Campus News

Physics Professor Receives Prestigious NSF Grant

Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics, recently received a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Eliza KemptonKempton is the first Grinnell College faculty member to win this prestigious grant, which is expected to provide more than $680,000 over five years. It is the largest grant ever awarded to Grinnell College in support of a single faculty member’s work.  

The grant is one of the NSF’s most prestigious and most competitive awards, supporting junior faculty who are exemplary scholars and teachers. Recipients integrate their scholarship with their organization’s educational mission.

Kempton’s project, titled “Radiative Transfer Modeling of Super-Earth Atmospheres — Looking Toward the James Webb Space Telescope and Beyond,” comprises both educational and research aims.

To increase success rates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes at Grinnell, Kempton will develop a spatial reasoning course for students with low preparation for STEM fields, and a peer-mentoring program for STEM students from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Starting in September 2017, Kempton will create computer programs to model the atmospheric structure and composition of those planets close in size to Earth, or “super-Earths.” The computer programs will be used to study the characteristics of atmospheres of many different types of “super-Earths.” She will make these programs broadly available to other scientists to use for their research.

“This work is especially timely,” Kempton says, “because it prepares us to understand the observations of super-Earths that will be obtained with the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2018. This project serves the national interest, as it helps our scientific understanding of the properties of planets around other stars and prepares us to study planets that are similar to Earth and which could harbor life.”

Familiar Names at 2017 Commencement

Honorary degree recipients at this year’s Commencement will include Kumail Nanjiani ’01, comedian and actor on Silicon Valley; Daniel Werner ’91, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center; Emily Pfitsch, widow of the late, longtime coach John Pfitsch; Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a migrant farm worker turned neurosurgeon; and Barb Van Ersvelde, local K–12 educator. To listen live, go to on Monday, May 22, 2017, beginning at 10 a.m. CDT.

Campus Construction Under Way

Students and faculty returned from winter break to see significant progress at the site of the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex (HSSC). In early January, carefully planned tree preservation and removal was completed, and safety fences were placed around Alumni Recitation Hall, Carnegie Hall, and other areas of the northwest quad that are included in the HSSC’s footprint.  
Late January saw the demolition of the former Bookstore and the Carnegie stacks, as well as mass excavation of the site. In early February, shoring of existing foundations occurred simultaneous with continued excavation and other site work, including sidewalk improvements at the Commencement area. 
A campuswide event celebrating the start of HSSC construction is being planned for April. 
For more information about HSSC construction, see

Students Craft Reusable Chopsticks

Students lined up on the first floor of Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center Jan. 26, patiently waiting their turn to make a personal set of reusable chopsticks from wood harvested to make way for the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex.

“This is a great way to recycle wood from campus into something I can keep with me,” said Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne ’20, as he used a hand plane to smooth one of the four sides of one of his chopsticks.

“Plus,” he added, “my roommate is from Shanghai and he promised to help me master the art of eating with chopsticks.” 

“This is a fun way to promote Asian culture,” said Rong Guo ’19 of Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. “I like watching how the chopsticks are made. I use them, but I never knew how to make them.” 

No previous woodworking skills were needed. It took most students from 15 to 20 minutes to use a special jig and planer to transform two slender sticks of walnut or sycamore into a smooth pair of chopsticks.

“I was impressed that so many students were willing to wait in line to make their chopsticks,” said Karen Edwards, associate dean and director of international student affairs. “They were enthusiastic about the chance to create a meaningful souvenir.”

2nd Annual TEDxGrinnell “Bursting the Bubble”

The second annual TEDxGrinnellCollege conference, held Nov. 5, featured five Grinnell alumni and two current professors who spoke to a sold-out audience of students, faculty, staff, and townspeople. Sponsored by Grinnell College and the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Leadership and Innovation, the talks centered around the theme of “bursting the bubble.”  

“We intentionally left the theme open-ended, and framed it as a series of questions,” says Meghna Ravishankar ’17, who organized the event with Robert Ludwig, program associate. “How do you cope when your expectations are different from reality? How do we understand the ‘Grinnell bubble,’ and what can we gain by stepping outside of it?

“We already have such fantastic ideas and people within our community that we don’t necessarily know about,” Ravishankar continues. “TEDxGrinnellCollege is an opportunity to shed light on some of those people and ideas, and to create connections throughout the larger Grinnell community.”

