Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Summer 2019


The Curriculum Issue

More than 180 years after the College’s founding, Knox faculty and administrators take a fresh look at the elements of a liberal arts education

Pam Chozen

A liberal, is obviously distinct from a professional, education. A liberal education is fitted to occupy the mind, while its powers are opening and enlarging; a professional education requires an understanding already cultivated by study, and prepared by exercise for methodical and persevering efforts.

—“Reports on the Course of Instruction in Yale College,” 1828

For more than a century, the Yale Report set the standard for what a liberal arts curriculum should include. Students should study rhetoric, logic, composition, and history (preferably through the study of ancient Greece and Rome). They should gain a basic understanding of the physical sciences, mathematics, humanities, and art. Most importantly, they should use this knowledge to become better citizens, knowledgeable of both their own rights and their responsibilities toward others. In practice, while the goals of a liberal arts education remain the same—to teach students how to think critically, write and communicate clearly, and solve complex problems—Knox’s liberal arts curriculum continues to evolve to address the changing needs of the students it serves. At the start of the 2018–2019 academic year, Knox debuted its first curriculum updates since 2002. Here are four things that have changed.

Crossed out: Experiential Learning. Inserted: Active Inquiry.


There’s wide consensus among academics that one of the most effective ways to build analytical and problem-solving skills is to give students opportunities to put those skills to use in real settings. Prior to this year, the “experiential learning” requirement was intentionally broad and not necessarily even a formal academic experience—volunteer work or a campus or summer job also qualified.

With the new curriculum, students are encouraged to have as many of these opportunities as possible. To meet the new “active inquiry” requirement, students are encouraged to take an immersion term, choose from a growing list of courses that include an immersion component (see the other features in this issue for a few new examples), or take on independent research. Internships, community service, and study abroad are still considered “active inquiry” as well. Further, to ensure that every student has the means to pursue active inquiry, each will receive a $2,000 Power of Experience Grant in their junior or senior year to help pay for travel and living expenses or equipment and supplies.

Crossed out: Foundations. Inserted: First Year Experience and Elements.


The new curriculum divides what used to be known as “Foundations” into two new categories: First Year Experience and Elements.

The focus of First Year Experience is to offer more guidance for students as they transition to college, especially first-gen students. Think of it as orientation that lasts for a full year. Perhaps the best place to see this change in action is in Knox’s new living-learning communities. A group of 16 students lives together in the same suite and takes the same First-Year Preceptorial section with faculty members who plan additional activities and conversations with the group throughout the entire academic year. The goal is to build a stronger connection between students and their advisors and to create a real community that not only studies the same material together but acts as a support network.

On the academic side, the new curriculum turns the focus from completing specific courses to developing specific skills: learning to communicate in a second language, learning to make art, learning to conduct scientific research, learning to analyze human behavior within a social context.

A list reads: Foundations, Specialization, Key Competencies. Added in red pencil: Civic Engagement.


From its founding, Knox College has always been deeply engaged in matters of the world outside. Its original Circular and Plan announced its opposition to slavery in all forms and its commitment to ensuring opportunities for all qualified students, regardless of their financial means. Even today, Knox’s mission statement describes the institution as “a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds challenging each to explore, understand, and improve ourselves, our society, and our world.”

In that light, the addition of a formal civic engagement requirement to the curriculum is simply a continuation of that ethos. Students will be asked to explore questions of power and inequity from the perspectives of different cultures as well as to investigate the effects of collective action and the social consequences of technological and scientific advances.

Because these are issues that affect every academic discipline, there are no specific courses required. Instead, students will work with their advisors to identify courses within their major that explore these topics. They can also fulfill the requirement through community service, study abroad, or an internship that focuses on social responsibility

A list of majors, with Greek and Latin replaced by "Classical Languages" and "Greek and Roman Culture" replaced by Classical and Ancient Mediterranean Studies"


According to faculty and administrators who were part of the process, the new curriculum is more an affirmation of practices that already existed at Knox rather than a wholesale renovation. The most noticeable changes are probably the introduction of the bachelor of science degree option for nine STEM fields, which adds additional science coursework to prepare students for graduate programs in the sciences and future scientific careers. The curriculum also re-introduces the business and management major—long the most popular minor at Knox—as well as new minors in peace and justice studies and archaeology.

