Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Spring 2018


CS 295R: Interactive Design

Interactive Design is an experiment in collaborative teaching that brings together design, technology, and storytelling for a truly integrated liberal arts experience.

By Ethan Crow

Harry Carpenter '18 (right) and Rishav Sharma '18 (left) test their genre-defying interactive experience using motion controls. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

It’s the first Saturday of the term, and some students have gathered to play board games and eat pizza. But they’re not taking a study break. The board games bring moments of intense anticipation, excitement, and frustration—emotions that students will learn to evoke as game designers over the next 10 weeks in CS 295R: Interactive Design.

The innovative course is equal parts serious academic inquiry and highly technical training. The schedule is crammed with hours of after-class group work expected just about every day—some of which involves playing games, yes, but also market research, drafting, coding, and more. Billy Nguyen ‘20 is one of many who confesses: “I didn’t expect it to be this much work!”

Nguyen is assigned to one of seven small teams assembled by the course’s four professors. The teams bring together students from various backgrounds, including computer science, studio art, and creative writing. Hand-picking the teams serves two purposes: to distribute competencies across the classroom and to challenge students to collaborate with individuals with different interests.

Harry Carpenter '18 (right) tries out a game made from a variety of mundane objects. This activity demands quick wit and creativity, giving students a taste of the challenges to come. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Early on, the teams are given an adverb and a color scheme—like “bashful” and “green,” or “egregious” and “split-commentary.” With only those two directives for inspiration (and limitation), each team creates a game or other interactive experience by the end of the term.

The concept for Interactive Design began nearly three years ago in conversations between Associate Professor of Computer Science Jaime Spacco and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Tim Stedman '09. They seem like an unlikely duo at first: Stedman’s experience spans marketing, music, and award-winning album recording packages, while Spacco’s involves grants for curriculum development and publications on a variety of computer science topics. But the two share an appreciation for the creative process, which is something they focused on in their last collaboration: the interdisciplinary entrepreneurship experience StartUp Term.

Jaime Spacco (left), Tim Stedman (right middle), and Craig Choma (far right) discussing class
(Left to right) Spacco, Stedman, and Choma discuss ideas for this day's class. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Spacco and Stedman brought in two more faculty—Associate Professor of Theatre Craig Choma ’93 and Associate Professor of Computer Science Monica McGill. The two offer unique design sensibilities: Choma has spent years on sets, lights, and audio design in professional theatrical productions, and McGill has led the development of educational games and mobile apps in the healthcare industry.

Knox students also expressed interest in exploring the topic of game design. Nola Thompson ’18 says, “I’ve had this class tentatively penciled into my schedule for the past two years.” Thompson began taking design courses her sophomore year. She first heard about faculty plans for the class at a “Game Jam” event hosted by Choma, Spacco, and Stedman in 2016.

The timeline for Interactive Design is certainly challenging: students have fewer than 10 weeks to design documents, create prototypes, review user testing, and present their game. Along the way, they learn principles of project management, and several of them spend countless hours troubleshooting code in the game development platform Unity.

The course lays the foundations for advanced work in visual thinking, storytelling, and process control—key elements of success in a wide variety of careers.

Before all that, however, they have to start with the basics of visual and emotional communication.

Attack of the Birds

“I want you to focus on the feeling right now, not the accuracy of detail.”

Stedman oversees an elementary practice in visual design as proposed by children’s book illustrator Molly Bang. The task seems simple at first: cut simple shapes in four colors and arrange a scene of “birds attacking a victim.”

Student credit here
"Attack of the Birds" version one (left) and version two (right), by Dani Nichols '20.

Immediately, there are different approaches. Some students focus on size and shape, making the birds large and pointy, the victim rounded and small. Others play more with perspective, or with color and composition. After a classroom critique, they each create a revised version.

Do not worry about whether the picture is pretty. Worry about whether it is effective.

What Stedman advises goes well beyond aesthetics: Students must learn to strip away distractions and focus on eliciting a reaction from their audience. In the words of Molly Bang, “Do not worry about whether the picture is pretty. Worry about whether it is effective.”

“How do we create emotion? How do we create a theme?” For Choma, these questions come before game mechanics. Having students consider the context of ideas like “attack” or “fear” reveals their thought process and tests their persuasiveness. “If I make this choice, what is the effect on the story?” says Choma. “When you’re creating an experience that is meaningful, every choice is important.”

Billy Nguyen's "Attack of the Birds"
"Attack of the Birds" version one (left) and version two (right), by Billy Nguyen '20.

Growing Pains

“You’re hurting the letters.”

It’s time to go over design plans, and each team has assembled a “moodboard.” The document serves to preview each team’s project, with colors and characters, objectives, and target audiences.

In this particular case, a team has stretched a font vertically, making it hard to read and slightly unnerving. Stedman does not find the result convincing. Was there a better choice to be made?

As students present, they can’t hide behind ambiguity or inexperience. They’ll be judged exactly for what they show. Choma reminds them, “Whether or not you intend [the audience] to read [the moodboard] a certain way, they will expect it to reflect the game.”

McGill (left) gives direction on everything from designing a user interface to choosing the right data structure. Here, she works with Nola Thompson '18 (right) on some final details before user testing begins. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Learning critique also means acclimating to feedback that can sound harsh at first. For Stedman, it’s an act of generosity that “I’m telling you what I see [in your work].” No team is expected to be perfect—all they need is an openness to feedback and a mindset for growth.

As the class goes on, Choma, McGill, and Stedman spend more time facilitating critique between the various teams. “I look for opportunities with students to pull them into a space where they can act as teachers for each other,” says Stedman.

Computer science major Logan Ayers ‘18 finds that many of the lessons he learned in StartUp Term were reinforced here: “Communication is absolutely necessary at every step of the way, but there can definitely be too much. You have to strike a balance.”

