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The Grits Collective Provides a Counter Narrative

Grits Collective

Grits Collective

Arts, innovation, and community engagement come together harmoniously in the Grits Collective, a project founded by students Benjamin Criswell ’16, Caitlin Canty ’16, and Paige Clark ’16 that aims to use the power of storytelling to challenge common societal prejudices toward the homeless population.

Following the closure and transition of the CC Soup Kitchen, the college, launched the Soup Project Challenge, facilitated by CC’s innovation initiative and the Collaborative for Community Engagement, to fund student projects that address hunger, homelessness, and poverty in the greater Colorado Springs community. Of the proposals submitted, four teams of students allocated funding last spring, including the Grits Collective.

During the past few months, the Grits team, which now includes its first intern, Reed Young ’17, has been visiting the Marian House Soup Kitchen, and most recently, working with the kitchen’s Family Day Center program. The students sit down with the soup kitchen’s clients, who are finishing up their lunches, and provide writing prompts and materials to collect stories from the individuals in an effort to shed light on their lives and life experiences.

“There are two components,” said Young of the process. “We collect the stories and publish them, that’s the advocacy component. And the other component you could call empowerment: the idea is that we are bringing people together once a week to share stories.”

Criswell added that the group is looking to “create a shift in the general perception of people that are experiencing homelessness. A homeless person is not just a homeless person; they’re a father, or a son, or a pet owner, or a librarian. There’s a lot more behind people’s faces.”

One only has to take a look at the stories, which can be found on Grits’s new website,, to realize their deeply humanizing power. Each narrative provides context for the storyteller and voices the often-overlooked complexity of human life. Whether revealing an explanation of the past, a commentary on a specific impression of the present, or hopes for the future, the stories deny readers and listeners the option of disregarding the storyteller as simply “homeless.” The Grits Collective encourages understanding by dismantling generalizations shared by mainstream society.

“Fundamentally, we are providing a counter narrative,” said Criswell.

The team members say they’re often struck by the extent to which pure chance contributes to the situations of the people they meet. “For a lot of people that are right on the edge, it’s completely out of their hands,” Criswell said. “If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, one thing – like you slip on ice and have a bunch of medical bills – can put you in that situation.”

Grits will continue to work with CC’s Collaborative for Community Engagement, which advises over 30 community-based student groups, as they continue expanding the project. The Grits team will also partner with KRCC to bring these stories to radio programming, and will have its first print insert in the Colorado Springs Independent Oct. 28, part of Grits’ goal to create a multimedia presence. In the meantime, the team will keep returning to the Marian house to collect stories and continue to build relationships with those who share them.

Get to Know… Charles Wilemon, sushi chef with Bon Appetit

Sushi at Benji's

Sushi at Benji’s

Montana Bass’ 18

 How did you first learn to make sushi?
I taught myself. I was down at The Preserve when we used to have a really big exposition station down there. They wanted to do a sushi station so I had to learn to make sushi last minute from youtube and books and stuff. It didn’t take me long to learn to roll but it took like two years to learn to make good sushi. Sometimes I do it for parties or friends.

What is your favorite type of sushi roll to make?
I like doing the tempura shrimp. That’s a lot of fun, figuring out how to get the shrimp right so it doesn’t curl up. Because it’s tempura, you get the fried flavor without frying the whole roll. After that it’s probably the dragon roll. That’s the California roll layered with unagi (we don’t make that here because we can’t use eel).

What is your favorite sushi restaurant in Colorado Springs?
Ai. It’s at Centennial Road and Garden of the Gods Road. The staff is really friendly and the sushi’s always really good, very fresh.

What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
I like to put together miniatures and play tabletop war games. A couple of my friends were into it and I got bored watching it and decided to try it out; I got hooked. That was probably ten years ago. Either that or I’m reading. I don’t watch television.

