Grinnell students who fear they will graduate from a liberal arts college without having learned any life skills should try their hands at the college ExCo program.
ExCo, which is short for Experimental College, allows members of the Grinnell community to share their passions and interests by teaching unconventional classes. Although the majority of teachers are usually students, anybody can teach a class, including faculty, staff and even those unaffiliated with the College.
There are twelve courses being taught this semester, as compared to ten taught last semester. This semester, the course selections include “Journey to the Center of Punk,” “Irish Dance” and “Hip-Hop Dance Fundamentals.”
“I think it’s great that you can learn something that would never be offered in an academic class at Grinnell College,” said Jordan Hale ’15, ExCo coordinator. “How else are you supposed to learn things like knitting, or cooking or self-defense? … I really like getting to present people with the opportunity to learn a life skill that they’ve been wanting to learn but obviously isn’t offered as part of academic curriculum at Grinnell.”
Classes will start by the end of the next week. Some classes, like “Algorithms & Robots,” have already met. In this class, meant to teach basic programming skills in a fun environment, students are taught how to instruct robotic cars to play music, move, take photos and make drawings.
“Many students stayed after finishing the lab we’d planned, because they wanted to learn new commands and continue experimenting with the robots,” said Kate Ingersoll ’13, one of the class’ teachers.
Grace Gallagher ’15, who will be teaching students how to knit, was motivated by her swim team.
“I decided to do it because while making mittens on the 26 hour bus ride to Florida with the swim team, a lot of my teammates were asking me to teach them… I’m still figuring out how I’m going to teach [more than 50] people how to knit all at once,” Gallagher said.
Austin McKenney ’15 is teaching a class entitled “Journey to the Center of Punk,” where students will learn a brief history of punk music and culture.
“I wanted to do this class because it’s a subject very near and dear to my heart. I want to change attitudes about punk, which tends to get a bad rap, and I think it’s a fascinating way to study politically turbulent times from the perspective of the counterculture,” McKenney said. “I’m super pumped. … It’s basically an excuse to listen and talk about my favorite albums. I’m really excited to get to talking about American Hardcore in the ’80s.”
The ExCo program is funded by the Student Government Association (SGA). This semester, ExCo has a budget of $900, which Hale has to allocate amongst the twelve classes.
“Allocating the budget is difficult—it’s very difficult,” Hale said. “Some groups will not ask for any money, which is fantastic. Some of them just want a really small budget for a few material costs. Classes like knitting, cooking [and] art classes, those are going to have quite a bigger budget.”
The three cooking classes, for example, will be allocated about $200 each. But there are some things that ExCo just can’t pay for. Hale listed examples including yarn or t-shirts, which students would keep after the class.
Participation is still going strong for the ExCo program. A significant number of students sign up for classes, but tightly packed schedules sometimes keep them from consistently attending.
“I had fifty-eight sign up [for my class.] But the way ExCo is so informal, not everybody comes to each class,” Hale said. “Last semester, I had a similar number sign up for my international cooking class and we didn’t have that many every time.”
Students who are still interested in taking a class but have not yet signed up should e-mail the respective teachers or the program itself at [exco].