Alumni Council News

A Brief History

I never knew I was a member of something called the Grinnell College Alumni Association. I became a member after completing my first semester, as does everyone who completes 16 credits at Grinnell. 

In 1879, with fewer than 100 people qualifying, the alumni of Grinnell College first organized themselves. It was a small group since graduating classes averaged around 20 students. In 1880 Robert M. Haines 1865, one of the first grads of what was then Iowa College after it moved to Grinnell, was elected president of the association. History does tend to repeat itself. The 2019–20 president of the association will be Ryann Haines Cheung ’93, a descendant of that important Grinnell clan. 

From its inception, the alumni association has played a critical role in the life of the College. Historically, trustees of the College were either chosen from the ranks of the association or actually elected by the alumni. The association has also had local chapters in Chicago, southern California, and New York for more than a century. Of course, then as now, the alumni were routinely solicited for contributions to important initiatives on campus. Alumni Recitation Hall was named for the hundreds of alumni who gave for its construction.

Early on, membership in the alumni association only included those who had completed their Grinnell degree. By the early 20th century, folks began to recognize that the impact of a Grinnell education was indelible, so membership in the alumni association also went to those who had attended but not graduated. That includes approximately 1,200 soldiers who spent time on campus during World War II.

Women have always played a very important role in alumni affairs.  The first alumna to serve a full term as a trustee was Mary Chamberlain 1892, 1913–17.  Nonetheless, the direction of the College and alumni association remained firmly in male hands for a few more generations. Multi-generational Grinnell families, where mom and dad met at Grinnell, also became common. In 1915 a “chips” club was formed for children of alumni; it had 26 eligible students that year. Over the years, the number of chip has risen and fallen, with a maximum of about 12 percent of entering first-year students. 

The modern alumni association took shape in 1929, at the 50th anniversary of its founding. A new set of bylaws was passed, goals developed, and a mission crafted. These remain the guiding documents for the association. In 1929, the College appointed the first official alumni secretary to serve as the liaison between the College and the association.  

An important responsibility of the alumni association was the recruitment of students for the College. Initially this occurred within the context of the Congregational churches of Iowa and the upper Midwest, but as the College became secular, the alumni began to serve as active recruiters. Now, alumni in the Grinnell Regional Admissions Support Program (GRASP) assist professional admission officers.

In good times and bad, financial success or disaster, in war and peace, the Grinnell College Alumni Association has continued to link the alumni to the College and encourage fellowship among all alumni.

Grinnellians for Life

A highlight of the spring Alumni Council meeting was the presentation focusing on Grinnell’s career communities, a recently launched addition to the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS). There are seven: Arts, Media, and Communications; Business and Finance; Education Professions; Government and Social Services; Health Professions; Law; and STEM. 

I was part of a group meeting with Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, who heads the Arts, Media, and Communications Career Community. Rachel has an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and has been involved in theater in a number of places including Chicago. She is eager to engage with students about networking, museums, being an artist, and portfolio development. For the alumni community, her goal is to build a web of connections not only between students and alumni, but also among any Grinnell alums she can snag to engage with her in this broad-based Career Community. 

All of the Career Communities and their directors can be found on Grinnell Connect on the “Groups” page. Each Career Community Group provides a specific space online for industry-based conversation between students and alumni.

For alumni who would like to get involved with CLS, additional opportunities include hosting a three- to five-day externship over spring break, offering a Grinnellink Internship, sharing internship and employment opportunities, and recruiting students for internships and/or jobs. And if offering career help isn’t a possibility, you can participate by serving as a homestay host for externs or interns coming to your community.  

So, if you are already a member of Grinnell Connect, great! If not, join now at From there, create an account through Facebook, LinkedIn, or your email account. As you develop your profile, be sure to personalize it to indicate how you are “willing to help.”

Then, find people you know, offer your services, and respond to requests. Also download the new Grinnell Connect app onto your phone at, where there are specific instructions for iOS and Android. From there, you can even use the app to locate fellow Grinnellians who might be in your vicinity at the moment.  

Alumni Council members are already participating with CLS through Grinnell Connect. We look forward to crossing paths with you electronically, or to learning from the app that you’re close by and we could get together to share Grinnell stories over a drink or a cup of coffee!

New members, leaders, and retirees  

The Alumni Council elected a slate of four candidates for membership beginning in June 2018: Debby Feir ’68 (Atlanta); Debbie Gottschalk ’90 (Newark, Delaware); Andrea Jackson ’95 (Solana Beach, California); and Jocelyn Wyatt ’99 (New York City). Ryann Haines Cheung ’93 was elected president-elect for 2018–19, and Fritz Schwaller ’69 will assume the role of president for the coming year. Finally, this year’s president, Peter Calvert ’79, thanked retiring council members Lara Szent-Gyorgyi ’89, Angela Onwuachi-Willig ’94, Saurabh Saraf ’05, and Allison Brinkhorst ’11 for their service. Their contributions were further recognized at a dinner at Grinnell House.

