Thayer Named New Chief Investment Officer

Following a national search process, Jainen “JT” Thayer has been selected to be Grinnell’s next chief investment officer (CIO). Thayer comes to Grinnell from the Oberlin College Investment Office in New York City, where he served as CIO. He will begin work in mid-September, following his relocation from New York City.

“Jainen’s experience with leading investment operations at a liberal arts institution and his deep expertise in the field will serve Grinnell well,” says Raynard S. Kington, president. “He brings an extensive investment and financial analysis knowledge base to our strategic priority of ensuring financial sustainability. The board of trustees investment committee and I are grateful to have him on board to provide leadership to this important area of the College.”

Thayer will oversee the Grinnell investment office and staff with responsibility for managing assets held in the College’s endowment, valued at more than $1.87 billion as of the Fiscal Year 2017 audited financial statement. In addition to monitoring positions held currently, his team will evaluate investment themes and strategies globally, across all asset classes. He will work with the board of trustees and the administration to ensure effective oversight and management of the College’s financial assets and provide strategic leadership for the endowment.

“I am pleased to have been selected to lead the staff of the Grinnell College Investment Office,” Thayer says. “It is an honor to join this storied institution to manage an endowment with such a unique legacy of historical success. I will be building on a strong foundation and look forward to the work ahead. I am also looking forward to becoming a part of the Grinnell community.”

Thayer has more than 20 years as a professional in the finance industry, including experience building and managing investment portfolios for higher education institutions. Prior to Oberlin, he held senior investment positions at the New York University Investment Office and Fortress Investment Group.

Under Thayer’s leadership, Oberlin’s investment portfolio generated an annual return of 8.3 percent. The market value of the endowment grew from $672 million to $872 million (through April 2018), making it among the best performing endowments nationally for the one-year period ending March 2018. In addition to reshaping the investment portfolio, Thayer established a comprehensive investment process and oversaw the development of the Impact Investment Platform.

Thayer received his bachelor's degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and earned a Master of Business Administration from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He is a CFA charter holder, a designation given by the CFA Institute that is considered the gold standard in the field of investment analysis.

During the College’s search for a permanent CIO, David Clay, previously Grinnell’s treasurer and then CIO through 2013, served as interim chief investment officer. “We appreciate David’s willingness to return to full-time service as interim chief investment officer during our search for a permanent CIO,” Kington says. “David’s deep knowledge of our investment work and our partners has been invaluable during this period, and we thank him for his special efforts.”

Special Campus Memo: Latham Plans for New Opportunity

Dear Grinnellians:

Next year, after five years of exemplary servant-leadership, Dean Michael Latham will be making a career transition that will take him away from Grinnell and back to his home state of Hawai'i. We are fortunate that Mike will continue in his current role until the summer of 2019.

Although we will miss his thoughtful leadership, I am pleased to share that following a national search process it has been announced that Mike will be the next president of Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Punahou is the largest independent K-12 school in the United States on a single campus with 3,750 students and a global community of more than 30,000 alumni. Punahou is Mike's alma mater, a distinction he shares with President Barack Obama.

In summer 2019, Mike will become the new president of Punahou with responsibility for elevating the school's profile, locally, nationally, and internationally. As president, Mike will lead efforts to strengthen and expand Punahou's financial, intellectual, physical, and programmatic assets.

During his time at Grinnell, Mike has tirelessly advanced our mission by ensuring that faculty members are provided what they need for their work. He has dedicated himself to assuring the best Grinnell College possible: a close-knit intellectual community of people who are eager to engage across differences, to offer lively companionship, and direct their efforts in pursuit of knowledge that will serve the common good.