What’s really surprising is that the professors are facing some of the same challenges that their students are up against. A course taught with four professors requires a new level of interdisciplinary coordination. Stedman says, “We’re really doing the same things that [the students] are doing ... We’re here collaborating, and we didn’t really know each other.”

Students testing app
Testing, one, two, three... Rishav Sharma '18 closes his fist in front of a camera, and datapoints tracking his fingers indicate that an action has occurred. For now, just to verify that it works, "Hello World!" (a common test output in computer science) prints on the screen. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Making It Work

Seven teams, seven products. Some feel familiar, like platformers (the genre of Mario and Sonic) and puzzle games. Others are less traditional: There’s an interactive visual novel, a mobile game that counts your steps and gamifies everyday fitness, and a genre-defying experience that uses Microsoft Kinect to track the movements of the player.

Madison Belka '17 (center) helps Chilembwe Asante '19 (left) with his code. In a class that covers this much ground, it helps to have a dedicated assistant for computer science—especially when Belka is an avid game developer herself. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

It’s hard not to fall in love with each one—imperfections and all. Madison Belka ’17 serves as teaching assistant for the class’s more coding-intensive portions, and has been aiding in each team’s progress since day one. “The little impressions that give you a sense of each student who worked on it has been the most fun and surprising part of the class.”

The games have been through many iterations: from concept to prototype, to user testing and final submission. It’s clear from the testing session that there are still more improvements to be made. But students have developed the language—and the desire—for critical feedback. When Thompson’s puzzle game was deemed too easy, she polled the audience immediately for solutions. Designing for an audience brings on a lot of pressure, but by drawing on the collective expertise of the class, each student is able to transcend their individual limitations and biases.

Something Old, Something New

Over the course of the term, each student has polished existing skills and acquired novel ones.

For Thompson, the class has allowed her to improve in Adobe Illustrator (one of the top tools in the field of professional design), while also providing a new challenge in designing a robust user interface. Ayers says that he expanded his programming knowledge while picking up a cognizance of how to make a story consistent and what tools professional studios use to produce their games.

McGill (center left) advises a team on their mobile application. Between software, hardware, user interface, narrative, graphics, and text, there's an endless list of considerations, and very limited time. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

For all students, visual literacy is a key takeaway.

“What I teach in terms of basic visual skills could really help anybody in the world, because we live in a visual world,” says Stedman.

In a class this intensely interdisciplinary, professors broaden their own skill sets as well. Stedman takes cues from the software development world, noting how certain methods could be applied to art courses. And McGill, a veteran in video game development, says that she has become rather used to having design-oriented students around, noting their "appreciation for clearness” in evaluating the usability of their projects.

The Spirit of the Liberal Arts

It's a perfect illustration of what we're hoping for around here: interdisciplinary and diverse.

Tim Stedman '09

Interactive Design is an experiment in teaching, but it feels like a natural progression of inquiry: Spacco’s students were interested in design, and Stedman’s students were interested in technology. 

According to McGill, this is no coincidence. “It reflects what's out in the industry: the marriage of designers and developers. You have to have design to make people want to use your product, and the technical capabilities [to realize the product].”

Students are already excited about what’s next. Nguyen and Ayers say they are “definitely interested in taking a course like this again.” Ayers wants to see classes focused on case studies of games, or on game mechanics and architecture.

Thompson adds that she would love to see more interdisciplinary design projects. “I might be interested in seeing it as a sequence, or something like Repertory Theatre Term, where you could really focus on just this.”

Students test their classmate's game
Randy Martinez '21 (left) grins while testing a game designed by Dani Nichols '20 (right) and Ayush Pant '18. Despite being a stressful process, there are moments of true joy: here, the class cheers as they get caught up in the excitement on the screen. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Regardless of what the course may inspire, Stedman wants to keep things grounded: Sure, you might never play any of these games, but that’s not the point.

“It's really about process, at the core of it. People are always anxious to see the outcome, or what you make, and, of course, that's always fun. But I do try to remind ourselves that it's an academic pursuit; you're here to learn. What's at the core is the process that you go through: You start here with nothing, and you build upon it.”

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Spring 2018


Tellin' It Like It Is: A.B.L.E. at 50

In celebrating and chronicling the 50th anniversary of A.B.L.E. (Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality), Knox Magazine interviewed A.B.L.E. alumni and students from various generations of this integral campus organization.

By Peter Bailley '74

The sentence “Knox College was founded by anti-slavery activists” or some variation thereof is now repeated so often in telling the history of the College, it gives the illusion that the race issue was settled on day one, and we’ve been continually progressing ever since. But continuous progress has not been the experience of Knox’s African-American students, then or now. In 1868, Knox’s first Black graduate, African native Barnabus Root, wrote that “the feeling of prejudice is almost universal in this country.” One hundred years later, in 1968–69, it was a convenient, comforting narrative of progress that African-American students challenged when they created A.B.L.E.—Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality. Shortly after that critical year, the College’s Admission office produced a brochure written by the students who founded A.B.L.E. They wrote: “If you’re a Black student who is interested in Knox College, we’re the ones who can tell you what it’s like. We are simply ‘Tellin’ It Like It Is.’” In celebrating and chronicling A.B.L.E., tagged by an alumnus interviewed here as one of the most important student organizations in the history of the College, Knox Magazine interviewed about a dozen A.B.L.E. alumni and students from various generations, who could tell it like it was and is.

To see more images related to the story of A.B.L.E., visit "A Timeline of A.B.L.E.: 50 Years of History" under the multimedia section. 


Knox College prides itself on having one of the first Black graduates in Illinois. But African-American students at Knox have always found themselves in the minority and not always welcome.

If I live to be 100, I’ll never forget August of 1968. I’m in a freshman orientation group, probably 100 people, talking about race. A girl at highly prestigious Knox College stands up and says that for years and years she thought all Blacks had tails. That really shocked me. I respect [her honesty about her opinions] but I don’t understand it. [That student had] just never come in contact with any diversity whatsoever.

