Posts in: General News

Innovator-in-Residence Program Fosters Culture of Creativity

Innovator in Residence

By Miriam Brown ’21

Sound artist, performer, and composer Reiko Yamada has built her career around pushing past disciplinary boundaries. In Block 4, Yamada will bring her expertise to Colorado College as the latest innovator-in-residence.

Innovation at CC launched its Innovator-in-Residence Program two years ago to give students the opportunities to collaborate and connect with people who are particularly groundbreaking in their work. While innovators are on campus — which can range from a week to a block — they give lectures, participate in panels, collaborate with students on class projects, and provide guidance through more casual conversations.

Even though Yamada is not yet present on campus, she is already pushing students and faculty to collaborate and problem-solve in different ways. Jane Hilberry, professor of English, is teaching a class next block on contemporary poetry. Iddo Aharony, professor of music, is teaching a class on songwriting. Hilberry and Aharony have never collaborated before, but Yamada’s presence was the impetus for them to join forces in a combined class project where students will create a musical piece with lyrics. Yamada will use her experience as a sound artist and performer to help the students think critically about their sounds and how they convey meaning.

But Yamada’s presence will not just be limited to music. She will also be working with Professor Sara Hanson’s molecular biology genomics lab, where she will help students to transform genetic code into music and sound.

“I think there’s something really valuable in completely reframing the way that you look at something,” says Jessica Hunter-Larsen, associate director of Innovation at CC. “Huge creative leaps have happened because people have been able to go totally outside of a discipline or set of protocols or practices and get information from other places.”

Yamada will present her own work, specifically her latest project on fruit flies called “Small, Small Things” on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 5:15 p.m. in Cornerstone Arts Center. Immediately following her presentation, artists Virgil Ortiz and Eiko Otake will join her for a panel about their creative processes, moderated by Hunter-Larsen and Hilberry.

Hunter-Larsen says that this is still the beginning for the Innovator-in-Residence Program, and they hope to use it in even bigger ways in the future.

“Sometimes when you’re able to bring somebody from another area … it can be a catalyst and a place to focus so that we are all pushed to find new ways of doing things or to collaborate differently,” she says.

Justice Watch: CC Students Look for Bias at Local Courthouse

By Miriam Brown ’21

Judges in the El Paso County Courthouse are supposed to be fair and impartial, but if they aren’t, Anna Grigsby ’19 and other Colorado College students are there to document it.

Grigsby is one of the leaders of Justice Watch, a student organization whose mission is to hold attorneys and judges accountable for fair treatment by observing trials and collecting data.

Associate Professor of Sociology Gail Murphy-Geiss introduced Grigsby and co-leader Key Duckworth ’19 to the organization through her sociology course Law and Society, in which students collect data at the courthouse. Justice Watch used to be a community-based group, but after it dissolved, Murphy-Geiss stepped in to revive it on CC’s campus.

“One of our goals is to normalize going to the courthouse because it’s public, and a lot of people don’t really understand that,” Grigsby says. “While we’re going to class, people’s futures are at risk.”

On the second and third Monday of every block, students ride with Grigsby and Duckworth to the courthouse, where they pair off to separate courtrooms. The pairs follow the trials with a pre-made worksheet, which asks questions like, “Do you think the judge treated both sides fairly?” If enough data is collected, they can present a report to the chief justice, which in the past has resulted in the removal of judges for inappropriate behavior.

Duckworth explains that with newspapers losing funding, reporters who were responsible for reporting on court events are often cut. Because of this, she says that organizations like Justice Watch are more important now than ever.

“This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at CC,” says Duckworth. “I hope people can feel empowered to get more politically active and just realize that they can actually change things if they go out and try.”

Day of Service Morphs Into Week of Action

By Miriam Brown ’21

 What do creek clean-ups, blood drives, and anti-racism workshops have in common?

 They are all ways for Colorado College students, faculty, and staff to engage with the local community during CC’s recent Week of Action.

