Report: Grinnell CS Reunion

Before there was any inkling that I would leave Grinnell, SamR and I hatched a plan for Grinnell’s first computer science affinity reunion.  We decided on Fall 2016, to celebrate  the 25th anniversary of the CS major, the 10th anniversary of the CS department (which happened to coincide with my arrival at Grinnell in 2006), and department founder Henry Walker‘s transition to senior faculty status.  

Once I left Grinnell, I didn’t contribute much more to planning the reunion; that work fell to SamR and to Nate Dobbels of Development and Alumni Relations. I was, however, able to participate last weekend. In fact, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Since SamR planned the program, I’ll leave the critique to him and instead share some personal highlights:

  • I saw many delightful old photographs while learning from Henry about the history of Grinnell’s CS program. (It turns out this year is also the 45th anniversary of computing at Grinnell.)
  • I heard colleague John Stone’s recurring talk on “Keeping Stuff”, which included much more computing history than I had remembered.
  • I learned from SamR’s “state of the department” talk that CS is now the third most popular major, and student government has been taken over by CS majors.
  • I learned about new augmented reality work by Rachel Heck Rose ’01 at Industrial Light & Magic (which can’t be all that secret since it was presented at SIGGRAPH).
  • I saw my advisee Isaiah Sarju ’13 talk on a panel about security (and made plans to introduce him to a new Whitman alumnus).
  • I saw Terian Koscik ’12’s delightful talk “Make Something Useless,” which I would love to bring to Whitman.
  • I got to see the alumni mentors from Team Software Development for Community Organizations together again. I got to explain the genesis of the class and learn the current state of the projects: reaching maturity, or perhaps overmaturity, which poses a new set of problems. Perhaps it will be time for a retrospective paper soon.

And some highlights off the program:

  • A second-year student asked me if I was “the Janet Davis.”
  • During the Pub Quiz category on “faculty trivia”, I suggested myself as an answer to several questions (forgetting I’m no longer on the faculty at Grinnell).
  • I learned a Grinnell senior will be working at the same company after graduation as one of my Whitman seniors, and I introduced them through LinkedIn.
  • I talked with alumni from the class of ’08 who were in my very first classes at Grinnell, and who I never thought I would see again.
  • I listened in admiration as Jordan Shkolnik ’11 fielded questions from a group of first-year women about education and careers in CS. (I saw Jordan the last time I was in Bellevue with our Director of Business Engagement, Kim Rolfe.)
  • My research student Chase Felker ’12 found me at Saints Rest before the reunion even started. He later introduced me to Erin Nichols ’01, who got him an interview at Slate, where he still works now. (I saw Chase the last time I was in D.C.)
  • I got to once again talk with Nathaniel Borenstein ’80, who I hosted when he received an honorary doctorate in 2013.
  • I met a few alumni who I had only ever interacted with online.

My interactions with Grinnell alumni make me look forward to future interactions with Whitman CS alumni at events like this.

This week was Whitman’s week-long Thanksgiving break, so my husband and I were able to stay in Grinnell through the holiday. This gave me some time to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, many of whom are curious about my work at Whitman. Especially with everything shutting down for the holiday, it was not quite enough time to see everyone who I hoped to see. I am starting to feel more detached than I did during my visit in May, perhaps because the summer helped me build new connections at Whitman.

The week-long trip also gave us some time to walk around town. As an inveterate pedestrian who walks not just for transportation but for exercise, I know the streets of Grinnell in a way you couldn’t possibly by just driving in a car. But there were also more new things to see than I expected. Henry showed me the ongoing construction projects around downtown, and Brooks and I found the new bike trail and highway underpass. We also found old things we hadn’t seen before: some of the 19th century headstones in Grinnell’s cemetery.

Just like my visit to Grinnell last May, I had overly ambitious ideas about the work I would get done while I was traveling. With some discipline, I managed to accomplish two of my three big work goals for the break. I will have to make the third fit into Sunday and call it good enough.

During the break I pretty much ignored work beyond those three goals. I only triaged my email, so my inbox has gotten even more out of hand than it was before break. (If you are waiting on me for an email reply, I’m not actually sorry, but I will get to it soon.) I didn’t do a weekly review last weekend; I am trying to do one this weekend to see what’s on my plate for next week.

One final highlight: John Stone, who I admire greatly, told me he wishes I would write more often, but at the same time he wonders how I find the time to write at all. This short post was mostly written on the plane from Denver to Pasco.


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