Mike has been Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College since coming to Grinnell from Fordham University in 2014. He has helped advance the College through several major initiatives and accomplishments as he:

  • Co-chaired the Global Grinnell Task Force, leading to the creation of the College's new Institute for Global Engagement, supported by major gifts to promote international strategic planning, new off-campus study initiatives, advanced foreign language programs, support for international students, and curricular initiatives.
  • Collaborated with our faculty to provide every Grinnell student with the opportunity for a significant research experience, promoting inquiry-led learning and student intellectual and personal growth.
  • Advanced comprehensive student success initiatives in academic advising, multicultural affairs, residential life, wellness, and mental health to raise retention rates and improve the quality of student experiences.
  • Promoted the creation of the Digital Liberal Arts Collective (DLAC) within the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment to advance innovative teaching with technology and data across multiple fields.
  • Created a new partnership between academic affairs and student affairs to improve our support for diversity and inclusion in addition to launching the Residential Learning Task Force to advance goals related to belonging, community, and student life.
  • Collaborated in the work to advance the goals and design of our new interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Studies Center, slated to open in 2020.

His vision, leadership, and contributions to the College have been remarkable. His legacy will be to have made our exceptional commitment to individually advised teaching and learning even stronger.

In sharing news of his future plans, Mike expressed how meaningful his work at Grinnell has been to him, how much he has valued his colleagues and this community, and that Punahou represents a unique opportunity to lead one of the world's foremost independent schools. Mike says returning to his roots and spending more time with family also factored into his decision.

We are fortunate to have time to conduct a thorough national search for Grinnell's next Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College. We have engaged Kathryn Barry, Principal, Isaacson Miller, to help direct this process. I will work closely with Mike, our faculty, and senior staff to ensure the success of our search.

Please join me in congratulating Mike on his new role at Punahou. At the appropriate time, we will share plans to thank Mike for his contributions to Grinnell College.

Raynard S. Kington

"Grinnell Interns Are Solid Gold"

Originally from California, political science and economics double major Nathan Calvin ’18 never would have predicted that a summer spent in Lincoln, Nebraska, would prove pivotal to his academic career. But under the enthusiastic and expert mentorship of Amy Miller ’93 at ACLU Nebraska, Calvin was able to get his first taste of effecting real-world change.

Calvin’s summer research project focused on the high cost of calling home from jail, as well as privacy issues surrounding attorney-client phone calls. It resulted in a bill introduced to the Nebraska legislature with bipartisan support. That bill, prohibiting “excessive commissions and bonus payments” and guaranteeing free calls between attorneys and their clients, was recently passed into law.

“I really feel like this experience is great for a lot of people, not just people who want to go to law school,” says Calvin. “This type of work — working with legislators — is a great experience for anyone interested in research, policy, or criminal justice reform.”

Connecting to Unique Opportunities with Grinnellink

Calvin discovered Miller’s internship offering through a Grinnell program called Grinnellink. Grinnellink matches current Grinnell students with alumni and friends of the College open to providing internships over the summer. It also provides grants to offset costs of food, transportation, and housing for students that secure full-time, unpaid Grinnellink internships.

As Calvin discovered, Grinnellink internships, as opposed to internships not affiliated with the College, also have a number of additional benefits. Many Grinnellink internships are offered year after year, so students can talk to previous interns to get a sense of whether a particular offering is a good fit.

Students also know their host will have an awareness of what a Grinnell student can bring to the table, as well as instant common ground and access to the Grinnell alumni network. Of working with Miller, Calvin says, “It’s really hard to imagine anyone taking their intern having a good experience more seriously. She’s not just a great boss, she’s a great mentor and friend, and I definitely think the Grinnell connection played a part in that.”

The Application Process

Miller has been offering the ACLU Nebraska internship every summer for over 15 years, and the spot is highly sought after by students. “When I applied the first time, I didn’t get it, and I was very discouraged — I almost didn’t apply again,” says Calvin. “I am very very happy I applied again.”

For her part, Miller says that there is one key thing that helps successful applicants stand out from the rest: passion. Since Miller’s interns are put on the front line of ACLU Nebraska’s work, they will need to do things that “can be kind of distressing,” she says. So when an applicant names a particular passion and what is driving that passion, “it says to me that passion will probably carry them through the harder parts of the internship.”