 Historically, the events focused on cleaning up local creeks during CC’s annual Day of Service. The annual Creek Week Clean-Up is a community-wide effort of the Pikes Peak region to clean creek and watershed fronts across the area. In the past, CCstudents and members of the campus community have done their part by trekking to Monument Creek to pick up trash along the bank. Duringthe 2016 event, theypicked up 3,140 pounds of trash intwo miles.

 This year, Niki Sosa, community partnership development coordinator for the Collaborative for Community Engagement, wanted to provide more opportunities to join in on the fun. Because of the fast-paced nature of the Block Plan, the CCE settled on a full week of action.

 “We thought with the week, we would have multiple afternoons where we could have diverse opportunities and showcase different ways that our CC community can be engaging in the greater Colorado Springs community,” Sosa says.

 The Week of Action, which took place from Sept. 29, to Oct. 6, featured nine intercampus groups and 11 community partners.On Monday, 18community organizations set up tables in Worner Campus Center for an engagement fair to show students the myriad ways they could participate.

 “Big change happens on the local level, and we are helping to create pathways so that students can get connected to that,” says Sosa.

 The week included events like an anti-racist agenda workshop, a discussion with city council members Jill Gaebler and Don Knight, a Bonfil Blood Drive, and a day exploring Colorado Springs with Leadership Pikes Peak.

 “It’s just hopefully the beginning,” says Anthony Siracusa, the CCE’s engaged learning specialist. 

First Person: Gathering Plant Data and Research Experience on my Venture Grant to Bolivia


By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

Although many students choose to pursue Keller Venture Grants that are not directly related to their majors, my Venture Grant in Bolivia provided the first set of data for my senior thesis with the Department of Organismal Biology and Ecology.

The idea first came from Assistant Professor Rachel Jabaily when she heard I would be travelling in Bolivia before my semester abroad program in Chile. There is a species of plant in Bolivia that is endangered, but not well studied, she explained. The species, Puya raimondii, lives at high elevations (11,000 to 14,000 feet) in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia. She suggested that I could gain unique and valuable field research experience by collecting basic data from these plants.

After a little background research and a few emails to Jabaily’s Bolivian colleagues, I decided I would spend a few days of my independent travel time collecting size and reproductive category data on P. raimondii. One day of data collection would be with my dad, who was travelling with me for two weeks, and the other four days I would be accompanied by Bolivian botanist Carolina García Linowho studied P. raimondiifor her undergraduate thesis.

My dad and I travelled around southern Peru and Bolivia for almost two weeks before starting on the data collection, which ended up providing valuable acclimatization time. Hiking off-trail across rocky hills at 13,000 feet was not easy, even after those two weeks. The first data day took place a few hours outside of La Paz, where we easily found the P. raimondiiwith the help of Bolivian graduate students. Fueled by llama chicharrones (fried llama meat) and cookies, I was able to collect data from 40 individual plants.

A week after the first data day, my dad returned home, and I travelled to Cochabamba to convene with García Linoand her husband and new baby. We met in a hotel to plan our data collection and decided to rent a car and stay overnight in the little towns in the area known to have P. raimondii. Although I had a list of GPS coordinates of Puya locations, we spent the first day driving, searching for plants, and not finding any. The area was very rural with patchy cell phone coverage, and locals were suspicious of outsiders. After a day and a half of driving and not seeing a single Puya, we finally found ourselves in the Municipalidad de Vacas, where Bolivia’s largest Puya population lives. Data collection went smoothly from there, despite the rainy weather. After a day and a half of measuring Puya, I had enough data to head back to Cochabamba. Working in Bolivia was quite successful, but there is always room for improvement with methods, and a potential to have more data. In October, I will travel to Colombia, this time with Jabaily, to collect the same types of data in different species of Puya, with the goal of comparing reproductive data for the different species.

Lostroh and Udis-Kessler Release Third Album

Rejoice: Songs and Hymns

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

Although Associate Professor of Molecular Biology Phoebe Lostroh and Director of Assessment and Program Review Amanda Udis-Kessler have been a couple since 1997, they were making music together long before.

