The 60-Second Syllabus

What makes a college course relevant? Compelling? Career-changing? Our world-class faculty members’ expertise and creativity is infused into dozens of unique course offerings each semester. So, what have students been learning lately and why does it matter? Check out our sampling of 60-second syllabi, where professors reveal what makes their courses tick.

When Erick Leggans ’05 took chemistry courses as a Grinnell student, structures to help him succeed were embedded right into the syllabus. For example, he was required to join a group of classmates to collaborate on problem sets. The sequence of lessons in the course was carefully scaffolded to build skills in ways that would prepare him for professor-guided lab research later.

The approach worked: Leggans is now a tenured chemistry professor at Grinnell, and he uses his own courses, including Organic Chemistry, to offer today’s students the kinds of tools and opportunities that helped him succeed. “I want to give students the materials, structures, and guidance they need to pass this course, and also to go from here and to contribute to any field,” he says.

Across all divisions, Grinnell faculty are committed to teaching courses that do more than just impart knowledge. They also build skills that are useful beyond the classroom.

To learn more, we asked six professors to take us inside one of their courses and share their insider insights.

Students in Dobe's class attentive to the front of the classroomPHI 121
Philosophy for Life

Taught by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jennifer Dobe


Students grapple with timeless, practical questions: How should I live? What is happiness? What kind of life should I pursue? Using philosophical texts and robust classroom discussion, students explore a variety of ways to interpret the world. “We want students to feel empowered as philosophers in their own lives and to see the discipline as indispensable,” says Dobe.

Selected materials

  • “Letter to Menoeceus,” Epicurus
  • The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You, Audre Lorde

Essential question

Students consider Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought experiment, which was first proposed in the 1970s: If you could enter into and program a machine to give you any experiences you wished, feel these experiences as though they are your lived reality, and have them continuously for the rest of your life, would you choose to enter into this machine for the rest of your life?

“It’s a way of looking at the way we feel and think about the unknown and connecting with a reality that is other than us,” says Dobe.

Beyond the course

Dobe hopes that the course helps students internalize the idea that life is not something that happens “outside of them,” but that they must seek to be active participants in it right now. “One student told me that at the beginning of the course, he wasn’t sure what philosophy had to do with life at all, but by the end, he believed that philosophy was integral to everything having to do with life,” she says. “I hope that the course helps students feel more at home and empowered in the lives they are creating.”

Maria Tapias leans over a seated student, both looking at the paper the student holds. They are smilingANT 295
Graphic Medicine: Reading Medical Comics Anthropologically

Taught by Professor of Anthropology Maria Tapias with Support from Tilly Woodward, Curator of Academic and Community Outreach, Grinnell College Museum of Art

Selected materials

  • Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
  • Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s through the Looking Glass, Dana Walrath
  • Coma, Zara Slattery


Medical graphic novels use a combination of words and images to illuminate the culture of medicine, health inequities, and cultural understandings of illness.

Students read books on comics theory as well as graphic medical comics and graphic novels to learn how they work. These serve as a starting point for students to create their own graphic medicine project.

The course helps students synthesize medical anthropology, ethnographic field methods, comic theory, and art — a combination of diverse fields that Tapias says makes it “a quintessential liberal arts course.”

Key project

Students conduct in-depth interviews with someone close to them, such as a family member or close friend, who has experienced a health-related issue of some kind, from cancer treatment to menopause. They use the interview as a jumping-off point for a visual project, such as a poster or comic book, for public display in the Bucksbaum Rotunda.

Tapias says that students find the conversations valuable for more than just their class projects. “I told them: You’re going to learn something about your parents, brother, or sister that you don’t know. That’s an opportunity,” she says. “Their history is your history.”

Beyond the course

While the course itself is uniquely specific in its aims, Tapias wants students to walk away with broadly applicable insights. “My hope for the students is that they appreciate the power of storytelling as a vehicle for increased empathy,” she says. “I also secretly hope that students recognize the importance of having a creative outlet in their post-Grinnell lives. I began this class with the strong conviction that anyone can make a beautiful comic. Students proved me right.”

Eiran Shea looks over the shoulder of a smiling student who is showing her something in printed document while two other students look onARH 103
Introduction to Art History

Taught by Assistant Professor of Art History Eiran Shea

Unlike a traditional introduction to art history that offers a broad but surface-level overview of world art, this reimagined introductory course aims to build students’ analytic skills by focusing on 13 specific works of art and architecture, including those in the College’s art collection and the town of Grinnell itself.

Students learn visual analysis by looking closely at and describing art objects, considering how various elements contribute to meaning, and aligning their evaluations with historical material and analysis.

Selected materials

Students study numerous objects that are physically located in Grinnell and pair them with a variety of essays and other materials. These objects include:

  • a Buddha sculpture in the HSSC
  • a high-quality facsimile of Early Spring by Northern Song dynasty painter Guo Xi
  • The “jewel box” bank in Grinnell

Object lessons

Shea, an East Asian specialist, spends a week helping students understand Guo Xi’s Early Spring, a scroll painting that features trees, sloping landscapes, and heavy mists. “In one class, we talk about what makes Chinese landscape painting special. In another, we spend time in the Print and Drawing Study Room looking at this very high-quality facsimile. In a third, we look at related work and read primary source documents written by the artist,” she says. “It’s an approach that allows you to engage much more deeply with certain topics.”

Beyond the course

Shea hopes students gain skills to look at any art object and find meaning. “They can understand what the material it’s made of is telling them, what certain patterns might be communicating, and how it might have been understood as a social object,” she says. “I want them to be able to walk into any museum, anywhere in the world, and feel like they can engage with its contents visually. Visual literacy is important, whether you go into computer science, biology, or sociology.”

“We considered the Merchants’ National Bank by Louis Sullivan for one of our essays,” says Natalia Ramirez Jimenez ’24. “The close analysis of art pieces that were accessible to us was great to further my interest in art.”

Erick Leggans in a mask and face shield during the pandemic speaking from in front of a blackboard with molecular diagrams on the board behinidCHM 221
Organic Chemistry

Taught by Professor of Chemistry Erick Leggans ’05

What it’s about

The 200-level course, which has a lab component, is described as “a comprehensive study of organic structures, syntheses, reactions, and spectroscopy of organic compounds,” but Leggans says there’s a simpler description: “It’s the study of life.”

Selected materials

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Laboratory notebook
  • Molecular model

Key project

One highlight is a lab in which students create a banana-scented ester compound known as isoamyl acetate. (It starts as two different solutions that have decidedly less pleasant smells.)

While the project itself is an enjoyable one, Leggans notes that it’s the culmination of a series of smaller skills that students have learned in previous weeks: filtration, extraction, and evaporation, for example.

“What will I take away from this course? No matter what, just keep trying. Whether it was a failed attempt in the synthesis lab or struggling with a mechanism, just getting back into the lab and continuing to try was something this course really emphasized for me,” says Nell Horner ’24. “It’s something I will definitely take into future classes.”

“That lab is the first time students realize that all the skills that they’ve been learning from previous labs can be used here,” he says. It’s a nice bonus, he says, that this moment of synthesis is paired with a pleasant, fruity smell.

Beyond the course

Leggans is eager to bring as many students as possible into his research program, which focuses on synthesizing natural products, including antibiotics.

But even beyond that, Leggans hopes that anyone who takes organic chemistry — long known as an exceptionally challenging course — learns to take advantage of many different ways to master new skills and go further with their work through meaningful collaborative relationships. “I’m still talking to my science friends from Grinnell,” he says. “Community and collaboration are really important in the scientific world.”

Karla Erickson speaks to a group of students while gesturing with her handsSOC 295
The Sociology of Robots and AI

Taught by Professor of Sociology Karla Erickson

Course description

Students study tech ranging from robot pets to ChatGPT to understand how our relationships to machines have evolved and altered the social fabric.

Course materials

  • Your Computer Is On Fire, essays
  • Coded Bias (Netflix documentary)
  • Automating Humanity, Joe Toscano

Key questions

Students relentlessly interrogate the impact of technology and artificial intelligence that has become ubiquitous, says Erickson. “We ask things like: What are we told about this technology? What skills do these products build up, and what skills do they diminish? What are some of the consequences of broad adoption of these new technologies?”

Essential project

As a final project, students choose a specific product or technology, from Apple Watches to the “like” button, then develop a short project to describe its importance. The projects are designed to be shared publicly as a podcast, video, or blog post.

The goal, says Erickson, is to show students they can meaningfully participate in this discussion. “I want students to contribute to the emerging social study of machine life,” she says.

“The reading we did on the addictive nature of technologies, and the profits to be made in engineering such addiction, has made me more conscious of how often and for what I use my devices,” says Owen Gould ’26.

Beyond the course

While Erickson says that the course often has immediate implications for computer science students, she also hopes the course informs students’ perspectives as they go on to pursue careers in other fields. “I want them to have a set of tools when they’re at the decision-making table, for example, if someone wants to automate hiring,” she says. “I want them to be able to think critically about when we automate things and for what purpose.”

A student conducts research in a lab while Pascal Lafontant looks onBio 150
Regeneration Biology

Taught by Professor of Biology Pascal Lafontant

Selected materials

  • Principles of Regenerative Biology, Bruce M. Carlson
  • Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, Paul Knoepfler
  • Conversations with prominent scientists in the field
  • Current primary research papers in regeneration biology and regenerative medicine

What it’s about

Humans can’t regenerate their limbs, spinal cords, or hearts — yet. But plenty of animals can: Axolotls can regenerate their brains, zebrafish can regenerate their spinal cords, and planarian flatworms can regenerate nearly every part of themselves, almost infinitely. In the course, students learn how the regeneration process works, practice methods used in regeneration lab work, and analyze the challenges and opportunities of applying it to humans.

Essential details

Students study the microscopic anatomy of biological tissue, practice staining techniques to highlight specific elements of these structures, and do assays to pinpoint exactly when cells are growing and dividing. Then, in small groups, students generate testable hypotheses and investigate cellular signaling pathways that drive the regeneration process using these techniques. The goal is not to replicate work that has already been done, but to pursue real research. “We’re trying to find something that nobody knows yet,” says Lafontant. “I want students to realize that they actually can do science.”

“This was the first class where I was able to take what I know, what I learned, and what I want to know, and combine it in a lab setting to gain knowledge that has not even been published yet,” says Evan Stoller ’26.

From classroom lab to research

Students often discover that the questions they want to pursue through research require more than a semester-long course. “In a way, that’s by design, because it helps me recruit students to my lab,” says Lafontant, whose own research focuses on zebrafish heart regeneration. Some student researchers go on to spend the summer in Boston, where they work with Lafontant’s collaborators at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Mellon Grant Fuels Gateways

Eiran Shea spaking to students at a table with an image displayed on the wall behind her

Philosophy for Life and Introduction to Art History are two of several Grinnell courses that have benefited from a Mellon Grant that’s designed to help bring more students into the humanities.

The grant provides funding to develop or redesign introductory and 200-level courses to make them feel relevant and inclusive to today’s students. Other courses that have been reimagined include Humanities 101, Education 101, two introductory anthropology courses, and an Introduction to Shakespeare.

Shea, who helped redesign Grinnell’s Introduction to Art History course, says the grant has led faculty to align teaching approaches with the larger aims of a Grinnell education. For Shea, doing a deep dive on a smaller number of art objects through the new introductory class helps achieve that goal. “You’re not just ‘checking a box,’” she says of the smaller handful of objects they study. “You’re really understanding and engaging with them.”

Dobe says the newly developed Philosophy for Life course helps students immediately see the relevance of philosophy — and the humanities — to their lives. “Sometimes students have felt that philosophy is this erudite, inaccessible, obscure discipline — one they’re too intimidated to even enter,” she says. “This course is a way to bring philosophy down to earth and help students feel welcome in the department.”


Going Forth

A podcasting project that started out with a “how to navigate the future” mindset has found its groove as an informative and entertaining student-driven forum that’s creating new connections between students and alumni. How it came about, the topics covered, and who’s-who among alumni guests makes for engaging reading … or listening.

Driving to work or cleaning the kitchen, many of us turn on a podcast. Whether for entertainment, for the news, or just for company, we’re transported by engaging storytelling and by the voices of strangers. In fact, a whopping 1 in 5 American adults report listening to podcasts daily. Katie Kriegel, of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, identifies as one such “podcast person.”

