Generations bond over Napier course

Mikayla Mann, left, goes over her final paper with her grandmother Penelope Mann at Harvey Mudd College’s Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Generations bond as granddaughter, grandmother team up for “philosophy of feminism” class at Scripps College.

by Andrew Alonzo |

Last year, Pilgrim Place resident Penelope Mann, 81, asked her granddaughter Mikayla Mann, 19, if she would like to take a class together, a college-level Napier philosophy course, “Feminism and Science.”

The class blended Claremont Colleges undergrads with students from Pilgrim Place and examined feminist perspectives on and critiques of science and technology, and traditional scientific world views.

Mikayla, a Harvey Mudd College sophomore majoring in engineering, already had a challenging schedule, but thought the Napier class would be a fun break from her more rigorous coursework.

The class ran through May 2 and sparked numerous conversations between her and her grandmother.

“A lot of the bad things that we’re reading are about how women are underrepresented in science and undervalued,” she said. “That’s something that I haven’t personally seen at Harvey Mudd, but it’s been interesting to learn about that side of feminism and science. Once we started discussing all of like the issues that people had run in to, especially women in science … it kind of brought to light a lot more things I could run into in the future.”

Mikayla Mann, left, and her grandmother, Pilgrim Place resident Penelope Mann. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Beyond dense topics, the class helped grandmother and granddaughter to better understand each other’s generational experiences. Penelope Mann noted Generation Z has become more aware of how big corporations wield power and impact climate change. Mikayla Mann found the members of Silent Generation were comfortable simply speaking their mind, a skill she hopes to develop with age.

“It’s not like the undergraduates like me are shy to share out, I think we’re a little more hesitant,” she said. “We think too much about what we say.”

The class also deepened their bond as they met up more frequently outside the classroom for dinner and study sessions. Penelope Mann now asks her granddaughter about scientific topics, and the upstart picks her brain about the origins of feminism.

“I know virtually nothing about science,” Penelope Mann said. “But I was somewhat part of the second wave of feminism in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.”

Penelope Mann particularly enjoyed the course’s reading material which included “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” She spoke of the ripples “Silent Spring” had on society when it published in 1962.

“What she did in that book was expose how dangerous it is to spray chemicals on our food, and this was something the general public didn’t know — the general public knows that now,” she said. “She’s the one that awakened our generation. That book had been influential to me in the 1960s, and to come into a class where it’s now viewed as a historic turning point was very interesting.”

Mikayla Mann, who next semester will be co-president of Harvey Mudd’s Society of Women Engineers, said she enjoyed learning about pivotal figures like Carson alongside her grandmother.

The 19-year-old referred to her grandmother as her “moral guide,” and said she will cherish their time spent learning together, and from each other.

“It’s a unique experience that only an intergenerational class can provide,” she said.

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