They recently released their third album, “Rejoice: Songs and Hymns” under the band name EverySoul. The album contains 15 original songs and liberal religious hymns written by Udis-Kessler. The idea for the album started when Udis-Kessler was preparing for liver cancer treatment and wanted to compose at least one more album.

About the music, Lostroh says, “I want to help make the world a better place by encouraging people who value social justice,” and, “to make music that will help sustain activists in times of trouble and make us feel less alone.” The duo hopes to have the album included in the Unitarian Universalist Church’s music, which Lostroh says is quite remarkable.

“There are almost no other out queer women writers in U.S. church hymnals — Amanda is one of the very few, with a song in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal,” she explains. Since the release of the album, Udis-Kessler has already submitted a hymn for inclusion in a Methodist hymnal, and written a few new songs, which Lostroh says she is always happy to sing.

“Rejoice: Songs and Hymns”  is available on Spotify, and anyone who wants a free copy of the CD can contact Amanda Udis-Kessler via email:


Matt Rosen ’21 Connects with the Human Condition in First Book

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

Matt Rosen ’21 has an exciting spring coming up: His book “Speculative Annihilationism: The Intersection of Archaeology and Extinction”will be published by Zero Books in June. The book is about philosophy, a topic Rosen has been interested in for a long time. His curiosity stems from watching a cartoon version of “The Hobbit” at the age of four, which he says was “the first time that I realized that I too must die, that in being born I had been given no choice in the matter.”

With his book, Rosenuses his passion for philosophy to argue that archaeology can be granted a new basis, a new avenue of inquiry at its intersection with extinction.He uses a variety of philosophical approaches to make his case.

Inspiration for the book, Rosen says, was frustration. He explains that the field of philosophy has a long history of only focusing on humans, and ignoring the reality that does not include humans. Because of this, “we need a vision of the sciences and of philosophy itself which can help us to better understand our place in this very inhuman world.” Rosen had a clear idea of what he wanted to say with his book, and was able to finish in only a block and a half. The process, he says, helped him gain respect for other writers who are juggling multiple projects and tight deadlines. The short writing time also “further legitimates the wonders of the Block Plan.”

Only in his second year at CC, Rosen, who hails from Ridgewood, New Jersey,has not yet declared a major but plans to study philosophy. He also hopes to continue his study of philosophy into a doctorate program, and eventually teach. Even with these academic goals, Rosen says that philosophy does not start or end with the academy. “Philosophizing is what each of us does every day, it’s how we cope (or don’t cope) with our situation, with the condition of being in the world and being in a world precisely like this one,” he explains.

Outside of academics, Rosen will continue to philosophize and write, as he began to do as he watched “The Hobbit.” Rosen’s book can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Exploring the Watershed

Where Does Your Water Come From?

By Annabelle O’Neill ’19 and Rosa Mallorson ’20

“Where does your water come from?” asked Environmental Studies Program visiting faculty member Rory Cowie ’04 on the first day of class. Like the places we had yet to visit, our responses stretched far, from groundwater wells in Hawaii to water tanks above Philadelphia to snowmelt in the Rockies to pipes in New York City to “I don’t know where…”

Thus began EV 311, Water: Stream Ecology and Hydrology, a Block 8 course that took students to the San Juan Mountains where we studied water chemistry and the impacts of mining. The upper-level environmental science course, which allowed us to engage in meaningful field-based learning that included environmental science subject areas such as geology, chemistry, hydrology, ecology, climate, and human/ecosystem interactions through the analysis of rivers and water, included 14 students from several majors. This course is worth documenting because it embodies the boundless opportunity CC provides for its students to investigate the world’s workings. Cowie was a biology major at CC, so he knew how to balance lecture with field trips nearly every day. Here, we share some of what we learned in the class, while illustrating the beauty of students doing science in the San Juan Mountains.

Why We Care
CC teaches us to examine and tend to our sense of place, which includes the communities, lands, rivers, challenges, and cultures that exist in the Rockies. While many of our studies center in the Front Range, the San Juan Mountains are just six hours southwest of CC and provide much of the Front Range’s water resources.

