By Alyce Eaton
Department of Chemistry
As entrance into the real world approaches, seniors are glad to see Grinnell alumni go places, even if that place is back to the College. Erick Leggans ’05, of these alumni, started his two-year term as a Grinnell chemistry professor this fall.
one“Grinnell is kind of like Hogwarts, right? A home away from home,” he said. “It’s great to be back and see the changes and see that it’s still keeping to the standards I remember keeping when I was here.”
At Grinnell, Leggans was a Chemistry major who lived on-campus and worked in the dining hall and the Chemistry department. He was involved in Young, Gifted and Black Choir, Student Organization for Latinos/Latinas, and Concerned Black Students, among other organizations. Noyce had not yet been renovated and Rathje was known as Building D. The town of Grinnell was also slightly different.
“Definitely a lot of changes, and yet things are still the same. When I was here, Thiessen’s used to be the Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart across the way didn’t exist,” Leggans said. “[At] Kum & Go, it looks like they did some remodeling… Food wise, La Cabaña is now in town.”
Post-graduation, Leggans went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota.
“I was [in Minnesota] for five years before I did my postdoc in La Jolla, California at TSRI, The Scripps Research Institute,” he said. “While there, I saw a position open up at Grinnell and I was like, ‘Oh, that’d be awesome,’ so I applied and here I am.”
This semester, Leggans has been teaching Organic Chemistry I and lab sections. Next semester, he will move on to Organic Chemistry II.
“Organic II is a little bit different from Organic I in that we’ve got a lot of basics down, so I’m looking forward to talking about complex reactions that actually build upon what we’ve learned this semester,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for chemistry—I know not everyone shares that passion, but that’s okay.”
Leggans, who now frequents Lonnski’s as well as Prairie Canary, enjoys biking, running and nature, though he admits he needs to explore the area around Grinnell a little more. He often visits Grinnellians or even runs into them randomly and has a statement of hope for upcoming graduates.
“You don’t realize that the community that we have here is the Grinnell bubble—you forget about these things,” he said. “At the same time, it really prepared me for graduate school. I was ready to go.”
Department of Political Science
Grinnell sometimes feels like an inside joke—a name passed among alumni, professors and their families, and (supposedly) recognized at various graduate institutions. Cara Jones, Political Science, heard about Grinnell through some friends who graduated in the early 2000s, but she also knew that John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, was a 1969 graduate.
Jones, who currently teaches Intro to Political Science as well as Civil Wars and the International System, went to graduate school at the University of Florida and then did field work in Central Africa.
“I study how rebel movements become governments in Central Africa, so I work in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Uganda, where all of the governments were former rebel movements who took power through a civil war,” Jones said. “I focus on how what happens inside the rebel movement during the civil war matters to what kind of governments they become after. So are these lasting legitimate democracies, or is it politics as continued by the same type of people—what’s really going on here?”
Next semester, Jones will be teaching African Politics and the Political Economy of Developing Nations, as well as another section of POL-101.
“I’m going to integrate a lot more guest speakers—I’ve already got a full schedule of people who are going to Skype in, like development professionals and people living and working in Africa,” Jones said. “I think that will be really exciting.”
Beyond the impressive resume, Jones has had something else on her mind this semester—she is pregnant.
“I think it’s good for students to see that this is a work-life balance question, and obviously professors can be good professors, good scholars and good parents, or whatever else their interests may be,” she said. “I think it gives students an indication that anything’s possible in this kind of career. To quote one of my mentors Anne-Marie Slaughter—she wrote this article about ‘having it all’—I think you can totally have it all.”
When Jones first visited Grinnell, she thought she might live in Des Moines or Iowa City and commute to work, but she ended up living in town and now has a lot of positive things to say about it.
“Iowa is a very strange and wonderful place. You say hi to everyone and you have conversations with people that you don’t really know and people start to recognize you after two or three times of you being in town, and that’s a really weird feeling,” Jones said. “But it’s a good feeling.”
Jones enjoyed Dari Barn before its seasonal closing and now frequents the Danish Maid for the donuts (she notes that you have to get there early—usually before 9:45 a.m.—to get a hold of one).
“The Fire Department is also really awesome,” she said. “The Fire Department rescued my cat out of a tree, which I thought was something that was only in movies, but apparently it’s real.”
Department of Philosophy
“The methodology of my anti-racist field-work in France is rooted in my background in Latin American Existentialism and Phenomenology that has allowed me to clarify what kind of work I can do at this historical juncture in France as an ambiguously White North-American Latino who is also bi-culturally French-American by adoption.”
While it may take a philosophy professor to utter that statement, Roberto Toledo, Philosophy, who started teaching at Grinnell this fall, hopes that it won’t take a major to understand it.
“I try to engage everyone in philosophy by addressing questions related to culture and identity questions that have plagued me since I was a kid while providing a particularly reflexive introduction to philosophy in general,” Toledo said.
Toledo spent the last four years in Paris, where he did research at Sciences Po. This year, he is a Consortium for Faculty Diversity fellow at Grinnell. He is currently teaching Latin American and Latino Philosophy, and next semester he will work on his dissertation while still at Grinnell.
“I plan on being very active on campus,” he said. “In addition to teaching an Argentinean tango course, I am currently getting SOL [Student Organization of Latinos/Latinas] on board for a Sunday Salsa and Latin music night at La Cabaña in order to bring more Latino culture to the Grinnell community.”
Though Toledo misses the dance halls of Paris, he enjoyed teaching at Grinnell from the start. He appreciates Grinnell’s diverse student body and its need-blind application process. However, he sees some places in which Grinnell could improve.
“As much as professors are attempting to build a multicultural curriculum, there is still much to be done to effectively address questions of diversity in an inclusive manner and to address critically reflect on whiteness,” Toledo said.
One way in which Toledo intends to bring the world to Grinnell is by inviting Jo Dalton, a hip-hop activist from Paris, to campus with help from Kesho Scott, Sociology.
“Jo Dalton is an ex gang-leader for one of the most important gangs in French history, a black majority gang called the Black Dragons, influenced by the Black Panthers…He will have a lot to contribute to the community here because he’s done a lot of anti-racist education as well as innovative prison and gang outreach in France,” Toledo said.
The Departments of Philosophy, French, Sociology, Peace Studies and Intercultural Engagement and Leadership, as well as SGA, are helping sponsor this initiative, which will take place in the spring.