Two people in a lounge talking with a view of Bucksbaum and Goodnow visible in the backgroundWhen Kriegel first began working as the CLS communications coordinator in 2018, podcasts hadn’t exploded to their present level of popularity. But even then, as she sought innovative ways to connect students with CLS resources, she saw potential in the audio format.

Transitioning to a role as an exploratory adviser at the CLS in 2021, Kriegel began working primarily with first- and second-year students — students still very unsure of their path after graduation. Their uncertainty about the future and desire to create fulfilling lives solidified Kriegel’s ambition to create what would become the Going Forth podcast. The podcast, she hoped, would be a unique and impactful take on career exploration.

Over winter break in 2022, Kriegel hired Meredith Benjamin ’24 and Nicholas Lampietti ’25 as student hosts and producers of the podcast. Both Benjamin and Lampietti had prior experience in audio or audiovisual storytelling and, perhaps more important, a gift for connecting with strangers.

Under Kriegel’s supervision, Benjamin and Lampietti built a production system from the ground up: unearthing microphones from previous CLS projects, honing audio editing skills, and exploring podcast hosting platforms. At the end of February 2022, the first episode of Going Forth launched.

Many of the podcast’s early episodes tackled topics of practical interest for college students: writing cover letters, finding summer opportunities, navigating the pre-health path, and so on. But it wasn’t long before Benjamin and Lampietti began testing the waters of conversations with alumni.

First, an episode on public health amid a pandemic led them to interview Erich Giebelhaus ’92. Then they recorded an episode featuring Jay Dick ’93 and his career in government affairs.

As the Going Forth team found their groove, Kriegel says, alumni stories became the focus of the podcast. “Listeners still return to those more practical episodes, but three semesters in, the alumni conversations have absolutely been the highlight.”

Student on left sits in front of a keyboard and mouse while student on the left adjusts a microphoneEpisodes released this season have featured conversations about financial reform and the importance of mentorship with Eric Otoo ’01 and examined blending astrophysics and activism with NASA’s Kartik Sheth ’93. A highly anticipated episode (and one of the hosts’ favorites) featured Oscar- nominated Kumail Nanjiani ’01 for a discussion of stand-up comedy, the importance of self-interrogation, and the special place that is Bob’s Underground.

For the Going Forth hosts, the objective of the podcast and the purpose of their conversations with alumni is to showcase the diversity of what it means to live life after Grinnell. “We’re obviously interested in compelling and fascinating life stories, but I would say our focus is much more on demystifying alumni journeys,” says Lampietti.

Episodes remind listeners of the meandering reality of a full life. As guests share their journeys from Grinnell to the present day, they reiterate the idea that a career isn’t something that simply crystallizes but, rather, is something slowly pursued and shaped. On the Going Forth pod, Grinnellians tell the stories of their doubts, failures, pivots, and passions. “The ultimate goal,” says Lampietti, “is to hear how Grinnellians have taken their experiences from the ‘Jewel of the Prairie’ and gone on to lead fulfilling lives.”

Jane Hoffman ’25 joined the Going Forth team as a student host this January, picking up the mike of Benjamin, who spent the spring semester on an off-campus study adventure traveling across Jordan, Nepal, and Chile. “As someone who deals with a lot of stress about the future and the unknown,” Hoffman says, “having the opportunity to talk to alumni who have gone down these myriad paths is affirming. It’s interesting. It’s continually engaging.”

During their conversation, Nanjiani told Hoffman, “That feeling of, ‘What do I want to do next?’ is the most exciting. I am so jealous of you that you get to be there right now, and that you have so many years ahead of figuring things out.”

It’s not often that a movie star tells you personally to enjoy life’s unknowns. But Nanjiani isn’t the first alum to tell Hoffman this.

“I find that I get so much out of these conversations,” Hoffman says. “Even when I’m talking to an astrophysicist like Sheth. I haven’t taken a physics class since high school, so there’s no future for me there. Yet I took so many lessons from that conversation — about being a free agent in your own life and making change, and about navigating challenging environments.”

“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian. I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.”
— Jason Darrah

As it showcases the diversity of postgrad Grinnell experiences and the lessons we can learn from them, the Going Forth pod is also creating conversations about what it means to “be Grinnellian.” A recent episode featured Emily Guenther ’07, director of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) at Grinnell, as well as Jason Darrah and Jason Ross, two graduates of the program.

Nearly two decades ago, Ross and Darrah were students in poetry and literature discussions led by Guenther at the Newton Correctional Facility through Grinnell’s participation in the Consortium for Liberal Arts in Prison. The initiative gives incarcerated participants the opportunity to enroll in courses taught by Grinnell faculty and earn college credits.

In the Going Forth episode, Guenther explains, “LAPP isn’t adjunct to the College’s mission, it’s at the heart of what we do.” A college’s purpose is to find and educate qualified students, she says. One place that those students can be found: in prison.

Though LAPP students cannot receive a full Grinnell diploma, something that Guenther hopes to change, they are Grinnellians in every sense of the word. Students are collaborative, creative, highly driven, and dedicated to making change in their communities and the world beyond.

“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian,” Darrah tells Hoffman and Lampietti. “I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.” Not only has the podcast given Benjamin, Hoffman, and Lampietti a platform for powerful conversations with alumni, it’s become a meaningful tool for connection both with classmates and across generations of Grinnellians.

Three people with laptops sit in a circle around a small table in the HSSC. One gestures while speaking.

Episodes of Going Forth typically receive the most listens when they’re heard by alumni and shared within their own networks. “We’ve noticed that alumni are really excited to hear what their classmates are up to,” says Hoffman. “I think it shows that people continue to deeply care about each other after Grinnell, even when they’re dispersed across the country and the world.”

The podcast’s guests, hosts, and listeners represent manifold lived experiences, yet they’re connected by their time on campus and by the shared title of “Grinnellian.” As a result, the conversations within episodes are characterized by a sense of mutual care, Kriegel explains.

“The really beautiful thing about this podcast is that it is coming directly from students,” says Lampietti.

The topics, alums, and interview questions that shape an episode are selected entirely by the student hosts, according to their interests.

Are there any recurring themes in their conversations with alumni?

No matter the class year, Lampietti and Hoffman say, Grinnellians love to talk about where they lived on campus. “We often have to edit out huge chunks of interviews because our guests will talk for 30 minutes about where they lived and what they got up to on the loggia roof.”

Of course, given the chance to be guests on the podcast in 10 years’ time, Lampietti and Hoffman admit that they’d probably do the same thing.

“I think about what has been distinct in my time here, and what comes to mind is my first-year residence hall on Main 4,” says Lampietti. “I didn’t realize there was something special associated with Main 4 until I did an episode with an alum who had also lived there. She talked about the wonderful community she had, like I did, and I thought, wait, there must be something in the water in Main 4.”

“Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”

— Nicholas Lampietti ’25

His involvement with Going Forth stands out to Lampietti as the defining element of his Grinnell experience, and it’s an opportunity that he and Hoffman hope is available to many more students, not just for the incredible networking opportunities and skillset they’ll gain, but also for what the future hosts themselves will bring to the recording table.

“Grinnell experiences are radically different among the student body. So, as we look to the future, I’m most excited for a new voice and for somebody whose experiences are not my own to help drive it forward and inform the conversations,” Lampietti says.

Kriegel, too, hopes to expand student involvement with the podcast. “The richness of ideas and voices that come from multiple students; I want to lean into that as much as possible.” It’s what informed her initial decision to have more than one host, and it’s what drives her to seek more opportunities for student contributions to the production process.

Just as the guests of Going Forth reflect the infinite possibilities of life after Grinnell, it’s important to the team that the hosts reflect the varied experiences of current students. The ephemeral nature of a four-year college nearly guarantees this will be the case.

As current hosts graduate and join the alumni body themselves, future students will build upon the foundation they laid. They’ll bring new voices, new interests, and new ways of looking at the Grinnell experience. And, Lampietti hopes, they’ll care just as deeply about the Going Forth podcast and find it just as rewarding as he has.

“College is hard,” says Lampietti. “Sometimes I wake up and think, ‘I want to go home.’ And then I go and have these incredible conversations with alums, and I see Grinnell through their eyes. Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”

Visit Going Forth Podcasts to listen to episodes from the past three seasons.

The Grinnell Connection

Shortly after graduation from Grinnell, Martha Grodzins Butt ’64 and one of her classmates, Livija Denavs-Rebane ’64, stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with flower garlands around their necks and smiles on their faces. Howard Bowen, then president of Grinnell College, had arranged for a Grinnell alum to meet them in every city where they landed en route to Thailand: Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. They had spent a memorable evening in Honolulu, danced at a Tokyo nightclub, learned about housing issues in Hong Kong, and arrived in Thailand ready for whatever came next.

Martha planned to teach there for one year, but she met and fell in love with another teacher, John Butt. They married, and in the nearly 60 years since, have lived and worked in Massachusetts and Minnesota in the United States and in Japan and Thailand abroad. They have now lived in Thailand for four decades. From the beginning, she has made it a point to stay connected with her fellow Grinnellians.

In the 1960s, that required patience and determination. “When I first came here, we had to go to the post office to make a telephone call,” Butt says. Today, internet communication is faster and easier, but maintaining and growing a sense of community, especially when living internationally, takes initiative. It may require work, she says, but the payoff is great.

We asked a few international alumni how they maintain their Grinnell connections, even thousands of miles from campus.

Martha ButtMartha Butt
Chiang Mai, Thailand

“I think Grinnell’s special,” Butt says. “I had so many wonderful experiences.”

Butt says her impressive network of connections is part of the Grinnell magic. “I think that’s a unique thing that only some small liberal arts colleges can offer.”

Butt has stayed tight with a group of 10 women from her class. They hold their own reunions, and for many years, they sent a round robin letter from one woman to the next, each adding her own news before sending it on. The full circuit could take an entire year.

They enjoy traveling together, and when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped travel, they set up regular Zoom gatherings. Who knows where they’ll go next? There’s no doubt, however, that they will stay in touch.

Butt’s career in international education has also kept her connected with Grinnellians. About 15 years ago, she encouraged Grinnell to include Thailand in Grinnell Corps. “I had wonderful students,” she says. “I’m very close to them.”

The program is important to her because she first came to Thailand in 1964 on Grinnell’s Fifth Year Global Service Scholarship. In addition to staying in contact with the recent Grinnell Corps group, Butt has reconnected with Grinnellians who served in Thailand in the Grinnell Corps program of the ’60s.

Her list of Grinnell connections goes on and on. For instance, when she visits her grandchildren in Arlington, Virginia, she meets up with the Grinnell Lunch Bunch in Washington, D.C.

Her network even extends to Grinnell presidents, from Bowen to George Drake ’56 to Anne Harris. She wrote a letter to Drake shortly before he died. “I didn’t expect him to write back,” she says. “He had cancer, and yet, he wrote.”

These Grinnell connections don’t fade away, Butt says. “We always feel like we’re just picking up where we left off.”

Wendy Werner and Iftekar AhmedWendy Werner and Iftekar Ahmed
New Delhi, India

Wendy Werner ’96 met one of her closest Grinnell friends in the pool at the American Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “We both had new babies,” she says. “We were just chatting and found a lot in common.” As they shared their life stories, they discovered their Grinnell connection.

Werner and her husband Iftekar Ahmed ’96 now live and work in New Delhi, India. Werner’s career at the International Finance Corporation has taken them from Bangladesh to Tajikistan, Belgrade, Vietnam, and now India. “Each place has been a new challenge in everyday practical life,” she says. Ahmed has been the support mechanism that has made her career at IFC possible, Werner says.

Ahmed is from Bangladesh, while Werner was an “Air Force brat” who lived all over. She attended high school in the U.K. and learned to adapt to new cultures at an early age. But she had never been to Iowa. “Neither of us visited Grinnell before enrolling,” she says.

Coming from a city of more than 10 million people, the quiet streets of Grinnell were a shock for Ahmed. “I thought there was perhaps a curfew due to civil unrest,” he says.

Today, although far from Iowa, Ahmed and Werner are part of a close-knit group of Grinnellians. They’ve extended their network to include Grinnellians in the countries where they have lived. “The further from Iowa, perhaps the stronger our Grinnell connection,”

Werner says. “We consider our Grinnell network as close as family.”

Elizabeth LeeElizabeth Lee
Thessaloniki, Greece

Even in childhood, Elizabeth Lee’s (’99) life experiences were preparing her for a diplomatic career in the Foreign Service. Originally from California, she spent many summers visiting her grandparents in South Korea. “Being steeped in two cultures and negotiating the differences between the two gave me important life skills, such as adaptability, respect for different cultures, as well as curiosity about the larger world,” Lee says.