After Calvin was rejected, he spent the summer interning for another organization, building experience and getting a better understanding of the type of work he wanted to do and why. His hard work paid off — the following year, Miller selected his application.

Hands-on Research

Miller’s internship is highly competitive for a reason — as one of just three lawyers working for ACLU Nebraska, she values her interns’ time and skills. Rather than assigning them menial tasks, she lets them take the lead on important projects.

“Amy made it super engaging — even though I didn’t come in with a clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do, there was tons of stuff to do all the time,” says Calvin.

“It boggles my mind that there are internships that don’t fully embrace the opportunity that a talented, intelligent Grinnell student brings to the table,” says Miller. “I don’t need someone to go get me coffee — I can get my own coffee — but I do need help doing the substantive research that takes a lot of focus that I don’t have the time to do.”

Calvin was given a couple of options to pursue when he got to the ACLU office, but the issue of the expense of phone calls from county jails quickly stood out as the most pressing. Calvin called every county jail in the state, compiled a spreadsheet of statistics, corresponded with partner organizations to get examples of reforms in other states, and called people with incarcerated loved ones willing to share their stories. He then wrote a report and took it to the Nebraska Legislature.

Surprising Progress

“I assumed that ACLU wouldn’t be very influential with the conservative state house,” says Calvin. However, he was pleasantly surprised when he learned that ACLU actually had a good track record of making progress with the Nebraska Legislature.

Calvin was able to experience this firsthand with his own report. He discovered allies in the libertarian senators, “who actually take things like the state harming people in prisons and the criminal justice system pretty seriously.”

“I went with Amy and presented the report I’d written to Senator McCollister and he said he was going to look at it.” After that, Miller and the ACLU team worked with McCollister to turn the report into legislation.

“I watched a live recording of the committee hearing and it’s really amazing seeing the report that I had helped write handed out to every committee member,” says Calvin.

Next Stop: Law School

Calvin’s internship with ACLU Nebraska was not only a memorable learning experience in its own right — it also solidified his resolve to go to law school. “Amy wrote me a recommendation letter for law school and I wrote my applications, in large part, about my experience [with ACLU],” Calvin says. “I would definitely credit that experience with helping me to have a persuasive application and making me want to do this type of work.”

Calvin graduated from Grinnell a semester early, in December 2017. He has been accepted at Stanford Law School, but will defer admission for a year to work on artificial intelligence ethics issues at Oxford University’s Governance of AI Institute.

Grinnell Prize Awarded to Mélanie Marcel, Founder of SoScience

The 2018 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize of $100,000 has been awarded to Mélanie Marcel, founder and CEO of SoScience. Based in France, SoScience brings together scientists and social entrepreneurs around the world to collaborate on research to solve global challenges.

Through her passion for exploring the intersection of science and global impact, Marcel has become a national leader in France and a recognized expert on models for responsible research and innovation. In response to her lobbying efforts, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development reoriented its research development policy to strengthen societal impact. In addition, the European Commission has asked Marcel to evaluate its research policy.

“The Grinnell Prize exemplifies our mission and demonstrates our values and longstanding commitment to social responsibility and action,” said Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington. “We strive to empower all of our students to apply their values and educational experiences to become just and purpose-driven change agents throughout the world.”

Marcel earned her undergraduate degree in physics, engineering, chemistry and biology from ESPCI Paris Tech and her master’s degree in bio-engineering and neuroscience from ESPCI Paris and Paris Descartes University. After graduation, she researched human-machines interfaces at NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan and then at the Brain and Spine Institute in France.

In her work as a laboratory scientist, Marcel realized that researchers most often conduct projects for which they can secure corporate or government funding, rather than projects that address community or environmental needs.

