June 1, 2017
The Coe College class of 2017 graduated on the Stewart Memorial Library mall on May 7. With a large number of family and friends in attendance on a picture-perfect day, Coe President David McInally conferred Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Music degrees on 315 graduates.
Coe alumnus Sandeep Giri '04, the manager of a team of advanced technology manufacturing engineers at Google X, delivered the commencement address. Giri works at the lab focused on "moonshot" projects like self-driving cars, balloon-powered Internet service, wind power via kites and self-flying vehicles for delivery.
A native of Kolkata, India, Giri admitted he was quickly homesick following his arrival in Cedar Rapids 17 years ago. "I was like a fish out of water," he said. "I had just taken my first plane ride ever to get to Iowa."
He planned to major in computer science, but added physics after taking an introductory class with B.D. Silliman Professor of Physics Steve Feller. Research opportunities available through the Coe Physics Department allowed Giri to publish five papers and present them at over a dozen conferences as an undergraduate student. While at Coe, Sandeep also served research internships at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, causing him to miss his own graduation ceremony in 2004.
Accepted at eight of the nine graduate schools to which he applied, Giri chose to attend Stanford University. He earned a master's degree in material science in 2006. He joined the Google special projects team in April 2013 and relishes the fast-paced culture that thinks big and empowers innovation.
Giri received the 2017 Young Alum Award from the Coe College Alumni Association during the ceremony. He encouraged the graduates to pursue careers that align with their core values, to challenge authority when situations conflict with their values, and to seek experiences outside of their comfort zone.
"The experience of putting yourself in a place where you do not speak the local language, understand the strange food on your plate, or relate to local traditions will take you far along the path of empathy for one's different from you and in turn give you a new set of eyes to view your own culture," he said.
For the first time, a graduating senior - Teaierra Curry '17 - represented the class of 2017 as the student speaker. Through a competitive process open to all seniors, Curry was selected as the inaugural student speaker at commencement. A Chicago native, Curry received her bachelor's in biology and neuroscience, with a Spanish minor. She has been involved in many activities at Coe, including Student Activities Committee, Children of Promise, Rock Climbing Club, Cooking Club and Mortar Board.
"Coe has equipped us with the tools to look adversity in the face and walk right through it with determination and grace," she said while reflecting on the preceding four years of college.
This year's baccalaureate speaker was the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago. He has built his ministry on community advancement and social justice activism. Moss is part of a new generation of ministers committed to preaching a prophetic message of love and justice, which he believes are inseparable companions that form the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As part of his community engagement through Trinity United Church of Christ, Moss led the team that came up with the "My Life Matters" curriculum, which includes the viral video, "Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival" created in the aftermath of Michael Brown's death at the hands of the police in Ferguson, Missouri.
A native of Cleveland, Moss is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree during the baccalaureate service.
Click here for video and text of the commencement speeches.
More than 40 years since receiving his Coe degree and 20 years after the death of Economics Professor Bill Spellman, Kim Benjamin '75 credits his former academic advisor for lessons taught in and out of the classroom.
"Without Bill Spellman I would never have graduated from Coe and never have had a chance to be here today to give a little something back to the Coe community I love so much," Benjamin said.
"I was fortunate to find my way to Coe," the lifelong Californian said. "I was uncertain if college was the right pursuit for me or even if I could measure up, but through good fortune, many friends and lots of help from many wonderful faculty members at Coe, I was able to make it through and get my college diploma."
Although his older brother and sister where academics, Benjamin went to work for his cousin, washing cars at the Budget Rent A Car at LAX. "After about two months of that, I realized that I needed to get an education," he said.
Benjamin's brother knew of Coe and suggested that he reach out to the admission director and ask for some help and advice. He soon found himself on an airplane for the first time, flying to a place he could only imagine: Iowa. He traded washing cars for washing dishes in the Coe cafeteria. "I loved that job," Benjamin said.
Coe and Iowa were very different from the Los Angeles Benjamin knew and he had serious doubts about staying in school. Thanks to Spellman, Benjamin was encouraged to delay his decision and go to Chicago to "clear my head." Benjamin ended up staying at Coe and continued to receive an education and life lessons from his academic advisor in the classroom, on the racquetball court, over a meal and at the poker table.
"Bill turned me around in so many ways," Benjamin said. "He basically showed me more than just a classroom. He showed me a home and a welcoming heart."
A Coe trustee since 2012, Benjamin played four years of varsity tennis, enjoyed an off campus term in Washington, D.C. and was elected student body president in 1973. After graduation, Benjamin spent most of the next six years in Washington, active in the political environment as a lobbyist, speech writer and organizer.