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Summer 2019


A Whale Comes To Knox

The renovated Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center core will be home to Knox’s largest resident—a 55-foot fin whale skeleton.

Cheri Siebken

Junior Emily McParland takes measurements of a whale vertebrae. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

When the first phase of renovations to Knox’s Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center is completed this fall, along with the new science commons and classrooms, it will include a new two-story atrium facing campus that will be home to Knox’s largest resident—a 55-foot fin whale skeleton.

The skeleton came to Knox thanks to the efforts of Assistant Professor of Biology Nicholas Gidmark. Procuring the whale wasn’t easy. (Find out how a whale came to Knox.) But Gidmark’s biggest challenge has been preparing the whale for display. Luckily, he’s had assistance from a group uniquely qualified to help—his students in BIOLOGY 325: Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. Over the last year, these students have been identifying, cleaning, imaging, and repairing the bones. Much of the knowledge and confidence the students are bringing to the project comes from that fall term anatomy class, and they are learning additional skills through research and trial and error.

Though Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy has been taught for many years at Knox, Gidmark’s research interest in examining animal form and function using the lenses of comparative anatomy, muscle physiology, and biomechanics made him the perfect fit to teach the class when he joined the faculty three years ago. After his first term at the helm, he changed the structure of the class from three days of lectures and one day of lab each week to two days of lectures and two days of labs. “To get into something, you really need to have your hands on it,” said Gidmark. “And by doubling our lab time, we could get through the labs we had been doing much more quickly.”

With the extra lab time, Gidmark was able to add one final project to the course—a skeletal articulation. The class was divided into eight teams of three students, and each team was given a box that contained the bones of animals Gidmark had obtained and cleaned prior to the start of the term— of a fox, opossum, hawk, owl, seagull, dog, dolphin, or seal. For the rest of the term, their assignment was to identify the bones and reassemble the skeletons.

Megan Koluch ’19, whose future plans include medical school, was on the team that assembled the dolphin. “I was handed that box of bones and thought ‘I know nothing,’ and freaked out for a minute. And then it’s like ‘Oh, I know this is a cervical vertebra,’ and just kind of started piecing together everything I’d learned.”

Once the bones were identified, they were reassembled into a lifelike posture. The fox is jumping, the dolphin is diving, the dog is sitting. “For this project, they not only had to think about how the bones are connected, but how the animal moves,” says Gidmark. They’re integrating animal locomotion, animal behavior, and animal posture, as well as just raw anatomy.”

The students drilled holes into each individual bone, then threaded them to each other using rods for larger animals like the seal or dog (which was the size of a Great Dane), or fine wire for the delicate bones of the hawk, owl, and seagull. Once in position, the hundreds of bones were glued to hold their pose, creating a museum-quality articulation. “They spent a lot of time with the fine details so that you don’t see how, say, the leg is connected. It’s just connected,” says Gidmark.

Jini John ’19 makes some adjustments to the red-tailed hawk she and her team articulated for the class Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy.
Jini John ’19 makes some adjustments to the red-tailed hawk she and her team articulated for the class Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. Photo by Brea Cunningham

He estimates each student spent more than 100 hours outside of lab time to complete their projects. For Koluch, it was the most humbling and challenging experience of her academic career. And also the most rewarding. “In the end, when you get to see your finished project and everyone is just in awe, it’s just so cool to be like, yeah, I did that.”

Koluch says that her biggest takeaway from the project is that no matter how perfectly plans are laid out on paper, it’s not necessarily going to work out that way in real life. “You just have to keep working through those problems and find solutions for them. There’s no manual for these things.”

