Campus News

Grinnell College National Poll

In fall 2018, Grinnell College partnered with J. Ann Selzer, a nationally renowned pollster from Iowa, to conduct the Grinnell College National Poll. The College undertook this pilot project as a way to provide research opportunities to students and faculty and to contribute to the national discussion about the direction of American politics. 

The first poll was conducted Aug. 29–Sept. 2. Administered by professional interviewers, the poll surveyed 1,002 randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers of U.S. adults ages 18 or older, including 779 likely voters in the 2018 general election. The initial findings were released to the public Sept. 5 and included a challenging path to re-election in 2020 for President Donald Trump, intense partisan divide about the National Football League protests during the national anthem, and widespread support for lawful immigration. 

One of the innovative aspects of the poll is the inclusion of questions about political activation. For example, the poll asked respondents how likely they were to attend meetings, rallies or marches, contact public officials, or help others register to vote in elections in the near future. Using these responses, the poll seeks to establish an activation index, which would measure individuals’ likelihood of political action and participation.

Grinnell faculty members have been an integral part of the poll since its inception. Barbara Trish, professor of political science and director of the Program in Practical Political Education and the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; Peter Hanson, associate professor of political science; and Xavier Escandell, associate professor of anthropology, all worked with Selzer to draft the questions for the poll. They are also incorporating the poll into their classrooms and research.

In her Political Parties course, Trish says students are using the poll’s findings to explore whether the policy positions of the parties as expressed in their platforms are consistent with those expressed by rank-and-file partisans. Hanson says the poll is a “very useful tool for teaching about quantitative reasoning and the national political environment,” and he is working with a student to write a blog post analyzing the poll’s initial findings. 

Escandell, as the faculty director for the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL), has overseen the cleaning of the survey data, preparing codebooks, and conducting preliminary data analyses. Escandell says DASIL, with the help of students, is “creating an interactive data visualization tool that will make the findings easily accessible to the public.” 

Through a special topics course, Political Polling: Analyzing the Grinnell College National Poll, taught by Ron Rapoport, visiting professor from the College of William and Mary, students have assessed poll data on key issues with an aim of understanding the social and political landscape of the 2018 midterm elections. 

The second poll was conducted after the November midterm elections. For more information about the Grinnell College National Poll, visit

Building a Greenhouse and Intergenerational Relationships

Congratulations to Chad Darby ’88 and Jennifer Kulik ’94, recipients of the College’s 2018 Joseph F. Wall ’41 Alumni Service Award. Each will use the $30,000 award to launch programs benefiting their respective communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Chad Darby headshotDarby’s project will build and develop a commercial-quality greenhouse for an elementary school outside of Portland, Oregon. 

“The experiences that will be made possible as a result of the greenhouse will quite literally bring learning to life for our students who might otherwise be exposed to some concepts only in theory or in a less practical, meaningful way,” says Jordan Mills, Bridgepoint Elementary principal.

Jennifer Kulik headshot

Darby says working in the greenhouse will teach students many skills in nursery operations, seed starting, plant care, and improving yield. He adds, “At the same time that we have a crisis of hunger and poverty in much of the United States, children are becoming less and less familiar with the sources of their food and the methods used to produce it.” 

Similar to Darby, Kulik saw a community need and started an organization to address it. Silver Kite Community Arts specializes in creating intergenerational arts programs and arts experiences for older adults. All of the arts programs use life stories as a source for art making.

With the Wall Award prize, Silver Kite is partnering with Sustainable Housing for the Ageless Generation (SHAG), a Washington nonprofit of affordable rental apartment communities for low- and moderate-income seniors. The program will be piloted in five different SHAG communities in the south part of Seattle.

“Based on feedback and learnings gleaned from the pilot programs, we will create an intergenerational program toolkit, which can be used by other SHAG and senior living communities to implement their own version of the program,” Kulik says.

The Wall Award was established in 1996 as a tribute to the College’s 150-year tradition of social commitment. The award was named in honor of Joseph Wall ’41, professor of history and longtime dean of the College, who inspired an ideal of social responsibility in his students.

Each year, a committee composed of alumni, faculty, and a student choose up to two award recipients and award the $30,000 prizes to either jump-start or complete a project that shows creativity and commitment to effecting positive social change. 