Fostering Community Grinnell Style

If you’ve ever stopped someone wearing a Grinnell sweatshirt or slightly stalked a vehicle with a Grinnell College bumper sticker, it’s probably because you know the delight a conversation with a fellow Grinnellian can bring. Over the past few years, the College has recognized how much we enjoy running into fellow alumni, and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) hired Anna Halpin-Healy ’13 as the assistant director of alumni relations for regional programs. In this new position, she supports the College’s and alumni volunteers’ efforts to foster the Grinnell community across the country, with a particular focus on the College’s regional networks.

Grinnell regional networks are areas in the United States with a significant number of Grinnellians. Regional planning committees are formed in these areas, and these groups of alumni volunteers work together and with DAR to foster their local alumni community. Regional network events bring Grinnellians together in celebration of the College’s commitment to community, social justice, and lifelong learning.

In 2016–17, the networks hosted 74 regional events, in addition to the 22 summer picnics and 17 Global Day of Service group projects planned around the country, offering numerous opportunities for Grinnellians to connect with one another.

Regional network events are as diverse as our alumni community and cover the spectrum of Grinnell interests. Here are a few samples of the great events regional planning committees have hosted: 

  • Going back to class with professors Sarah Purcell ’92 and Barb Trish and 20 current Grinnell students on the Rosenfield Program spring break tour as they discussed Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011).
  • Taking a hike through beautiful and historic Woodland Mounds Preserve in Warren County, Iowa, with Jesse Richardson-Jones ’03 and Kirsten Plowman ’04
  • Listening to “The Legal Fight for Transgender Rights,” a presentation by Chase Strangio ’04 at the Chicago Humanities Festival, with Thomas Neil ’14, Joe Engleman ’14, and the Grinnell-in-Chicago Regional Planning Committee. 

In support of the Alumni Council’s purpose, “to foster strong connections among Grinnell alumni and between alumni and the College,” council members have been intentionally active in their regional networks and encourage you to do the same. Robert Ruhl ’76, a member of the Grinnell-in-Puget Sound Regional Planning Committee, has helped host the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Global Day of Service, and the annual summer picnic. Mary Knuth Otto ‘63 notes, “It’s the mix of graduation years that I really love about [regional events].” And I, myself, have so enjoyed working with the Grinnell-in-Des Moines Planning Committee as co-chair this year.

What makes the magic happen in the most active regional networks? Karmi Mattson ’97, Twin Cities regional coordinator, says, “Think of things you’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to doing, like touring a popular location or attending a class on an interesting topic. Most events happen because there was one alum willing to spearhead the event and run with it.” 

How can you get involved?

To learn more about joining a regional planning 

committee and working with your fellow alumni to organize events and foster your local Grinnell community, please visit or contact Halpin-Healy, halpinhe2[at]grinnell[dot]edu or 866-850-1846. DAR is specifically looking for more alumni who are excited about fostering the Grinnell community in the Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. If you are interested in fostering your local Grinnell community but do not live in a regional network, DAR may be able to support your efforts. Please visit to learn more.

Grinnell’s Regional Networks

(San Francisco) Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Front Range (Denver area), Iowa City/Corridor, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Puget Sound (Seattle area), Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Washington, D.C.

Maximizing Connections

As an Iowan who left the state forever after graduating from Grinnell, I’m delighted that my membership on the Alumni Council brings me back more frequently. The most indelible impression that I carried home to Vermont this time is of the vital role played by the Alumni Council in building relationships among all facets of the alumni community.

Grinnell’s Student Alumni Council (SAC) is committed to fostering connections between students and alumni, empowering students to be a part of the wider Grinnell community, and encouraging a commitment to contribute to the College financially and in other ways.  

At this fall’s meeting with SAC, Rick Stuck ’82, chair of the Alumni-Student Connections Committee, stood up and handed 26 Susan B. Anthony dollars to the three SAC members. “In the spirit of James J. Hill,” he proclaimed, “here are 26 coins, given on behalf of the current Alumni Council (one from each member) to mark the beginning of our match of the money raised by you for your senior class gift to the College and our support of your amazing work.” 

James J. Hill was a member of the “Iowa Band” of abolitionists, philosophers, and theologians who founded the College in 1846. Hill’s laying down a silver dollar in front of that inspired brotherhood is a vibrant Grinnell legend. It served at the outset as a fundraising challenge and as a “call to action to begin the tradition of giving time, treasure, and talent” in support of the college they were founding. That gift of the 26 coins to today’s students — and Rick’s recollection of our founding story — was a dramatic reminder that these are the values that can link us together as Grinnellians.