Gidmark says that tenacity and the ability to work though the problem have been huge assets as he and his team of students have tackled the whale articulation project. “The logistics are difficult to grasp unless you’ve done something on a smaller scale,” says Gidmark.

Just like the class articulation, the first step in the whale project involved identifying the bones. Students were assigned different sections of the anatomy, such as the ribs, skull, flippers, and vertebrae.

Senior Kiana Arango rotates the whale’s hyoid (tongue bone) while Sam Arrez ’19 takes photos with an iPad. The photos will be used to create a digital 3D surface model of the bone.
Senior Kiana Arango rotates the whale’s hyoid (tongue bone) while Sam Arrez ’19 takes photos with an iPad. The photos will be used to create a digital 3D surface model of the bone. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Once the bones were identified, each was placed on a three-foot turntable, and, while one student slowly turned it, another took multiple photos from different angles. These were used to make three-dimensional (3D) images of each bone. Students then created a 3D animation of the whale.

Sydney Fretwell ’19, who plans to attend veterinary school, worked on the computer animation. “Once it’s finished, we’ll be able to see how it articulates. If we move the tail upwards, the whole verticular column is going to move with it.”

A 3D model of the atrium is helping the team determine the appropriate articulation of the whale for the space. “There’s going to be a two-inch pipe that goes through all of the vertebrae that will need to be professionally bent, so we need to know exactly what we want before it’s hung,” says Gidmark.

In addition to the scanning and animation of the whale, another component of the project that was new for the team was the cleaning, repairing, and even re-creation of some of the bones.

Because the bones were exposed to the elements for years before coming to Knox, they were discolored and covered in dirt and algae. Sam Arrez ’19, who plans to attend medical school, worked with other students over winter term to clean the bones. “It was a lot of trial and error. We started off with hydrogen peroxide and a stain-removing powder. We had to figure out things like if it was better to soak the bones in a solution or rinse them. Or what works better, a toothbrush or scraper?” When they completed the cleaning process, the team coated the bones in a liquid polymer to strengthen them.

Some of the bones were damaged or broken and had become porous from exposure. In some cases, the smaller finger bones (yes, whales have fingers) were missing entirely. The team used the College’s 3D printer to re-create smaller bones. To repair some of the larger ones, Assistant Professor of Art Andrea Ferrigno has been working with Gidmark to sculpt missing sections of vertebrae. And she’s been working with students to develop the best way to repair cracks and other deformities.

Jini John ’19 is headed to optometry school this fall and enjoys specialized detail work. During spring term, she used a combination of resin and microballoons to fill bone deformities, layering and sanding multiple times to achieve a natural look. “If you pile a lot on, it’s going to bubble up and look plaster-like,” which is why John’s steady hand and eye for detail has been such an asset to the project. “In the end, you want it to look like bone, not artificial.”

Once the bones were cleaned and repaired, the last step was to paint all of the bones to give them a uniform look.

Assistant Professor of Biology Nick Gidmark points out the vertebral body to Sam Arrez ’19.
Assistant Professor of Biology Nick Gidmark points out the vertebral body to Sam Arrez ’19. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

This summer, Gidmark and students are putting the whale together in 10-foot sections, with plans to have the whale articulated and hanging in the atrium by Homecoming weekend.

“I often waffle between being so humbled and amazed and honored to be part of this incredible project, and kind of angry at myself at biting off such a big project,” says Gidmark. “So whose idea was this? Oh yeah, it was mine. Totally mine.”

He says that for his students, “learning how to actually connect a chevron bone to a vertebra is not really that transferable, I’ll give you that. There are not that many jobs out there that need that skill. But it’s those softer skills of planning, and work, and thought, and the fact that they really do pay off—you can’t do it without those tools.”

And while Gidmark and his students continue their work in the biology wing of the Umbeck ScienceMathematics Center, he can’t help but look to the future. “Twenty years from now, that whale is going to be hanging there, and the alumni who put it together are going to come back, and they’re going to remember. And they’ll go find the dog or seal or hawk and they’ll still be here. We did this together, and it was a crazy amount of work. And it was wonderful.”

