with my friends and even if there’s no event happening I’ll still do that and be okay.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I did a pre-orientation program where I could come to campus early and meet people. I met some of my friends there. My best friend who is also my roommate is also a Computer Science major and we have the same jobs on campus, and that’s how I met her. I’ve also been meeting people through other people, so I’ve found my friends all over the place really.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
There are parts of it that are toxic because with the small community people will clash. But, it’s also really nice because I know most people in my class. Even if I don’t really talk to them, I’ve still met them before and know their name, so that’s really good. It’s interesting because everybody does know everybody.

There is a strong sense of being in a friend group and people really want that sense of security and belonging that comes with being in a group chat and having a squad. I don’t really partake in that and have a lot of close friends scattered all around. Another thing is certain groups of people can get separated from one another. Like, athletes tend to stay with the people on their team. Then there’s the more artsy side of things and those people really connect.

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Pretty much all the time. Sometimes there will be a team with almost all White people so that group will be all White, but I don’t think it’s an issue. I think people mix normally.

How would you describe the student body?
The Grinnell students are my favorite part of the entire school. I think the students here are extremely intelligent and motivated. Most people are here for the right reasons. I feel like most people have a passion for social justice, learning, and respect for our professors. I wish there was more involvement from the students with things with Student Government, like elections and giving feedback, but other than that the students here are great.

How do you like the size of Grinnell in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience?
It’s a small community and sometimes it’s really awesome and sometimes it really sucks.

How would you describe the South Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
I have mixed feelings about this because I’m from America but most of the South Asian community here is from India because we have such an extensive international population. The divide between international students and domestic students of color exists. There have been some South Asian students who I have been able to really connect with and become good friends with, and there have been others who have kind of shunned me because I’ve never been to India and I don’t speak any of the languages, however, I’m closely connected with my culture, so that’s been frustrating.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not for me personally, but I’m still in my second year so I haven’t done a ton of networking yet. I have gotten help from some people who have recently graduated. I can already see that the alumni network at Grinnell is really amazing and that the alumni want to help students.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I have been to the career office a couple of times. They’ve been helpful in getting me started on things like my resume and LinkedIn profile. Again, I haven’t used it that much so I don’t think they’ve been very helpful in my experience. I definitely appreciate that I have that resource when I need it.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful is the office?
I’ve received a lot of financial aid from Grinnell, that is something that I really appreciate. However, I had some changes with my family and I went to the office to get some help and they just gave me more loans instead of adjusting my aid. In that moment they also were not as easy to work with. I’ve had good and bad experiences.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Grinnell before entering as a freshman?
I had a lot of background on Grinnell because I had a friend here who did Computer Science that was older. Something I wish I knew was to not get in the toxic culture of not taking care of yourself because I definitely slipped into that a little bit my first year and even a bit this year. There’s a culture that being stressed out all the time or not going to the gym or eating because you’re working really hard means you’re doing well.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I would tell prospective students to look into the administration of Grinnell and past decisions they’ve made. The Board of Trustees voted to not divest from fossil fuel companies and that was a really big issue. There have also been issues with [student-workers trying to unionize] which have made national headlines. It’s important to do your research and see where they can be hypocritical.

Reasons to attend Grinnell:
1) The connections I’ve made with professors here are amazing. That level of face to face time is [unique].
2) I love the liberal arts aspect. It’s really great to remember to be well-rounded and to have other interests outside of your job. It’s nice to remember that your job isn’t your life.
3) The stress on post-graduation has been really helpful for me. The fact that I have a resume and LinkedIn profile that I’m really happy with is something that I really appreciate.
4) The emphasis on research and study abroad. [52% of students complete at least one independent study course and 40% of students complete a Mentored Advanced Project. More than half of students at Grinnell study abroad.]

Reasons to not attend Grinnell:
1) The administration has lots of issues. Notably, it has been cutting down on Grinnell’s self-governance in more ways than one.
2) The small community definitely gets tiring and it’s hard to get away or be alone. If you talk to anybody, you definitely know somebody who knows somebody who knows them.
3) The stress culture and the fact that it can seem cool to work so hard that you don’t take care of yourself and it’s easy to slip into that. I had to make a conscious effort not to do it. People can be competitive about who is the most stressed out or who’s working the hardest.

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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