In late 1981, Benjamin returned home to Los Angeles where he worked in the oil and gas and real estate industries before forming his own real estate investment company in 1989. In his spare time, Benjamin co-founded numerous nonprofit community based organizations in downtown Los Angeles and was elected president of several of them where he served for over 20 years combined terms. Benjamin remains active in Los Angeles politics to this day.
Through his professional success, Benjamin and his wife, Mary Yang, were fortunate to activate a hobby of his: the acquisition of sports memorabilia including a collection of major league baseball MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards and World Series rings. After some years, they decided the awards had a larger purpose than just sitting in a safe place gathering dust. They could be sold and the money put to good use "helping others just like Bill Spellman (and my parents) taught me to do," Benjamin said.
Some of these funds have been used to support Make Your Move: The Campaign for Eby and Hickok at Coe. Benjamin and his family have been able to support the tennis and baseball programs, the Learning Commons in Stewart Memorial Library, the Hickok Hall renovation and other initiatives at Coe.
"Bill Spellman said ‘You can make all the money you want in this world, but if you don't put some of it, and some of you, into helping others, then you missed my class, missed my lecture and missed my point,'" Benjamin recalled. "Bill was always teaching. Always."
"Bill used to tell me ‘You don't need to change the whole world; you only need to make a small change in someone else's life. You don't have to have anybody thank you for it. You just have to know that you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart knowing you've done your part," Benjamin said.
Benjamin and his wife started an endowment in 2003 to benefit Stewart Memorial Library. To date, the fund has acquired about 1,000 books, each inscribed in honor of his parents, Jack Benjamin and Blossom "Bebe" Baird. Although his parents never went to college, Benjamin said his dad - a wallpaper hanger and painter by trade who served two tours during World War II and earned a Silver Star (but never spoke of it) - and mom - a clerk-typist for Max Factor during the day who worked an extra job at night to help pay the bills and keep a roof over the kids' heads - both loved literature, music, the arts and medicine.
"It was another way for each of them to escape their daily life of low wages, hard work, long hours, little sleep and missed opportunities, so they'd opened a book and entered a temporary vacation afforded them by a well-woven story," he said. Sharing their love of literature and knowledge in all its forms and expressions is what the Benjamin Baird Book Endowment Fund is designed to support at Coe.
More recent examples of the Benjamin family's generosity include renovation of the library's Cone Gallery spaces, a Hickok Hall classroom named in Spellman's honor, a few lockers in the women's and men's tennis locker rooms, an upgraded batting cage in Eby Fieldhouse and some new baseball lockers as well. They have also donated a collection of 63 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction bats for display in Eby "to inspire young baseball enthusiasts about their possibilities".
"Bill would have been pleased with our efforts here and the efforts of everyone who is doing their part to help Coe 'Make its Move' and build its new future," Benjamin said. "I feel somehow he is watching all that is going on at Coe these days and he is smiling."
John Chandler, who has served as director of athletics at Coe since 2001, has decided to return to his former role as an athletic trainer for the college.
With a passion for sports medicine, Chandler joined Coe in 1988 as head athletic trainer, and he has been a NATABOC certified athletic trainer for nearly three decades.
During his 16 years as athletics director, Chandler has been responsible for the organization and supervision of the 21 NCAA Division III teams that compete at Coe, as well as the management of the athletic facilities. This includes the supervision of an athletic staff encompassing over 60 professionals with more than 450 student-athletes each year.
Under Chandler's leadership, Kohawk athletic teams have garnered more than 40 championships in the highly competitive Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) since 2001, with numerous NCAA tournament appearances. Chandler has also overseen more than $22 million in significant athletic facility improvements during his tenure, from the construction of the Fitness Center and the addition of the Daniels Park Baseball Field to the installation of Field Turf at Clark Field and the renovation and expansion of Eby Fieldhouse.
Behind the scenes, Chandler has worked to ensure compliance of all NCAA and IIAC rules and regulations. He has served on numerous NCAA and IIAC committees, including the NCAA Football Rules Committee and the NCAA Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Committee.
Above all, Chandler has always derived his greatest satisfaction in working with student-athletes. He is looking forward to treating athletes and returning to teaching.
"I've always been committed to ensuring the health, safety and on-field performance of Kohawk student-athletes, as well as instructing athletic training students," said Chandler. "This change in role will allow me to work even more closely with athletes and athletic training students on a daily basis."
Coe College Vice President of Facilities and Operations Larry Lee commended Chandler for overseeing a highly successful Kohawk athletics program.
"We thank John for his years of service as director of athletics and respect his decision to make a professional change," said Lee. "We are very pleased that he will be continuing to play an important role in Kohawk athletics."
Lee affirmed the college will soon begin a national search for a new director of athletics, with Chandler playing a key role in the transition process.
A concrete retaining wall around the bend of Coe Road at the edge of Coe's campus is now a mural that pays tribute to Art Department founder Marvin Cone 1914.