—Dan Taylor ’72 (read full interview)

I came from an environment that was almost 99 percent African American. Then, when you go to Knox, it’s the complete opposite. You had students from other countries, but in terms of American diversity, there was relatively little in that regard. And there were some pretty wide economic disparities. You had some very wealthy people who went to Knox. It was the first time I was exposed to that level of wealth.

—Robert Johnson ’90 (read full interview)

I remember a party at [my fraternity] FIJI and someone said “there’s too many n----s here.” And we fought, obviously. People said, “Oh he’s just making a joke.” That’s not a joke. That’s not something we’re going to let stand. No.

—Jordan Lanfair ’11 (read full interview)

Knox College is a great place. But, when I was there, it was better for some than others. Every student of color came to Knox so that they could get a great education. They felt that they were sacrificing some things socially, but it was worth it, to get this awesome education. How do we make sure that the total Knox experience is a great one for all students on campus?

—Bernard McCune ’88 (read full interview)

When the movie Boyz n the Hood came out—early ’90s, South Central LA, gang violence—I had a white guy on campus tell me, “I didn’t know you had it like that.” My reaction was, “Like what? I didn’t grow up in that type of environment.” There was this perception that you were poor, from the ghetto, and only got in because of affirmative action. Always having to be the Black voice in class, any time there was a racial component, as the Black person in the classroom, I had to speak to it.

—Esther Wilson ’99 (read full interview)


On February 11, 1969, African- American students walked into Old Main, confronted President Sharvy Umbeck and two deans, and read out a statement: “Knox has failed through the years to provide adequate academic and social accommodations for Black students . . . A.B.L.E. has taken the problem in its own hands and has decided that our suggestions and demands should be followed despite the opposing views of our white colleagues.”

Photo of black flag on the brick tower.
Spring 1969: In the wake of A.B.L.E.'s demands, its posters are vandalized. A black flag is mounted on the brick tower between Old Main and Alumni Hall.

The emotional and mental state that we were in that year, there were a lot of things going on in the country—the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers. When Dr. King was shot, it was heartbreaking. We had nothing that we could identify with culturally at Knox College. We needed a place to go, and we needed a voice. When I went home at the end of the year, I had a whole change of mind. I came back in the fall of ’68 with an Afro and thinking “something’s gotta change.”

—Jeanne Franks ’71 (read full interview)

When I was on campus [in 2016], people asked me, “What was it like being a founder of A.B.L.E.?” I was not a founder of A.B.L.E. by any stretch of the imagination. In 1968, I was just a freshman coming into Knox, one of only three African-American freshmen that year. The groundwork had been set for A.B.L.E. by the Black students that we already had on campus. Alfreda Dortch ’69 (I would give her a lot of credit), Yvonne Brown ’70, another upperclassman, and Pat Ware ’70—they set the groundwork.

—Dan Taylor ’72

I remember walking into the president’s office and making the demands. We were afraid, but also confident that we were going to do this. We all dressed in black and walked into President Umbeck’s office, stood in a circle. One of us read the demands, and, as I recall, we walked out. President Umbeck turned so red that I thought, “Oh my God, I hope this man is not going to have a heart attack and die, right here while we’re handing him these demands!” It was one of the moments in my life that I’ll never forget.

—Jeanne Franks ’71


Spanning generations of students, A.B.L.E. has had a wide vision for “The House,” as the Black Cultural Center was called: In the early ’70s, A.B.L.E. students described it as a “gathering place . . . study center . . . library . . . a common place where Blacks can come and feel comfortable.” In 50 years, that hasn’t changed.

Ariyana Smith news article.
Ariyana Smith ’16, a member of Knox’s women’s basketball team, lies down on the court prior to a game at a college near Ferguson, Missouri, site of unrest following the police shooting of Michael Brown. Smith is suspended from playing, a decision that is subsequently reversed. Her protest receives wide coverage.

I went to A.B.L.E. House to study. There were also times that less pleasant things happened, and we gravitated toward the house as a safe haven. When Mike Brown was killed [by police in Ferguson, Missouri], the house was a place to air our frustrations that Black people keep getting killed by the police in this country. Another big rally point was when Ariyana Smith ’16 protested on the basketball court [at a Knox game being played near Ferguson]. I was the house monitor at the time, and she was my resident. When Tundun Lawani ’14 was killed [in a 2012 traffic accident], in addition to her sorority sisters, black and brown students were really grieving hard. The first place I wanted to go was to the A.B.L.E. House, because that was the place on campus where I felt safest, the most at home.

—Kathryn Todd ’15 (read full interview)

A.B.L.E. House was a home away from home that allowed African-American students like myself to let down our hair; conduct our own meetings; play our own music; sing and dance at our own parties; cook our own foods; laugh at our own jokes; and speak in our own voices as we carved out an oasis within what the late Lu Palmer (former ACM Urban Studies Professor) termed “a sea of whiteness.” We shaped our own majority space at “The House” and allowed others to enter as respected minorities who had to adjust to a different set of prevailing norms.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85 (read full interview)

My experiences in the A.B.L.E. Cultural Center were phenomenal, because of the love that Dr. Fred Hord [professor and chair of Africana Studies and founder of the Association for Black Culture Centers] provided to us students. My all-time favorite experience at the A.B.L.E. Cultural Center involved the years when the male students cooked three-course meals for the female students (and vice versa).

—Norman Golar ’02 (read full interview)

Among my responsibilities when I returned to work at Knox in the 1990s was to serve as the director of the renamed A.B.L.E. Center For Black Culture. I worked with A.B.L.E. officers, student leaders, and faculty/staff to build the new house’s library, cultural artifacts, and programming. We launched outreach efforts like the Umoja Community Gospel Choir with Jesse Dixon ’89, the A.B.L.E./Knox Math Club Tutorial Program with Jameta May ’97, African Storytelling and Poetry Workshops with Fred Hord, a Community Kwanzaa Celebration, and other cultural events.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85

We are a safe space for all students, not just Black-identifying students, who want to talk about Black culture, celebrate Black culture. We’re not just talking about issues and leaving depressed. Yesterday, we sat and colored and talked about Black talent. We’re open for campus, a space you can feel comfortable in.