How did you start working for Bon Appetit?
I used to be an executive chef at McCabe’s Tavern. Then, a friend of mine told me to check out Bon Appetit. I started out at the grill and then I did the expo at The Preserve for a while. I’ve worked every station here. I like sushi best. It’s a lot of creativity; I get to choose my own specials, order my own fish, the station’s mine.

What is your favorite part about working at CC?
Interacting with the students, honestly. If you come here enough I’ll be able to match your order to your face.

What’s the weirdest dish someone has asked you to make?
When I was at The Preserve doing pasta night, a girl wanted me to put gummy worms and M&Ms in with her marinara and Italian sausage pasta. I told her no. At the sushi station I’ve had people want me to put like teriyaki chicken or something in their sushi, but nothing really bizarre. I might do a make-your-own sushi one day so people can put whatever they want in it.

Who’s your favorite person to hang out with at work and why?
While I’m at work? That’d be Josh Speckles. He’s the tall skinny guy with the beard over at the grill. If I’m having breakfast or something, it’s usually with him.

Wild Card: What’s something students would never guess about you?
My daughter is the same age as you guys. She goes to the University of Maryland. I’m 37; people always think I’m in my 20s.

First-Year Students Launch “Humans of Colorado College”

Humans of CC Facebook page

Humans of CC Facebook page

Montana Bass ’18

“Humans of New York,” the popular Facebook page with over 15 million “likes,” now has another sister page: “Humans of Colorado College,” thanks to two first-year students, Padah Vang ’19 and Joann Bandales ’19. The page already has over 1,300 “likes” and is continuing to gain popularity.

The students have posted to the page nearly every day for the past three weeks. Each post includes a photo of a CC student and a statement from the student, usually regarding his or her experience at CC, and goals for the student’s experience at the college. Students’ comments are honest, inspiring, and heartfelt. Poignant personalities carry through the screen, speaking to the individuality of the student body, while drawing attention to overlooked issues or shedding light on less common perspectives.

Esther Chan ’16 helped Vang and Bandales start the page and says she is extremely excited about where they have taken it. “It’s just gone so far beyond my belief. They’re creating this community of support, vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity that CC needs,” Chan said.

Particularly impressive, notes Bandales, is students’ willingness to share personal details of their lives and allow those intimate stories to be posted for the larger community. “The interviews that have impacted me a lot have been Mohammad [Mia] and Austin [Lukondi]’s stories. They are both amazing people and for them to talk about these things, it’s just eye-opening that there’s more to a person than you think,” she said.

Bandales says she hopes the page will draw the CC community closer together. “I believe that this project will allow us to connect more with the people we see everyday, yet never really know what goes on behind the scenes,” she said.

Vang and Bandales encourage people interested in the project to contact them and become involved. Anyone can find the page by searching “Humans of Colorado College” on Facebook.

CC Grads Bring Women’s Art to Life in Rootstalk

The cover of the first edition of Rootstalk Magazine.

By Monica Black ’19

Kate Dunn ’14 and Erin O’Neill ’14 developed the online quarterly arts publication Rootstalk Magazine with a very clear mission in mind: to create a space for a community of self-identified women to publish their art. The magazine features art (including songs, music reviews, poetry, essays, paintings, and fiction) made by women from all walks of life.

Dunn and O’Neill, residents of Oakland, CA, were both interested in women’s studies in college. Dunn, an English major, began to think about the intersection between literature and women’s studies while studying abroad in Greece with CC. It was not until they both graduated that they began to comprehend that women do not often have spaces to share their art and work. O’Neill, a studio art major, and Dunn collaborated during the past year to create Rootstalk, the name of which means literally “an underground, horizontal root system that grows together into a web to nourish one developing plant.”

