Campus News

Bundles of Joy (and Snacks)

Scott and Laura Cleveland Shepherd, both class of 1982, are on the second floor of Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center behind a folding table piled high with boxes and bags of varying size, shape, and color. They’re busy handing out care packages to students who stand patiently in a line at least 20 people deep — an improvement over the queue yesterday that stretched at times to more than 100.

Alumni from around the world have spent the past year shopping, crafting, and gathering materials to create these care packages, most of which come with a personal note of encouragement, friendly advice, or words of wisdom to the student recipient. 

A tradition now in its sixth year at Grinnell, the care package giveaway began as a grassroots effort by alumni who remain connected through a Facebook group and remember their own time on campus and the positive impact a friendly boost could have during mid-semester studies. 

This is the third year that the Shepherds have made the 500-mile trip from their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to brave Iowa’s frigid temperatures, ice, and snow in February to help hand out the packages and give a kind and encouraging word to students.

“We had so much fun doing this two years ago that we decided we would do it as long as we can,” says Laura. “We brought 80 boxes in the back of our SUV this year. The drive was fine, but we forgot how high the snow gets piled in the parking lot on campus.”

The ShepardsThe Shepherds will remain until every student who wants a care package receives one. They, along with other volunteers, gave out more than 700 packages on the previous day alone. And before they’re done, they will have handed out every one of the 1,380 care packages created for students.

“We spend all year buying things and telling each other through the Facebook group when Target puts things on sale,” says Laura. “It is a lot of fun for everyone. Coming here is a chance to reconnect with students and it’s good to bring a little joy to them.” 

Options for everyone

“It’s all about the surprise,” says one student who quickly steps to the table to grab an unopened box with “This might be the care package for you” written across the top.

Others, like student Linnet Adams ’21, spend considerable time looking over the table, searching for the one package that speaks to them.

“Choosing a major is pretty straightforward,” she tells the Shepherds. “But you come here to pick something, and it’s really tough.”

She eyes the many options before her, bags and boxes of many colors, some with items visible to the naked eye, others sealed. Some state “gluten free,” or “vegetarian” or “gender neutral.” Others are a total crapshoot. She explores the length of the table and starts back at the beginning.

“Maybe I should just be smart and pick something with food, since I’ll be here over break,” she says, looking through a bag with snacks, soups, and chips. But then she recalls last year and how much fun it was to open a bag and find a small coloring book, colored pencils, and a whistle shaped like a pair of lips.

“Oh my God,” she says, finally spotting her package, a glittery, sealed bag labeled as a “Fundle,” short for “Fun Bundle.” 

“It’s a lot of fun and a great distraction from the stress of the semester,” she says. “I love that there are options for everyone, and I love getting a note from the alum who put it together.”

Meaningful connections to Grinnellians

Another pair of students move through the line and make their picks more quickly. Hadley Luker ’19 selects a small bag with hair chalk, suspenders, and a small flag among other things. Zachary Susag ’19 grabs a sealed box with “Packed with love from dual alums” written on top.

“The dual alums thing intrigues me,” he says.

Laura Shepherd hears him and says “Hey, that one is from us!” indicating herself and Scott, excited to see the person who picked their package. 

Susag opens the box and finds several bags of snacks, a box of glowsticks, a stapler, a small amount of cash with a note saying, “Get a snack at the Spencer Grill,” and a trio of small rubber creatures he describes as “Really cute … kind of creepy, but cute.” 

But the absolute favorite thing he finds is the letter from the Shepherds. 

He reads from it to Luker, telling her where the couple met, about their daughter who also attended Grinnell, how they love to come back every year, and other bits of information they shared in the letter.

“That’s Grinnellian right there,” he says. “This really means a lot to me. To get a real letter and such a thoughtful gift and then to see them here and be able to thank them in person is amazing.”

Grinnell College Museum of Art

“For many years now, we have functioned as a museum,” says Lesley Wright, director of the gallery and of the museum. “We have a growing collection. We have exhibitions. We have a deep set of programs. But people don’t think of us as a museum.”

For some, a gallery means a smaller space or a space only for exhibitions; for others, it’s a commercial place to buy artwork. Resolving that confusion was one reason for the name change, Wright says.

Student looking at artworkThe name change also celebrates Faulconer’s 20th anniversary. “This seemed like a ripe opportunity to make a change,” Wright says. “Our new name ties us clearly to the College. When we were founded, Dan [Strong, associate director] and I were asked to use the gallery to expand the reputation of the College through visual arts. We’ve certainly established ourselves, and putting the College’s name on the museum will help connect our success with the significance of Grinnell College in people’s minds.”

