Giving for a More Diverse Future

Professor Samuel A. Rebelsky discusses his reasons for giving and the impact he wants to make.

Aug. 16, 2016 — Samuel A. Rebelsky joined the computer science faculty at Grinnell in 1997. SamR, as some students call him, has established the Computer Science Diversity Fund at the College, a culmination of sorts of his persistent efforts to increase diversity in his field.

[Interviewer] What drew you to Grinnell as a faculty member?

[Samuel A. Rebelsky] I care about teaching. I care about the ability to make a difference in the lives of young people, and I still care about having an active research agenda. I wanted strong students. Grinnell students learn for the sake of learning. I like that. I liked that the computer science major who was giving me a tour was also a Chinese major and that our students are diverse. I loved that the department was really creatively thinking about teaching. Flipped classrooms are supposedly a new approach, but we’ve been using that kind of approach for more than twenty years.

[Interviewer] Why do you believe it’s important to give to the institution that employs you?

[Samuel A. Rebelsky] I don’t give to what people think of as a big, anonymous institution. I give to my students. So, a lot of my money goes to the department and it lets the department do things we couldn’t otherwise. My big donation is currently going to the diversity fund in CS.

[Interviewer] Why have you made diversity your focus?

[Samuel A. Rebelsky] If you look nationally, computing is a white, male discipline. In CS, under 20 percent of undergraduates nationwide self-identify as women. It’s much lower for domestic students of color. Computers are changing the world, and if you have mostly one group building the things that are changing the world, you’re changing it in a particular way. I feel a moral responsibility to ensure that we have a broader variety of people building computing technology.

[Interviewer] Do you give outside your department?

[Samuel A. Rebelsky] I give some just to the College’s general fund. Raynard has said something very important, which is we love Grinnell and we can’t continue the Grinnell we have if we don’t increase giving. Counting on the current endowment is not enough. I also very much value our studio art program, and so I’ll give them occasional money just because I know it’s nice to be able to say “we want to buy this piece of equipment” and to have a little spare money to do that. There’s a huge advantage for departments to have restricted funds.

Professor Rebelsky will be speaking at and participating in the College’s Computer Science Reunion November 18–19. The full schedule for the weekend can be found on the Computer Science Department’s website.