Reedies Learn Together, Despite the Pandemic

Students find ways to pursue their education—and support one other—while observing social distance.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | October 28, 2020

They said it couldn’t be done. But thanks to careful preparation and amazing response from the student body, Reed has been holding in-person classes since August—and keeping a lid on COVID-19. And despite the masks and social distancing, students and professors have found ways to do what Reedies do best: learn together. Whether they’re climbing trees to study the ecological dynamics of wildfire, investigating the geometry of soap bubbles, or turning parking lots into skating rinks, Reedies bring their unique brand of creative energy to work through the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

OUT ON A LIMB. Students scale the magnificent London Plane tree by Eliot Hall, with a little help from the professionals at Tree Climbing Planet. The purpose of the event was to see the world from a new perspective, spend some time relaxing in the canopy, and experience something new. But there’s a practical side, too. Biology students at Reed climb trees in order to study how forests respond to climate change. In Bio 303, Leaves to Landscapes, Prof. Aaron Ramirez and his students collect branches from the tops of trees to test how resilient they are to drought, logging, insects, and other environmental stressors. These studies yield important clues for better strategies to help forests withstand catastrophic wildfires.

OUTSIDE IN. Math major Kiki McBride ’21 and Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art] discuss ways to construct a Henneberg surface out of soap bubbles as part of Art 181, Architectonic Structures. Mathematically, a Henneberg surface is described as non-orientable, meaning that it possesses the rather unusual property of only having one side. Professors and staff in the art department have gone to great effort to maintain student access to the studio this year, including innovations such as using outdoor space for classes and redesigning workspaces to accommodate social distancing.

FIND YOUR BALANCE. Time for a study break! The Rose City Rollers, Portland’s legendary roller derby league, brought their Skate Mobile to campus over the weekend so that students could get a chance to get together and do something fun with their classmates—namely, rolling around the parking lot of the Performing Arts Building. The event was presented by the Gray Fund, which is dedicated to enriching the lives of Reed students outside the classroom. Other activities this semester included bingo, mug painting, chocolate tasting, face painting, movie night, archery tag, wilderness survival, and woodcarving.

CARVE OUT SOME TIME. What’s Halloween without a jack-o’-lantern? The Gray Fund trucked in scores of pumpkins from local farms so that students could turn their razor-sharp minds to the task of carving fiendish faces and dark designs. It’s probably fair to say that Reedies have a healthy respect for the numinous realm. They have written 18 senior theses with the words “ghost” or “supernatural” in the title (though admittedly this includes two biology theses on the ghost shrimp Callianassa californiensis). Several years ago some mysterious malefactors conjured up a monster pumpkin that materialized in the office of President Kroger; chemisty students also once surprised Prof. Shusterman with pumpkins carved with images of organic molecules

FOOD FOR THOUGHT. The coronavirus pandemic poses challenges for another fundamental human activity—dining. Reed and Bon Appétit reorganized Commons to minimize unnecessary contact. Students can now order meals online and pick them up in a paper bag. But what about the time-honored tradition of sitting down with a classmate and engaging in heated discussion about demand elasticity over a hot turkey sandwich? Staff in facilities services set up a dining tent in the Quad and built scores of plexiglass dividers to allow pairs of students to eat together with less risk of breathing each other’s germs.

Tags: Campus Life, Covid-19, Students