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Summer 2019


Beyond the Books: "Real World" Lessons in Spanish

by Adriana Colindres

Students in SPAN 221 explored potential careers and visited Plaza Santo Domingo during a winter break trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by Beatriz Jimenez '19

Do you remember what it was like to learn a new language—say, Spanish? Did you dread the rote memorization (most likely, from a book) so you’d be able to conjugate verbs, learn the gender of nouns, and distinguish between the proper use of ser and estar?

At Knox, students studying Spanish are venturing beyond the classroom to obtain practical, real-world experiences in reading, writing, and speaking the language. They’re also picking up marketable skills that may serve them well in their after-Knox lives.

During the 2018-19 academic year, for instance, students taking Spanish classes at Knox:

• Translated various documents, including contract language that is being used by a startup company co-owned by a Knox alumnus.
• Explored potential careers in education, social work, interpreting, and healthcare as they worked in Oaxaca, Mexico, using their Spanish-language skills in professional settings.
• Served as interpreters for immigrant women and children being detained in Dilley, Texas, while seeking asylum in the United States.

“I believe students will feel more engaged in the assignments if they know they are completing something for a real person or agency, and that their work will actually have an impact on someone else’s life,” says Robin Ragan, professor of modern languages (Spanish). She taught the fall term class in which students completed translations, led the winter break trip to Oaxaca, and joined two of her students in the spring break trip to an immigrant detention center in Dilley.

Students agree with Ragan’s assessment. They say that while the projects and trips have been demanding, they’ve responded with dedication and teamwork.

Spanish translation class does work for alumnus Russell Coon
Russell Coon ’08 visited SPAN 205 students to thank them for their translation work. Photo by Peter Bailley '74

Translating for a Startup Company

Isaac Hughes ’21, for example, was one of the students who translated a startup company’s contract language from English to Spanish in SPAN 205: Introduction to Spanish Translation. Alumnus Russell Coon ’08, an owner of a startup company that connects organic food producers with buyers, had turned to Knox for help with the project, and the students were paid for their efforts.

“The legal jargon made translation slow and challenging,” Hughes says. “A lot of the legal phrases that I encountered were totally new to me, so I had to research what they meant in English before even considering how to translate them. This really forced me to be a cautious and thoughtful translator.”

To complete the translation work for Coon’s startup, Hughes and the other students worked in small teams, each headed by an editor. The class created a shareable online glossary to ensure that the teams consistently translated specific words and phrases that appeared repeatedly in the English-language document.

“This was a very collaborative project,” explains Hughes, an environmental studies and philosophy major. “During class, we would meet with our editors and discuss challenging words or phrases of the translation. Every single decision that was made needed to be followed by the whole class, in order to have continuity in the final text. Therefore, we were constantly conferencing and debating with one another, which was my favorite part.”

Students who worked on the translation for the startup got to meet Coon in person. “He inspired us all to do a great job on the assignment,” Ragan says. “Translators rarely get to meet their clients face-to-face or hear from them how much they appreciated the work.”

While in Oaxaca, Robin Ragan’s students shadowed and helped professionals in several places, including a hospital, health center, and elementary school.

Exploring Careers in Oaxaca

Beatriz Jimenez ’19 participated in the winter break trip to Mexico—actually, a travel component to SPAN 221: Healthcare, Social Work, and Education that was designed for students interested in careers in those fields or in Spanish-English language interpreting. “Interpreting has always been one of my interests,” she says. “And there is no better way to continue to develop skills in a language than by being surrounded by everyone who speaks it.”