Since Cowie is an EPA-contracted hydrologist who leads a water sampling project at Bonita Peak Mining District, the Superfund Site where the Gold King Mine, near Silverton, Colorado, spilled in 2015, our coursework focused on mining hydrology. The legacy of heavy metal mining, which boomed from 1870-1990, left nearly 23,000 abandoned mines in the San Juans.

When the surface area of rock containing trace minerals such as pyrite increases due to mine tunnel construction and contacts air and rising groundwater, pyrite’s ions oxidize and form acids in water. This water then flows out of mine tunnels and nearby springs into streams, which soon flow into major rivers that are comprised of watersheds shared by seven states, 12 Native American tribes, millions of people, and vital aquatic life.

The Challenge: Five Watersheds in Five Days
We embarked on a weeklong field trip in the San Juans, studying five watersheds in five days. The trip followed two weeks of theory and practice in hydrology, mine water chemistry, stream ecology, agriculture, development, and snow science. We examined four Legacy and EPA Superfund mines with mandated clean-up, one active mine, and two major active water treatment facilities.

The trip also provided us with diverse data sets that we compiled for our final projects. Our task was to collect stream flow measurements, water quality parameters, and habitat assessments coupled with USGS historic data and lessons from experts we met along the way. This data provided evidence to compare watershed health across the San Juans and extrapolate to the entire Southwestern water regime, which eventually converges with the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Trip Log:
Day 1: Uncompahgre Watershed
Discharge and water quality parameters collected in Ridgeway, Colorado
Underground mine tour of Ouray Silver Mines and biomass filtration system
Evening soak at Ouray Hot Springs

Day 2: San Miguel Watershed
Observations of diverse, underlying geology that influences ion-availability in the rivers at the Idarado Mine passive water treatment facility
Appreciation of beavers’ tenacity and ecosystem health value
Habitat assessment of Telluride Valley Floor with Scott Johnson of the Mountain Studies Institute and Laurel Sebastian ’16

Day 3: Animas Watershed
Tour of Gladstone Temporary Wastewater Treatment Plant and Bonita Peak Superfund Site above Silverton, Colorado. Active mine water treatment requires lime, a polymer, large conical holding chambers, and the storage of heavy metal “sludge” to purify acidic and metal-loaded water
Examination of outpouring of American Tunnel and flumes at lower elevations measuring discharge
Water quality and discharge sampling of heavily impacted streams (pH ~4) during a blizzard!

Day 4: San Juan Watershed
Forest ecology lesson in Durango, Colorado
Wolf Creek Ski Resort forest health assessment
Lots of driving
Evening soak at Pagosa Hot Springs

Day 5: Rio Grande Watershed
Mining conference in Creede, Colorado
Visit to Bachelor Mountain, the Nelson Tunnel, and multiple mine portals at a Legacy mine on the Amethyst Fault in the Bachelor Caldera
Examination of discharge and water quality parameters at Willow Creek, which includes untreated water from the Nelson Tunnel
Tour of Summitville Mine Superfund site including the active water treatment facility of the open-pit mine using a high-density sludge process, ultimately purifying the water of a large quantity of metals
Analysis of San Luis Valley agricultural impacts
Data analysis and creation of final watershed report cards


  • A historic, large rock drill is difficult and heavy to hold! Rock-drill competitions still occur in Creede, Colorado, to showcase miners’ talent.
  • Beavers can plug up and flood wetlands by building dams of sticks. However, they can be deceived with large wire nets over drains called “beaver deceivers.”
  • Fire suppression has had detrimental effects on forest health and allowed the pine beetle to infiltrate Colorado’s forests.

Our class expresses gratitude to Cowie, Technical Director Darren Ceckanowicz, and Paraprofessional Hanna Ewell ’17 for teaching us how to do science, have fun, and be a team.

Annabelle O’Neill ’19 and Rosa Mallorson ’20 are biochemistry majors at Colorado College.

Incline is No Walk in the Park

Annie Engen ’19, who worked for the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department this summer through Colorado College’s Public Interest Fellowship Program, undertook a side project that will be seen by hundreds of fitness enthusiasts. A mathematical economics major and Environmental Studies minor from Minneapolis, her project helped connect the dots between mathematics, a local hiking trail, and world-famous landmarks.