Since 1996, Grinnell College has presented the Wall Award to 50 alumni who have contributed more than $1 million and their time and talents to 44 diverse projects throughout the United States and in five other countries, perpetuating a legacy of activism. 

For more information about Darby’s and Kulik’s projects, see

Wellness Survey

Grinnell College has collected wellness data from students every three years since 2012. The data collection is part of a national effort, the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment.

The survey asks dozens of questions about student health and mental health as well as behaviors related to alcohol and other drug use. Grinnell students have consistently surpassed the national average survey participation rate of 21 percent. In 2018, Grinnell students’ participation rate was 51.6 percent. 

Jen Jacobsen ’95, assistant dean of students and director of wellness and prevention, shares the aggregate Grinnell results with staff and students across campus to help inform programming. She shares safety data with Campus Safety, sense of belonging data with the Office of Intercultural Affairs, alcohol and other drug use data with the Harm Reduction Committee, and sexual health data with the Sexual Health Information Center, a student-run organization. She also uses it for student training, including peer educators who focus on wellness, student leaders, and students who host overnight prospective students.

Data even finds its way into pub quizzes. “We find ways to gamify it,” Jacobsen says.

One piece of the student well-being puzzle that Jacobsen finds particularly fascinating is students’ perceptions of the behavior that’s happening around them. Students tend to assume, for example, that more fellow students are drinking, and drinking more, than they actually are. 

“The perception of norms is almost always wrong,” Jacobsen says. 

Since 2012 the survey data show a positive trend downward, 10 percent, in both the perception and the reality of the number of drinks students are consuming. Even more importantly, fewer students are self-reporting experiencing blackouts or alcohol-related injuries. Additionally, fewer students report having their sleep or studying disrupted by other students’ alcohol use.

Part of the explanation for this change, Jacobsen says, is the messaging that’s been going on about social norms. For example, the term “sober sex” has been used intentionally by the wellness office. In 2015, 51 percent of Grinnell students thought the typical student wanted to be intoxicated for sexual contact, and in 2018, 24 percent think so. 

“Perception is getting closer to reality,” Jacobsen says. “Grinnell students are critical thinkers inside the classroom. Discussing norms and their potential misperceptions is a way to extend this critical thinking outside the classroom to their everyday decision-making.”


A Changing Central Campus

Construction of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) has changed the look of central campus. Two new pavilions, one directly east of Carnegie Hall and one northeast of Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH), will be ready for occupancy in early 2019. Faculty and students will be able to take advantage of state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces while ARH and Carnegie are renovated.

Soon to come are cove-type outdoor learning spaces to the east of the HSSC’s south pavilion. A large plaza extending to the Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center will serve as the main entrance to the HSSC atrium, a new glass-walled structure linking the north and south pavilions to the historic ARH and Carnegie buildings.  

Across Park Street from ARH, the Admission and Financial Aid Center retains a residential feel to welcome visitors. It opens this fall.

New Leader Joins DAR

Jaci A. Thiede headshotJaci A. Thiede started her new position as Grinnell’s vice president for development and alumni relations (DAR) July 31. She takes the helm as the College prepares for the public launch of its first comprehensive fundraising campaign in 20 years. 

Thiede came to Grinnell from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she served as vice president for university advancement. She brings extensive advancement, development, campaign, and alumni relations experience to her new role, with nearly 25 years in higher education advancement and campaign consulting.

Prior to her leadership role at Butler, Thiede was associate dean for alumni relations and development at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, and before that she served as a senior member of the Indiana University Foundation’s development division for 10 years.

While at Butler, Thiede led efforts that resulted in recording the first and third highest fundraising totals in the university’s history. She helped develop cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategies that resulted in the largest individual gift in Butler’s history, and increased overall annual giving by 24 percent over two years.

Thiede will play a central role in enhancing the visibility and fundraising capabilities of the College, ensuring Grinnell’s position at the forefront of liberal arts education. 


Welcome, New Trustees

The Grinnell College Board of Trustees recently elected five new members to four-year terms: G. Barry Huff  ’73, Kimberly Kuncl ’87, Stephen G. Moyer ’79, Angela Onwuachi-Willig ’94, and Saumil Parikh ’99.