Art students Sydney Buckles '17, Seala Hite '17, Margaret Parkhurst '17 and Nate Rey '18 conceived the idea of honoring Cone, who was known for his paintings of doors as well as clowns, red barns and haunted houses.
Cone returned to his alma mater in 1919 to begin his teaching career in the foreign language department. While teaching French, he gradually developed the college's Art Department until he was devoting all of his time to teaching art. Even after his retirement in 1960, Cone stayed on at Coe for three years as an artist-in-residence.
The doors of the new mural are also symbolic of breaking down the "Coe bubble" and opening doors between the college and the community.
Assisted by guest artist Thomas Agraw and under the supervision of Robert O. Daniel Associate Professor of Art History Andrea Kann, the students invited fellow Kohawks, alumni and Cedar Rapidians to help paint the mural during the final weeks of the spring semester.
First, however, the students had to complete paperwork necessary to install the mural on city-owned property and secure a permit from the Visual Arts Commission. The city also required Coe commit to a three-year agreement for upkeep.
Alexandria Muldrew '17 has been awarded one of two R.J. McElroy Trust fellowships for graduate study beginning in the fall of 2017. Muldrew was selected from a field of finalists from colleges and universities in northeast Iowa.
A psychology and public relations major at Coe, Muldrew will enroll at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where she plans to earn her Ph.D. in school psychology. She is interested in working with children in a school setting, but her ultimate career goal is to become a faculty member in higher education, teaching psychology to undergraduate students.
The fellowships, which carry a stipend of up to $30,000 paid over three years, were established by the McElroy Trustees in 1983. They are designed to "encourage persons of accomplishment, intelligence, integrity and leadership ability to pursue challenging academic careers." Based upon satisfactory progress toward a Ph.D., the initial stipend of $10,000 may be renewed for two additional years.
This represents the sixth time out of the past nine years that a Coe graduating senior has received the prestigious McElroy Trust fellowship. Last year, Emily Roberts '16 received the award. In 2013, Jason Maldonis '13 was recognized with the award, while Sarah Anciaux '11 received the McElroy in 2011. Tyler Mullenbach '10 was awarded a McElroy in 2010 and Ben Franta '09 was recognized with the honor in 2009.
With the knowledge that Roberts received the McElroy last year, Muldrew researched the prestigious award and decided to apply. "I looked into it and I realized it would be a perfect fit for me and what I'm planning to do with my future," she said.
Muldrew completed four internships as an undergraduate student - two in psychology and two in public relations. She was involved in Psychology Club, Mortar Board, the V-Day women's rights organization and Coe Chorale. In addition, she served as a Coehort mentor, a peer minister and a resident assistant. In the community, Muldrew volunteered at the Jane Boyd Community House through Four Oaks and at various elementary schools in the Cedar Rapids area.
In recognition of her academic performance, Muldrew is a member of Mortar Board, STRATA senior women's honorary society, Phi Kappa Phi and Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology.
To enhance her education, Muldrew had the opportunity to study abroad at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She was nominated by Coe to participate in the experience, offered through the Irish-American Scholars exchange program.
Muldrew believes the scholarly research she completed at Coe has provided her with solid academic preparation for her graduate program.
"The research opportunities offered through the Psychology Department have definitely helped me to be better prepared for graduate study," said Muldrew. "Working with different faculty members, as well as conducting my own independent research, has really helped me understand and know for sure that graduate school and a Ph.D. in psychology is the right path for me."
Muldrew is "grateful for the fellowship" and excited to begin her graduate studies. She credits Coe psychology professors Tom Moye and Nükhet Yarbrough for writing supportive recommendations to enhance her McElroy application.
The trust benefactor, R.J. McElroy, was a pioneer broadcaster who started KWWL and the Black Hawk Broadcasting Company in 1947. He died in 1965.
On April 18, Coe welcomed 60 sixth graders from Roosevelt and Wilson middle schools in Cedar Rapids for Kids on Course. The students spent the day attending classes, playing games, exploring campus and spending time with Kohawks.
Student, faculty and staff volunteers all came together to make Kids on Course Day 2017 an amazing and fun day for all involved. Please enjoy the video above that reflects on the experience of that day, and why it matters so much to the students who visit campus.
Support of the Coe Fund reaches every corner of campus providing essential revenue that directly impacts all students. While many things have changed on campus over the years, your support plays a vital role in our growth and success. Your gift, no matter the size, will make a difference in the lives of our students.
The strength of Coe and our students comes from your commitment and continued generosity, and for this we thank you. Please consider making a gift here by June 30. If you have questions, contact Coe Fund Director Mary Springer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-399-8569.
For a complete list of upcoming events at Coe, click here.