During the fall 2018 term, students in the course—some of whom were also taking another of Ragan’s classes—met weekly to prepare for the two-week journey. They discussed logistics and examined the area’s geography and culture. Once the Knox group arrived in Oaxaca, students started every weekday by shadowing and assisting professionals at Centro de Esperanza Infantil, a nonprofit organization to help children; Hospital Civil (a hospital); Centro de Salud Ejido Guadalupe Victoria (a health center); and Escuela Primaria Andres Portillo (an elementary school). Knox students also met with guest speakers who discussed topics that included health insurance and racism and took weekend trips to nearby villages.

Jimenez, a Spanish and political science major, helped teach English at the elementary school and worked with children and families who received assistance through Centro de Esperanza Infantil.

“I taught children from ages 7 to 12, and I was able to help out in gym and computer classes. I also got the chance to observe the teacher and learn their methods of teaching, and I got the chance to work in Centro de Esperanza, where I played and helped children with their homework,” says Jimenez, who hopes to become a Spanish professor.

The trip enabled her to learn about Oaxaca’s culture while also gaining teaching experience. “One of my favorite memories was when the children in the school would invite me to sit with them during their lunch period. They called me ‘Profe Betty’ and were so excited to talk with me. They wanted to learn more about me and how life was in the United States. Their excitement and interest made me feel very special. I got attached to the students despite only spending a few days with them.”

For Alyx Farris ’21, too, the trip to Oaxaca was an unforgettable one. The art history major spent part of her time there visiting the homes of families who were applying for benefits through Centro de Esperanza. “Essentially, my role was that of a social worker; I filled out a questionnaire regarding the financial status and living conditions of the family and took pictures of their homes,” she says. "This experience fits in perfectly with my experience at Knox focusing on cultural diversity, social compassion, and the broader human experience.”

Working with Immigrant Detainees

Students aren’t the only members of the Knox community who are gaining new insights through travel and experiential opportunities that utilize their Spanish-language skills. Just ask Ragan, who has been teaching Spanish at Knox since 2000.

This past spring break, she and two of her advanced Spanish students volunteered with the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which is associated with the Immigration Justice Campaign and aims to help immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States. Members of the Knox group had a wide range of responsibilities: scanning and filing documents, participating in presentations to familiarize immigrants with their rights, and preparing detainees for their interviews with asylum officers.

“The biggest responsibility we had was working in a team with a law student or lawyer to interview a woman about her asylum claim, help her understand asylum law and how it applied to her specific case, and then practice the questions and answers with her until she was confident,” Ragan recalls. “Once, I had to interview an 8-year-old child, and I felt a tremendous weight on my shoulders to carry out the interview with him about scary topics without scaring him!”

. . . There is no better way to continue to develop skills in a language than by being surrounded by everyone who speaks it.”

Beatriz Jimenez ’19

She says the experience has given her “a much richer understanding of the complexities of our legal system,” and it contributes to her work as a scholar-teacher.

“It’s important to me to stay in touch with the language skills and knowledge base my students need once they begin looking for work. Work like this puts me in touch with a whole new sector of employment opportunities for my students,” Ragan adds. “Moreover, I feel compelled to have firsthand knowledge, as much as possible, about the topics I teach. As a professor of Spanish, the topic of immigration is always on the syllabi or in the readings in some shape or form. And while I can learn a lot from memoirs and literary representations or films, these are often reflective and well-crafted pieces. Working in a detention center meant I had more contact with the immediate chaos of the lived experience.”

The “real-life” projects, such as the ones involving Knox students during the past year or so, clearly provide ways for them to hone their Spanish-language skills. Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that these opportunities also give students practical experiences they can cite in job interviews and on a resume. Their translations, for example, could appear on an organization’s web page or in an office brochure or as subtitles on a video, Ragan says.

The experiential, immersive opportunities in Spanish are open to students at the beginning levels, too. In her introductory 100-level Spanish courses, Ragan has her students complete what she calls “cultural notebooks,” an assignment that involves attending on-campus events related to the Spanish-speaking world. “To me, it’s important that at the earliest levels of language learning, students are able to connect their learning to real people and their lived experience.”

Such connections are key for true, lasting learning.