The name Faulconer Gallery will be retained for the exhibition space, which honors the intentions of the late Vernon ’61 and Amy Hamamoto ’59 Faulconer when they named it. Amy Faulconer supports the new name.

The Grinnell College Museum of Art name will also be added to the Print and Drawing Study Room, located in Burling Library. The print room was opened in 1983 and houses the College’s collection of works on paper. Faculty and students use the space to study original works of art from the collection in their teaching and learning. The print room has been part of Faulconer Gallery since 1999 and the museum name will signal the connection. 

The Faulconer Gallery logo will be retired this summer. New signs, print materials, and a website will celebrate the new name and look. 

In Honor of Our Deceased Veterans

Grinnell College is planning a new veterans memorial to join and complement the existing monument in Herrick Chapel, which honors the 11 Grinnell College students who lost their lives in the U.S. Civil War. This new plaque will honor all students and alumni who lost their lives defending the United States in the many wars and conflicts since 1865. 

Any student, alumna, or alumnus who died while on active duty serving in one of the U.S. military branches is eligible to have his or her name included on the new memorial. 

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) is asking friends, family members, and loved ones of these brave soldiers to submit their names and any details related to their service so they can be honored as part of this new memorial. 

If you know someone whose name should be included, please contact DAR at, by calling 866-850-1846, or by sending a letter to Veterans Project, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA 50112-1690. For the initial installation, please submit names by July 1, 2019.

Thank you for helping us to commemorate these special members of the Grinnell community. 

New Leader for Academic Affairs

Anne F. Harris,  vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College headshotOn July 1, Anne F. Harris takes the reins as Grinnell’s vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. Harris comes to Grinnell from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where she most recently served as a professor and vice president for academic affairs. Over more than 20 years at DePauw, she has held various faculty and academic administrative appointments.

After five years as Grinnell’s chief academic officer, Michael E. Latham is returning to his home state of Hawaii where, after a national search, he was named president of Punahou School in Honolulu. 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 Latham’s alma mater, a distinction he shares with President Barack Obama. (See Latham’s “Strategy Session” column.)

As dean of the College, Harris will ensure that faculty have the support and resources they need to do their work of providing an education in the liberal arts through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas.

She brings a stellar record of pedagogy, research, and administrative experience to help advance the College’s strategic priority as a learning liberal arts college providing highly effective and distinctive education. Her work at DePauw has been marked by leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion, academic program and community development, and financial stewardship and fundraising.  

Harris holds a bachelor’s in art history and classical languages from Agnes Scott College, where she earned Phi Beta Kappa honors, and master’s and doctorate in art history from the University of Chicago. Beginning with a dissertation about popular reception to the stained glass of Chartres in the medieval and modern eras, her research into the medium and its effects on perception and experience expanded to other media of the Middle Ages, namely ivory, alabaster, manuscripts, and wood. A prolific researcher and author, she has published numerous articles and juried and invited papers. She is a co-author of three articles and a textbook on medieval art history to be published this year.

Over $1 Million

Grinnell College’s 36-hour Scarlet & Give Back Day on April 10–11, 2019, raised more than $1 million to support programs and opportunities for current and future Grinnell students. 

During the 36-hour giving challenge, a total of 1,964 gifts were made. This generosity went even further because an anonymous Grinnell graduate pledged a $2-for-$1 match for every gift up to a total match of $500,000. All of the matching funds will support the new Humanities and Social Studies Center, which is scheduled to be completed in 2020.  

“We are so grateful to everyone who assisted with this 36-hour challenge, including our Development and Alumni Relations team,” says Mae Parker, director of annual giving at the College, “but most importantly, our anonymous alum donor who made such a generous challenge possible.”

To commemorate the fifth year of Scarlet & Give Back Day, an additional 12 hours were added to the traditional 24-hour event. Several interactive activities also were incorporated into the festivities. 

A second challenge was issued by the Grinnell College Board of Trustees. Board members personally pledged gifts of $150,000 if a total of 1,846 gifts were made before the end of Scarlet & Give Back Day at 5 p.m. April 11. Grinnell reached that milestone just before 4 p.m.

Scarlet & Give Back Day was introduced in 2015 to celebrate Grinnell College through philanthropy. In total, Scarlet & Give Back Day has garnered contributions of $3,689,682.

Open for Learning

Spring semester classes in humanities and social studies are taking place in the newly constructed portion of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). Faculty and students say they are excited about the new center and all that it makes possible. 