—Naja Woods ’18 (read full interview)

I remember something really simple. We got everyone together and made dinner. I remember one with Maurice McDavid ’10, Christian Mahone ’11, some underclass students. We hung out and laughed and complained. That is something that’s small, but it’s not. There were nights where I had a really bad class, defending my blackness or my perspective or my history. And if I didn’t get a space where I could just let it out, I’d explode. I could go over to the house and not have to carry that. That’s what I remember the most.

—Jordan Lanfair ’11

A.B.L.E. members pose for a photo.
In celebration of Black History Month and the 50th Anniversary of the ABLE organization, a panel is hosted with three of ABLE's founding members: Jeanne Franks '71, Brenda Butler '71, and Semenya McCord '71.


Even after the solidification of A.B.L.E. House, significant increases in both African-American enrollment and employment, and the creation of the Africana Studies Program with two dozen courses, A.B.L.E. students and alumni feel that nothing has come easily.

One of A.B.L.E.’s roles on campus is an advocate, when things are not as they should be. One of the things that I recall vividly was that there were not many books in the library by Black authors. This was before the internet, and the library was our connection to the world. We weren’t asking for stuff that was not in step with what the College should have been doing.

—Robert Johnson ’90

During my senior year, our leadership called for a meeting with then-President John McCall. We challenged him to do more to diversify the faculty and administrative staff. We not only increased and diversified African- American student enrollment but, eventually, forged the creation of an Office of Minority Affairs and a Black Studies Program.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85

We were interested in what most students of minority descent tackled in that region of the United States—we didn’t want to be viewed as “invisible:” we wanted to have a say in student activities and that our voices would receive as much attention as the voices of other students. Off campus, we wanted to assist in “nurturing” African-American youth around Galesburg. We found ourselves inviting high school guys to campus for basketball scrimmages, inviting the youth to Knox football games where we would face-paint, and populating other student organizations that maintained after school programs.

—Norman Golar ’02

When it comes to activism, everybody’s on a different level. That’s what I like about A.B.L.E.—we have a wide range of opportunities to participate. Our daily meetings—I see that as activism, the fact that we are having a dialogue. Some people want to know more about Black students and their experiences but don’t have the opportunity to do that. And, of course, this year is A.B.L.E.’s 50th anniversary, and we’re hosting events where we’re able to talk about the Black experience.

—Nikyra Washington ’20 (read full interview)

When students took over the faculty meeting in 1988, [that showed us the importance of activism]. And Dr. Fred Hord and the Black Studies program came on campus as a result of activism. We saw it in the tragedy that happened this year [at Parkland High School] in Florida. Students have a power and a voice, and you can see that in A.B.L.E..

—Esther Wilson ’99

Image of student protest in January 2015
January 2015: A.B.L.E. organizes a demonstration in solidarity with Ariyana Smith ’16, holding a die-in outside Harbach Theatre after the annual Martin Luther King Day Convocation.

Our biggest issue that we raised [in a 2015 meeting with President Teresa Amott] was that as students, we are the backbone of the college, but we felt mistreated. We talked about the fact that Ariyana [Smith ’16] was suspended from the basketball team for peacefully protesting, and that was unacceptable. We had a die-in at the MLK Convocation, which was on the day of an Open House, and they guided the prospective students away from our protest. We felt like being Black on Knox’s campus, we were made the poster child for the campus, but there was not much reciprocity when it came to resources.

—Kathryn Todd ’15

One of the things about the 1960s is that the time, and the school too, promoted students speaking out. Every class, I don’t care what it was, we were debating the issues. So for us to make demands really fits what Knox College was about. Knox, in a sense, made us awake. We thought, “We’ve got some complaints, but you know what, we can do this, because this is how they do it here at Knox College.” I recognize that the negative parts are what generated those demands. But I think the other side is that Knox and the time also emboldened us.

—Jeanne Franks ’71


A.B.L.E. alumni were asked to talk about the areas where they felt that A.B.L.E. had succeeded and the areas where they felt the struggle continues.

Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality has stood the test of time. A.B.L.E. was not a fraternity or sorority [with the resources of a national organization behind it]. I think it’s very admirable that the incoming students over the years have kept it going and enhanced it. When the historians look at Knox College, A.B.L.E. will be high on the list of influential organizations.

—Dan Taylor ’72

Current African-American students may not realize it, but Knox is much more diverse from the time when only four of us entered as first year students in 1981. There are also tenured African-American faculty members when there were none when I was enrolled. Whether A.B.L.E. members are disrupting faculty meetings, sitting down with the Knox president over lunch to discuss change, or taking over the president’s office, the organization continues to serve as a catalyst for change and inclusion.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85

The graphs show positive change in both number of African-American Faculty and African-American student enrollment over several decades at Knox.
Following A.B.L.E.'s 1988 demands to faculty and administration, Knox sought to recruit and retain more African-American faculty and students.

We took over a faculty meeting and presented a list of 10 demands. I felt that we had some immediate effect. One of the big issues was having a permanent A.B.L.E. House that wouldn’t be moved around. We wanted the director of minority affairs to report directly to the president of the College. We wanted targets for increasing African-American enrollment. That’s how Fred Hord got hired and the Black Studies Program was created. We had everyone’s attention, and we wanted to create some structure around it. It was not just “We’re mad,” but “we have something to contribute to an academic perspective.”

—Robert Johnson ’90

We were the class when Rick Nahm, the president, made a commitment to A.B.L.E. House as a culture center, and part of that was getting us some decent furniture. That was a great experience, because we had to get a budget, do comparison shopping. Looking back on it now, as a person with a career, I do that type of research on a regular basis, and I first did it at A.B.L.E.