Presenters included:

  • Ozzie Ercan ’97, columnist, movie producer, actor, graphic designer, and realtor-turned- rapper/stay-at-home dad.
  • Jean Kummerow ’71, psychologist and career coach specializing in leadership and management development.
  • Mark Laver, assistant professor of music at Grinnell, saxophonist, and ethnomusicologist.
  • Rebecca Mwase ’07, Zimbabwean-American theatre and performance artist, creative consultant, producer, and organizer working at the intersection of art and social justice.
  • Christine Thorburn ’92, rheumatologist and two-time Olympic cyclist.
  • David Opong-Wadee ’12, campaign operative, congressional staffer, and founder of campaign consulting firm Forward Progress.
  • Tony Perman, assistant professor of music at Grinnell and ethnomusicologist specializing in the music of Zimbabwe.

Kathy Clemons ’95 coached the speakers and also served on the speaker selection team. Presentations were captured on video and may be viewed at

TEDx conferences, which are self-organized events operating under license from TED, are local events that bring people together to share “ideas worth spreading.” The conferences emulate the TED conference, an annual gathering of leaders and innovators in technology, entertainment, and design.

At the Faulconer Gallery Spring 2017

Image: Robert Hodierne ’68, The Ambush, Image 7, 1967 (printed 2015). Digital print, courtesy the artist.

Robert Hodierne: Vietnam War Photographs

April 7–June 4, 2017

Robert Hodierne ’68 was a 21-year-old freelancer when he made his first trip to Vietnam in 1966, leaving Grinnell on a one-way ticket at the end of his third year. He returned in 1969 as a soldier assigned to Pacific Stars and Stripes in Saigon, where he spent another 14 months. During those two tours, he photographed combat in every corner of the country. His Vietnam photographs, many unpublished, reflect Hodierne’s concern for the ordinary soldier, many of them his own age when he was there. Hodierne has had a distinguished career as a photojournalist, photographing other conflicts around the world. He teaches in the Department of Journalism, University of Richmond, Va.

The exhibition was organized by the University of Richmond Museums and co-curated by Richard Waller, executive director, University Museums, in collaboration with Hodierne.

Two students admiring wire art sculpture

Image from 2016 Bachelor of Arts Exhibition.


April 7–May 7, 2017
BAX (Bachelor of Arts Exhibition) features work by third- and fourth-year art students — those majoring in art as well as students in other majors who work intensively in studio. With support from the Faulconer Gallery staff, students manage all the exhibition details, from the submission of proposals, to the selection of a juror, to the installation and awarding of prizes.

Political Mobilization in Houses of Worship

Danielle Lussier, assistant professor of political science, and her colleagues at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia have won an international collaboration grant from the Global Religion Research Initiative at Notre Dame University, a Templeton Foundation-supported project. They will examine the role that contemporary houses of worship, both Muslim and Christian, play in the political mobilization of their adherents in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy. 

Danielle Lussier

In Support of Positive Social Change

The Joseph F. Wall ’41 Service 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 the late Joseph Wall ’41, professor of history and longtime dean, who inspired an ideal of social responsibility in his students.

Each year, the College awards two graduates with a prize of $25,000 each to jump-start or complete a project that shows creativity and commitment to effecting positive social change. Projects may be original or supplement existing programs, address issues specific to local communities or be of wider global concern, and be carried out domestically or internationally. 

Katie Lee ’09

Katie Lee ’09 Wall Award WinnerLee works for B Lab, a nonprofit organization that seeks to build a global community of businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility, public transparency, and legal accountability. Lee will use her $25,000 to jump-start B School, an online educational platform that will enable people around the world to learn about the B Corporation movement, improve its business practices, and take action to help companies manage their impact. Using her background in education, Lee will work with B Lab staff to develop individual courses and cohort training for internal and external audiences. She will also work with a creative designer to build and pilot the B School tech platform on a learning management system. Within one year, Lee intends to build and pilot this online education platform and launch courses for B Lab staff, B Corporation ambassadors, and the general public.