“Languages do have a special role and place in our brains, and they require us to engage with other humans in order to really acquire them,” says Ragan. “When students are emotionally invested in the language—because they have an immediate, compelling purpose for communicating—they learn more, and more deeply.”

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Summer 2019


The Jerusalem Question(s)

In a new course about the long-contested and divided city, Knox students get an up-close look at some very old problems

Pam Chozen

Students explore one of the many freshwater cisterns inside the ancient fortress of Masada, which overlooks the Dead Sea. From left to right: Iesha Said, Danica Dosmann, Irein Thomas, Anna Rhodes, Judith Espinoza, Alex Fluegel, and Acacia Berg. Photo by Submitted

First, some recent history: Before Israel declared its independence in 1948 and claimed West Jerusalem as part of its territory, the United Nations intended Jerusalem to become an international city.

By the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949, however, West Jerusalem had come fully under Israeli control, and East Jerusalem—which includes the Old City and religious sites of importance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians—was under the control of Jordan. This arrangement lasted until the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel took possession of East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank. Since then, the status of Jerusalem has been a major sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with both sides claiming Jerusalem as their rightful capital.

Today, about 20 percent of Israel’s 9 million residents are Arabs, the Palestinian Authority oversees the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (where Israeli Jews also live, through a deliberate and questionably legal effort to establish Jewish settlements there), and, despite years of negotiations, a solution seems as distant as it ever has.

It was this conflict that the 15 students in HIST/RELS 271G: Jerusalem set out to explore during fall term 2018. An outgrowth of Assistant Professor of History Danielle Steen Fatkin’s course on the history of the Israel-Palestine Conflict—which examined the ancient history and archaeology of Jerusalem and its relationship to the modern conflict between Israel and Palestine— “Jerusalem” aimed to help students understand both the history and the current reality of the residents of the city—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim; Israeli and Palestinian. At winter break, students then traveled around Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem for two weeks, meeting people from every side of the conflict and visiting the sites that have made Jerusalem so important to so many different people—the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, among others.

When they returned, the class held a research forum to share some of their experiences traveling in Israel and Palestine and the questions their travels raised.


Riley Grossman ’19 noted a strong preference among her classmates for referring to the West Bank and Gaza not as Israel or Palestine but as “the Occupied Territories.” She said, “A lot of Israelis don’t call it that. You know— religious Jews, or people who are very into the Zionist movement, call it ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria,’ which were the Biblical names for those areas. You can tell actually a lot of someone’s political standing and what they think about this conflict by how they name it.”


Senior Judith Espinoza decided to focus on Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement, based in Gaza) for her class research project. Though governments in the West regard Hamas as an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization, inside Gaza, it is not only the controlling political authority but one of the few sources of social welfare programs for Palestinians. “Hamas exists because of the conditions in Gaza,” she said, “which many consider to be the world’s largest open-air prison. People are not allowed to leave Gaza. It has no international recognition. Because of the population density, when there are attacks on the West Bank, it’s almost guaranteed that a lot of people will die and lose their homes.”

Residents told her there’s a lack of food, water, and electricity. “We heard reports that there will be maybe two hours of electricity a day for a normal family in Gaza. There are a lot of restrictions on what kind of supplies can come into the area. There are curfews. And there is also the issue of Israeli settlers. When settlers decide to take a space in the West Bank, it means there’s going to be an even greater demand on scarce resources.”

Hamas provides healthcare, education, and job training for its supporters. It also offers compensation for the families of the “martyrs” who volunteer as suicide bombers. “Because there’s very limited opportunity for Palestinians living in the area, if you’re living in poverty, in terrible conditions, then it’s not illogical to think, well, if I commit an act of terror, at least my family’s going to have enough to get by. It’s very, very dark to think this way, but poverty and inequality don’t really promote ethical and rational thinking.”