U.S. Consul General Lee, now stationed in Thessaloniki, Greece, has spent 16 years in the Foreign Service, with postings in Seoul, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and more.

“Adapting to new cultures can be challenging, but living in different countries and seeing the world is also one of the huge upsides of this job,” Lee says. “Each new posting has changed me and taught me a lot, not only about the country that I’m in, whether it’s Greece, Israel, or Iraq, but also about the business of diplomacy, its opportunities and limitations, and how to be a good leader and manager.”

As a student, Lee was drawn to Grinnell’s focus on academics and social justice. She majored in English with a concentration in gender and women’s studies. “I absolutely loved my time there,” Lee says. She went on to earn a law degree and a master’s in public policy. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 convinced her to pursue a career in public service.

She’s found that her Grinnell network is portable and durable. “It is amazing where you find Grinnell connections,” Lee says. For instance, Grinnell alum George White, class of 1881, served as a professor and later as the president of Anatolia College, leading its relocation from Merzifon, Turkey, to Thessaloniki in 1924. A scholarship in memory of White allows a graduating Anatolia student to attend Grinnell College every year.

Lee says her Grinnell education shaped her in many valuable ways. “Above all, Grinnell College and the humanities education I received provided me with the building blocks for how to lead a meaningful life aligned with my values.”

Grinnell’s Global Reach

Grinnellians Around the Globe

Grinnell College has prioritized support for student opportunities around the world. A new web feature, Grinnellians Around the Globe, illustrates how recent graduates are building their own international connections as well as the scope and breadth of the endless possibilities worldwide. Visit to spin the interactive globe and see where Grinnellians are pursuing research, service projects, internships and externships, off-campus studies, launching their careers, and more.

Josh BlueJosh Blue
Hong Kong

Josh Blue ’01 was near tears when he called his parents from the bathroom at work to announce that he had resigned his job in Hong Kong. His mom said, “You are in a foreign country with no job — what are you going to do?”

He had the presence of mind to reply, “I’m a qualified teacher. Everyone needs teachers. I’ll find a new job.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Blue had planned to spend two years in Hong Kong. “Over 20 years later, I am still here,” he says. A history major with Elementary Education Certification, his positions have ranged from teacher to vice principal to his current role as principal of an international school. “I’ve discovered a passion for not only working with students, but for teachers and learning communities too,” Blue says.

Living thousands of miles from Iowa has made Blue more deliberate about maintaining his Grinnell ties. He’s part of a circle of Grinnellians in Hong Kong who stay in touch. “I don’t feel disconnected,” he says. “In some ways, by being abroad, I have to make a greater effort to stay in the loop.”

Blue’s life in Hong Kong includes his partner Taka and their son Isaac. “I’ve created a life for myself I don’t think would have been possible had I stayed stateside,” Blue says. “I am incredibly thankful.”

Daphne CunninghamDaphne Cunningham
Oxford, U.K.

Grinnell-in-London was life-changing for Daphne Cunningham ’95. It marked the beginning of her love affair

with the U.K., which is now her home. The G-in-L students enjoyed performances, exhibitions, and field trips. “It was just a fabulous experience of freedom,” Cunningham says.

She has a special fondness for Donna Vinter, who ran the G-in-L program for decades. They reconnected when Cunningham returned to the U.K. to live in 2005. “We’ve been friends ever since,” she says.

Donna sometimes invited Cunningham to speak to the Grinnell students about life in the U.K. Cunningham’s Grinnell community spans borders and decades.

Keeping up with it is worth the effort, she says. “I’ve had big returns. I’ve not had a bad experience at all being in contact with Grinnell people.”

Misha GelnarovaMisha Gelnarová
Czech Republic

For many Grinnell alumni, the friendships they forged on campus remain firmly embedded in their hearts, even years later and thousands of miles from Iowa.

“I feel like the close connection you make during your four years in (Grinnell) is just very hard to get in any other setting,” says Misha Gelnarová ’18, a native of the Czech Republic.

“It is honest, wholesome, intimate, and it runs deep,” she explains. “My Grinnell years have shaped who I am, and with Grinnellians, I am my true self — they’ve seen me at my best and worst. With them, I feel challenged and respected — I feel home.”

As an alum now who has worked in Brussels and Prague, Gelnarová says the bonds remain strong. “I think it is possible to nurture and expand your Grinnell network even thousands of miles from Iowa,” she explains.

“When a Grinnellian I know is coming to a nearby country, I take it as an excuse to meet up with as many close-by Grinnellians as possible.” She’s met up with Grinnellians in London, Berlin, Llastres (a village in northern Spain), Lisbon, Prague, Gdansk, Warsaw, and Lausanne.

The Grinnell connection doesn’t seem to fade — in fact, it often grows stronger. “That’s the most beautiful part,” Gelnarová adds. “The Grinnell sense of community extends beyond the cornfields. It is about the people, their mindset, and attitudes, about the shared lived experience.”

Jiazhen ChenJiazhen Chen
Shanghai, China

Is it possible to build a Grinnell network thousands of miles from campus? “It’s more than possible,” says Jiazhen “Jason” Chen ’07.

His Grinnell connections are both personal and professional. On a recent flight home from Malaysia, he made a stop in Singapore to hang out with a Grinnellian.

Professionally, he has hosted externs and he’s looking forward to working with Grinnellian interns in Shanghai this year. The city is also home to close-knit group of Grinnell alumni who socialize often. The Grinnell connection is real, Chen says. “It’s something we can’t see or touch — but it’s there.”

Save the Date: International Alumni Listening Sessions

Alumni Council members will facilitate virtual listening sessions for international alumni on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, to discuss how they engage and connect with fellow Grinnellians and the College.

The Grinnells

Sarah Smith grew up just five blocks from Grinnell’s campus, and in some ways, the College played a big role in her childhood. “I went to plenty of sporting events,” she recalls. “I was very, very comfortable there.”

Young woman shows a young girl how to finger crochet while an older woman looks on. Storytime Art in the park at Arenas Park

Still, there were some areas of the College that remained mysterious to her, despite the institution’s proximity. “I don’t think I ever attended any event that was in a College classroom,” she says.

That’s one reason that Smith, now the director of outreach programming and events at the College, has been such a big proponent of Grinnell’s Ignite Program, which for years has brought preschool and elementary-age kids to classrooms for a day to learn from Grinnell College students about a range of topics. “I think it’s really important for kids to get a feel for what a college classroom looks like and hopefully see themselves at college someday,” she says.

It’s outreach that makes the College feel a little less opaque to Grinnell residents and that gives College students a joyful appreciation for their in-town neighbors. The Ignite Program — a perennially popular event that, after a brief pandemic-related hiatus, is returning this spring — is one of the most visible and successful partnerships between the town and the College. It’s also just one of many.

President Anne F. Harris says the College and community’s intertwined futures help drive this relationship-building work. “We all understand that the vitality of the College depends on the vitality of the town, and the vitality of the town depends on the vitality of the College,” she says.

Monica Chavez-Silva, vice president of community engagement and strategic planning, adds that the connections that the town and the College have built over decades have helped both weather difficult times, from dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic to the devastating derecho. “It’s been critical that we’ve had all these connections in place with community partners over the years, because when there have been crises, we’ve been able to draw on the strength of our relationships,” she says. Here are just a few of the ways that town and College collaborate and improve one another.

Grinnell Educational Partnership Drives Student Learning.

When COVID-19 upended in-school learning for young learners, the Grinnell Educational Partnership (GEP) snapped into action. Team members, including Grinnell College alumni, added additional free little libraries around town, focusing on increasing access for kids, and stocked them with books.

Two men in safety glasses talk at a table with a laptop in a room filled with woodworking equipment The Stew Makerspace

The GEP team also wrote a grant for art supplies and activities to be distributed through the Tiger Packs Program, a community initiative addressing food insecurity among local youth. Recognizing that not every household has internet access at home, the partnership worked with the Drake Community Library and the Grinnell-Newburg School Foundation to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to make online learning easier.

At a moment of extreme social isolation, the projects were instrumental in providing connections and support to help minimize learning loss during the pandemic.

Fueled by the College, the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, and more than 20 community organizations, GEP brings together the resources of numerous organizations to help support children and families in Grinnell. “By bringing communities together, we are able to work collectively to create opportunities through transformative partnerships,” says Melissa Strovers, director of collective impact at the College.

It’s not just young students who benefit. College students and recent alumni gain useful experience as they build relationships, develop programming, write grants, and plan events. In summer 2022 alone, eight Grinnell College students served as AmeriCorps members working directly with kids at partner sites throughout Grinnell.

Working collectively with community partners and the school district makes a real impact: Reading skills in the Grinnell-Newburg school district have improved measurably since the program’s inception in 2015, and the partnership has been recognized with eight state and national awards.

Distinctive Physical Spaces Bring Together Diverse Groups.

The built environment has a profound impact on human experience and interaction, and both the town and the College sponsor distinctive spaces that offer informal opportunities for people from different backgrounds to gather and connect over shared interests.

The Stew Makerspace, jointly supported by the College’s Wilson Center and the Grinnell Area Arts Council, offers everything from button makers to laser cutters for creative projects. High school and College students get free access to “the Stew,” which is near campus on Broad Street. Community members can join for a fee.

Saints Rest is a downtown Grinnell coffee shop friendly to high school and College students, College faculty and staff, and Grinnell residents. In 2018, an article in The New York Times noted that “all paths seem to cross” at the much-loved hub. In the spring of 2020, owner Sam Cox rounded up caps and gowns and hosted an impromptu graduation photo booth so seniors graduating remotely because of the pandemic could have a real-life graduation experience and memento.

Several people with disposable coffee cups are gathered around a wooden table Shafiq R. Khan, a Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize winner, has coffee with students, staff, and faculty at Saints Rest in October 2019

The Pioneer Bookshop, downtown on Main Street, offers typical college bookstore fare like textbooks and College-branded attire — a must-visit for College students. But its inventory also includes children’s picture books, toys, and locally sourced items including honey, making it an inviting location for Grinnell residents as well. The bookstore donates a portion of December sales to Grinnell-Newburg school libraries. “We hope to make it a little easier for the librarian to obtain the most popular books that spark the interest of young readers,” says Cassie Wherry, manager of the bookshop.

In late 2022, Grinnell trustees approved construction of the core residential building (to be named Renfrow Hall; see Page 22) of the Civic Engagement Quad project to be located at the edge of campus at Sixth Avenue and Broad Street. “The project is a way for the College to be more intentional about connecting the physical campus with the downtown business district,” says Chavez- Silva, who notes that the project will not only include student housing, but also public green spaces and a civic innovation pavilion for use by all. Together with a new mixed-use apartment building planned for the same block by Merge Urban Development, restaurants and retailers will enjoy much more foot traffic downtown.

Mellon Research Identifies Opportunities for Connection Through Humanities.

With support from a Mellon Presidential Leadership grant, the College worked with a qualitative research company to understand how individuals in the College and community defined the humanities. The research helped identify ways that the campus and community could come together for events such as lectures, films, classes, workshops, and exhibitions with humanities themes. “Through these events, we learn more about the world we live in and how to live in harmony and understanding,” says Smith.

The grant funded more than just understanding; with the help of Mellon funds, campus organizations and community nonprofits received funding to support their own community-based projects.

Young woman presenting a poster titled Community Strengths and Assets in Grinnell by Ekta Shaikh and Megan LeBlanc Build a Better Grinnell poster session in December 2022

Build a Better Grinnell Thinks Big About What’s Next.

In the spring of 2022, campus and community members started asking a big question: what would make Grinnell a stronger, more vibrant, more meaningfully connected community in the coming decade?

From that big question, Build a Better Grinnell 2030 was born. A collaboration among numerous organizations including the College, the multiyear project is now undertaking a communitywide assessment with broad participation from all parts of Grinnell. Based on its findings, contributors will map out a plan — and implement it. “This is an opportunity to identify and prioritize community needs and guide the community going forward,” Strovers says.

Grinnellians aren’t the only ones who see promise in the project. In November, Build a Better Grinnell received a $200,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge Grant that will support Build a Better Grinnell’s efforts.

The Ignite Program Catalyzes the Enthusiasm of Young Learners.

Twice a year, about 100 preschool-through-sixth-grade students head to campus for a day to learn from Grinnell College students. They crack codes, study the planets, or become amateur chocolatiers. The goal? To expose young students to a meaningful educational experience and get them comfortable on a college campus.