Marcel founded SoScience to disrupt this system and create a new model for driving research. SoScience’s mission is to “engage scientists in solving societal challenges across the globe by creating collaborations with social entrepreneurs and advocating a research approach focused on social impact.”

To date, SoScience has worked with more than 800 researchers and led five “Future of” conferences that unite groups of selected scientists and social innovators to collaboratively develop research projects that lead to the creation of innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable challenges.

The 2017 conference on the “Future of Soils,” for example, formed research and responsible innovation partnerships to tackle soil issues from different perspectives. The issues included pollution, desertification, food shortages and land grabbing. More than half of the partnerships formed at the conference are still working to devise solutions to complex soil problems that have serious environmental, social and economic consequences.

Marcel will be honored at the 2018 Grinnell Prize Award Ceremony, which is free and open to the public, on Tuesday, Oct 2. The ceremony will start at 11 a.m. in Room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, 1115 Eighth Ave., Grinnell.

The $100,000 Grinnell Prize, established in 2011, is the largest given by any U.S. college in recognition of social justice. The prize money will be divided between Marcel and SoScience

During Grinnell Prize Week, Oct. 1-4, students, faculty, staff and local residents will interact with Marcel, learning how to facilitate collaboration, build partnerships and spur systematic change.

Special Campus Memo: Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force Report

Dear Grinnellians:

Climate change is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest threats facing our world today; however, there is no clear consensus on how to solve this complex issue. Over the last several years, there has been considerable debate on campus about divestment from fossil fuels as a tactic to address climate change. Student activism on this matter culminated in the occupation of the President's Office in February 2017 by about 150 students, to demonstrate their commitment to the issue.

A strong academic community works to foster respect for differing opinions and encourages civil discourse on the merits of any issue. Modeling that approach, in April 2017 a Board of Trustees task force was appointed to study ways in which Grinnell College can have a positive impact on climate change, including but not limited to divestment. The goal was to thoroughly explore these important topics in a serious and open way, and to make recommendations at the Board's spring 2018 meeting.

We strongly agree with the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force's recommendations outlined below, and believe they provide clear direction for Grinnell College to take meaningful actions to address this critical issue. We commend the task force members for fulfilling their charge in an unbiased, intellectually rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner.

The task force's major recommendations were to:

  • take significant actions on campus to reduce our individual and institutional carbon footprint and enhance sustainability efforts through implementation of the College's Sustainability Plan,
  • create a standing campus Sustainability Committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff that would make annual progress reports,
  • maintain the current investment policy and not divest the College's limited fossil fuel holdings,
  • charge the Investment Committee to increase shareholder engagement action and the application of environmental and social criteria in the management of the College's endowment,
  • assess the feasibility of creating a separate fund for donors wishing to contribute to a fossil fuel-free fund in the endowment.

The full task force report goes into detail about the rationale for each recommendation. Some top-level insights the task force provided for its findings:

  • individual and institutional sustainability actions could significantly reduce carbon footprint impact and enhance sustainability in a more direct way,
  • investor engagement and activism have had increasing success in driving actual changes among fossil fuel companies, presenting a more effective alternative to divestment for those who believe college endowments can play a role in positively impacting climate,
  • there is no compelling evidence that divesting has direct impact on climate change, or the policies or behavior of fossil fuel companies,
  • divestment from the College's limited number of fossil fuel holdings would introduce significant risk into the portfolio and create meaningful potential for adverse impact on investment returns,
  • such actions would run counter to the Board's fiduciary responsibilities and undermine the purpose of the endowment to sustain the educational mission of the College.

The task force's full report is available on the task force website. Also, at 4 p.m. today (Saturday, April 28), task force members will convene a campus forum meeting in the JRC Laurel Leaf Lounge to discuss their work and recommendations.

Following extensive discussion about the process and conclusions, trustees strongly affirmed the task force's work and voted to endorse its recommendations. The trustees noted that implementation of the recommendations will require commitment, comprehensive action, and adaptability from Grinnell leaders and campus community members.