—Esther Wilson ’99

I believe the administration heard us, and I believe the student government wanted to make sure that the college experience would involve all students. At the same time, I remember thinking that EVERYBODY could do better/more. Also, it helped that we had many administrative personnel of minority descent, for they understood culturally our concerns. I remember Xavier Romano, Tony Franklin, Daniel Johnson, Sheldon Davis, Cathy Walters and Marjorie Fuller [in the Office of Student Development]. I also recall the influence A.B.L.E. played on Lo Nuestro when the College recognized Casa Latina as a cultural center—this was historic because the organization didn’t have to worry about losing their “house.”

—Norman Golar ’02

We sat down with the administration when tuition was raised. I asked if they felt it would be a factor in retaining lower income students. The conversations were all for show and nothing ever came of it. But they were patting themselves on the back for trying. [If you’re a Black student struggling in class,] trying is not enough. Our administration felt that trying is enough, and that’s unfortunate.

—Kathryn Todd ’15

I think A.B.L.E. was effective. I’m not sure we were as effective as we wanted to be, because we’re still grappling with some of those same issues.

—Bernard McCune ’88


African-American alumni have created two organizations—the Black Alumni Association of Knox College (BAAKC) and the Black Alumni Network (BAN). BAAKC has had a Chicago focus, and BAN has taken upon itself a multi-year oral history project featuring video interviews. Both organizations have reached out to current students.

We bring a sense of maturity and our experience of being in the real world and understanding the administration’s point of view, what their mission is, and how that impacts the students. I think students can also see us as models, I would hope positive ones. They can look at us and think, “OK, look where they are, look what kind of people they are, look at their values. Look at what the experience at Knox did for them.”

—Jeanne Franks ’71

One of the reasons I stayed involved was because I wanted to give to students what I had gotten, how I had made it through. Alumni like Alfreda Williams ’69, Chris Chaney ’80, Carl Bibbs ’82, Brenda Butler ’71, Debra Banks ’73 helped me and a number of other students get through. And I got my first job out of college because of an alum, somebody who’s a member of A.B.L.E. That network of support was so important.

—Bernard McCune ’88

However ambivalent some may feel about our experience as students, we owe a measure of support to those who follow us to campus and to those who are still on campus. It’s not surprising that the most active members of BAN and BAAKC were leading officers of A.B.L.E. as students.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85

At Homecoming weekend, I got close to some alumni and they gave me very good feedback. The Black Alumni Network told us how they used to do things. Even though they’ve left, there’s still a lot of things they’d like to see A.B.L.E., and Knox as a campus, do for Black students.

—Nikyra Washington ’20

I’m very proud to be a part of BAN. But most Black alumni go through a period where they have to be far away from Knox, before they’re really able to want to make a change. There’s a feeling of not being made a priority, even though we pay tuition like everyone else. It takes time to get past that frustration before we are more likely to come back to campus and give back. So we resort to donating directly to A.B.L.E., to TRIO, to the programs that served us.

—Kathryn Todd ’15

I think it’s important for alumni to remain engaged. We have to continue reminding the students and administration of the vitality and importance of A.B.L.E. You come to realize, as you get older, that when you’re a student, you may not see the the bigger landscape of A.B.L.E., how it’s important to the campus. Once you leave campus and look back, you realize the role that A.B.L.E. played in your formation.

—Esther Wilson ’99


Fifty years on, what's ahead for A.B.L.E., the College, our communities? Students and alumni were asked what they see on A.B.L.E.'s to-do list.

Because of Knox’s reputation, Knox can be a catalyst for change, in the state and nationally. Historically, when you talk about the Abolitionist movement, Knox showed that it has the passion to lead. Students and the college itself should continue to lead. Be not afraid to lead in things that are not popular, but are right.

—Bernard McCune ’88

In addition to continuing the push for more diversity and inclusion at Knox, I think that A.B.L.E. should be mentoring African-American students coming behind them, both on and off campus. A community service outreach is a must.

—Eric Z. Williams ’85

I think [A.B.L.E.’s role on campus] changes, as the interests of the student body change. It has the potential for advocacy. It also has the potential to lessen the alienation and isolation that Black students have on campus. It has the potential to be a voice in [campus] conversations. A.B.L.E. can serve as a model of an affinity house, to inspire other groups to organize and develop spaces for themselves on campus.

—Esther Wilson ’99

Working with other groups is really important. There are Afro-Latino students on campus, and A.B.L.E. is seeking to have dialogues about intersecting identities. I’d like to see more collaboration with Harambee. I know a lot of them have said that they don’t experience racism back in Africa. But when you come to America, people see you as Black.

—Naja Woods ’18

A.B.L.E. Time capsule
Opening of the time capsule placed in the College Archives by A.B.L.E. students in 2015.

My senior year, A.B.L.E. left a time capsule in the archives in the library, to be opened in 20 years from 2015, in 2035. There are some very strong letters from students about what was happening on campus at that time. We in A.B.L.E. did it for our A.B.L.E. students of the future. That was the legacy we wanted to leave—that even though we are no longer on campus, there are people out there that care about you, that have been in your shoes and want to be contacted.

—Kathryn Todd ’15

When I was in college, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and thought I could change the world. I hope that today’s generation still feels that way. There is still a plethora of injustices that they can look at. Whatever your gift, you owe a debt to society for the space that you occupy and the time you’ve been given. Martin Luther King said that life’s most persistent question is what are you doing for others. We often lose sight of that, while we’re pursuing our individual dreams and don’t understand that we are global citizens and are responsible for each other and to each other.

—Robert Johnson ’90

Voices of A.B.L.E.

Jeanne Franks '71 is director of marketing for Brook Architecture, Inc, of Chicago and host of "DCB Jazz" on WDCB-FM in Chicago.

Dan Taylor '72 is senior vice president at PNC Bank, Pittsburgh, in charge of 14 regional branch banks and, in 2016, was an inaugural speaker in Knox's Alumni in Residence program.