While the kids love it, the College’s Ignite teacher scholars might love it even more; surveys found that 100 percent of the teacher-scholars would recommend the experience to a friend — and many end up teaching at the event all four years at Grinnell.

Experiments Support “Good Neighbor” Vibes.

Creating meaningful connection points between campus and community doesn’t always require huge budgets or vast planning committees — that’s why Chavez-Silva and her team frequently test out modest, one-time events and other initiatives to inject a little more joy into everyday life. “The great thing about a small college and a small town is that if you want something, you can almost always help to make it happen,” she says. Here are just a few examples:

group of people in santa hats sing together a tree with lights to the right downtown holiday sing-along

For a late November “Jingle Bell Holiday” event, the College rented a horse and carriage to bring students from the Joe Rosenfield Center to downtown Grinnell, where they could warm up with a free beverage from Saints Rest. Some 350 students participated in the event.

To support local organizations and events — a local scout troop or an annual kite festival, for example — the College offers frequent donations such as gift certificates or items from the bookstore. “We want to be good neighbors,” says Chavez-Silva. “Our philosophy is basically to say yes to almost everybody if we can.”

The College also offers a more formal community mini-grant program where a committee of faculty and staff review grants to local area organizations seeking to expand programming or build capacity.

As part of the Volunteer Initiative Program, Grinnell College employees who volunteer their time at any nonprofit organization can fill out a simple form and designate $100 to be donated by the College to that organization. “We have volunteer firefighters, people on the board of a local historical museum, and people who spend their time volunteering at an animal shelter,” says Chavez-Silva. “It’s amazing to read the stories about the places that people spend their time.”

In some ways, these efforts are just the tip of the iceberg. As President Harris looks ahead, she’s thrilled about the potential for the town and the College to work together in the future. “I think there’s been a lot of appreciation for each other for many years, and in more recent years, the pandemic made us really understand what it meant to stand together and care for this community,” she says. “What gives me hope is how much we really value each other.”

A woman in a brown shirt with a wry expression is surrounded by young children in matching tshirts who are raising their hands Ignite program STEM event

New Residence Hall Naming Honors Edith Renfrow Smith

Portrait of a young black woman in a board frame with a decorative borderMore than 100 years ago, a little girl named Edith would climb into her mother’s lap and beg, “Mama, tell me a story.”

Her mother, Eva Pearl Renfrow, would pull her daughter close and spin out family stories for her. Sometimes Eva Pearl told tales of dramatic escapes from slavery, such as the story of Edith’s grandfather, George Craig, who was sold on the auction block in New Orleans at age 14. He was so miserable, he put tobacco juice in his eyes to lower his value as a slave. It left him partially blind for the rest of his life.

But his plan worked. Craig was sold again, this time to a plantation in Mississippi where he served as valet to the master. The overseer there allowed him to escape — for a price. And so, Craig began his long, circuitous journey north to Iowa, where eventually he and his family would put down deep roots.

Edith Renfrow Smith ’37, DHL’19, who was born in Grinnell in 1914, couldn’t get enough of these stories.

“Oh, I loved to hear her tell them!” she says.

A Foundation for Change

Exploded floor plan of the CEQ shows C-shaped structure with unique first floor, interior of three residence floors with atria and a green roofThe stories of Renfrow Smith and her ancestors continue to be intertwined with Grinnell. In December, President Anne F. Harris announced that the College Board of Trustees had approved naming the residence hall in the College’s new Civic Engagement Quad (CEQ) in honor of Edith Renfrow Smith.

What is now the CEQ is the evolution of former president Raynard S. Kington’s idea of a downtown student residence. Renfrow Hall will not only provide needed apartment-style off-campus student housing, it also will serve as a reminder of the difference every Grinnellian can make.

The four-story, 125,000-square-foot CEQ, set to open in 2024, features a design developed in partnership with David Adjaye, renowned Ghanaian-British architect. He believes architecture can be transformational, bridging divides and building relationships. 

Adjaye calls Grinnell “an extraordinary college … producing unique citizens, unique students with the knowledge to be able to take on the big issues that are in the world.”

Artists rendering of a four-story building with two wings sited on a cornerarchitect’s rendering of the residence facility that will be known as Renfrow Hall

At the Crossroads

Older Black woman holds hand up while talking to a white woman in a white mask a painting of the Black woman in academic garb hangs behind them Edith Renfrow Smith ’37 and President Anne F. Harris during an October 2021 campus event celebrating the re-dedication of the Edith Renfrow Smith ’37 Student Art Gallery.

Set at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Broad Street, the CEQ will inhabit the intersection of the campus and the community, with strong ties to both. The complex will welcome both College and community members, offering shared spaces that invite dialogue, exchange, and collaboration.

Sixth Avenue might seem like the dividing line between the town and the College, but Renfrow Smith never saw it that way, says Professor Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Louise R. Noun Chair in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Beauboeuf- Lafontant has conducted an extensive research project focusing on the experiences of Renfrow Smith. “That’s never been true for her,” Beauboeuf-Lafontant says. “She walked it. She crossed it. She made a path for someone like me.”

Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Edith Renfrow Smith, Black women faculty and students can thrive and succeed here as scholars, mentors, and leaders, Beauboeuf-Lafontant says. “I would hope that we would always want to do things in the spirit of Edith Renfrow Smith — to lead with kindness, to lead with self-respect, to lead with a sense that you can be a part of a small town and still make a big impact.”

Rebuilding Civic Trust

Edith Renfrow-Smith speaking at a podium“Take every opportunity to do your best,” Edith told the graduates at Grinnell College Commencement in 2019, when she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

The world faces complex problems that won’t be solved without collaboration extending over divides and across boundaries, Harris says. Future generations will be called upon to work together to find solutions.

“This endeavor requires determination and optimism,” she says. “It requires a commitment to civic trust.”

At its heart, Harris says, the ideas and aspirations that gave birth to the Civic Engagement Quad encourage us to abandon our separate ideological strongholds to come together and both talk with and listen to one another.

A liberal arts education offers one of the best models for rebuilding trust in our communities, she adds. “The way forward is reflected in the ways we teach and learn at Grinnell, through research, deliberation, and collaboration.

“The CEQ will serve as a living laboratory, supporting teaching and learning for our students as they engage with the community and each other,” Harris explains. “These interactions will prepare them to participate as citizens and leaders, questioning, shaping, and furthering the common good.”

Through this project and the efforts of students, faculty, staff, and citizens, Grinnell — both the town and the College — can become a national voice for civic engagement and community collaboration in a rural setting.

An Undaunted Spirit

Edith Renfrow-Smith as a young woman in a dress with an embroidered collar and bodice and a choker Edith, age 16 or 17, wearing her Camp Fire necklace and uniform

The naming of Renfrow Hall is a fitting honor for Renfrow Smith and for her family, whose members rose from enslaved persons to college graduates in just two generations. Renfrow Smith’s life reflects the value she placed on education and the deep, ongoing conversation between College and community.

“As we thought about Grinnellians whose lives and accomplishments embody these values and who have served as a positive and undaunted inspiration to others, it quickly became clear that Edith Renfrow Smith was that alumna,” Harris says. “Renfrow Hall will reside in a space that connects the city of Grinnell and the College — carrying the name of the truest of true Grinnellians.”

Get an Education

Renfrow Smith’s mother was only able to complete the eighth grade but held education in the highest regard. She and her husband, Lee Augustus Renfrow, raised six children (Edith was the fifth), and they were determined that all would earn a college degree.

“Get an education — that’s all we heard,” remembers Renfrow Smith.

A Black girl in a white dress and tights stands outside of a house Edith Renfrow at her 1929 eighth grade graduation in Grinnell

When Edith was only 5 years old, her mother began inviting Black students at the College to the Renfrow home on Sunday evenings. These Rosenwald scholars, who had been recruited to Grinnell College through a partnership between the College and the Rosenwald Foundation, made a big impression on the little girl.

She began to dream of attending Grinnell College herself one day.

As a grade-school student, she walked to the then-new Davis School, where she delighted in weekend activities sponsored by Uncle Sam’s Club, a youth club founded and staffed by Grinnell students. They encouraged Renfrow Smith and opened her eyes to a world of opportunities.

Renfrow Smith also joined the local Camp Fire girl troop, led by troop leader Laetitia Conard (one of Grinnell’s first sociology lecturers and wife of Professor Henry S. Conard). Renfrow Smith and her family attended the Congregational Church every Sunday and once during the week, where she got to know many other Grinnell faculty and staff.

After graduation from Grinnell High School in 1932 (where she was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame), Renfrow Smith achieved her dream of matriculating to Grinnell College.

“Grinnell College was a part of our family from the very beginning,” Renfrow Smith says. “I wasn’t going to college unless I’d go to Grinnell College.”

A True Grinnellian

Edith Renfrow-Smith in academic robes Edith poses in cap and gown on her Grinnell College graduation day in 1937

But it wasn’t easy. Renfrow Smith worked her way through Grinnell as a secretary (she typed 60 words a minute) and lived at home to save money. In 1933–34, tuition was $275. She was the only Black student on campus at the time.

Renfrow Smith wasn’t about to let anything stop her from enjoying college life. “I was just part of the group, and I enjoyed all the group activities that we had at Grinnell,” Renfrow Smith says. She participated in women’s intramural dance, badminton, ring tennis, basketball, and field hockey. A talented athlete, she was inducted into Women’s Honor G as a senior.

As a member of Read Cottage, Renfrow Smith particularly loved the rituals of the formal Yule Log Dinner at the end of the fall semester. Women students, all in white dresses, gathered for the ceremonial relighting of the Yule log from years past. A cadre of white-coated waiters then served them a special holiday dinner.

Renfrow Smith also delighted in dancing the minuet in period costumes with her girlfriends at the Colonial Ball on Washington’s Birthday.

“Oh my, that was a time!” she says.

Grinnell Has Been My Life

After studies in psychology, history, and economics, in 1937, Renfrow Smith became the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College.

After graduation, she moved to Chicago to find work (she still lives there) and later married and raised two daughters. Renfrow Smith’s belief in education led her to become an elementary-school teacher, eventually rising to the level of master teacher. She retired in 1976 and spent the next 40 years volunteering at many organizations, including the Art Institute of Chicago and Goodwill.

In 2019, then-president Raynard Kington presided at the Commencement ceremony where the College awarded Renfrow Smith an honorary doctorate to a standing ovation from the graduates and assembled crowd. “Grinnell has been my life,” she told the audience. At 108, Renfrow Smith is the College’s oldest alum.

Focusing on the Good

Three Black women pose for the camera Professor and Louise R. Noun Chair in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Edith Renfrow Smith ’37, and Feven Getachew ’24

We can all learn from Edith Renfrow Smith, Harris says. “She loves this place with a clear-eyed acceptance of its shortcomings and potential.”

Renfrow Smith continues to be an active participant of the life of the College. She has developed a close relationship with Feven Getachew ’24, an international student from Ethiopia whom she met through Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s research. For Getachew, Renfrow Smith is both an inspiration and a challenge.

“I think it’s very hard to live up to her legacy, but I think we can at least try,” Getachew says.

Renfrow Smith’s wholehearted love for her hometown and her College is unconditional. And she has never stopped believing that we can do better.

Her optimism, her resilience, her dedication to the common good, and most of all her love for Grinnell make the naming of Renfrow Hall in her honor the perfect choice. Renfrow Hall will serve as the embodiment of the enduring and evolving relationship between the College and the community and an enduring testament to an amazing Grinnellian.

George Drake and Grinnell College

Timeline Flag

Feb. 25, 1934

Born, Springfield, Missouri, to Alberta Grace Stimpson Drake and George Bryant Drake


Graduates Lyons Township High School, LaGrange, Illinois

Fall 1952

Matriculates as Grinnell College Baker Scholar


Excels as scholar-athlete; active and engaged across campus, develops lasting friendships with faculty and classmates; senior year leads cross-country team to its first conference championship and personally qualifies for national championships


A Phi Beta Kappa, George wins Archibald Prize for highest grades in his class


Fulbright Scholar, studies French Protestant history, University of Paris, France


Rhodes Scholar, studies modern British history, Merton College, Oxford University, England, receives B.A. and M.A.


Years under the aegis of the University of Chicago/Chicago Theological Seminary; B.D. (Divinity), 1962; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in church history, 1964. Rockefeller graduate fellow

George in white jacket and black pants and Susan in wedding dress and holding bouquet The 1960 wedding of George Drake ’56 and Susan Ratcliff ’58 at Ladue Chapel in St. Louis.