Monessa Cummins, associate professor and chair of classics, teaches Roman Archaeology and Art in the HSSC’s case study classroom (Room N3110). “It is magnificent,” she says. “Students sit in tiered semicircular rows facing two large screens on which different high-resolution images can be projected at the same time. I can lecture in the well of the room or move seamlessly to a discussion in which all the students can see and respond to everyone else. After just one class, I can say this classroom is a pedagogical dream come true.”

Thomas Aldrich ’19, a history and religious studies major from Minneapolis, also expressed excitement about the facility. “The sun-filled atrium reminds you of the history of Grinnell and ARH [Alumni Recitation Hall], seamlessly bringing together new and old.”

Kaylin Kuhn ’21, who’s from Bettendorf, Iowa, and plans to major in mathematics, toured the HSSC with a friend on the first day of classes. “The classrooms look like a perfect learning environment with plenty of natural light,” Kuhn says. “I am very excited to have class here and to spend lots of time exploring and finding new study nooks.”

Jim Swartz, Dack Professor of Chemistry and co-chair of the College’s Building Advisory Committee, also strolled through the center on the first day of classes. “After six years of planning, design, and construction,” Swartz says, “it is thrilling to see our dreams materialized with spectacular new classrooms, students interacting with one another and with faculty members in common spaces, and faculty members interacting across disciplines as they are in neighborhoods mixed together and not siloed into departments.” 

The estimated completion date for the entire HSSC, including renovation and expansion of ARH and Carnegie Hall, is summer 2020. 

Grinnell Has a Podcast

Longing for a taste of campus life? Then give All Things Grinnell ( a listen. Hosted by Ben Binversie ‘17, the podcast features interviews and stories with students, faculty, alumni, staff, community members, and visiting speakers. Topics include research, campus life, and current issues of cultural, economic, social, and political significance. 

All Things Grinnell is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts. Several episodes are available now, and new episodes will be published every other week. Send comments and story ideas to podcast[at]grinnell[dot]edu. Watch for a Q&A with Binversie in the summer issue to learn how the podcast came about.


Studying How Galaxies Grow

Charlotte Christensen, assistant professor of physics, recently received a $484,300 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAREER Awards are the most prestigious and competitive grants the NSF awards. They are made to junior faculty members who are exemplary scholars and teachers to enable them to pursue projects encompassing both research and teaching. 

Christensen is the second Grinnell College faculty member to receive a CAREER grant. The first was Eliza Kempton, associate professor of physics, who received a CAREER grant in 2017 to conduct research on exoplanets and develop a spatial reasoning course and peer-mentoring program for STEM students. 

Beginning June 1 this year, Christensen’s CAREER grant will support her research into how galaxies form. Astronomers have found that galaxies grow through a balance of gas loss, gas in-fall, and star formation. What drives these processes, however, is only poorly understood.

To enhance that understanding, Christensen will model dwarf galaxies, which are ideal test subjects for studying galaxy growth because they have low masses and are especially sensitive to energy input from supernovas. 

For the teaching component of her project, Christensen will develop a set of computational exercises, labs, and open-ended research projects for students that will be integrated into the physics curriculum. 

Christensen and her colleagues had earlier integrated a computational lab into the 200-level mechanics course with the support of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. Building on this work, Christensen will improve the overall education of physics majors by incorporating computational problem-solving, an increasingly fundamental component of a modern physics education. 

The grant also will support summer research projects for 12 Grinnell students, including opportunities to present at national conferences and to visit collaborators at research institutions. By participating in these innovative projects, Grinnell students develop a dedication to truth, evidence, and critical thought.

In addition, Christensen’s curricular development will address a gap in computational skill development that the physics department has observed between male and female physics majors. Female students, including physics majors, are substantially less likely to enroll in computer science classes than male students. 

Best Qualified Pool of Applicants

Applications to Grinnell College have risen dramatically since 2012, when the number was 3,131, the largest at that time. For 2019, the figure is 7,961, a new application record.

“The people here in the enrollment services division have worked diligently and wisely on a variety of strategies to increase our visibility and subsequently our applications,” says Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. 

Although increased visibility unfortunately translates to more applicants being denied admission, “it gives you a great deal of flexibility in shaping your class,” Bagnoli says. “I believe Grinnell’s three primary commitments to academic excellence, social responsibility, and diversity should be reflected in every entering class. Having a robust pool of applicants from which to select the class makes it easier to deliver on all three commitments.”

