January 17, 2012 – Knox College Reply

In the spirit of transparency and dialogue, I thought it best to share Knox College’s reply to my impressions following a recent visit.

Here is the response from the Dean of Admission:

Mark,

Thank you so much for your evaluation. As you can imagine, colleges each make different decisions about how to allocate their resources. Some invest heavily in campus facilities and grounds. Others invest more in their faculty and the educational programs available to students, e.g. undergraduate research, self-designed studies, study abroad, etc. Although somewhat less tangible than facilities and grounds, at Knox, we have always prioritized the latter.

Nonetheless, your feedback is extremely helpful in understanding how those choices impact the impressions of families visiting our campus. We do have some maintenance issues that need to be addressed and we would be well-served by making greater investments in the appearance of our campus. Your comments underscore the importance of this.

Some of your suggestions, of course, aren’t about financial resources but about how we present ourselves, including during the campus tour. For example, despite the absence of any LEED certified buildings or wind turbines on campus, our sustainability initiatives are very extensive. This includes initiatives such as locally-sourced food for dining services, composting of food waste, retrofitting all lighting and mechanical systems, sourcing electricity from renewable sources, and much more (see www.knox.edu/sustainability to learn more and see why the Sierra Club named Knox as a “Cool School” for our efforts). Despite all that we’ve done, however, your experience suggested that our efforts were limited to recycling bins. That’s a problem. Your feedback suggests that we need to work with our staff and tour guides to better highlight our sustainability initiatives and how those efforts have permeated so much of our campus culture.

Sustainability is just one of the examples you raised. The bottom line is your feedback gives us much to consider and much to act upon. I am very appreciative of your willingness to share your impressions with us.

Again, thank you.

January 16, 2011 – Dear Knox College

Dear Knox College,

You present quite a quandary! I was intrigued because you were one of 40 colleges nationwide recommended in  “Colleges that Change Lives” – an intriguing book that attempted to rank colleges not on how hard it was to gain admittance, but how a college’s graduates were situated years after graduation – probably a much better measure of the success of a college. Your marketing and promotion materials were effective.

Your location offers a nice Midwestern pedigree as well – you’re celebrating your 175th anniversary this year. You’re located in a town mired in history – home of Carl Sandburg, along with world-famous brickyard, used to pave 60 miles of your town’s streets, along with streets in Paris, Bombay, and Panama City.

galesburg brick

Your college has a long history of action. You were a stop on the underground railroad. It was home to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

girl in lincoln chair, knox college

You let students on tour sit in a chair used by Mr. Lincoln.  Those are all things that seem to support your current mission.

Your Martin Luther King Day convocation was a wonderful event, complete with singing, words about the inspiration of Dr. King (and hey, thanks for the shout out to Theodore Parker, Unitarian Minister and inspiration for much of Dr. King’s thought), and words putting him in a contemporary context. I agree to think of it as a “day on” not a “day off.”

From all appearances there is a real esprit de corps among your students.  The classes my daughter attended showed the quality of your faculty.  So after all this, why am I torn in my impressions?

I was surprised at the amount of deferred maintenance that needs to be completed. I was surprised that the previous week’s snow had not been cleared from all the sidewalks; in fact from the compressed snow on the road in front of the admission office, it looked like the road was not plowed in a timely manner after the snowfall.  The strip maple flooring in the choir/band room the parents met for financial aid needed repair from termite damage. The list is no doubt very long.

I didn’t learn anything about the food service or cafeteria as the tour never went through there – we did have a lunch, but it was presented in a banquet buffet style, not of the style the students would get.  I get why, school was in session and the cafeteria probably can’t handle the excess.  But one look at the salad tells me that Bon Appetit is not your food service provider.  Hint: many of your peer institutions use them and the food is great.

I didn’t catch some of the tour – the guide didn’t have the traditional walk backwards and talk at the people taking the tour stance down. Instead she walked forward and talked, making it difficult to hear.

Unlike many of your peers, I saw virtually no signs of sustainabilty efforts – only a recycling program.  I didn’t see any LEED certified buildings, I didn’t see any college-owned solar panels or utility-sized wind turbines, or locally grown food (see Bon Appetit).  I did notice that the cost of attendance was about the same as peer institutions that did have these facilities and more.

So, here’s the corundum – can you fall madly in love with someone who keeps a messy house?  Eventually you probably can, but you take the risk of someone not hanging around long enough to find out.  I appreciated the words of your new President.  Perhaps the fresh eyes she has will lead you on a renaissance.  I had a good feeling about her. Knox seems like a grand old house that has fallen out of disrepair, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision it remodeled into all it could be.  I don’t think my daughter will be attending, but perhaps in five years when my son is ready for his college search, the renovation will be well underway and it will be worth another look.

p.s. The Dean of Admissions was kind enough to respond to this post.  Read his comments as well.

