Mark '24 and Damian '84 Krysan

First-year student unknowingly takes same tutorial course as his father had 40 years earlier.

Mark '24 and Damian  '84 Krysan

The Ancient Greek World has become a household tradition for the Krysan family.

Having read Dante Alighieri's Inferno in high school and with a willingness to push his boundaries, Mark Krysan ’24 selected Humanities I: The Ancient Greek World for his first-year tutorial class at Grinnell College.

Soon after, Mark’s father, Damian Krysan ’84, asked what Mark was enrolled in for his first term.

“He showed me, and my reaction was ‘you’re kidding! I took that tutorial,’” Damian says. “Talk about keeping traditions alive. I was really interested that he wanted to take that topic as well. Apples don’t fall far from trees I guess.”

The coincidence took an even more beneficial turn when Mark was having trouble finding some of the required books for the course. Damian and Mark went into basement of their Iowa City home and located a box with Damian’s books from the 1980 tutorial.

“They were the same texts and translations,” Damian says. “These texts have been around for thousands of years so nothing has changed in the last 40 years.”

Mark says it’s cool being able to talk with his dad about subjects brought up in the tutorial or in the readings.

Damian and Mark Krysan laid out the books required for the first-year tutorial Humanities I: The Ancient Greek World. Mark read a couple books that Damian had used in the 1980 edition of the tutorial.
Damian and Mark Krysan laid out the books required for the first-year tutorial Humanities I: The Ancient Greek World. Mark read a couple books that Damian had used in the 1980 edition of the tutorial.

“It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off who is not in the class,” Mark says. “I ask him, ‘Do you remember xy and z? Do you think y fits into z like this?’ Sometimes, he tells me 'that works' and other times he’s like ‘Mark, I have no idea what you are talking about.’”

All first-year students enroll in a tutorial – a four-credit course taken during the fall semester as the only required course at the College. To maximize flexibility, this school year was divided into terms, and most first-year students took tutorial during Fall Term 1.

Now a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa and director of the division of Pediatric Infectious Disease, Damian remembers arriving at Grinnell in 1980 from South Dakota thinking he knew how to write. “I found out in short order that I had a long way to go,” he says while laughing.

The tutorial Damian enrolled in during the fall of 1980 was taught by English professor Donald Irving. Damian recalls the learning curve was quite steep and unexpected.

“I would say one of the things I do quite well now is write,” he says. “That tutorial started me on a path of getting me to the point where I could call myself a good writer. Running a lab and having a research group means that if I can’t write a good grant application, I’m not going to be successful.”

Likewise, Mark has noticed he’s learning a lot about writing and how to comprehend readings quickly in the 7-week term format. His tutorial is being taught by Joe Cummins, associate professor of classics and philosophy.

“I see what my dad meant when he said, “tutorial is a great way to make you feel stupid,” Mark said while laughing. “I went from getting easy A’s in literature classes to having to write about an abstract thing and create my own thesis in two days. It’s a good shock into what college is really like. It’s been good for me. It’s definitely made me progress in my writing.”

Mark is considering a double major in math and physics but will not be following his father’s footsteps to medical school. The Krysan family moved to Iowa City three years ago after living in Rochester, New York. While Mark initially was considering going back East for college, a snowy Grinnell tour and an opportunity on the swimming team changed his thinking.

Mark wanted to continue swimming and despite not being able to compete this year because of the pandemic, he said the team has been a great fit.

“I worked well with the coaches and love the team,” he says. “Coach [Erin] Hurley has done a great job. We have a weekly team meeting, and we do have a pseudo practice situation set up where we can use a pool. The main objective is to stay physically active and mentally healthy.”

Damian never pushed his son to attend Grinnell although he did suggest a visit to get a feel for the place. The visit happened on a snowy January day when the temperature reached all of eight degrees.

“I was thinking I was not going to like it, and I was not wanting to like it because my dad went here,” Mark says. “But after attending two classes, I wanted to go here. It was a moment of yes, this is the place for me.”

Damian is glad first-year tutorials at Grinnell have stood the test of time. From his observations with Mark’s course, the way tutorials operate have not significantly changed in four decades.

“Mark has had a pretty intense relationship with his tutorial professor,” Damian says. “He’s being pushed, and that’s a good thing. Tailoring an education in that small group to each person is really helpful. I think it’s having the same effect on him as it had with me.”

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first-year tutorial, which began at Grinnell in 1971. Learn more about first-year tutorials and see a list of tutorials being taught this fall.

— by Jeremy Shapiro

Grinnell College academics support an individually advised education, mentored research, and greater experiences that connect students to their future. A virtual summer internship brought together Hyunmin Kim ’20 and Syamala Gumidyala ’21 with alumnus Adam Lorton ’07. In addition, computer science professor Sam Rebelsky helped nurture Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez’s ’17 ability to think creatively.