Eric Z. Williams '85 served Knox as associate dean for Intercultural Life and is currently a college and career specialist for Chicago Public Schools.

Bernard McCune '88 is chief schools officer for Blue School Partners, an educational philanthropic collaborative in Denver and recipient of a 2010 Knox Service Award.

Robert Johnson '90 is managing partner of The Solomon Group in Chicago, a consulting firm that focuses on business, management, and leadership development.

Esther Wilson '99, a public affairs specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a founding member of BAN and its current president.

Norman Golar '02 is assistant professor and chair of the Department of English at Stillman College and recipient of Knox's 2012 Young Alumni Achievement Award.

Jordan Lanfair '11 was selected the 2011 Senior Class Speaker and currently teaches middle school in Chicago.

Kathryn Todd '15, selected as the 2015 Senior Class Speaker, is director of operations and Spanish interpreter at We Rock the Spectrum-Austin.

Nikyra Washington '20 and Naja Woods '18 are co-presidents of A.B.L.E. Woods has a self-designed major in Gender and Women's Studies and journalism, with a minor in Spanish. Washington is an education major with a double minor in Africana Studies and Spanish.

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Spring 2018


6 Ways of Looking at a Star

Star Donors are the largely unacknowledged heroes of Knox College. It's time to give them their due.

By Pam Chozen

See a complete list of Star donors.

There are two sides to every ledger sheet: the money going out and the money coming in. Money goes out of Knox via a thousand different streams: faculty and staff salaries, electric bills, upgrading fire safety features in the residence halls, producing this magazine you're reading right now. But money comes into Knox via two channels only: tuition dollars and donations.

Star donors are the largely unacknowledged heroes of Knox College. It’s time to give them their due.

This fall, the list price of a Knox education will top $56,000 a year, including room and board. As hard as it may be to believe, that sum does not cover the actual cost of delivering a Knox education. (For one thing, fully 96 percent of students receive financial aid and/or scholarships, often adding up to more than $30,000 a year.) As a result, Knox relies on donor support for about 17 percent of its operating budget. Every donor and every gift is vitally important to our mission, but those donors who can be counted on to keep giving year after year? They provide stability in even the most financially uncertain times.

The most loyal of these are the alumni we call Stars.


First, you have to attend Knox College. Next, you need to make a gift to the College at least once a year after you graduate1. It's easy to be a Star when you're a recent graduate—the Class of 2017, for instance, currently boasts 206 Stars, all of whom took part in the class's senior giving project. After just a couple of years, however, those numbers drop precipitously. The Class of 2010 includes just 47 Stars. The Class of 1999 has just 23. The Class of 1978 has only one. Forget to make a gift to Knox one year, and your Star is gone forever. Wait to start giving to Knox until after you've established yourself in your career, and, as much as your generosity will be appreciated, we regret to inform you that you cannot become a Star. You can't even marry into Star status; if you give jointly with your spouse but don't have a Star of your own, unfortunately, you don't get to share theirs.

1There are a handful of Star donors who left Knox before graduation but continue to make a gift every year. Now that's dedication.


★    Number of Star donors: 1,447, or 19 percent of last year's donors

★    Star donor with the longest tenure: Barbara Sinclair Glick '46 (72 years)

★    Percentage of the Class of 2017 who are Star donors: 74.1

★    Percentage of the Class of 2010 who are Star donors: 14.5

★    Percentage of the Class of 1990 who are Star donors: 6.9

★    Smallest gift from a Star donor: $1

★    Median gift from a Star donor: $72

★    Largest gift from a Star donor: $5 million 

★    Number of Star donors who have given more than $1 million to Knox: 6 (thank you!)


Dick '57 and Joan Whitney Whitcomb '56 were both business administration majors at Knox when they met in the mid-1950s. After graduation, they reconnected in Chicago and married. Dick took a job with U.S. Gypsum, a career that eventually brought the couple to Atlanta, where their family still lives today. In 1970, he decided it was time to become his own boss—"I had always been kind of a rebel"—and co-founded Gypsum Management and Supply. The early days were exciting but tough. "There were times when Joan would say to me, 'Is it okay to buy groceries this week?'"

Throughout the years, the Whitcombs kept giving to Knox. "For a long time, I couldn't do anything much," he remembers. "I wasn't making any money. But once I did, I decided Knox was one of the places I wanted to support." The couple funded scholarships for business and economics students, contributed to the renovation of Alumni Hall, and, in 2015, donated more than $5 million to support the construction of the Whitcomb Art Center.

"Joan is probably a little more excited about the building than I am. She has always loved art, and she served on the boards of the High Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia." She also traveled to Europe each year to visit museums there. "I'll admit, that's not really where my interest lies," laughs Dick. "I think the only time I've been to the High Museum was to stock sheet rock. So, really, the building's for Joan as well as for Knox."



"Even though I did not graduate from Knox (I got my degree from a college in Texas), it has always had a special place in my heart. I have lived in Texas for more than 40 years now and consider it my home, but I still have fond memories of Illinois and Knox." 

-June Dodd Edwards '57


"I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, and if I believe in this institution and if I believe in the strength of alumni giving, then I need to lead by example and I need to show my classmates that it's meaningful to be a donor, and even though we're young, even though we may not have deep pockets, we can still make change." 

-Tim Schmeling '11


"I came to Knox to play basketball in 1985 for Tim Heimann '70, and I enjoyed my career. I think it's important, as a former athlete, that we feel like we're teammates to the current student-athletes." 

-David Anderson '89


"The Star isn't really anything. It doesn't come with any benefits or perks like a United Airlines lounge membership or anything like that. But honestly, I have it, and I just want to keep seeing that star next to my name." 

-Graham Troyer-Joy '08


A lot of people graduate as Star donors, but many don't keep their status longer than a single year. Others will keep giving for a year or two—but then something happens. We asked a few recently lapsed Stars what had changed for them.