In attempting to build this web, Rootstalk aims to venture outside normal boundaries. Instead of striving to be a haven for teenage girls like, for example, the celebrated 2011 magazine Rookie, Rootstalk prides itself on being directed toward any and all women and pushes for an intergenerational community. The creators search in more ways than one to be a democratic, fully representative community. “We want women,” said Dunn, “who do not necessarily identify as artists (although self-identified artists are welcome too!), to have a place to showcase thoughts, paintings, drawings, songs, journal entries, that they’d otherwise keep to themselves.“

Rootstalk emphasizes this idea of sharing in the published content. It reads like a mature show-and-tell, featuring everything from pictures of old journal entries to lo-fi bedroom rock. The front cover of the current issue is a piece entitled “What I Think About When I Think About Yoga” by Eleanor Anderson. It depicts a little androgynous person dancing across the page, contorting its body into sometimes-impossible shapes. Most of the art is similarly impressionistic and personal. The cumulative effect of the pieces is similar to the one produced while browsing someone else’s diary: it is confessional but not self-consciously so, it is smart, and it is surprising.

Rootstalk’s first issue, “Transition,” is available online now; 10 of the 18 submissions are from CC alumnae. The website,, is currently accepting submissions.

CC Takes Strides in Sustainability

Students install solar panels at the Baca Campus.

By Montana Bass ’18

In the past months, Colorado College has made significant progress toward reaching its sustainability goals. The college has achieved the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education STARS Gold Status, it moved up to 59th on the Sierra Cool Schools list, and received the WateReuse CO customer of the year award.

These achievements represent efforts by CC’s Office of Sustainability, which completed the AASHE STARS questionnaire for the first time last year. STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) is a widely respect self-reporting framework used by colleges across the country to track sustainability progress. Colleges can earn credit based on criteria across four categories: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration. Depending on the results, they earn a rating as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum.

In only its second year participating, CC has already moved from the silver to the gold ranking with a current score is 66.89 (85 will earn CC platinum status). Ian Johnson, director of sustainability, said, “energy and greenhouse gas emissions are key players in all regards. Continuing to focus on parallel goals and commitments, such as our carbon neutrality goals, will continue to move us up.”

While students and faculty may already consider CC a “cool school,” now it’s official. The Sierra Club recently recognized the college as 59th out of 135 schools on its Cool Schools of 2015 list. The Sierra Club uses a survey called the Campus Sustainability Data Collector, which draws from the data collected by Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowments Institute, and the Princeton Review.

Schools can receive a total of 1000 points spread across 11 categories. CC earned a score of 641.93, while the highest-ranking school, University of California Irvine, earned a score of 867.29. In the categories of food, energy, and waste, CC ranked in the top 25 out of all 135 schools, and also earned all possible points in the planning category.

According to Johnson, this recognition is especially important in terms of continuing to increase CC’s rankings in other higher education standings and gaining the respect of peer institutions, prospective students, and alumni. “Sierra Magazine is widely respected and reviewed,” he said. “Our improvement this year is a direct result of the college’s strategic plan goals and focus on sustainability, largely guided by the annual STARS survey that informs our State of Sustainability report.”

Additionally, CC received the Customer of the Year Award from WateReuse Colorado. “This award recognizes projects and people within Colorado that have made significant contributions to water reuse,” said Tara Kelley, Regulatory Services Section Supervisor for Colorado Springs, who nominated CC for the award. CC has been using reclaimed water for over 45 years. The award states that the college has “demonstrated superb compliance with Colorado Springs Utilities standards and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations throughout this time.”

New Kids on Campus: Summer Session’s Pre-college Program

Dozens of high school students from around the country and the globe spent part of their summers here on campus, experiencing college courses via the Block Plan. As part of the Summer Session Pre-college Program, they enrolled in 11 of the 16 courses offered during Block B (a total of 289 undergraduate, graduate, and independent study students were enrolled that block).

Of the 49 pre-college students, 17 were here on scholarships, including two merit scholars. They represented 21 states and China, and almost all of the students lived on campus during their courses. Additionally, 11 students participated in the program during Block A this summer.

“I’ve been interested in pursuing physics in college although I was uncertain because it’s an uncommon major.” said Benjamin Weber, who enrolled in the Cosmology, Antimatter, and the Runaway Universe course during Block B as part of the Pre-college Program during Summer Session. “I enrolled in it so I could see how much I want to pursue physics in my higher education. I also was very interested in the Block Plan.”