We extend our own appreciation to the task force members: trustees Michael Kahn '74 (chair), Kathryn Mohrman '67, and Edward Senn '79. They devoted countless hours to this work and modeled what it means to be Grinnellian by their willingness to explore these issues with a deep sense of purpose.

Special note should be made of an extraordinary personal undertaking by the three task force members: Inspired by the passion and commitment of today's students to address climate change, they created a grant program to support academic sustainability activities and initiatives. This new program will permit one or more students to pursue sustainability research each year. Michael, Kathryn, and Edward have expressed their hope other donors will join them in supporting funding for more student projects.

We also are grateful to the advisory committee members who assisted the task force: Wayne Moyer, Advisory Committee Chair, Rosenfield Professor of Political Science; Sayles Kasten '19; Lucia Nelson '20; Zach Steckel '18, Student Government Association Treasurer; Summer White '18, Student Government Association President; Kent Messer '94; Jessica Roff '93; Liz Queathem, Senior Lecturer in Biology; Jim Swartz, Dack Professor of Chemistry; Chris Bair '96, Environmental and Safety Manager; Debra Lukehart, Vice President for Communications; and Sarah Smith, Program Manager, Community Enhancement and Engagement. They were actively engaged throughout this process and instrumental in identifying expert resources and organizing campus dialogues. They helped model evidence-based inquiry and civil discourse.

Together, the task force and advisory committee, aided by each of you who engaged in their work, made this process a learning experience for our College community. We extend our sincere thanks to all Grinnellians for helping navigate this complex issue and contribute with great responsibility.

We have tremendous respect for the task force process and its recommendations to help guide our future efforts. We think everyone can agree we need to address climate change, and we strongly believe we have settled on those actions that will be most effective in doing so. For the sake of our world and future generations, now is the time to commit ourselves -- individually and as an institution -- to enhancing all of our sustainability efforts and impact.


Patricia Jipp Finkelman '80
Chair, Grinnell College Board of Trustees

Raynard S. Kington

Soviet Science Fiction: From Communist Utopia to Symbol of Dissent

​Olga Bukhina is a translator, a writer, and an independent scholar based in New York City.

She will present a free, public lecture on "Soviet Science Fiction: From Communist Utopia to Symbol of Dissent" at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 26, 2018, in ARH, Room 120.

Bukhina has translated more than thirty books — children's, young adult, and scholarly — from English into Russian.

Among the authors she has translated are Louise Fitzhugh, Carl Sandburg, Elizabeth George Speare, Jacqueline Kelly, B.J. Novak, C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Philippa Pearce, Elizabeth Goudge, Philippa Gregory, and Jean Little. Her most recent translation is Meg Rosoff’s award-winning YA novel How I Live Now (Moscow: Belaya Vorona, 2017). Bukhina has co-authored three children’s books for Ludmila Ulitskaya's Children's Project, and writes about children’s literature for various journals, collections, and online publications in Russia and in the U.S. Her book The Ugly Duckling, Harry Potter, and Others: A Guide to Children’s Books About Orphans was published in Moscow (CompassGuide, 2016). She serves as an executive director of the International Association for the Humanities.

Bukhina's visit is sponsored by Grinnell College's Department of Russian and the Center for Humanities.

Janet Carl to Retire from Writing Lab in May

It is with mixed emotions we announce the well-earned retirement of Janet Carl from the Grinnell College Writing Lab in May of this year.

Carl has been a member of the lab staff for more than 20 years. Both students and colleagues have benefited from her strong teaching skills, and she has consistently been one of the most popular instructors at the Lab. We will all miss her command of the craft of writing, dedication to her students, and strong leadership as director of the Lab.

To honor her, we invite you to submit a letter or note of any length reminiscing about your work with her and wishing her well. Letters may be submitted to H. Wohlwend, Writing Lab, ARH, Room 132.