(Note: We're sharing their comments anonymously, because it's not our intention to publicly admonish anyone who chooses not to give.)


"I had a lot of other personal expenses. I was working for AmeriCorps, got married in the summer, and most of our finances went into planning our wedding. And then shortly after our wedding, I started graduate school."


"I moved out of my parents' house and into my own apartment and giving to the alma mater dropped in priority. Additionally, I felt that if I couldn't make a substantial donation, then I shouldn't make one at all."2


"Right now, all my extra funds are going to support emergency homeless shelters in the city where I live." 

2This bears repeating: Any gift to Knox—even a single dollar—will not only maintain Star status, but will also be deeply appreciated. 


Mel Arney held a variety of titles during her 26 years at Knox, but the one most alumni know her by is "Star Keeper of Knox College." It's how she used to sign her reminders letting people know their Star status was in danger of lapsing. Not that she'd let any Star go without a fight. Every year on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, she'd arrive at work with a pile of $1 bills. If a Star donor had donated regularly in years past, she'd donate a dollar on their behalf, then send a note letting them know she'd bought them a second chance.3

"The thing about Stars, they weren't the biggest donors, but, over the years, we got to know them as well as, and sometimes better than, we knew the people who made large gifts. We knew when they had moved or were overseas or were getting married."

A particular favorite of hers was Talal Jabari '99. One year, the filmmaker, living in Palestine, was unable to get his contribution to the United States because his town was under bombardment and mail service was unreliable (Knox didn't yet accept online donations). "He emailed me and said, 'Please please let me keep my Star.' I put a dollar in, and a couple of weeks later, his donation arrived. I always told people, if Talal can make his gift from a war zone, then you can make your gift, too!"

Though Mel retired from Knox in early 2015, the tradition of buying second chances for Star donors continues within the Office of Advancement.

3To keep their Star, second-chancers have to make two gifts before the end of the next fiscal year.

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Spring 2018


Yes, College is Worth It: Busting Myths about Higher Education

Knox Magazine set out to take on a few of the headlines—or bust a few of the common myths—about higher education to help us all understand better why a college degree is still worthy of pursuit.

By Megan Scott '96

"Student debt is out of control." 

"Unemployment rates for college graduates are high." 

"College is not worth the money." 

It's not a myth that faith in higher education is on the decline, but the headlines (like the ones above) we read in the newspaper or see on social media are just that-headlines.

Many are based upon extreme cases and not reflective of the experience of the vast majority of college graduates.

So how do we know what's a myth and what's real? Knox Magazine set out to take on a few of the headlines-or bust a few of the common myths-about higher education to help us all better understand why a college degree is still worthy of pursuit.

MYTH: College is too expensive.

FACT: College is expensive, but schools work hard to defray the costs.

Tuition, room, and board can add up quickly, particularly if you attend a private school, where the sticker price can exceed $50,000 per year. Even in-state tuition at many public colleges and universities is upwards of $20,000 per year. A college education does cost more today than it did a decade ago, but when you account for inflation, the growth in tuition, room, and board is not accelerating. At Knox, the increase in net price (tuition, board, and fees) has mirrored inflation over the last decade.

Further, the vast majority of students who attend college do not pay the sticker price, thanks to scholarships, federal financial aid, and institutional aid. The average price for a college education is $16,164 per year; at Knox, that average price is $20,804, and 98 percent of our students receive some form of aid, whether that be financial aid or merit scholarships.

Sources: College Scorecard, IPEDS, The College Board: Trends in College Pricing 2016

Average Annual Percentage Increase in Net Price at Private, Nonprofit Colleges by Decade

MYTH: Colleges spend too much money on fancy residence halls and climbing walls.

FACT: Yes, some do, but most do not.

As the competition for students has risen among colleges and universities, climbing walls, lazy rivers, and other amenities are now found on some college and university campuses as a means to make their schools more attractive to prospective students. The additions to campus aren't always paid for by tuition; for example, Louisiana State University covered the cost of its new recreation center, which includes a lazy river, with student fees. But a large number of college and university campuses haven't entered into what some call the new "arms race," either because they choose not to or face budgetary or other constraints don't allow for such amenities. In fact, once you start to read the stories that highlight these amenities, you'll find that these may be more of an exception than a rule.

Knox is #7 in the nation among liberal arts colleges for operational efficiency

At Knox, we are mission-driven in all that we do and have worked diligently to control costs so that our tuition dollars are used to support the core inputs of a liberal arts education- high-quality faculty and staff who are dedicated to undergraduates, small class sizes, modern scientific equipment and instructional technology, and opportunities for students to put their education to practice outside the classroom.

Sources: Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. News & World Report

MYTH: Students are drowning in debt.

FACT: The average debt level of a bachelor's degree recipient is equivalent to the average price of a new car.

Average Car Loan vs. Average Knox Debt

We've all read the stories about students graduating from college with burdensome amounts of debt, sometimes topping $100,000. While it is true that college debt has grown over the last decade, the extreme stories you read about in the news are just that: extreme. In 2014, only 4 percent of all borrowers owed $100,000 or more in student debt, and the vast majority of large debt is incurred at the graduate level or at for-profit educational institutions.

The average debt incurred by a Knox graduate is $27,000, below the national average of $30,000, and 72 percent of Knox graduates start to repay their loans within three years, compared to the national average of 48 percent. While we recognize that $27,000 of debt is substantial, here's another way to think about it: Many of us don't blink an eye at incurring a car loan of $30,000, and you'll only own a car for roughly a decade, give or take a few years; your education will last you a lifetime.

Sources: Council for Independent Colleges, College Scorecard, CNBC, Student Loan Hero 

MYTH: A bachelor's degree isn't worth the investment.

FACT: A bachelor's degree is one of the most important-and beneficial-investments you can make.

The sentiment that the expense of attaining a four-year degree, particularly at a private school, isn't worth the outcome is certainly growing. But we need to remember that a college degree has benefits that last a lifetime.