When my father turned 80, I was working in Grinnell’s Development and Alumni Relations office. In that role, I discovered that an unanticipated job perk was alumni and Grinnell colleagues sharing stories about my dad and what he meant to them. What they told me emphasized how important relationships were to him and how carefully he cultivated them. As Dad’s birthday approached, I reached out to these individuals, encouraging them to write these accolades directly to him. The missives flooded in through mail, email, and even on Facebook. Over the next weeks, my father not only read each one, but, true to character, answered all that he could. Eight years later, as Dad entered hospice care at the end of his journey with pancreatic cancer, his granddaughter, Hannah Drake ’18, shared this news with the Grinnell community. A similar outpouring of messages came in, and we were able to read many of them to him during his final days.

Man and woman flank three smiling kids The Drake family, 1975, in Colorado Springs where all three children were born (LR: George, Melanie, Cindy, Chris, and Sue).

Common themes emerge from these messages. George Drake was a good listener. He genuinely engaged with each person, asking questions that allowed him to get to know them and allowed them to feel heard. He was responsive. He helped problem-solve. He pushed people to enhance their own learning and being. His humility endeared him to others. And the vast knowledge and intellect he shared was notable and appreciated. These sentiments were no surprise to his loved ones, but what struck us was how fully Dad was able to connect with so many individuals, even those he encountered only briefly. As I have absorbed this and observed my father getting to know people (most recently in hospital settings, whether the nurse on duty or the person cleaning his room), I know that Dad never met a stranger; from the moment of greeting, he immediately connected, learning from them as much as about them.

Family of eight pose in front of a tree and lake A new generation; their six grandchildren with George and Sue at their Golden Anniversary in 2010 (back row, LR: Nick, George, Sue, Danielle; middle row, LR: Lila, Sam ’25; seated, LR: Hannah ’18, Elizabeth).

The constant in Dad’s life, through which he cultivated many of these relationships, was Grinnell College. His life path was greatly impacted when he was recruited out of Chicago to this small Iowa school by Coach John Pfitsch. A self-described “indifferent high school student,” Dad remembered his father’s words when his parents dropped him off at the College. “George, I’m not worried about you making friends or having success in sports. I’m worried that you’ll flunk out.”

He took his father’s words to heart, knowing that college was costly ($1,300 annually in 1952!) and committed himself to being the student his dad didn’t think he could be. As Dad put it, “Grinnell turned me on. It was fun to work hard, and I loved the classes.” And he didn’t sacrifice friends or athletics in the process. His running prowess that got him into Grinnell continued to hold steady. Years later, at reunions, Dad’s classmates would tell me memories of sitting in the stands, hearing George Drake’s name called over the loudspeaker as they watched him effortlessly stride around the track.

Timeline Flag
Family and Early Career

Fall 1959

Reconnects with fellow Grinnellian Susan Ratcliff ’58, beginning a “whirlwind courtship”

June 25, 1960

Marries Sue Ratcliff at Ladue Chapel, St. Louis


Returns to Grinnell through Rockefeller grant to intern with chaplain, teach as instructor of history, serve as men’s soccer coach; Sue teaches at Cooper Elementary

1961, 1962

Takes a summer job as pastor of a small mountain church in Marble, Colorado, spending two consecutive summers in this role

Early 1960s

George and Sue purchase land in Marble and build a rustic cabin themselves, which becomes their home away from home almost every summer


Colorado College professor of history


Drake family grows by three: Christopher (Chris), Cynthia (Cindy), and Melanie ’92


Dean, Colorado College, oversees implementation of the distinctive Block Plan


Serves on Grinnell College Board of Trustees

Man and woman stand in front of the screen door of a wooden building The couple at their “home away from home,” a cabin they built together in Marble, Colorado.

There were many aspects of Grinnell College that were important to my father: learning from and later working with the professors, running track and cross country, being a trustee, succeeding as an administrator, and, of course, the years he spent as a professor. Yet the most important part of Grinnell to him by far was meeting my mom, Sue Ratcliff Drake ’58. They did not date as students. Mom always said he was “too smarty” for her, and she shied away because so many people were in awe of him. As fate would have it, he hitched a ride with her back to Chicago after a homecoming weekend. She recalls that he spent the majority of the ride hanging over the seat, “talking my ear off!” Soon after, he asked her out. Several months later, they were married — a partnership that lasted more than 62 years.

George and Sue stand arm in arm against a backdrop of meadows farms and mountains George and Sue, who taught in Lesotho during their Peace Corps service, pictured in southern Africa.

Even though Dad started his teaching journey at Colorado College, he remained close to Grinnell in spirit. While in Colorado, he joined Grinnell’s Board of Trustees; and, in 1979, when a trustee encouraged him to consider the presidency, he was honored but wary because of his own father’s experience. My grandfather had been president of Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, during the World War II era, and he struggled in that role, in part because he supported the notable Japanese population on campus when many others did not. My father sensed that his situation would be different. Having been a trustee meant he already had his finger on the pulse of the College and was aware of challenges he might face. So, this time, my dad didn’t heed his father’s warning but instead opted to take on the role.

Dad’s humility served him well as president, as did his way of connecting with others. He often described himself as a “pushover,” feeling he could be swayed easily to another opinion. But I’ve come to learn that this was not an apt description of his leadership style. He was an active listener who considered all sides when making decisions. He kept open office hours, meeting with students, faculty, alumni, and staff who requested his time. This sometimes meant he was delayed in coming home or getting to another meeting, but he remained fully present and rarely let on that he had other commitments.

Interactions with my father were not limited to his office walls. He was regularly spotted around campus. At the dining hall, he frequently joined students to chat with them while eating at their table. He attended various campus events, and his love of sports put him in the stands or on the sidelines at many games and meets. There is a rare student who doesn’t recall seeing Dad running or him greeting them while bicycling past.

Timeline Flag
Grinnell Presidency


Selected to serve as Grinnell’s 10th president and first alumnus president


During his tenure, Grinnell’s reputation as a liberal arts institution grows stronger; College is consistently rated a top national liberal arts college; endowment grows from $45 million to $300 million; diversity initiatives grow enrollment of Black students and Iowa students; Grinnell-Nanjing Exchange launches

May 4, 1980

Inaugural address; speaks of a vision of the “future in the past” and the College’s progressive ideals of service, its traditions of scholarship, academic freedom, and liberal dissent, and a purposeful future for Grinnell


Receives four honorary degrees — Colorado College, LLD,1980; Ripon College, LLD, 1982; Illinois College, LHD, 1985; and Ursinus College, LHD, 1988


Board of Trustees honors presidential service, creates the George Drake Professor of Religious Studies

George Drake in a light dress coat riding a bike while holding his briefcase in his right hand A familiar sight on campus; George biking past the North campus residence halls, circa 1980s.

Dad mostly went with the flow, even when, in typical Grinnell fashion, students would stage a protest or pull a lighthearted prank on him. Early in his presidency, a fake mailing went out to all first-year students inviting them to our house for an ice cream social. My sister and I, the ones home at the time, spent the better part of an hour politely turning away dozens of confused students. Our father was amused by this practical joke while simultaneously applauding the idea. The next year, he and my mom hosted a real ice cream social, which became an annual tradition.

George Drake in suit and Melanie Drake in a wedding dress The author and her dad on the day she married Tom Wickersham ’90.

When I decided to attend Grinnell, my dad was both overjoyed and wary. Still the College’s president, he worried he’d end up mired in some hot-topic issue that would suck me in as well. I, too, experienced both emotions. I knew enough students already to sense that they could separate me from who my dad was, but I also wanted to be distanced from the Drake name. Yet I kept coming back to Grinnell as my top choice. My parents had always told me to trust my gut, which I did. Four years later, I walked across the Commencement stage, proudly joining my parents as an alum. The Grinnell bond we share has been incredibly meaningful, and we’ve delighted at the fact that Mom and I both took classes from art professor Richard Cervene and Dad and I both lived on Younker’s third floor — my room was across the hall from where his was.

Timeline Flag
Service, Teaching, and Writing


George and Sue join the Peace Corps and serve in Lesotho in southern Africa; George teaches at a high school and Sue travels to regional schools training teachers.


George and Sue give their time and talents widely to the community through the library, United Church of Christ, the hospital, and Mayflower Community; George parlays lifelong love of singing into performing and fundraising with Shults & Co.


Resumes teaching history at the College on a full-time basis


Grinnell College Athletic Hall of Fame induction for Men's Track and Field, Men's Cross Country


Assumes Professor Emeritus status but continues his love of teaching on a parttime basis mainly through tutorial on campus and in Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program at Newton Correctional Facility


Receives Grinnell College Distinguished Alumni Award; Sue is honored in 2008


Drake Community Library named in honor of the couple’s longtime dedication to the town's public library


Publishes Mentor: Life and Legacy of Joe Rosenfield


In the face the global COVID-19 pandemic, George reluctantly elects to stop teaching

Fall 2021

Publishes his final book Seventy Years in Academe: A Memoir


Despite pancreatic cancer diagnosis, George remains deeply involved and connected to the College

Oct. 15, 2022

George Albert Drake, a good man who lived richly and well, dies at the age of 88, in his Grinnell home surrounded by his loving family

While he was a successful president, Dad’s true career love was teaching. He was fully in his element when engaging with students. He continued teaching well into his emeritus status, each year asking students and colleagues alike to let him know if it was time for him to step back. In the latter years, as Grinnell continued to request his presence as an adviser and tutorial teacher, Dad’s only complaint was about technology, which outpaced his knowledge.

George sits near two students. His forearms rest on his thighs and he's leaning forward. A quintessential image of George, professor and mentor, talking with students.

When a global pandemic forced his hand, Dad stopped formally teaching, recognizing his limits with online instruction. Yet he never truly hung up his professor’s hat, remaining connected with students who often came by the house to visit. There are still students on campus today who have benefited from his tutelage. One even asked him for a recommendation letter this past fall.

Dad often said it was an honor to teach students, and this was most pronounced when he spoke of teaching in the Grinnell Liberal Arts in Prison Program. He loved these students deeply, celebrating their humanity, curiosity, and intellect. He kept up with alumni from these classes, even traveling with several of them to showcase the program at regional alumni events. One of the most meaningful conversations Dad had in his last days was with a student from this program who called to explain the incredible impact George Drake had on him. Dad was having difficulty speaking, but, at the end of that call, he told his student, “I’m listening.”

George wearing academic dress, arm in arm with Hannah who wears a robe and mortar board George delighted granddaughter Hannah when he made a surprise appearance to present her diploma at the 2018 Commencement ceremony.

In 2019, at age 84, my father authored a biography aptly titled Mentor about the legacy of Joe Rosenfield 1925, who committed much of his life to the college he loved so well. I had the unique privilege of observing Dad’s research and writing process. It energized him to delve into the story of this beloved man he had known and respected. I loved reading his early manuscripts and hearing the stories that didn’t make it into the book. A historian at heart with a great passion for Grinnell College, Dad was overjoyed to explore both interests in a book that also gave tribute to someone he admired.

Recently, my family rediscovered a recording of Dad teaching a Mayflower Community “bucket course” about Joe at the town’s Drake Community Library. I relished watching his lively storytelling of Joe’s deep and rich contributions to Grinnell. Anyone who had the pleasure of being taught by my father knows that he did not simply lecture. He engaged students, often knowing enough about them that he made personal connections to the subject at hand. By linking history to the present day, he brought relevancy to the topic while peppering it all with a healthy dose of humor.

Dad started the bucket course by reading the foreword, penned by Joe’s lifelong friend, Warren Buffett, who served on the College’s Board of Trustees with Joe. Listening to Dad read Buffett’s words describing Joe as “wise, humorous, generous, friendly, public-spirited” struck a chord. These are words often associated with my dad. Later, in the foreword, Buffett states, “Joe loved the Grinnell students as he loved the members of his own family.” This, too, parallels how my father connected with students. Growing up, we often had students at our dinner table, and some even stayed with us during College breaks, quickly becoming an extension of our family. Buffett ends by describing Mentor as “a story that could not have been written without a lifetime love affair between Joe Rosenfield and Grinnell College.” Similarly, this deep love of the College is embodied in the life of George Drake. As Dad states in his own memoir, Seventy Years in Academe, “I was very lucky in my choice of Grinnell and in Grinnell’s choice of me … I am a Grinnell College junkie.”

7 team members in matching track suits and an older man in a light colored suit Cross country team photo taken just before George broke a course record in 1953 (George, far left).

