One of Grinnell’s Greatest Mentors: Joe Rosenfield

Joe Rosenfield's yearbook photoJoe [Rosenfield ’25] was an instinctive mentor, a tendency that was intensified by the tragic death of his only child, Jim. Joe frequently reached out to young men and women of promise. One of his mentees, Fred Little [’53], said that Joe “really relied on his intuition. He really, really trusted his intuition; some cases to his detriment, but in most cases [not]. I mean, Joe would meet with somebody, would find out a little bit about him and make a decision [about whether] this person was someone he wanted to help or not.” Fred said he didn’t think Joe was a lawyer at heart; “a lawyer would never act like that; he would want to see papers and check on people.”

Fred LittleJoe mentored Fred from when he was a child, so Fred was in a good position to judge this quality. Fred’s father, a 1916 Grinnell graduate and chair of the [Grinnell College] Board of Trustees in the early 1940s, was Joe’s close friend; in a Des Moines elevator conversation, he asked Joe if he would like to be a Grinnell trustee. Joe’s positive response led to his 59-year tenure as Grinnell’s greatest trustee. When Fred was 10, his father died tragically, and Joe stepped in as a mentor and surrogate father. Joe had continuous contact with Fred and on several occasions took him to Chicago for Cubs baseball games. Looking back on a time when Fred seemed “lost,” he believed Joe’s support was critical and that his mentoring was sustained into Fred’s legal career. … In 1976, Fred became a Grinnell trustee through Joe’s urging and influence, and later, when he considered resigning, all Joe needed to do was remind Fred of how he himself had become a trustee through Fred’s father’s influence. Ultimately Fred, like his father, served as chair of the trustees and testified that his devotion to Grinnell was a “mirror of Joe’s devotion.”

Robert 'Bob' NoyceAnother mentoring connection centering on the College was Joe’s connection to Bob Noyce, a 1949 graduate who invented the integrated circuit on a silicon chip and founded Intel Corp. Joe, himself, was the best source of information about their relationship:

“I have a particular feeling for Bob, who first came to Grinnell not as a trustee [but as a student]. … I remember almost the first time I ever saw Bob, I was just highly impressed with his intelligence and pride. It occurred to me, here is the kind of guy we would like to have on the board. … I talked to a couple of other trustees about it; they got acquainted with Bob; over a period of time we got him on the board and he proved to be better than we thought he would be. …”

In the same 1998 interview, Joe reflected on the role he and the College played in the founding of Intel:

“One thing we did, several of us urged Bob to leave the company he was with (Fairchild) and go into business for himself. And Sam Rosenthal, a fellow trustee, and I took it upon ourselves to tell Bob that we would raise money or put up the money to help start the company. And he said, ‘We’re working on it. Someday we’ll do it.’ I remember one [trustee] meeting, he came to me and said, ‘Well, we’re ready to launch a new company and if you fellows are interested, we would like you as part of the group,’ which he was allowed to do. And that was a great thing for the College. We didn’t know how great; it could have been greater if we’d have kept our stock a lot longer.”

Joe further explained that he, Sam Rosenthal, and the College invested a total of $300,000, one-tenth of the Intel startup, eventually selling the Intel stock for $16 million, a remarkable profit; but the College would have been much better off had it kept the stock instead of following Bob Noyce’s urging that the College not have the bulk of its endowment subject to the fortunes of his company. …

Connie WimerJoe also reached out to young women who showed promise. He tried to convince Connie Wimer to run for the Des Moines City Council when she was in her thirties. She says at that time she never would have thought of running for office: “So, I look back and think what in the world did he see in me that he thought I could do that? I think he saw a passion on issues in me.” Only one woman had served on the City Council at that time (1964). Of course, Connie went on to become one of Des Moines’ most significant leaders and the founder and CEO of Business Publications Corp. [and a Grinnell College trustee in 2014].

David ClayDavid Clay served Grinnell College as treasurer for over a decade, and in his later years Joe and the trustees trusted him to become overall manager of the College’s endowment. Clay provides an intimate look into how Joe mentored young people who showed promise. Joe was, in Clay’s words, “a real mentor to me.” For example, when Joe was working on the transition of the portfolio as he anticipated his death, he made David feel that he, David, was the decision maker. David says Joe helped him as a young man to grow over the years into the treasurer Joe thought he could be. Often, Joe would call him asking, “Anybody given us any money today?” Dave would respond, “Well, no,” and Joe’s retort would be, “Okay, maybe we better figure out how to make some money today.” Joe would “bird-dog” the budget, and when there was an end-of-year shortfall, he would step in to make up the difference. When David began in the job, if Joe disagreed with him, he would advise David to “think a little longer,” and he knew that he had missed something. Regarding negotiations on behalf of the College, Joe advised, “Don’t take their last nickel; we want to be partners on this project. Both sides need to be satisfied to do a job well.”

David “had never met anyone in an organization you could put that much faith in,” and the board of trustees understood this as well. This was the very core of Joe’s influence on David Clay and all others with whom Joe interacted. Typical of his focus on others rather than himself, in 1999, a year before his death, Joe participated in the planning for management of the College’s investments when he would be gone. This was, in a sense, Joe’s final step in mentoring the College he loved so deeply.

Copies of Mentor: Life and legacy of Joe RosenfieldExcerpted from Mentor: Life and Legacy of Joe Rosenfield (Business Publications Corp., (2019). Published with permission.


A Light Switch Went On

Whether it was by luck or design, Sarah Purcell ’92 found a mentor in the first faculty member she met at Grinnell — Al Jones ’50, L.F. Parker Professor of History. In a department full of excellent professors, Jones was a legend.