“As program assistants, we’ve been able to develop a little bit of that CC community within this program by planning fun community programming and being role models” said Jaxon Rickel ’16, who worked as a program assistant with the Pre-college Program this summer. “It has been fulfilling to see the students overcome struggles and succeed on the Block Plan.”

During their time here, students also learned tips for applying to selective liberal arts colleges, practiced admission essay writing, hiked the Manitou Incline, and visited the Fine Arts Center as part of programming specific to academic and student life.

“The Block Plan works. It allows you a good period of time to study interesting topics with people who really know the material they’re teaching,” said Weber. “It’s such a beautiful campus, too. I love walking to class and seeing the snow-capped mountains silhouetting the skyline, or going to an observing session with my class and just looking up to see the universe in its majesty and beauty. To anyone interested, I cannot recommend this program highly enough.”

Pre-college students in class with Professor Shane Burns.

Pre-college students in class with Professor Shane Burns.


Student-Faculty Collaboration Fuels Summer Research

Want to understand how language influences the interworkings of the mind? Ask Jake Brodsky ’15, a CC psychology major, who is preparing to present research findings on the topic at an international conference this summer.

“His presentation will be viewed by some of the actual researchers he’s cited in his research. Our students can really make an impact on the way people think beyond the CC environment,” said Kevin Holmes, psychology professor, who is working with Brodsky as part of the 10-week Summer Collaborative Research Program.

Kevin Holmes, professor of psychology, meets with his team of summer student researchers at a weekly collaborative meeting.

Kevin Holmes, professor of psychology, meets with his team of summer student researchers at a weekly collaborative meeting.

This summer, 26 students received funding through the Centennial Fund Faculty Student Collaboration Grant and the Mellon-funded Faculty Student Collaboration Grant. About 65 more, like Brodsky, received funding through other college research awards. The summer program supports faculty members in their research activities and provides students with first-hand research experience as undergraduates. The intent is to expose students to the diverse goals, research methods, and skills faculty use to conduct advanced research in their fields of study, prepare research reports of their findings, and present their conclusions to their peers in classes, at professional meetings, or in Brodsky’s case, to experts in his field.

Holmes says participating in this kind of intensive, collaborative research enhances the learning environment for every student.  “Doing research teaches you how to think in ways you don’t get in regular classes; just to be able to think through a problem, coming up with a question and determining how to test it,” said Holmes of working with students. Students in the program learn to solve problems, draw conclusions that can be defended, and tell the story of the research, which is what Brodsky is doing now as he prepares to present the significant findings of his research.

“You don’t have the pressures that you do during the school year; in the summer, the time is yours, you can sit down and think about the ideas, focus on the theories and the methods, and not worry about the deadlines,” Holmes said.

The collaborative nature of the program is at the core of why Holmes says it’s so valuable – both to faculty and to students.  “For a student to be able to make such a big contribution, it’s great. It’s not just the faculty member deciding ‘here are my research projects and here’s what you’ll do,’ but they bring in their ideas, often related to thesis work. We meet daily in the summer, to check in, to figure out the next step; each of us makes a contribution to the work.”

Brodsky’s research and resulting findings grew from his senior thesis project exploring how monolingual and bilingual adults differ in their views of gender. After graduation, he continued his work through funding provided by the collaborative research program. Holmes helped him apply for additional funds, once Brodsky was selected as a presenter at the Cognitive Science Society Conference in Pasadena in July.

Holmes is working with six students during the summer and while he says it’s a demanding load, the group dynamic helps the scientific, and learning, process. “Each individual student is outstanding, and bringing them together they learn from and help each other, and challenge each other,” he said.

“What the students in my lab are doing this summer are projects very similar to the graduate school experience,” said Holmes. “It’s so much more about the research than taking classes; they have to think carefully about their project and have the time to execute from start to finish. I’d like students to get involved earlier, so by the time they’re seniors, they can really take on more advanced research and extend it in new directions.”