Lessons from Plants

Beronda Montgomery reviewing flowers in a field

Montgomery says her earliest memories of plants include her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts, who all shared an extensive knowledge of and love for plants.

When Beronda Montgomery was growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, she and her older brother and sister spent the long, hot summer days exploring the wild places where plants grew and thrived, largely ignored by humans. “It was the rhythm of our summers,” Montgomery says.

Although they left the house with packed lunches and their mother’s warnings ringing in their ears (“Don’t eat anything!”), the patches of wild blackberries were irresistible.

When they got home, their mother would ask, “Did you eat anything?” They would reply, “No, Mama, we didn’t eat anything.” They didn’t quite get away with it, though. “My brother and sister, being older, were careful, but I would come home with blackberry stains all down my shirt,” Montgomery says.

And so, the lessons began. “She realized she had to teach us really early how to distinguish what was good to eat,” Montgomery says. They began to learn about plants and how to stay safe in their environment.

At that time, Montgomery says, she didn’t fully appreciate her mother’s knowledge of and love for plants, or her incredible green thumb. “I really did not understand my mom’s curiosity with plants. They looked like they were just sitting there,” she says.

Welcoming a New Dean

Montgomery, who is Grinnell’s new vice president of academic affairs and dean of the College, is also a scientist focusing on biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and molecular genetics. In addition, she is the author of Lessons from Plants, a book that explores the surprising lives of plants. Plants move, they make decisions, they take actions, they cooperate, and they communicate, mostly unseen and unappreciated by people.

fingers holding up a smooth blue aster bloom with rest of plant visible in the background

Montgomery examines a smooth blue aster blooming on the Grinnell campus. The aster is native to the prairies of the Midwest and attracts many pollinators.

As an author, Montgomery blends her keen understanding of ecosystems with her gift for storytelling, reflecting on how we can apply what we learn from plants to our lives, from the personal to the professional.

And perhaps, even to the life of Grinnell College.

A Passion for Plants

Montgomery had originally planned to be a lawyer. When she took a plant physiology course almost by accident because it was the only course that fit in her schedule, Montgomery got swept up in her professor’s passion for plants.

She went on to earn a doctorate in plant biology from University of California-Davis, conducting research focusing on how plants respond to light and nutrients. After a postdoc in microbial biology, Montgomery joined the faculty at Michigan State University.

It wasn’t until she was well into her study of plant science that Montgomery reflected on the impact of the time she had spent with her mother and how much she had learned about plants just by watching and listening.

The Importance of Light

Beronda Montgomery holding a potted plantMontgomery remembers being astonished by a photo of two genetically identical plants growing in identical conditions, with just one difference: one was growing in the light, the other in darkness.

“They were completely different,” Montgomery says. The plant in the light thrived; the plant in darkness struggled.

“What’s going on around them really determines whether they have success or not,” she explains. “That has changed the way I think about myself as a teacher, mentor, and leader.” For biological organisms with similar potential, success or failure depends on the environment.

For example, children who go to school without breakfast often can’t focus in class. It’s easy to assume that they aren’t as capable as other children; however, we should be thinking about what’s happening around them, which factors in their environment might be keeping them from living up to their full potential.

“Humans are just biological organisms,” Montgomery says. “We are subject to the principles of the universe like anything else.” And yet, she adds, we often don’t apply lessons from the natural world to ourselves. In the process, we miss out on what can be learned about how we see ourselves and our interactions with others.

In the biological world as well as our own, these reciprocal relationships result in more resilient communities.

The Three Sisters

Grouping of an ear of corn, a squash, and beans in a podOne example is the “three sisters” approach to growing crops — an indigenous farming practice that has inspired Montgomery. The three sisters are traditionally corn, beans, and squash, grown together for the good of all three.

Corn is the first sister, and as all Grinnellians and Iowans know, it grows tall.

The second sister, beans, grows on a vine that uses the tall cornstalk for support. By growing up rather than staying low to the ground, the beanstalk can better access sunlight. In return for that support and protection, the bean plant transforms nitrogen into a liquid fertilizer shared with the corn.

The third sister is squash, which forms a ground cover that protects the soil from drying out and prevents weeds from gobbling up resources. The squash gets some of the nitrogen fixed by the bean plant, as well as some of the shade provided by both sisters. “There’s this kind of reciprocity, and they do indeed grow better together than if they were growing in isolation,” Montgomery says. When eaten together, the three sisters also provide complete nutrition.

Montgomery cultivates the principles of the three sisters in her work as a teacher, leader, and mentor. We do better when we work together in communities, she explains — just like the three sisters. By building coalitions with others, we nurture and support each other to develop stronger individuals and communities.

Competing Demands

Beronda Montgomery in a face mask at a Grinnell College lecture speaking to an audience

During a recent Scholars’ Convocation, Montgomery spoke about the indigenous farming practice of growing corn, beans, and squash together for the mutual benefit of all as a lesson from plants about the value of cultivating a community of reciprocity at Grinnell.

Like many of us, Montgomery has felt pulled in many directions by the demands of a busy life competing for her time and attention. Inspired by the three sisters, she began to see that different aspects of her life could exist in reciprocity. Her teaching could feed her research, and research could enrich her teaching and service.

She also thought about how the three sisters could apply to her role as a mother. Perhaps there were opportunities to include her son in her work? By bringing him with her to the greenhouse, for instance, he could learn about plants while they both enjoyed time together.

“For me, that was really transformative because I started to see if I was spending one hour doing something, it was actually enriching several parts of my faculty life.”

As a leader at Grinnell, Montgomery says she looks at faculty, staff, and students as the three sisters. By examining the competing commitments in our lives and considering how they can enrich each other, we can gain a new understanding and mutually beneficial approach to work and life, Montgomery says.

“How we actively think about the work we do to enrich the classroom also changes or impacts other parts of life,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of work that can happen when we understand this interdependence.”

She hopes these principles, learned from indigenous cultures and plant communities, can allow her to contribute meaningfully to the common good and the thriving community of Grinnell.

So Many Things to Learn

Montgomery says one of the happiest outcomes of her career as an academic has been the permission it gives her to be a lifelong student. “I have always loved being a student, loved learning,” she says. Opportunities to mentor students and younger scientists, along with her love for writing, have combined to create a rewarding life in higher education and research.

“In many ways, being a professor is a way for me to stay a student forever. Being an administrator is also about asking questions,” Montgomery says.

“It really is a wonderful life. So many things to learn!”


What Would a Plant Do?

Cover of Lessons from Plants by Beronda MontgomeryGrinnell College’s new dean, Beronda Montgomery, combined her love of plants and her love of writing in a book titled Lessons from Plants (Harvard UP, 2021), which explores the ways that plants live vigorous, creative lives. Plants’ transformative behaviors help them survive in a constantly changing, often unfriendly world. They move, act, and communicate, and their actions and adaptation skills offer valuable insights for humans as well. Montgomery encourages readers to think differently about plants and to consider how we can learn from their example — what would a plant do?

Montgomery, who is also the vice president of academic affairs, says that talking with her about plants is the best way to get to know her. “I do love them,” she says. “I’m really thrilled to be able to share some of this.”

Montgomery discussed her book with host Marshall Poe ’84 on Grinnell’s Authors and Artists podcast, which showcases Grinnellians’ latest creative work. You can find it on your favorite podcast site or at New Books Network (search for “Grinnell”); or visit the College’s podcast page.

In addition, you can buy a copy from Grinnell’s Pioneer Bookshop, 641-269-3424.


Title IX Lives

Trading card with ViaAnn Beadle '67, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and golf ball iconViAnn Beadle ’67

Sport: Golf

A standout golfer from an early age, ViAnn Beadle ’67 was winning tournaments by age 13. But when she entered Grinnell — nearly a decade before Title IX became law — she had few opportunities to make the most of her talents. She practiced — but did not compete — with the men’s golf team. (She nonetheless made enough of an impact to nab the center spot in the team photo.) “I played intramural basketball and volleyball, but we did not have coaches to teach us the game,” she recalls.

Beadle was a Grinnellian through and through, both during her student days and beyond: “I was an active political protester,” she says. “I got tear-gassed in Chicago and participated in national protests against the Vietnam War while I was in graduate school.”

In many ways, the progress since her student days has been stunning, and she is thrilled that today’s students can easily do what she once wished was available to her. “I am happy that women today can play golf competitively and participate in other sports representing Grinnell College,” she says.

trading card with Kit Wall ’77, Benicia, California, and winged foot icon Kit Wall ’77

Sport: Tennis, Cross Country, Track and Field

Kit Wall ’77 remembers that Title IX was “brand-spanking new” when she graduated from high school in 1973. When she arrived at Grinnell, she was determined to make the most of it. She lettered in tennis and admits that just being on the court was a thrill. “It was amazing that we could play,” she marvels.

She took plenty of coursework in the physical education department, including techniques of coaching as well as athletic management and training, where she was often the only woman in the room. John Pfitsch, a longtime coach and faculty member synonymous with Grinnell sports, noticed her interest and recruited her to run the College track and field meets.

When Pfitsch began looking for a head coach for the Title IX-mandated women’s cross country and track teams, he turned to Wall. Though she had never competed in either sport, Pfitsch knew she was trusted by students and well-schooled in the events. She became the inaugural head coach for both women’s teams.

Today, as owner of Kit Wall Productions, a public policy consultant and producer, Wall continues to lean on the skills she gained from her work in athletics. “I learned creative visualization, negotiation, how to manage people, and how to organize events,” she says. “These are skills I use every single day.”

trading card with Veronika Platzer ’87, North Pall Beach, Florida, and winged foot iconVeronika Platzer ’87

Sport: Track and Field

Veronika Platzer ’87 is the most decorated female athlete in Grinnell’s history — a three-time national champ in the discus and 10-time All- American. But when she went to her first NCAA national track and field meet, she had some surprising concerns. “They didn’t have a uniform for me,” she recalls. She settled for a shirt from the school bookstore.

Platzer rarely saw herself in the image of celebrated athletes at Grinnell; the trophy cases were filled with images of men. But to her, it was motivation. “I thought to myself, well, it’s got to start somewhere. My picture is going to be in there.”

It is.

Platzer, now an associate head coach for a club rowing team in North Palm Beach, Florida, still gets a thrill thinking about the Grinnellians who look at the trophy cases today and see women who inspire them to succeed. “They don’t just look at me, they look at a bunch of women. They can relate to them. They can say ‘her biceps look like mine,’” she says. “How freaking cool is that? It’s the best part of being successful.”

Trading card with Jenny Wood ’92, Des Moines, Iowa, and soccer ball iconJenny Wood ’92

Sport: Soccer

Born shortly before Title IX became law, Jenny Wood ’92 has lived through the full spectrum of changes in women’s athletics. As a young soccer player in leagues with no girls’ teams, she played on the same teams as the boys, where she competed just as well as her counterparts, often to the chagrin of the boys’ parents. It was just one of the myriad challenges of playing in poorly resourced leagues, which featured sloped fields. “Sometimes, we had to decide if we wanted to go uphill in the first half or the second half of the game,” she says wryly.

She brought her hard-won soccer skills to Grinnell, where she was a four-year MVP and the first Iowan to earn All-America recognition from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. In 1998, she was named head men’s soccer coach at Grinnell, the first time a woman had served in the role.

Today, as chief operating officer of the Iowa Soccer Association, she continues to champion progress. “Women coaching boys’ and men’s teams and leading sports organizations must become normalized,” she says. “Boys and male coaching colleagues must have exposure to women in coaching and leadership positions, particularly in an all-male setting. Progress for women in sports won’t be made if women are excluded from coaching opportunities and leadership positions.”

trading card with Dee Fairchild, Grinnell, Iowa, and whistle iconDee Fairchild

Role: Grinnell College Athletic Director

When Dee Fairchild landed Grinnell’s athletic director job in 1986, she was one of the first women in Iowa to lead both men’s and women’s athletic programs. But she was never content just to be among a pioneering cohort: she also aimed for impact.

During her two-decade tenure, an average of one-third of the student body participated in varsity athletics. She improved the indoor and outdoor facilities and hired many of the most beloved coaches at Grinnell. She also stayed true to the Title IX ethos: “I am proud that we added women’s soccer and women’s golf without thinking we had to drop a men’s sport, like many colleges did,” she says.