One major piece of good news is that Grinnell has received its highest number of applications from domestic students of color. “There are not just more students of color in our pool,” Bagnoli says. “They’re not just a more diverse group. The applicant pool also appears to be among the best qualified we’ve ever seen. So, that’s why we’re excited.”

While many factors account for the increase in domestic students of color, one is the increase of applicants from QuestBridge, an organization that helps high-achieving, low-income students apply to colleges. “That’s the single source of greatest increase,” Bagnoli says. Grinnell has partnered with QuestBridge since 2010.

Before admission staff members read applications in depth (and derive a more thorough understanding of academic achievements), they can get a quick sense of the whole pool’s overall academic qualifications from SAT test scores. “The 25th percentile is 1,320 and 75th percentile is 1,500,” Bagnoli says. “This puts us in the company of the most selective schools in the country.”

Applications are up in virtually all categories of data: domestic students and international students, first-generation students, public schools, and private schools. 

“The share of applicants applying for aid is quite high,” Bagnoli says. He learned recently that among the 40-plus colleges and universities that are both need-blind and meet 100 percent of need, “no other college or university, as a share of annual operating expenses, invests more institutional grant assistance to students than does Grinnell College.”

Domestic Students of Color Graph

Behind the Scenes with the Grinnell Prize

How can awarding $100,000 to a social justice innovator each year benefit Grinnell students and the College? More than a few people asked that question when the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize was first awarded in 2011.

The answer has evolved as the prize itself has evolved. 

“Initially we saw the prize as a way to recognize Grinnell’s distinctive history and identity,” says Raynard S. Kington, president. “In recent years, we’ve seen how embedding the prize into our curriculum, making the winners accessible to our students, faculty, and staff so they can learn how these innovators do what they do — that’s where the real value lies — in helping us all create connections.” 

Susan Sanning, associate dean and director of service and innovation with the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), took over management of the prize in 2014. “That forced me to think about the value of service and innovation. I wanted to integrate the prize into the CLS and the College,” Sanning says. 

One of the ways that happens is through the planning and execution of Grinnell Prize week each fall. The winner is invited to campus and participates in a variety of events. 

Mélanie Marcel, the 2018 Grinnell Prize winner, is founder and CEO of SoScience, an organization that helps scientists and social entrepreneurs collaborate to solve societal challenges. SoScience advocates an approach to research that focuses on social impact rather than on projects for which they can secure funding from industry or governments.

“Mélanie is doing something that is redefining the box,” Sanning says. As she planned public events for prize week, Sanning wanted to provide enough opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to see the immediate things Marcel is doing as well as the systemic things.

Workshops helped lay out the practical pieces of Marcel’s work. In “Using Science for Good,” Marcel introduced the field of responsible research, its actors, and its methodologies through a simple game she developed and uses in the annual “Future of” conference SoScience hosts. Another workshop, “Facilitating Collaborations Between Scientists and Social Entrepreneurs and Grassroots Change Agents,” focused on the practical strategies and tools Marcel designed and uses in SoScience.

“The participants got to interact and discuss social issues with Mélanie, while also getting to hear about her life, personal experiences, and specifics in this area of work,” says Joy Suh ’19, major in biological chemistry. 

Prize Week culminated in a career panel to help students see how diverse careers can connect science and the social good. Sanning “looked for folks who are using their liberal arts education as a catalyst for careers in multiple fields.” 

The alumni panelists filled that role well. They included chemistry major Mitch Erickson ’72, science adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; biology major Indrani Singh ’08, director of community health partnerships at the University of Rochester Medical Center; and Emily Stiever ’09, an independent major focused on political ecology and chief operating officer and vice president of field operations for Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit.

Sanning also wanted to “include an unexpected academic perspective in there,” which is why she invited Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy. Nyden’s civic engagement with Mothers on the Frontline helps show students another way to connect work with service. Nyden is co-founder and president of the group, which helps inform scientific research on children’s mental health by presenting stories that aren’t typically heard. 

A theme of connection wove through all the events. Making connections with people, with ideas, and with students’ own interests was key.

During her keynote, Marcel said about the Grinnell Prize and the College: “The work you are doing is really like no other. We need special places like this one, places to collaborate, places where empathy, openness, and understanding are fostered.”

Awarding the Grinnell Prize to an innovator in social justice and asking that person to share his or her experience with students provides a mutually beneficial learning opportunity. Students get to see how education is a catalyst to do what they’re passionate about, and the prize winner gets to extend his or her influence and create more connections to grow the work.