Brodsky also encourages students to get involved in research earlier in their CC careers, and specifically through the summer program. “It’s probably been my favorite part of being at CC. It’s the opportunity to do research with a professor, independently, and the summer offers all of the fun parts of learning without the pressures of turning things in; you get to really learn for learning’s sake.”

Ultimately, Brodsky will work with Holmes to write up his findings for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. While he hasn’t made plans about his next steps yet, Brodsky said his experience this summer “makes me excited to continue in academics or to go on to grad school.”

Find out what subject matter other Summer Collaborative Research Program participants explored when they present their work at the second annual Undergraduate Research Symposium held on campus in the fall.

Green Labs Project Saves Energy and Resources

Anna Kelly ’16

CC science labs are becoming more environmentally friendly thanks to the work of several faculty members and the launch of the Green Labs project.

Over the past year, Barbara Whitten, professor of physics, and Emilie Gray, assistant professor of organismal biology and ecology, have led an effort to change CC science departments’ use of materials and equipment to encourage efficiencies in energy and resource use. Improvements in battery and paper recycling, as well as reducing energy used by refrigerators and ventilation equipment, are also part of the CC Green Labs project. Green Labs is also an active movement at colleges and universities across the country.

Whitten first brought up the concept during a brainstorming session at the end of the 2013-14 school year, and later presented the idea at a Sustainability Council meeting where Gray and several other faculty expressed interest in the project.

“I got interested in this project because if you look at energy density, or energy per square foot, all of the science buildings are at the very top of the list,” said Whitten.

She was particularly curious about why Tutt Science Center, a building constructed to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, was also using large amounts of energy. After some research, she found that science buildings are universally energy inefficient. She discovered the national Green Labs movement, working to make science labs more efficient.  Much of the energy use in science labs comes from equipment like the ultralow freezers and ventilation hoods.

Gray said CC had several projects already underway to increase sustainability in the science departments, but they weren’t coordinating with one another or collaborating to broaden their reach across campus. “We made a bunch of discoveries,” said Gray. “For example, in chemistry they are already using a lot of green chemicals and people don’t know about it.”

To further the program, Whitten, Gray and several other faculty members and students visited the University of Colorado-Boulder to learn about the Green Labs program in place there. “We got to see their labs and meet their program manager, who has tons of ideas on sustainability,” said Gray. “She had a lot of information that was incredibly valuable for us.”

Kathy Ramirez, Green Labs manager at CU, has since visited CC and given her input on how to improve the school’s labs. Whitten says she hopes the Green Labs initiative will reach beyond energy conservation.

“Mostly we’ve talked about energy, but really what green science means is a reduction in all forms of resource abuse,” said Whitten. “It involves water conservation and reducing the use of toxic chemicals without interfering with the teaching and research mission of the science departments.”

Whitten and Gray have collaborated with Ian Johnson, CC’s sustainability manager, and together they have set up a fund to assist in purchasing sustainable equipment. This fund has already been used to buy a high-efficiency freezer. Whitten, Gray, and other members of the Green Labs project will continue to make changes to the labs that will reduce energy and resource use. They also aim to be involved in plans for constructing new science buildings on campus in the future.

Peggy Daugherty, associate professor of chemistry, with a new high-efficiency freezer.

Peggy Daugherty, associate professor of chemistry, with a new high-efficiency freezer.

Jacob Kirksey ’15 Selected as All-American in Forensics

The Pi Kappa Delta National Honor Society for competitive forensics hosts one of the largest speech and debate competitions in the country. It draws hundreds of competitors from colleges and universities across the United States, including CC’s own speech and debate team.

JacobKirksey_118 3.36.43 PMAt this year’s competition, the society inducted ten students as All-Americans including Jacob Kirksey ’15, the captain of the speech and debate team at CC. Selection as an All-American is the highest honor awarded at the national tournament, recognizing outstanding seniors with successful careers in forensics, and strong academic and service backgrounds.