She retired in 2014, when in recognition of her career at the College, she became one of just a handful of non-alumni inductees into Grinnell’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

“I thought to myself, well, it’s got to start somewhere. My picture is going to be in there.” — Veronika Platzer ’87

Trading card with Tai Duncan ’04, Chicago, and basketball iconTai Duncan ’04

Sport: Basketball

Grinnell Athletic Hall of Famer Tai Duncan ’04 racked up her share of accolades during her time at Grinnell, including All- Conference awards for both her academic and athletic performances.

Today, Duncan is vice president of community integration at Cresco Labs. As she looks back at the sports moments that mean the most to her, she is grateful for the memories of her playing days, full of friendships and life lessons, but also cherishes the 11 years she spent as a high school girls basketball coach. “Helping girls grow confidence in their bodies, find their voices, bounce back from injuries, support their teammates, and make their families proud by their sportsmanship — these are the things I loved about coaching and why it is one of the great loves of my life.”

Trading card with Sabrina Tang ’23, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, and tennis racket and ball iconSabrina Tang ’23


Sport: Tennis

On the tennis court, Sabrina Tang ’23 has been nearly unstoppable. This past spring, Tang became the first Grinnellian to win an opening round singles match at the NCAA tournament. The senior is one of just two players in the team’s history to earn All-American honors.

Off the court, Tang’s accomplishments are just as impressive. Tang is a double major in biochemistry and French with a neuroscience concentration, has played in a violin chamber ensemble, and currently plans to go to medical school.

Perhaps more than many current athletes, Tang is also acutely aware of the evolving importance of Title IX. “As a nonbinary person, I am grateful that Title IX protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Tang says. “It is important that all students have access to an affirming environment to enjoy an extracurricular that can enrich their college experience.”

“Without Title IX, I wouldn’t have the same equal opportunities that I have today.” — Lauren Chen ’24

Trading card with Lauren Chen ’24, Manhasset, New York, and golf ball iconLauren Chen ’24

Sport: Golf

Lauren Chen ’24 had never heard of Grinnell College when she got an email out of the blue from David Arseneault, head women’s golf coach.

Today, her name is cemented in the school’s record books; her tallies have put her among the top handful of golfers in the program’s history. She’s competed at the NCAA championship and twice earned first-team All-Conference honors. Chen was named captain of the women’s golf team this year and is the Student Athlete Member (SAM) for the women’s golf team. The economics and history double major also serves as outreach coordinator of the Diversity and Inclusivity Club of Economics. When she graduates, she hopes to pursue a business career.

Chen says she’s grateful for what Title IX has made possible. “Without Title IX, I wouldn't have the same equal opportunities that I have today,” she says.

Trading card with Sam Chu ’24, Redwood City, California, and softball iconSam Chu ’24

Sport: Softball

Third base player Sam
Chu ’24 was in the middle of a chemistry lab when a football player strode over and praised her dazzling performance at a recent home game he’d attended. She accepted the compliment and was reminded anew of the many reasons she loved competing and studying at Grinnell. The easy mingling and support among students performing at the highest levels in both athletics and academics felt inspiring and joyful.

Chu has been recognized numerous times for her performance on and off the field, including being named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District Softball Team. She is a double major in chemistry and computer science.

For Chu, Title IX means she can pursue her goals without compromise. “Title IX means that I am protected in both the academic and athletic aspects of my life,” she says.

Fueling the Next Generation of Women’s Success in Athletics

 basketball, tennis, golf, soccer, track and field, and softball icons

For as much progress as women have made in athletics since the passage of Title IX, stark differences remain, says Jani Springer, assistant athletic director for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Recent surveys, for example, suggest that just one-third of all head coaches are women. Despite progress for women in assistant coaching roles, they face challenges moving into the top spot. “Research suggests that people see assistant coaching as a ‘more caring’ role, and those roles get defaulted to women. Then, these coaches aren’t getting the skills they need to become head coaches, because they’re serving in such a different capacity,” says Springer.

With the help of a new Women’s Sports Foundation grant Springer landed, Grinnell will be able to support the growth of Kristland Damazo, assistant volleyball coach. Damazo will get a range of training opportunities to prepare her for a head coaching role in the future.

Springer says that the grant provides an opportunity that aligns both with the mission of Title IX and Grinnell. “At Grinnell, if you’ve got a goal, we want to support it,” she says. “We’ll give you the resources to be successful.”



Building the Humanities

Broken English scuplture with group of students walking past

Broken English, a monumental sculpture created by Gregory Gómez ’80, graces the HSSC plaza. Read vertically, the sand-cast bronze letters around the circumference repeat the first few lines of W.B. Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.” The sculpture was a gift to the College from John B. Chambers ’77. Read more about the inspiration for the art and the friendship between the artist and donor.

With its formal dedication on Oct. 1, 2022, the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) at 1226 Park St. is now an official part of the Grinnell campus.

However, the three-story, 196,600-square-foot facility, designed with input from faculty, staff, and students, has been a part of the landscape since construction of the first phase was completed and the first classes were taught in its classrooms in spring 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic that forced campus to shut down in 2020 necessitated postponement of grand opening and dedication ceremonies for the building and delayed recognition and utilization of the HSSC’s full potential.

As students began the return to campus last year, and then in full force this past spring, the HSSC demonstrated its full capacity as a gathering place that facilitates teaching and learning, inspires collaboration and exploration, spurs creativity, and brings focus to the College’s commitment to the humanities and social studies and the importance of a liberal arts education.

“The HSSC is designed to inspire people,” says Caleb Elfenbein, professor of history and religious studies and director of the Center for the Humanities. “It is beautiful, inviting, and stands as a real statement of the values of this community. I’m entering my 13th year here, and being able to walk into the building’s magnificent public atrium and into those classrooms, which are amazing spaces in which to use a variety of pedagogical approaches to facilitate humanistic learning — it’s all just so inspiring.”

Why the Humanities?


Professor of Sociology Karla Erickson teaches her popular Sociology of Robots artificial intelligence class in the HSSC, where students can study the logic of devices, robots, and algorithms, as well as their implications for the humans who use them, in a hands-on environment.

Studying the humanities helps us determine what is important in our lives and our communities. It helps us make connections with other people and cultures; to discover our similarities and celebrate our differences.

It’s a means to gaining knowledge and taking action to create a more just and equitable society. In short, it helps transform students into Grinnellians.

“Culturally and politically, the value of the humanities has been under question for some time,” says Elfenbein. “The creation of the HSSC, with its focus on the humanities and humanistic social studies, particularly in the current cultural climate, is a significant statement on Grinnell’s part. It demonstrates our commitment to the humanities and our recognition that they are a crucial part of a liberal arts education and an important part of preparing students for citizenship, meaningful professions, and fulfilling personal lives.”

The commitment to advancing humanities education garnered major validation and financial support just as the HSSC was coming online in early 2019, when the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Grinnell College a $1 million grant for a “Humanities in Action” project. The Mellon grant is focused on curricular reform, community engagement, career development, and other efforts to highlight the vitality and importance of the humanities, the humanistic social sciences, and the arts in the public sphere. Ultimately, the HSSC and funding such as the Mellon grant will enable students to take amazing new classes that could change the way they think about their education.

But the study of the humanities is important not only for its lofty ideals and introspective questioning. By some estimates, current college students will change careers five to seven times over the course of their professional lives. A well-rounded understanding of the humanities and possession of the so called “soft skills” learned through the study of philosophy, literature, history, and the other humanities is a great asset in a world that requires multitasking across disciplines and knowledge across multiple fields.

While she was studying political science at Grinnell, Gwenna Ihrie ’15 was part of the multidisciplinary planning committee for the HSSC. She recalls the process as one that considered equally the opinions of all members of the committee, whether a vice president or a student.

“I felt it was important for students in the humanities to have their own spaces to collaborate, to think about their work, and have resources and support systems that were easily accessible and specifically for them,” she says. “I think that focus was very important and said to humanities and social studies students: ‘You are not forgotten, and you are important on this campus.’ It's also important because we are a school that was founded on the principles of social activism, and many students enter careers and lead lives with a social justice component that is a direct result of studying the humanities.”

Designed for Teaching and Learning

Students preparing food in commercial quality kitchen

It’s not surprising that The Marcus Family Global Kitchen is a very popular hub of activity in the HSSC. There, students can get hands-on practice preparing foods of a region they are studying while also exploring the potential of food for global engagement and transformation.

With an award-winning design (see HSSC Recognized for Continuing Architectural Excellence at Grinnell) that incorporates natural light, serpentine walkways, and myriad spaces for casual or formal get-togethers, the HSSC is often described in purely aesthetic terms: Beautiful. Inspiring. Comfortable. Warm. Inviting.

Though completely accurate and appropriate, these words paint only a partial picture of the space, which Grinnellians also describe as: Useful. Practical. Smart. Adaptable.

These aspects of the building, as much as its aesthetic components, were intentionally and purposefully incorporated into its design from the early stages of planning, and aptly translated into reality by the architectural firms of EYP Inc. of Boston and OPN Architects of Des Moines, Iowa, and the building’s primary contractor, McGough Construction of Minneapolis.

“It’s beyond anything I could have imagined or dreamed of when we were first planning and thinking about the building,” says Ihrie. “I’ve walked through it, and it brought a tear to my eye as I thought about all the opportunities that would be available for students that we didn’t have access to. I just think it’s amazing — the flow, the architecture, and just the grandeur of the building. It’s kind of prairie humble in that it accomplishes a lot without feeling like it’s a lot.” But it is a lot.

The HSSC features four pavilions — two new and two renovated — joined by a central, three-story atrium with connecting bridges at floors two and three. The historic Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH) tower dominates the atrium, which adjoins a café, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), and the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL). There are 39 technology-rich classrooms and inquiry labs, offices for humanities and social studies faculty members, meeting rooms, study nooks, research labs, a teaching kitchen, and more.

“Remarkably Outfitted and Highly Flexible”

Three students in N95 masks at a bank of computers

Flexible, technology-rich HSSC classrooms with ample room and moveable furniture make it easy for students to move from whole-class discussion in the middle of the room to group pods for computers on the edges, encouraging collaboration and information sharing.

“In previous years, we had a little bit of shortage of classrooms, but mostly the problem was that rooms were too small for the number of students,” says Dack Professor of Chemistry Jim Swartz, a co-leader of the HSSC Project Leadership Team. “Classrooms have previously been designed based on an educational paradigm in which students sat still and listened to somebody talk at them. Any kind of active student engagement was made difficult by the classrooms where students had to sit in chairs like sardines.”

In comparison to classrooms from that bygone era, Swartz describes the HSSC, with all its technology, roominess, and adaptability, as “remarkably outfitted and highly flexible.

“I just came from a room with six D-shaped tables where students sat around the edges with computers,” he says. “They faced one another and had access to a big-screen monitor to share information with each other. This allows them to search for information privately, then share it on the large screen so everybody can see it and simultaneously have a face-to-face discussion. Then students can move to a set of tables with all students in the class. With this flexibility built in, you can do quite different kinds of pedagogies within the same classroom.”

This easily accessible technology and flexibility for students and professors alike is a welcome adjustment for Mirzam Pérez, professor of Spanish, who finds the HSSC classrooms to be more technologically predictable and uniform and pedagogically more flexible and adaptable than any she’s previously taught in.

“I can weave myself among the students with ease and I can supervise and fully interact and engage students,” she says. “When students ask questions, I can be there immediately and have access to boards on all four sides of the room to share information. I also use a lot of video and audio and I can toggle between videos or have two screens going at the same time. These classrooms allow me to do those things without fumbling and looking technologically challenged while trying to make things work. It’s just so much easier, and that part of the work that used to give me so much stress is just gone. The spaces are great. I mean, they’re modern, they’re ample, they’re beautiful. They just feel really complete.”

More Than Classrooms

view of exterior brick work exposed to interior atrium from an elevated walkwayThe HSSC, for all its updates and beauty, is still only as useful and effective as the people and programs that inhabit its space. Since its opening, the building has become a center for the Grinnellian spirit of inquiry and commitment to teaching and learning.

In addition to flexible, technology-infused classrooms, the HSSC is home to 145 faculty offices and dedicated research spaces grouped into five interdisciplinary neighborhoods that encourage multidisciplinary collaboration, active inquiry, student research, and “intellectual collisions.”

“These ‘neighborhoods’ make a difference in the way we operate and help facilitate a sense of community in a new way,” says Todd Armstrong, professor and department chair of Russian. “On a campus like Grinnell’s, you would think it wouldn’t be too hard to see other people and meet other people. But as the semester gets busy, unless someone’s on your pathway, you just wouldn’t see very many people. Now, we’re always seeing each other because we’re sharing space and having those serendipitous moments of connection and chance conversations that can build into really interesting things.”

