A week in Grinnell


Last week, I was invited to share Taiwan’s recent democracy milestones in Rosenfield Program at Grinnell College. The theme for this year is “Our Urban Future”.  It was such an honor to be listed alongside Martin Murray from Michigan University, Margarita Wells from City of Miami Beach. Jason Reblando from Illinois State University, Alan During from Sightline Institute, Mario Gandelsonas from Princeton University and Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa.


The main task of this trip was to share a talk “Democracy from the Future: Taiwan” (slides), and during my stay, luckily I had enough time to meet with a group of very interesting people, including the students, community, other speakers, researchers and professors in Grinnell College.

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The talk mentioned Taiwan’s open government scene after Sunflower Movement. Using Uber as an example, vTaiwan’s process and how we embrace new technology like Pol.is was introduced to the audience in Grinnell.

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Aside from the talk, I have enjoyed the entire stay. From the first day, I was scheduled with several events, gatherings and meet-ups. I will credit this amazing arrangement to Barbara Trish, the program director; and Laureen Van Wyk, the programmer coordinator.

Student leaders in Disability Resource shared their story to me. They did a great job on helping other students with special needs via practical digital tools, such as OCR service for visually impaired students whenever a paper handouts were given in lectures. We shared insights on the adaption of user centered design, and how my CIID’s final project, Griphint, was in the beginning very restricted and only were designed for kids with special need, but then in the end reached out to a way more broader audience. We talked about pros and cons of universal design projects and products.

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Women in CS gave me an entirely different impression. They are confident at the skills in the hands while on the path of figuring out who they will become. If I were studying in Computer Science in the year of 2017, I might as well feel confused. The ever changing technology remains no remark for whatever committed in the past, yet the past passes so fast that we cold only treasure the moment of now to foresee what will be there in the future.

Inspiring spirits were here and there to be discovered in this merely few blocks of college campus. Bill Menner, who has worked more than 30 years in federal service, just started having his own company to help and consult between governmental agencies and business partners. Sam Rebelsky, who teaches in computer science department, opened my door to “Software Development: Principles & Practices.”. He has a class of smart and thoughtful students who figured out principle analysis components algorithm within 10 minutes.

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Monessa F Cummins and Joe Cummins, from Classics Department gave me a shock with amazingly great conversation, over a lovely social dinner, on democracy from the Classical Period and Athenian democracy. It occurs clearer to me that we are realizing direct democracy by hacking with the Internet.

I also met with Douglas Hess, who teaches American Politics in Grinnell, doing research on voting rights and social policy. And Barry Driscoll, assistant professor in Political Science Department, also worked in Copenhagen and the Netherlands, and many other places in the globe. He is into politics in Africa.

John H Mutti, from the Department of Economics, went up to me once and asked “So what is the answer to your last question? What are the decisions machine will make for human?” We had interesting discussion around it. I remember Audrey telling me it’s not for us to worried now, but if one days machines start to self-replicate without any human aid, that’s the moment we will be even too late to worry.

My tiny surprised moment was when a Twitter message came in to my inbox. It was from Catherine Chou, who just happened to find this symposium, and whose family lived in a part of the cultural background of my talk – before martial law was lifted in Taiwan. I remember Catherine as a super sweet person, and she will soon start teaching in History Department. She came to the talk and also introduced Craig Quintero, from Theater and Dance Department, who also owns a theater (Riverbed Theatre) in Taiwan!

I stayed in Grinnell for the entire symposium and I think it totally worth it. It was a wonderful and fruitful stay. I was lucky to have chance to meet with the students, and various types of student groups. And also because of my schedule, I had chance to share ideas with every speakers in the symposium. I truly enjoyed with all Grinnellers in a Grinnell spirit. Maybe that is the “special” I had feeling about Grinnell.



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