Students and professors sit on the ground and on nearby railings outside an ancient building as their guide points out notable features in its design.
The class, along with co-chaperones Monica Corsaro, director of spiritual life, and James Thrall, religious studies professor, listen in as a guide explains the significance of the structure around them. Photo by SUBMITTED

They kept asking me, ‘Are you here because of your heritage?’ And I kept trying to explain that I was traveling as part of a class.”

Iesha Said, Knox College junior


In the United States, junior Iesha Said—whose Muslim parents emigrated to the United States from Ethiopia before she was born—identifies as African American. As soon as she landed in Israel, however, she was assigned a new all-encompassing identity: Muslim. At the airport in Tel Aviv, she was the first to immigration and passport control, anticipating that it might take her a little longer to get through. She was right—officials pulled her aside and questioned her for approximately 90 minutes before she was granted entry. “They kept asking me, ‘Are you here because of your heritage?’ And I kept trying to explain that I was traveling as part of a class.”

It was her first taste of what it’s like to be a Muslim in a nation where Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, are sometimes objects of hatred and fear. To Israelis seeing her hijab and dark complexion, she looked Palestinian. “In Orthodox [Jewish] areas, I felt invisible. In Muslim areas, people just seemed confused—why is that Muslim girl hanging out with those tourists?”

The constant scrutiny and misunderstanding led to a profound realization for her. “Religious identity in Israel is like race in America,” she says. “You can’t escape it.”


While there have been moments in the last 30 years where it seemed there might be a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the peace process has been at a virtual standstill since 2014, when Israel suspended talks after the newly formed Palestinian government included representatives from Hamas. (This summer, the Trump Administration announced a new peace plan for the region, but the Palestinian Authority says it was not consulted and therefore will not participate in discussions.) “I would say changing the hearts and minds of young people is one important part,” said Irein Thomas ’19. “They’re the future lawmakers.”

The Dome of the Rock gleams from within the Old City of Jerusalem. The stone the temple was built atop holds great significance both for Jews—who believe it is the place where Abraham once tried to sacrifice his son—and for Muslims, who believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The Dome of the Rock gleams from within the Old City of Jerusalem. The stone the temple was built atop holds great significance both for Jews—who believe it is the place where Abraham once tried to sacrifice his son—and for Muslims, who believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Photo by SUBMITTED


Fatkin’s specialty is ancient history and archaeology, but she noted that while the group spent a great deal of time visiting Masada, the Dead Sea, and the Old City of Jerusalem, what they wanted to write and talk about when they got home wasn’t archaeology. And that’s fine with her—the goal was to introduce students to a part of the world “that is so often talked about and so poorly understood by so many people.”

Their trip went off without a hitch, and Fatkin hopes to offer the course again in two years—but planning ahead can be particularly challenging. “We were so lucky. We were there from November 27 until December 9. And on December 13, just four days after we had been in Ramallah, Israel closed Ramallah and sent in the police to conduct a massive manhunt because a settler had been shot outside of Bethlehem.

“What we walked away with is the sense of how difficult life can be day to day for so many people living in Israel and Palestine."

This immersive experience for Knox students was made possible in part by funding from the Knight Endowed Fund for the Study of Religion and Culture and the Glossberg Jewish Studies Fund, which support classroom education and faculty enrichment and help students seek wisdom and guidance as they work their way through important issues at Knox and in the world that awaits them.

Test: 5

Knox Magazine

Summer 2019


Up Close with Nature

Four Knox students spent the summer conducting biology research at Green Oaks—a sprawling 700 acres of forests, streams, and prairies 20 miles east of the College.

by Shruti Mungi '19

Andie Carlson-Dakes '20 conducts a survey of bees in a field at Green Oaks. Photo by Steve Davis

While Knox has no shortage of opportunities to offer at its campus in downtown Galesburg, there is a part of the College that lies 20 east of campus that has become, for many, a deeply valued part of the Knox experience.

Green Oaks Biological Field Station is a site for learning and community building in various forms⁠—from the 10-week interdisciplinary Green Oaks Term to the annual Prairie Burn. Created more than 50 years ago on land previously used for farming and mining, the site is now home to the region's second-oldest prairie restoration project.