In addition, John “Fritz” Schwaller ’69 has been elected Alumni Council president for 2018-19 and will serve as an ex-officio trustee during his term.

The board also voted to re-elect six trustees to new terms: Trish Fitzgibbons Anderson ’80, David Braman ’75; Sylvia Kwan, Tobi Klein Marcus ’87, George E. Moose ’66, and Connie Wimer.

The role of trustees is to assure the “great and lasting good” of Grinnell College. For bios of the new members, see trustees’ full biographical profiles.


New Vice President for Finance Settles In

Born and raised in the Midwest, Keith Archer already feels comfortable in Grinnell. “It’s a really good fit,” he says. 

Archer, Grinnell’s new vice president for finance and treasurer, began work July 2. He oversees the College’s financial operations, human resources, facilities management, risk management, and auxiliary services. He came from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he served as vice president for finance and administrative services for three years.

Archer’s 35 years of professional experience is diverse. “It helps me to understand my different areas of responsibility,” he says. 

He started his career in retail management at Walmart and later worked in real estate management, manufacturing compliance, and public accounting before moving into higher education in 2005. At DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, he was executive director of finance and controller. He is a certified public accountant.

Archer was a first-generation college student who earned an associate’s degree in chemistry and math and later a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Maryville University in St. Louis. While working on his bachelor’s, he also worked full time and was raising two children with his wife Melissa Archer. 

The liberal arts and being a lifelong learner are things he appreciates. “I saw good things going on here,” he says, “things I wanted to be a part of and support.” 

Commencement 2018

"Whatever path you take, or goals you pursue, please use your knowledge and skills well--to fight for the things you care about, knowing that even one person can make a difference." We couldn't put it better than today's Commencement speaker, Celina Karp Biniaz '52.

Congratulations to the Grinnell College class of 2018! You can view the full 2018 Commencement ceremony online now.

Caps at 2018 commencement
Commencement 2018 crowd
Honorary degree receives award
Chase makes honorary degree speech
Grad celebrates across the stage
Grad takes selfie with President Kington
Commencement crowd celebrating
Grad celebrates with diploma

Young Alumni Win Giving Challenge

As part of the April 5 Scarlet & Give Back Day, Grinnell’s annual 24-hour giving challenge, alumni classes competed against each other for the honor of having an office named after their class in the new Humanities and Social Studies Center. The class of 2012 will receive this recognition, thanks to the 19 percent of class members who made gifts that day. 

April 5 was also National Burrito Day. This coincidence inspired a student-giving challenge. Nearly 20 percent of first-year students made a gift, winning free Chipotle burritos for everyone in the class of 2021.

During the 24-hour period, 2,482 donors made a gift, unlocking a series of challenges. When the number of donors reached 2,018, that clinched a matching gift of $275,000 from an anonymous Grinnell graduate. In total, $503,289 was raised.

Photos of Scarlet and Give Back Day events

Q & A with Eric Ohrn ’07, Assistant Professor of Economics

Eric Ohrn ’07 headshotThe Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) is still under construction, but it has already transformed the look of campus. We asked a few faculty members what they're anticipating about it. Here's one perspective.

Q: How will the HSSC impact the way that you teach/the way your students learn?
A: Just having brand new classrooms is going to be great. I’ve visited a couple of colleges with new buildings and students seem to have more energy when they are in a classroom they can respect.  
I also think the common spaces throughout the building are going to go a long way in promoting student-to-student learning. The fact that many common spaces are adjacent or close to faculty spaces will also help create informal interaction between faculty and students, which I think both parties really enjoy and benefit from.
Q: What part of the new building are you looking forward to the most?
A: In addition to the classrooms and common spaces, I am excited for the new faculty lounge and the formal presentation space. A big goal of the new building is to promote interdisciplinary teaching and research. A great way to accomplish that goal is to create a space where faculty from many different disciplines want to hang out.
The economics department invites between fie and 10 speakers to campus each year. The formal presentation space will be a great space for our students to interact with these world-renowned economic experts and their cutting-edge research.
Q: What part of the new building do you wish more people were talking about? 
A: I think our students don’t realize how great the new DASIL [Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab] wspace is going to be.  Imagine a mash-up between a computer lab and a lounge with access to upper-level students to assist you in your data analysis work.