The HSSC also serves as a home to many other initiatives and endeavors that are equally important to the College’s commitment to the liberal arts, to the humanities, and to educating citizens for active participation in democracy. Among them:

  • The Grinnell Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) helps both students and faculty develop a greater understanding of the world through international travel opportunities, globally focused research, off-campus study, intensive language learning, and other short- and long- term experiences that advance Grinnell’s global learning goals.
  • The Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL) provides software training, experiential learning opportunities, student and faculty workshops, and in-classroom assistance to help students and faculty make better use of data so they can fully incorporate it into their research and classroom work.
  • The Marcus Family Global Kitchen facilitates conversation, inquiry, community, and engagement through the study, preparation, and consumption of food.

Armstrong established a student team that helped develop a plan for the global kitchen that positions it to explore the role food plays in the human experience. He taught the first course in the kitchen in spring 2020.

“It's a remarkable venue in which to build community,” he says. “Everybody has a food story, and everybody can engage in that and then prepare and share food together. It’s really a high-impact kind of activity and it puts a premium on innovative learning and teaching and on our connections with the community.”

Though speaking of the global kitchen specifically, Armstrong’s thoughts reflect the campus buzz about the HSSC as a whole. There is widespread appreciation for the potential this building has already demonstrated to inspire effective teaching and learning at Grinnell.

“I keep pinching myself that this all came to pass,” he says. “There’s this sort of energy that you can sense here in the heart of the building. Students and everyone else who uses the space come out with a bounce in their step, and that’s really gratifying.”

HSSC Recognized for Continuing Architectural Excellence at Grinnell

Speaker at podium in front of audience gathered in multistory atrium

Grinnell College was recently honored by the Iowa Architecture Foundation for its sustained contributions, vision, and leadership in architecture and planning for more than 50 years, culminating in the Humanities and Social Studies Center.

The selection committee wrote of Grinnell:

“Going back to the 1960s, Grinnell College has consistently sought to employ some of the best American architects to add to what was already an idyllic campus. In 1999, the College employed Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott (Boston), to create a campus master plan that has been more recently updated by OPN Architects (Des Moines, Cedar Rapids). Over the past 12 years, the College has executed four extraordinary buildings within the context of this master plan, including the stunning Humanities and Social Studies Center, which unifies and greatly adds to two landmark buildings — the 1917 Alumni Recitation Hall and the 1905 Carnegie Hall — to create an immersive, tech-rich environment in which flexible and adaptable design fosters working synergies among students and faculty by supporting active, collaborative learning.”

Learn more about the HSSC learning spaces named in honor of partners to the College who, through their gifts, help shape and elevate the educational experience at Grinnell.

A Wide-Open World of Opportunity

When Kathy Clemons-Beasley ’95 was considering her options as a prospective first-generation college student, there was a lot she didn’t know.

For instance, how do you choose a college? Her father had refused to pay for her education unless she attended a state university near her home, but her heart was set on Grinnell. Was it better to accept her father’s offer or commit to her dream school? She opted for the latter.

“Going to Grinnell was an act of defiance — I wasn’t going to let my father tell me what to do,” she laughs.

Clemons-Beasley says she’s still happy she made her own decision to choose Grinnell for her French and women’s studies majors. “I do feel proud that I took that jump. I didn’t let that fear get in the way of me doing something I wanted to do.”

Today, she is a senior leader at BlackRock, a global financial services firm. She’s also a member of the Leadership Council for Grinnell’s Donald ’25 and Winifred ’27 Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, where she serves as a mentor for current students and an adviser for the center’s annual hackathon, known as HackGC. Clemons-Beasley has been a frequent speaker at the center’s Diverse Paths of Leadership and Innovation Speaker Series. Through her work with the Wilson Center, she’s helping current Grinnell students reimagine their futures and “take the jump.”

The Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership

Monty Roper and Jeff Blanchard with tools hung on the wall in the background Monty Roper (left) and Jeffrey Blanchard in the Stew Makerspace, a collaboration with the Grinnell Arts Council that provides space, tools, and guidance for students and community members.

The Wilson Center is Grinnell’s hub for initiatives designed to develop students’ leadership skills and support them in finding meaningful futures. Wilson Center programs help students strengthen key skills at the intersection of leadership and innovation, such as a willingness to experiment, courage in the face of potential failure, and the ability to deal with ambiguity. The center offers courses in entrepreneurship, leadership strategies, innovation, and pitch competitions; leadership workshops; programs that connect students with alumni mentors, such as Clemons-Beasley; and the popular Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni.

Helping Grinnellians imagine a career they hadn’t previously considered gives Clemons-Beasley immense satisfaction. “I love it,” she says. “I feel really lucky to be able to help people think differently about what they might focus on.”

For instance, she says, Grinnellians searching for a social justice-oriented career might look at BlackRock and think, “Oh, investments — bad.” She encourages students to think of industries like financial services in a different way. For instance, by working at BlackRock, a Grinnell graduate could support corporate diversity efforts. Clemons-Beasley herself is involved in racial equity work to improve the experience of underrepresented professionals at BlackRock.

“What we do matters, and if we can make change, then the change will go elsewhere,” Clemons-Beasley says. She’s thrilled to help students explore new, often unexpected ways to make a difference in the world and to promote the common good.

“I like opening up students’ eyes to things like that,” she says.

Opening students’ eyes to possibilities — that could be the elevator pitch for the Wilson Center.

Created in the 1980s with a gift from life trustee Donald Wilson 1925 and Winifred Read Wilson 1927, the program originally brought speakers to campus from business and industry. The Wilsons wanted to stimulate “the intellectual life of both the campus and the town of Grinnell” and to connect students with alumni and other people in the world outside academia. The center has continued to grow into a vital part of life at Grinnell by sponsoring innovative curricular and cocurricular programming.

Making a Difference

About 20 years ago, when Doug Caulkins, professor of anthropology, took over the Wilson program, he envisioned expanded programming better attuned to today’s students. He wanted more students seeking to create social change to look beyond the nonprofit world when they thought about careers and to understand that there are lots of ways to make a difference.

Caulkins proposed engaging alumni as living examples of the world of opportunity waiting for students post-Grinnell. He launched the perennially popular course Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni, in which Grinnell graduates describe their career paths and lessons learned along the way. By sharing their stories, alumni could demonstrate that an innovative and socially responsible career can exist anywhere.

“Students tend to trust alumni since they all share a common culture,” Caulkins says. His big ideas have helped inspire the leaders of the Wilson Center today.

The Grinnell Drift

Jeffrey Blanchard, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, has served as Wilson Center director since July 2021.

He took over a program that had expanded and evolved under Monty Roper, associate professor of anthropology, who led the center for six years. “Monty Roper had a clear vision, which he developed to create this outstanding program on innovation,” Blanchard says.

Students don’t need to know exactly where they’re headed after college — it’s OK to meander from one opportunity to another. In fact, Roper says, there’s a name for that: “the Grinnell drift.”

After graduation, Grinnellians often spend a few years trying out different careers. This doesn’t reflect a lack of focus or ambition — it’s a continuation of Grinnell experimentation. The drift can be part of a journey that leads to a career that’s really engaging.

Blanchard is enthusiastic about carrying the center’s work forward. “It’s a place where I thought I could serve the College well,” he says. As a former U.S. Army officer, Blanchard is particularly interested in leadership. He hopes to further bolster the leadership development programming at the Wilson Center.

Living the Grinnell Drift

As a child, Ghana native Carlton Segbefia ’21 dreamed of starting his own small business. He still harbors that dream, although he hasn’t decided what type of business to launch. For now, though, the computer science and sociology double major is happy in his position as an analyst and software engineer at BlackRock.

Segbefia is living his own version of the Grinnell drift. He hasn’t given up on the idea of owning his own business. “I’ll just work toward making sure that whenever I figure something out, I can do it,” he explains.

At Grinnell, Segbefia participated in many Wilson Center programs: HackGC, Pioneer Weekend, and more. He met Clemons-Beasley through her work as a hackathon adviser. Segbefia also worked for the center and helped develop and run the Stew Makerspace.

Later, when Segbefia interviewed at BlackRock, he turned to Clemons-Beasley for guidance. She was able to advise him about the company culture, information that can be difficult to find as a job seeker.

“What she told me ended up being exactly what I needed to hear,” Segbefia says. He accepted the job — and loves it.

They both work in the company’s Atlanta office, and Segbefia says it was great to know there was a friendly face at his new workplace. “The first time we met in the office, she gave me such a huge hug. It was so welcoming,” he says.

A Dopamine Hit

What motivates alumni to get involved with students through the Wilson Center? Part of it is the joy they derive from being helpful, says Robert Gehorsam ’76, an adviser to startups. He is also a consultant working with mission-driven organizations seeking to align their vision with actionable strategies and operational plans and the Grinnell Alumni Council president. He is a frequent speaker with the Wilson Center’s Learning from Alumni series and mentors students one on one. Gehorsam remembers when a student asked him, rather sheepishly, for an introduction that might help her land an internship.

Gehorsam could tell the student was uncomfortable asking for help. He offered a different view. “Let me explain — do you have any idea of how deeply gratifying it is for alumni to be asked to help? It’s not transactional. It’s like this great dopamine hit.”

He also offers a bit of perspective to students (and their parents) who may worry that a liberal arts degree might not lead to a rewarding career. A Grinnell education is invaluable in the world of work, far beyond any particular major or concentration, he explains. The value is in how students learn to communicate, collaborate, and just be curious.

Lukas Roscoe and Robert Gehorsam laughing together at outdoor table

Lukas Roscoe (left) talks with his alumni mentor, Robert Gehorsam. “Robert’s awesome,” Roscoe says. “He just had a ton of good advice.”

‘You Could Have Paid Me Zero’

However, Gehorsam says he also benefits from working with students through the Wilson Center. Putting together presentations for students offers an opportunity to think about his own career, he says, and the long, strange trip it’s been.

As a new graduate, he started out in the book publishing world of New York City, where he earned the princely sum of $9,000 a year — barely enough to get by, even in the late ’70s. But the perks were great: free movie screenings, lunches with famous authors, and more. “You could have paid me zero,” Gehorsam laughs.

He moved on to diverse fields such as computer games and digital media; he now advises a range of startups in artificial intelligence, education, games, music, and virtual reality. It’s been an amazing journey. “How does that happen? Is it just random?” he asks. Talking to students about his path is a way of making meaning out of his own life story.

Gehorsam also hopes his story gives students confidence that they, too, will find their way to a meaningful career. It’s reassuring, says Lukas Roscoe ’23, one of the students who has connected with Gehorsam. “Robert’s awesome,” Roscoe says. “He’s done so many different things throughout his career. He just had a ton of good advice.”

Gehorsam was able to help Roscoe line up an internship while he was studying abroad at the Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden in fall 2021. The third-year economics major says it was his best semester yet. Roscoe reached out to Gehorsam while he was abroad. “Robert was able to connect me with a technology accelerator [in Stockholm], where I ended up interning for a few months.” Roscoe says.

Their relationship is ongoing. “I see him as someone that I can reach out to for advice — he’s always been there for me,” Roscoe adds.

These close relationships between students and alumni are emblematic of the work of the Wilson Center, which offers alumni the opportunity to repay the kindnesses they received for the benefit of the students of today, “paying it forward” for the good of future generations of Grinnellians and the greater good of society and the world.

Imagine the Possibilities

Speaker on stage with TEDx Grinnell College sign in the backgroundThe Wilson Center sponsors dozens of activities, programs, and spaces. Between 20 and 25% of students participate in at least one Wilson program every academic year; in 2020–21, more than 130 alumni volunteered, either in person or virtually. Here’s a sample of what’s going on:

  • SPARK — an innovation challenge to solve social problems in the Grinnell community or in students’ home communities.
  • Stew Makerspace — a workshop with tools, 3-D printers, and more, co-sponsored by the Wilson Center and Grinnell Area Arts Council.
  • TEDxGrinnellCollege — an official TEDx experience.
  • Pioneer Weekend — a pitch competition for students to showcase ideas for a business or nonprofit plan.
  • Diverse Paths of Leadership and Innovation — a speaker series and course.
  • HackGC — teams of Grinnellians collaborate, innovate, and build a solution to help alleviate a social justice issue.
  • The Moth@Grinnell College — a collaboration with The Moth Radio Hour