Knox is one of the top 50 private colleges where alumni feel they got a great return on their investment.

Forbes Grateful Grads Index

According to a report by The College Board, college graduates also earn roughly 73 percent more than high school graduates-and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as high school graduates. On average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. A recent study by the Brookings Institution further shows that college graduates ultimately lead healthier, longer lives. So while the cost of a bachelor's degree is not inconsequential, the benefits that graduates realize over their lifetimes are well worth the initial investment.

Sources: Chronicle of Higher Education, College Scorecard, College Board

MYTH: Liberal arts graduates aren't desirable employees in today's marketplace.

FACT: Liberal arts graduates are highly desired by employers.

 80% of employers think students should acquire a liberal arts education.

While it may seem counterintuitive that a broad-based education may be more beneficial than a skills-based one, it's true. The core outcomes of a liberal arts education-the ability to think critically and creatively, work collaboratively, communicate clearly, adapt to new technologies, and navigate today's global economy-are not only desired by today's top employers, but also provide students with the skills they need to adapt to an ever-changing world. Today's graduates may have two or more different career trajectories during their lifetime, which makes a broad-based education even more beneficial.

Companies in the tech industry aren't shy about the benefits of a liberal arts degree-Google often touts its appreciation for employees who can think creatively and adapt to evolving technologies, and Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum wrote in their new book, The Future Computed, that lessons from liberal arts will be critical to unleashing the full potential of AI. We hear this exact sentiment from employers who hire Knox graduates on a regular basis. Take Epic Systems, whose human resources recruiter says, "Epic values the well-rounded liberal arts education students receive at Knox College and actively recruits students majoring in everything from classics to computer science."

Sources: Council for Independent Colleges, Knox College Bastian Family Center for Career Services, Business Insider

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Spring 2018


Expanding Options for Science Students

Knox students will now have the opportunity to pursue a bachelor of science degree in eight fields of study, and a renovation of the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center is on the horizon.

By Megan Scott '96

Knox College will now offer science students a choice between two degree programs. Beginning in fall 2018, students will be able to pursue either a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) or a bachelor of science degree (B.S.) in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, mathematics, neuroscience, psychology, and physics.

"The bachelor of science degree is a great option for students who are considering a professional career or planning to attend graduate school in the sciences," said Michael Schneider, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. "We are confident that the addition of the B.S. will provide our science students with more robust preparation for life after Knox and will be of great interest to prospective students who plan to pursue careers in the sciences but still want the benefits of a residential liberal arts college."

Programs offering a B.S. degree will require at least four credits beyond the requirements for the B.A. degree, with at least one of the credits in the sciences, mathematics, or computer science taken from a department outside the primary major. Both current students and incoming students will be given the opportunity to pursue the bachelor of science degree program.

"Adding a bachelor of science degree program shows that you can do serious science here," said Thomas R. Moses, professor and chair of physics. "Knox is a liberal arts college, and we also have a serious science program with strong outcomes for our graduates."

Knox is ranked by the National Science Foundation in the top 10 percent for graduates who have earned doctorates in mathematics, computer science, and the natural and physical sciences. Dean Schneider noted that liberal arts colleges occupy half of the top 50 schools in terms of percentage of science students going on for a Ph.D.

Science Outcomes

Recent science majors are pursuing graduate degrees at some of the nation's leading universities:

  • Computer science major Dakota Stipp '17 is currently at Yale studying sound design
  • Chemistry major Bradley Musselman '16 is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan
  • Neuroscience major Coltan Parker '16 is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois
  • Biology major Caitlin Hemby '16 is in veterinary school at the University of Illinois

Others are in the workforce at the nation's leading companies:

  • Math major Nathan Johlas '14 is a software developer at Epic Systems Corporation
  • Physics major Rohail Khan'16 is a project management associate at IHS Markit, a financial services company in New York

Bachelor of Science Degree By the Numbers


Associated College of the Midwest (ACM) schools offer a bachelor of science degree: Knox & Beloit


Fields of Study: Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Environmental Science, Neuroscience, Psychology, and Physics


of Knox science graduates already met the B.S. degree requirement before the degree was offered

A New Life for the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center

Science and science education have changed profoundly since the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC) opened in 1971. Courses are more discussion-based and hands-on. Students work with technologies that no one could imagine even a few decades ago. While independent research has always been a critical component of the Knox curriculum, today's students are taking on projects as early as their first year.

As a result, the classes Knox offers within SMC today are both smaller in size and less lecture-oriented than they were when it was originally designed. The large amphitheatre-style classrooms at the core of the building now sit unoccupied most of the day. Instead, visitors often encounter students sitting in the corridors between classes with books, papers, and devices spread out around them. At the same time, the boundaries between academic disciplines-psychology and biochemistry, or physics and biology-are no longer as distinct as SMC's four separate wings seem to imply.

Recognizing the changing needs of our science students and faculty, Knox is moving forward with renovations that will re-envision SMC to ensure that faculty and students can continue their transformative teaching and learning. Working with faculty from every SMC department, and architects Holabird & Root (who also renovated Alumni Hall), Knox is pursuing a phased renovation plan that will deliver immediate improvements to the student experience.

SMC Rendering
Rendering by Holabird & Root

The first phase of the five-phased renovation will create a vibrant welcome to the sciences at Knox, beginning with the central core and adding much-needed collaborative space to the center of the building. It will also add five modern classrooms, while laying the groundwork for improvements to each of SMC's wings. The additional phases will address the four individual wings of the building, each of which houses individual departments.

"At more than 40 years old, Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center is one of the oldest science buildings among our peer institutions," says President Teresa Amott. "Renovating this key academic building is our top priority at the College, as we must ensure that our faculty and students work in a building that is as innovative as they are."

To date, Knox has raised nearly $6 million toward phase one of the renovation, and construction documents are currently being developed. The College will make a decision on the start of the first phase of renovations this coming summer.

More information on the renovation can be found at www.knox.edu/umbeck.