Alumni Council committees also reported on their work toward maximizing connections:

  • The Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Planning is “discussing efforts to make the work of the council better known to alumni, students, and other volunteers. This includes clarifying the role and scope of the council and the purposes of our activities.”
  • The Diversity and Inclusion Committee, following the November on-campus Multicultural Alumni Reunion, will help launch a new mentorship program to connect underrepresented students with alumni who have had similar experiences and can offer perspectives on the challenges students face on and off campus.
  • The Alumni Engagement and Communications Committee reports that it aims to more actively support the Office of Development and Alumni Relations’ regional programming objectives and to lobby for enhanced communication among all members of the Grinnell alumni community via the College website, the use of social media, and in personal relationships.

Happily, this fall’s Alumni Council meeting coincided with the biennial gathering of Grinnell’s dedicated class agents and class fund directors. Conversations during two joint presentations — one highlighting work on the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex and the other focusing on “Grinnell College identity” — were lively and useful.  Two dinners together — at the Quad Dining Hall for tradition’s sake, and at the new, refreshingly edgy boutique Hotel Grinnell, which now occupies the former Park Street junior high school built in 1921 — were added opportunities for joint planning.

Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome this year’s new council members to our fall meeting: Robert Ruhl ’76, Phillip Hales ’02, Brigham Hoegh ’08, and Graciela Guzmán ’11. Their impressive profiles are available on the alumni website.  

Our Grinnell alumni body is now 20,000 strong and in 50 states and 55 nations. The Alumni Council works hard to build cohesiveness and foster engagement, across miles and years, but it’s a process that now begins among the students on campus, with the creative efforts of the Student Alumni Council. How proud I am to be a Grinnellian!

The Alumni Council is a group of 26 Grinnell alumni and two student representatives working with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

Planning a Multicultural Alumni Weekend

Rhonda Stuart

Diversity and inclusion have long been core values of Grinnell College. Today, 26 percent of the College’s students are domestic students of color, 18 percent international students, nearly 17 percent are first-generation students, and many are students who openly identify as LGBTQIA+. Yet Grinnell has not always been able to meet its goals of inclusiveness, which has caused some alumni to feel disconnected from the College, both during their studies and after graduation.

In the summer of 2016, the Alumni Council created a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which hopes to play its part in rebuilding and strengthening relationships between the College, alumni of color, LGBTQIA+ alumni, alumni with disabilities, international alumni, and first-generation alumni. One result of this new committee has been a collaborative effort to organize and host the College’s first ever Multicultural Alumni Weekend Nov. 10–12. A planning committee of students and alumni is developing a program for the event.  

The Multicultural Alumni Weekend is an opportunity to build on the collaborative relationships happening within the Multicultural Leadership Council, comprised of leadership from many of its cultural affinity student organizations (see below). Although some alumni may not recognize the names of these groups based on their own experiences at the College, the Multicultural Alumni Weekend Planning Committee and I, as chair, invite all alumni who currently identify with any of these groups to join us for an excellent weekend of connecting with other alumni and the College’s current faculty, students, and staff. Carlos Andrés Gómez, an award-winning poet, actor, speaker, and writer, will be our keynote speaker. He is the author of the coming-of-age memoir Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood and was named 2016 Best Diversity Artist by Campus Activities Magazine

We are working hard to make this historic gathering enjoyable and memorable. Our planning committee is itself diverse, consisting of persons who identify with one or more cultural affinity groups on campus and who span decades from the 1960s to the 2010s. The oldest alumni committee member of the group is Ed Atkins ’66, who was one of just four African American students in his class: and the youngest alumni committee member is Dan Davis ’16, who was a QuestBridge Scholar and served as president of the Student Government Association. 

The planning committee is hopeful that this Multicultural Alumni Weekend will be welcoming and engaging for both current students and alumni and will either rekindle or strengthen a love for Grinnell College. We promise tons of fun, good food and drink, interactive learning opportunities, and some promising updates about the College’s current priorities and plans as they relate to diversity and inclusion. In all, we are very excited for this opportunity and hope to see hundreds of alumni back on campus for a fun-filled weekend of positive engagement. 

Student groups

Grinnell boasts a number of religious and cultural affinity groups, including but not limited to:

  • African and Caribbean Student Union (ACSU)
  • Asian and Asian American Association (AAA)
  • South Asian Student Organization (SASO)
  • Concerned Black Students (CBS)
  • Chalutzim
  • Chinese Student Association
  • Crecemos Unidos
  • Project Pengyou
  • Queer Athletes and Allies (QAA)
  • Student Organization of Latinxs (SOL) 
  • Stonewall Resource Center, which houses several LGBTQIA+ groups 
  • Young Muslim Sisters 
  • Yes We Can (centered around student health and disabilities)

The Alumni Council is a group of 26 Grinnell alumni and two student representatives working with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.