“I have never witnessed a dual discipline and motivation for the arts and communication like I’ve seen in this young man over his four years at CC. Jacob’s ruthless determination to present only the best product is evidenced by scrapping a speech the night before competition and re-writing an entire persuasive just because the former ‘wasn’t good enough,’” said Sarah Hinkle, CC speech and debate coach.

He participated at the national level in speech and debate in each of his four years at CC, competing in a variety of events from team debates, limited preparation speaking on current event topics, prepared platform speeches, and acting. Kirksey says his strongest event is impromptu speaking, in which participants have two minutes to prepare a five-minute speech that interprets a given quotation, asserts a thesis, and gives examples on how to apply the quotation to daily life. He focused also on the after-dinner speaking event, preparing a ten-minute speech that incorporates humor into a serious topic and is persuasive in nature. He chose color-blindness and the Black Lives Matter movement for his topic this year.

“Winning and traveling across the country is wonderful, but the best part of competing is discovering your own personal growth,” Kirksey said of his experience on the team. “Every tournament you are pushed to do even better than you did before, and this creates a very important routine for always bettering yourself.”

Earlier this year, Kirksey and his partner reached the quarterfinals of the Pan American Universities Debate Championship tournament. They competed against hundreds of schools competing from across the Western Hemisphere, the equivalent of reaching a medaling heat of the Pan American Games.

“What has impressed me about Jacob is not his competitive success, as CC has a long history of successful speech and debate students, but his willingness to extend his expertise to the community and enrich the lives of young people in Colorado Springs,” said Julian Plaza, one of CC’s speech and debate coaches.

Kirksey also used the skillset he developed through forensics competitions to inspire and start his own company. Kids Are Dramatic is a social justice theatre company that works with Title I public schools, which include higher numbers of at-risk students, and with nonprofits and after-school programs, to create process-oriented drama classes for students to express themselves. He also serves as advocacy director at the local nonprofit group Imagination Celebration where he networks with professionals in the Pikes Peak Region to develop and evaluate educational programs.

Kirksey, a double major in economics and education, began his debate career as a high schooler in Lubbock, Texas, where he initially found his passion for the event. “Speech and debate created a space for me to succeed in high school and see my potential. It forced me to be confident and enhances nearly ever aspect of my academic and professional life.”

After graduation in May, Kirksey will begin the education policy doctorate program at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “If I didn’t have the skillset I developed and enhanced through speech and debate, I wouldn’t be as established and confident in my work. Hopefully I’ll be a professor at age 26.”



Students Share at CC Internship Experience Forum

IntershipExperience2More than 100 students traveled across the country and around the globe, from the Uganda Village Project to Venetucci Farm, gaining real-world experience, knowledge, and inspiration for the impact they’ll have now, and after leaving CC.

Megan Gillespie ’16, sociology major, spent her summer at an unpaid internship in Denver with the Lutheran Family Services refugee program. She spent more than an hour at the CC Internship Experience Forum explaining her work to fellow students and other members of the CC community, before rotating out and allowing other students their opportunity to share. The organization Gillespie worked with assists families and individuals fleeing the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many other countries, arriving in the United States without access to resources, embarking on a very uncertain journey. Gillespie helped pair families with cultural mentors, connected them with social services, and assisted them in developing job skills. She said the internship is also relevant to her thesis work on refugees and the implications and concept of residential segregation, which is relocating families from the same cultural backgrounds in the same neighborhoods. “Throughout the summer, I was asking the question, ‘are we perpetuating the issue, and is it necessary?’” she said of placing refugee families in the United States. Gillespie continues the work on campus, leading the Refugee Assistance Program service group at CC.

Funding provided by the college enabled students to accept internships, regardless of any financial barriers or impacts. “The CC community at large contributed resources to help fill students’ financial gaps, allowing them the opportunity to participate in unpaid or underpaid internship opportunities over the summer,” said Megan Nicklaus, director of the Career Center. The CC Internship Experience Forum provided an opportunity for those students to share their experiences with the campus community.