Tresa James '20 conducts research on campus as part of her Green Oaks summer project.
As part of her summer project on invasive species, Tresa James '20 examines plant matter in the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center. Photo by Steve Davis

Lydia Allen was one of four seniors who had the opportunity to conduct research while being surrounded by the 700 acres of forests, grasslands, and aquatic habitats at Green Oaks. The students were selected and awarded stipends for their summer research projects by the biology department

Allen’s project, a comparative study, investigated the differences in organic carbon levels across several prairie fields, forests, spoil banks, lost meadows, and creek banks at Green Oaks. Eventually, she would like to explore how positive conservation efforts impact human health. 

“The land has been owned by Knox for years, but before that some areas were farmed and strip mined, so I want to see how the organic carbon level changes across different ecosystems and historical land uses,” said Allen, who is a biology and public health double major. “It’s important to be aware of how well soil holds carbon because it could inform future prairie restorations, which is important in the face of climate change.”

Her favorite part of the project was being able to live at Green Oaks. “This experience definitely taught me that I could live somewhere very secluded and be happy, and that I enjoy working outdoors. It actually became a very meditative experience to go out and collect samples.”

Lydia Allen '20 collects soil samples to measure organic carbon levels at Green Oaks.
Lydia Allen '20 collects soil samples in order to measure the difference in organic carbon levels across the fields at Green Oaks. Photo by Steve Davis

To Andie Carlson-Dakes, seeing animals scurry around in their natural habitat was nothing short of fascinating. She added that because of her interest in natural history, Green Oaks has had a lot to offer her—including Green Oaks Term and a bat research project at the site last summer. 

“Through all my time at Green Oaks, I have learned a lot about the natural history of the region and seen a lot of different animals and plants,” she said. “Several times this summer and last summer, I have seen either an individual or a family of minks crossing the road. I have also seen many baby raccoons and deer, and last year I also saw a turtle laying eggs!”

Andie Carlson-Dakes '20 examines bees under the microscope in the lab at Green Oaks.
In the Green Oaks lab, Carlson-Dakes uses the microscope to examine bees. Photo by Steve Davis

Carlson-Dakes received the Burney Dunn scholarship to fund a survey of bees that pollinate different flowers. “I will be analyzing the data to see if certain types of bees have a preference for specific flower characteristics and to see what flowers might have specialized pollination.”

Ben Dolezal and Tresa James, who did research on invasive and non-native species of plants at Green Oaks, were more captivated by the surrounding green landscapes. Dolezal said that “it was most exciting to watch different wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, and watch the prairies grow.”

Having conducted several surveys of trees and shrubs during Green Oaks Term in 2018, Dolezal had become familiar with the different non-native species in the forest and had seen how widespread many of them were. 

“Now, I'm looking at how invasive shrubs are affecting plant growth in the forest, and seeing which ones have a more harmful effect on the plants growing around them,” he said, hoping to use this study as a start to his senior research and Honors project. 

Senior Ben Dolezal studied shrubs and trees for his Green Oaks project on invasive plant species.
Senior Ben Dolezal studies shrubs and trees for his research on invasive plant species. Photo by Steve Davis

Dolezal added that the experience should be useful as he plans to pursue plant science in graduate school. “It  has helped me learn a lot more about forest structure and plant growth, and has made me become more comfortable with field identification.”

With guidance from Associate Professor of Biology Jim Mountjoy and a plant physiology class she took last year, James found her interest in invasive species and the potentially harmful characteristics they may exhibit. Her research investigates the allelopathic relationship between invasive species and native plants at Green Oaks. 

“Being surrounded by nature and researching about something I am extremely passionate about has been incredible.” she said. “The plant sciences has always intrigued me, and I am utterly grateful that I was given the opportunity to freely explore and learn about an area of passion of mine at Green Oaks.”