Please submit your letter no later than May 4, 2018.

Thank you for your contribution to our celebration of our colleague and friend.

Watson Fellows Returning to Grinnell for 50th Anniversary Celebration

Before he left for a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship that would take him to eight different countries, Alexander Reich ’11 kept hearing that the journey would be an “experience you keep coming back to, and continue learning from, your entire life.”

“I am now struck by how true it is, and how deep it is,” Reich says. “Sometimes weeks or months pass when I don’t think about my Watson, and then I am floored by something that bubbles up from within, or by something that I learn, that connects to the intensity of the experience I was able to have.”

Grinnell College has nominated students for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship program since 1969. With the selection last month of Artis Curiskis ’18 and Nomalanga Shields ’18 for postgraduate fellowships in 2018-2019, a total of 79 students have been selected to traverse the globe on topics of personal significance and passion.

By receiving funding for travel and independent study for a year after graduating from Grinnell College, fellows have experienced new perspectives and life-altering encounters. Some have gone on to careers in the subject areas they explored.

“It is no exaggeration when I tell people that my entire career is thanks to the Watson Fellowship,” says David Gaines ’74.

Reich, Gaines, and 15 other fellows will visit Grinnell for the Watson 50th Anniversary Celebration April 19 and 20. The festivities will include two free public events open to students, faculty, staff, and community members.

A Watson Fellow Panel and Reception will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. April 19 in Room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center. Fellows will share their Watson journeys with the campus community through a decade panel moderated by Kelly Herold, associate professor of Russian. Cake will be served in honor of the 50th anniversary.

On April 20, the Watson Slam will take center stage from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at Spencer Grill inside the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center. Modeled after a poetry slam, Watson Fellowship alumni will share their unique Watson journeys in 10 minute slam presentations. Cupcakes, brownies and door prizes round out the festivities.

Additional events will take place during Reunion 2018 in June.

Here are the fellows returning to Grinnell for the 50th anniversary April 19 and 20.

  • Mary Brooner ’71
  • David Feldman ’71
  • Doug Russell ’71
  • Robert Eckardt ’73
  • David Gaines ’74
  • Susan Hyatt ’76
  • Kathleen Kurz ’79
  • Donna Olds White ‘81
  • Todd Oberman ’83
  • Adam Stam ’93
  • Rachel Stamm ’94
  • Hai-Dang Phan ’03
  • Linn Davis ’08
  • Alexander Reich ’11
  • Lane Atmore ’16
  • Chase Booth ’16
  • Julia Wilber (2011 graduate of Hamilton College)

For more information about the Watson Fellowships or the 50th anniversary events, please contact Ann Landstrom, director of global fellowships and awards in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, at 641-269-4940 or landstrom[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

- by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the U.S., awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges. Grinnell is one of those partner colleges. Learn more about becoming a Watson.


Grinnell Singers and Oratorio Society to Perform Tribute to Immigrants

The Grinnell Singers and the Grinnell Oratorio Society will perform in Marshalltown on Saturday, April 14, as part of “Hand in Hand: Celebrate Justice for Our Neighbors.”

This event will recognize the work of the Justice for Our Neighbors’ Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinic in Marshalltown. The free, public concert will begin at 4 p.m. in First United Methodist Church of Marshalltown, 202 W. Main St.

The Grinnell Oratorio Society and the Grinnell Singers will jointly perform composer Caroline Shaw’s “To The Hands,” a moving tribute to compassion for immigrants and refugees. Shaw received a Pulitzer Prize for music at age 30 in 2013. There also will be a special showing of a short video, titled “Proud to be Diverse,” featuring Marshalltown Community School District students reciting a poem by Jo Frohwein.

The Grinnell Singers is a 50-voice choral ensemble directed by John Rommereim, the Blanche Johnson professor of music at Grinnell College. Known for their innovative and adventurous choral programming, the Grinnell Singers have premiered more than 10 choral works in the past five years under Rommereim’s direction. Each year the choir presents concerts across the U.S., and the group has also traveled to Estonia, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.