Engen created a safety sign for the Manitou Incline, a perpendicular trail on the remains of a former narrow gauge railway whose tracks washed out during a rock slide in 1990. The Incline, which gains more than 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile, has an average grade of 45 percent and is as steep as 68 percent in some places.

Engen’s sign lets people know that hiking the Incline “is not a walk in the park.” To put the Incline’s 2,744 steps in perspective, Engen’s sign notes that hiking the Incline is comparable to climbing the Eiffel Tower (twice), the Washington Monument (three times), the Statue of Liberty (six times), or the Empire State Building (once).

Read more about Engen’s PIFP work here.


A View from the Monument Creek Restoration Project

By David Sachs ’20

The Monument Creek Restoration Project is a collaboration between the State of the Rockies Project and Innovation at Colorado College, with support from the Geology Department and the GIS Lab. Inspired by Colorado Springs’ founding principles and Colorado College’s strategic plan, the aim of the project is to create a model framework for the kilometer-long stretch of Monument Creek that forms the western border of campus.

In this phase of the project the team is using a method for research, planning, and design known as geodesign. Geodesign is a multifaceted approach that aims to account for the myriad of factors at play when revitalizing a given area. While traditional planning methods typically focus on research and data aggregation for a specific feature, geodesign relies on a more holistic set of information. This can range from environmental and socio-economic data, to feedback and input from community stakeholders.

This summer, I and a team of two other interns are conducting a pilot study in the stretch of Monument Creek running from the Uintah overpass to the Mesa Bridge a kilometer south. We have been tasked with collecting stream-bed topography at various points along the reach. In addition, we are building a catalog of various elements in the riparian landscape, gathering data on everything from vegetation to extended human presence. The project has provided us the opportunity to meet with various city planners, Colorado Springs Utilities, and other local creek patrons in order to build a deeper understanding of their concerns and more broadly, how Monument Creek is utilized in its present state. Going forward, the team will visualize our data in industry standard GIS software, which provides powerful analytic tools, enabling us to identify key areas for redesign.

Following the data collection and analysis phase, the other interns and I will shift the focus of our work to a GIS modeling software which allows designers to model buildings and vegetation in conjunction with preexisting conditions. The team will attempt to create a plan which can improve storm water quality, aide in flood mitigation, and restore degraded ecological systems. The plan will also seek to create a stronger connection between the creek and the Colorado College campus, enabling further education on hydrology and riparian landscapes in our own backyard. For me, this is one of the most compelling components of the project. By using detailed geospatial data as the framework for design creation, we have the opportunity to achieve a powerful synthesis of science and creativity which truly represents the potency of a liberal arts education. Knowing that down the line our work may help enable a positive change in our community is icing on the cake. Our project parallels ongoing work being done by the Fountain Creek Watershed District, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, and The Rocky Mountain Field Institute.

The models and data generated this summer will be used and refined by CC’s Introduction to Geodesign course, which is being offered in Block 8, 2019. Students in this class will have the opportunity to learn the geodesign method and continue conversations with community stakeholders in order to develop models which may be presented to decision makers both on campus, and within city government.

While the work being done here is local, the scope of the project is far greater. The Monument Creek Restoration Plan will be Colorado College’s flagship contribution to Changing our Global Infrastructure, a geodesign collaboration among academic institutions worldwide. Colorado College’s focus on digital liberal arts, and early adoption of the geodesign methodology has enabled CC to be the only four-year liberal arts college to participate. This international Geodesign consortium aims to create a diverse body of work, showcasing the capabilities of the new methodology. Areas of study range from urban centers to wilderness, and initial work will be presented at the International Geodesign Conference in February 2019. Our Geodesign at Colorado College project will also be presenting a poster in September at GIS in the Rockies, the premier geospatial conference of the Rocky Mountain west. Through these conferences we hope to hone our presentation skill as well as gain insight into other implementations of the informational technologies through which we work.

For more information please visit our website.