Renata Heberton ’06

Renata Heberton ’06 Wall Award WinneHeberton’s award will fund the Pillar Project, a new extension of Angelica Village. Created in 2014, Angelica Village is a shared-living community in Denver that offers shelter, food, and sustained support to people experiencing homelessness. The Pillar Project will augment the mission of Angelica Village by providing personal and community support and mentoring for personal, educational, and occupational development. Specifically, the Pillar Project will support and advocate for unaccompanied refugee minors, young refugee adults, and formerly homeless adults to increase stability, connect with appropriate resources, provide enrichment, and identify and work toward life goals.


Receives 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced that poet Hai-Dang Phan ’03, assistant professor of English, is one of 37 writers nationwide to receive a 2017 individual creative writing fellowship of $25,000.

Phan was selected from more than 1,800 eligible applicants through an anonymous review process based on artistic excellence. He’s the second Grinnell College faculty member to receive an NEA creative writing fellowship in two years. Novelist Dean Bakopoulos, writer-in-residence, received a 2016 fellowship. Fellowships alternate between poetry and prose each year. 

“It’s a really amazing thing for two Grinnell faculty to have won these highly competitive fellowships in just two years,” says Michael Latham, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College.

“It feels personally significant to me that I received this fellowship as an English professor at Grinnell,” Phan says. “Grinnell College has been a supportive, creative, and intellectual environment for me for many years, first as an undergrad here and now as a professor in the English department.” He’s been on the faculty since 2012.

Last year was a highly successful time for Phan as a writer. He received the New England Review’s Emerging Writers Award, a scholarship that enabled him to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont in August 2016. 

For his poem titled, “My Father’s Norton Introduction to Literature, Third Edition (1981),” Phan won the Frederick Bock Prize, given by editors of Poetry in recognition of the best work published in the magazine during the past year. That poem was also selected for Best American Poetry 2016, guest-edited by nationally renowned poet Edward Hirsch ’72

“Hai-Dang Phan, who has been nurtured by Grinnell, is a gifted poet of dislocation, migration, and inheritance,” Hirsch says. “He is part of the future of American poetry.”  

Reading, Writing, Remembering

Tracy Huling ’77 and Brian Buckley ’14, Alvin Irby ’07, and Bryan Boyce ’08 are the winners of this year’s Joseph F. Wall ’41 Sesquicentennial Service Awards.

Tracy HulingBrian BuckleyHuling and Buckley will use the award to support their organization, the Prison Public Memory Project (PPMP). In its pilot site in Hudson, N.Y., the program works with community members and collaborating scholars and artists to discover, preserve, interpret, and present the rich and complex history of the prison there, honor the memories of former prisoners and prison workers, and use the past to imagine a new future for the town when its historic prison closes. Funds from the award will be used to 1) fortify the program already in place in Hudson, developing a permanent site of prison memory there, organized and directed by Buckley and 2) support the PPMP’s founder, Huling, as she expands the reach of the organization to other rural prison communities in the United States. 

Alvin IrbyIrby, who lives in New York City, will use his award to expand his Barbershop Books program, which places child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops. The program will improve black boys’ access to engaging books and increase the amount of time they read for fun. Creating reading spaces in 20 additional barbershops will enable Barbershop Books to reach 800 young male readers in two Brooklyn communities. By providing year-round access to culturally relevant, age-appropriate, gender-responsive children’s books in a traditionally male space, Irby hopes to help young black boys identify as readers. 

Bryan BoyceBoyce will fund his project, Cow Tipping Press, a program that teaches creative writing for adults with developmental disabilities and shares their work with a broad audience. The funding will be used to train five additional instructors in strategies for teaching diverse learners, reaching 75 students and publishing their writing for hundreds of readers in the first year. By offering an imaginative outlet, Boyce will provide a platform for people with developmental disabilities to speak for themselves in a medium that is often used to speak about them.

The Wall Service Awards were established by a group of 205 donors during the College’s 1996 sesquicentennial celebration, honoring Grinnell’s long-standing commitment to social justice and public service. Wall was a professor of history at Grinnell who inspired the ideal of social responsibility in his students. The College gives awards of $25,000 each to alumni to carry out a service project that is of tangible benefit to others. Projects may be original or supplement existing programs; they may be local, regional, national, or international in scope; and may be carried out domestically or internationally. Since 1999, more than $1 million has been awarded to 44 alumni.

Applications for next year’s awards are due in June 2016.