January 14, 2012 – First Lego League Iowa Championships

This week was he culmination of the First Lego League season.

It’s a crazy scene in the atrium of Hoover Hall at the ISU College of Engineering as the 72 teams that qualified for state gather.

Team Mu? watching the robot on it’s mission to complete as many tasks as possible.  The other two parts of the competition, the presentation about an innovative solution and team problem-solving exercises  are just as important as the robot programming, but less camera-freindly.

The team poses with long-time FLL supporter and Emcee Brandon.

The team poses with this year’s award, third place in the State in the “Gracious Professionalism” category.  This is one of the core values to First Lego Leaugue and is described as following from FLL:

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

Photos without high hopes gardens watermark are courtesy of Frank Roessler.

January 9, 2012 – 2011 Skystream Wind Turbine Results

Ok, the numbers are in from last year’s Skystream production. In summary, the Skystream produced an average of 387 kWh per month. This compares quite favorably to the average of the previous two years (336 kWh), and our household electric use dropped from an monthly average of 863 kWh in 2010 to 819 kWh in 2011. So, the Skystream produced 47% of our electric use in 2011.

Production stats for the Skystream Turbine for 2011.

Month kWh Produced
by Turbine
kWh Used by
house/farm
Jan ’11 401 1010
Feb ’11 356 823
Mar ’11 498 839
April ’11 622 814
May ’11 561 690
June ’11 399 808
July ’11 120 1028
Aug ’11 105 880
Sept ’11 191 809
Oct ’11 380 640
Nov ’11 555 792
Dec ’11 455 1012
2011 Totals 4643 10145

2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4,068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.6% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3,998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 863 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.9% of our energy.

2011 Summary
In 2011, the Skystream produced 4643 kWh, an average of 387 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,145 kWh, an average of 819 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 47.2% of our energy.

 

 

 

 

 

January 8, 2012 – The Storm that Keeps on Giving

The extraordinarily warm winter to date allows for some jobs that might have waited until spring.  We’re still cleaning up debris from the storm.  It was nice enough to get the chain saw out today and cut up some more trees and haul more branches to one of the burn piles.

We’re probably about 80% done with the cleanup, if you don’t count whether the trees that were snapped off 1/2 way up come down or not.

January 5, 2012 – Turbines on the Horizon

The view to the south seems much more progressive now.  The wind farm is now pretty much operational.

After living near these giants for a few months now, it’s rather intriguing to watch how the interplay of the seasons, quality of light,  cloud cover and wind direction lead to different moods.  Today’s mood was one of spring – a 65 degree day on my birthday – one to remember for sure.

January 3, 2012 – Year In Review

It’s time for a year=end review of some of my favorite moments and photos of 2011.

Kids and baby animals are hard to beat.

Extremes in any domain are interesting.

Martin’s new found love and interest in cooking gave us many great meals.

The promise of a neat spring garden always brings hope.

Linda’s wild look in the White House captures a moment.

“Walking the Talk”

Claire as a professional at her work post in DC.

Dad and Martin up on the North Shore of Minnesota.

Martin’s initiative to carry a big pack, rather cheerfully over 3.5 miles of portages.

Emma exploring new foods in Boston.

Taking care of some of our own responsibly-grown meat.

Visiting with women farmers from around the world at our farm.

The majesty and scale of the new wind turbine farm just south of our farm.

Finally, after 20 some odd years (who’s counting, exactly) the love of my life shining a little light of hers.

January 2, 2012 – Claire’s Caucus Quest

As Claire was running out things to do at home with all her college friends gone away and most of her high school friends on a band trip to Florida, she thought it might be educational to visit all the Republican candidates running around in pre-caucus-mode.  In the matter of a few days, she was able to see four of them in Marshalltown, and was able to make a trip to Cedar Rapids to pick the last two in an afternoon.

newt gingrich iowa, newt and callista gingrich, rock with your caucus out, student with gingrich

Interesting juxtaposition of Claire’s t-shirt and political candidate!.

roan paul iowa caucuses

Claire with everyone’s favorite grandpa politician.

According to Claire, warm monster cookies provided by the Romney camp might be enough to swing anyone’s vote!

Rick Perry speaking to what he knows about in Marshalltown.

michelle bachmann iowa, michelle bachman with student

Claire with the only other declared female presidential candidate.

Rick Santorum live on the campaign trail. All in all, a good week for a poly-sci major to see candidates in action.