Student interns are:

  • David Sachs, senior, Interdisciplinary Major
  • Will Rundquist, senior, Geology Major
  • Darryl Filmore, junior, Computer Science Major

Collaborators/mentors are:

  • Christine Siddoway, Geology Professor
  • Matt Cooney, GIS Technical Director
  • Cyndy Hines, Program Coordinator, Innovation and SOTR, with expertise in stream ecology and hydrology



Human Anatomy Class Leverages Unique Resources for Lifelong Learning

by Laurie Laker ’12

The study of the human body at Colorado College is something of a unique opportunity for an undergraduate student body. CC is one of the very few colleges in the country, particularly among our liberal arts peer schools, where students can immerse themselves fully in the study of the human anatomy, applying their classroom theory with real-world practice.

“We’re extremely careful about how we present the anatomy lab, what we say about the lab, because we want to be as respectful as possible to the donors,” explains Professor Dan Miska of the Human Biology and Kinesiology Department.

‘Donors’ is the language of the department and all those who move through their classes, rooted in respect for the persons who’ve donated their bodies to scientific teaching and research. The class Introduction to Human Anatomy, running this Block A, lets students gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of human anatomy, and includes the examination of skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory structures.

“I’d estimate that 90 percent of our students go on to some form of medical program,” Miska adds. “Anatomy has the reputation of being all about memorization, but what we try to teach here is the true applicability of the material — to the clinical work of a future career.”

“For example, with certain diagnoses we bring socioeconomic issues into our discussions as well. Cases like heart attacks, for example, often hinge upon diet and exercise, which in turn frequently hinge on the socioeconomic status of the patient,” adds Miska. “It’s a clinical class, but with applicable knowledge and social awareness woven throughout.”

The class is a combination of clinical study modules and laboratory sessions, and students work in small groups to diagnose a hypothetical injury or condition using the methodology of clinicians — asking questions, noting patients’ medical histories, and then offering a possible diagnosis.

“I’m taking this partly for my major, partly because it’s super interesting,” says Nabeel Elabdeia ’20, who majors in Organismal Biology and Ecology.

“It’s so different from the textbook type of class, a lot more messy — just like real life medical practice.”

“This kind of work — particularly with the donors — it makes me think about real doctors, how difficult it is to diagnose real people. I was a bit nervous at first, but you soon learn to dissociate from the personal and treat it as a learning experience.” Elabdeia, who plans to head to dental school after CC, adds.

“It’s not just checking a box,” Miska details, expanding more on the longer-term goals of the class.

“Students take this because it’s going to follow you in life, to set you up for what you’re doing for a career — these are practical life skills for impactful careers, and that we can offer the practical skills of body diagnosis at the undergrad level is incredible. It gives our students such a head start when they head to med school after CC.”

Nerves are commonplace among students before heading to the lab for the first time — understandably so, given the nature of the material. But it’s no deterrent — the clinical experience of examining a human body and all its systems is often the chief attraction for students taking the class.

“I was anxious but excited for the lab before we went in,” explains undeclared major Julia Moore ’20, who is on the Molecular Biology track and minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. “To be honest, it was very much a ‘let’s get this first one over with’ scenario. We get to see this, to do this, from the first day of class, and that’s amazing.”

“It’s a very, very respectful space, aware of the donors and their wishes, and having access to this sort of facility is quite unique for an undergraduate experience,” she says.

“I actually visited the lab as a prospective student, and it’s one of the reasons I came to CC — it’s a special thing that undergrads don’t always get to do,” adds Moore’s lab group partner, Rianna Reimers ’19, a Molecular Biology major who’ll be interning with a genetics lab in her home state of California after the class finishes.

“The way Dan presents the class, and especially the interactions we have with the donors, it’s amazing — respect is the utmost important thing. He even said, on day one, ‘These (meaning the donors) are the four best anatomy teachers you’ll ever have’ — that’s really stuck with me.”

Dan Miska’s Block A Human Anatomy class discusses a case study and views a carpal tunnel surgery online to learn more about the mechanics of a hand to better diagnose treatment.