Founded in 1901, the Grinnell Oratorio Society was, in the early decades of the 20th Century, one of Iowa’s most renowned musical institutions. In 2010, the Grinnell Community Chorus was renamed the Grinnell Oratorio Society as a way to draw attention to this proud history. The choir rehearses Monday nights, and it draws together students, faculty, and staff of the College as well as people from the city of Grinnell and nearby cities such as Newton and Malcolm.

Hands-On Seminar + Haitian Art = Awesome Exhibition

Every few years, Grinnell’s art history department offers an exhibition seminar that gives students the opportunity to act as curators for their own art exhibition. They research the themes of the exhibition, design a catalogue, and choose the art to be displayed in Grinnell’s Faulconer Gallery.

“I know of no other school that does a regular exhibition seminar where student research is supported by a partnership between the art history department and the museum,” says Lesley Wright, director of Faulconer Gallery.

This year, the already unique seminar was treated to a historic first: Fredo Rivera ’06, assistant professor of art history, taught the seminar after taking it himself as a student. “I think it was a profound experience that followed me to this day,” he says of participating in the class. “This is the reason we go to Grinnell — to have this very hands-on, intensive experience.”

Connections with Collections

As an expert in Caribbean art, Rivera wanted to take advantage of the fact that Iowa has one of the largest Haitian art collections in the world. He also wanted to take advantage of his close working relationship with Haitian-born artist Edouard Duval-Carrié. So his seminar students were treated to course-embedded travel to museums in Miami and Iowa.

“We were blessed to hire [Rivera], whose research and curatorial interests on the Caribbean complemented my passion for writing and talking about visual culture in Latin America and the Caribbean,” says Abdiel Lopez ’18, a sociology major who participated in the exhibition seminar.

To kick off the semester, the class visited five different institutions in Miami, got a behind-the-scenes look at an exhibition installation, and met with Duval-Carrié in his studio. Then, over fall break, the students spent three days traveling throughout Iowa. They got a behind-the-scenes look at museum collections and were able to go into the vaults at Waterloo Center for the Arts to select works that they wanted to borrow for their exhibition.

Rivera let the students have full control over which artworks they chose. “I think the teamwork really formed at that point, and that’s when they started meeting outside of the class of their own accord.”

“The opportunity to meet museum professionals gave us essential experience in approaching a project of this scale,” says Ellen Taylor ’18, an art history major who participated in the exhibition seminar. “It was especially interesting to observe the approaches of institutions and how their different resources, needs, and goals affected the process of exhibition.”

Student Driven, Hands-On Learning

Over the course of the semester, Rivera also assigned the students readings on Haitian art and history, and they debated the cultural politics of displaying the art respectfully. Some of these readings were the very same papers he had read during his own exhibition seminar — bringing them back and assigning them as coursework in his own class was “very surreal,” he reflects.    

“I am one hundred percent sure that we would not have received this wealth of knowledge in a typical art history seminar,” says Lopez, “mainly because we were able to not only talk to professionals who've been in the business for a while but also because we designed this exhibition from beginning to end while reading about Haiti along the way.”

Rivera found himself blown away by the passion and dedication his students applied to their work. “I think the thing that most impressed me is I came into the classroom proposing doing an exhibition on Haitian art with an idea of what the exhibition would be, but as the students engaged with the course material, they took the exhibition to a place that I never thought was possible. I see this as the students’ exhibition — I merely provided connections with collections and a broad idea.”

Rivera’s students also identified and contacted guest speakers (including a vodou priest and assisted in installing the exhibition. Giving the students such a sense of ownership of their work seems to have paid off — several of Rivera’s students have now expressed an interest in becoming curators and furthering their studies of Caribbean art. “This particular exhibition seminar on Haiti has completely altered my professional track,” says Lopez.