Al Jones '50In the fall of 1988, Purcell enrolled in his First-Year Tutorial on Culture and Power. That year, as interim director of the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights, Jones was instrumental in organizing a convocation series and film series on the topic of culture and power. Purcell attended the lectures, watched films, and read novels, all through an historical lens. She even had lunch with one of the convocation speakers, Edward Said, a spokesman for the Palestinian people.

“It was a hugely formative experience for me,” she says. Purcell declared a major in history her first year and asked Jones to be her adviser.

At one point that year, he asked her, “Have you ever thought about being a professor?”

“A light switch went on,” Purcell says. Before that she hadn’t connected history to a particular career path. She just knew she loved it.

Flash forward 30-some years to a second-floor classroom in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Purcell waits eagerly for her students in History of Popular Culture. They enter the room in pairs to have short peer review conferences about their research proposals.

Purcell invites each student reviewer to speak first before sharing her views. They focus first on the strengths of the student’s proposal. Then they discuss improvements the student could make, like shortening a paragraph-long thesis statement to a single sentence or correcting flawed footnotes.

“What the hell?” she says in a lighthearted way. “You’re history majors. You know how important footnotes are.” Then she smiles at them, pushes up her glasses, and says, “I yell at you with love, only with love.” But they know she’s serious about the footnotes.

Whether she’s working with students in her classes or one-on-one with research assistants, providing close attention and care is second nature to Purcell.

Talent Spotter

Sarah Purcell leads a classPurcell, who now holds the same named chair as her first mentor in history, is an enthusiastic, dynamic, encouraging mentor of her own students. In 2019, she received the Council on Undergraduate Research’s inaugural award for excellence in mentoring in the social sciences.

In his letter supporting Purcell’s nomination for the award, Michael Latham, then dean of the College, wrote, “While Grinnell has a strong culture of faculty mentorship of student research experiences, one thing that really makes Professor Purcell stand out as a research mentor is her ability to work with students as research collaborators — despite the fact that she works in a field in which collaboration is not the norm.”

One of the qualities Purcell looks for in student collaborators is enjoyment of the research process. She spotted that in Sam Nakahira ’19 when Nakahira took History 100 with Purcell as a first-year student.

“She got really deeply into sources,” Purcell says, “engaging with them on a level really beyond what was required … especially at the introductory level. She also gave an extremely good presentation based on her research, so I thought she had teaching potential too.”

Purcell asked Nakahira if she’d ever thought about being a professor. Nakahira hadn’t, and the idea intrigued her. She became a Mellon Mays Fellow as well as one of Purcell’s research collaborators and advisee.

Nakahira worked with Purcell on a summer Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) on digital history and slavery. They visited Louisiana State University’s Special Collections
to do primary research. Nakahira sought information about the interior spaces of a Louisiana
sugar plantation, so she pored over receipts for furniture, correspondence, and financial and tax records. She also learned about daily life through grocery lists and
schedules for slave workers and the tasks they were assigned.

“She really helped me feel comfortable with different research methods,” Nakahira says. For her Mellon Mays research project on Japanese American agriculture after World War II, she and Purcell discussed oral history, a technique Purcell last used herself when working
as Al Jones’ student research assistant in 1990.

“She gave me the confidence to do things,” Nakahira says. “Her support was empowering.”

Advice Not Taken

Purcell encourages all her students to take a year off before pursuing graduate school, though she didn’t follow that advice herself. “What was I going to do? Work in a bank for a year?” she jokes. “I knew grad school was the right step for me.” Winning a Beinecke Scholarship that paid for the first two years of her program was reasonable confirmation of that assessment. So off to Brown University she went for her doctorate in history.

Next she taught at Central Michigan University for three years. While she enjoyed her work there, she really wanted to teach at a liberal arts college. Then an opening in the history department at Grinnell caught her eye. She’s been teaching here since 2000.

Mentors Make a Difference

Most Grinnell grads are not destined to become professors. Other careers beckon, and Purcell is fully aware of that. The skills she teaches transfer to many other professions.

Hayes Gardner ’15 especially values her effect on his writing. Purcell gave him specific tips that helped him not only relay information correctly, but to write concisely and clearly as well.

“My writing vastly improved throughout my time at Grinnell,” he says. “I’m currently a journalist, so that’s extra important to me. She definitely morphed me into a better

Purcell recommended Gardner for a summer internship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which gave him great reporting experience. When he graduated, Gardner was pretty sure he wanted to go into sports journalism, but first he wanted to do a year with a service organization. Purcell encouraged him to do freelance writing on the side.

He thought it would be difficult to find the work, but after sending a few emails, he landed a gig covering high school sports for The Oregonian, the largest paper in Oregon. Without her
encouragement, Gardner isn’t sure he would have tried freelancing.

“I didn’t think it would be possible,” he says, but he wound up freelancing for years. “That was the foundation for my current career,” he says. Gardner is now a sports writer for the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky.

Even years later, Purcell shares job opportunities and connections. “It’s great to still have a mentor like that even after you graduate,” Gardner says.

Getting to know each other during a summer MAP project helped forge that lasting connection.

“It’s nice to have the luxury to know each other as people,” Purcell says.

While Grinnell faculty and students have enjoyed close mentoring for decades, one benefit
of formal programs such as Mellon Mays and MAPs is that mentoring becomes even more accessible to students. And as Sarah Purcell can attest, who knows where that may lead?


When the Mentor Becomes the Student

“Serving as a Mellon Mays mentor is not just about what you give the students,” says Valérie Benoist, professor of Spanish and Latin American studies. “What they give back to you is just as important.”

Most professors understand this sentiment. The passion that students can bring to classes, their interest in learning, engagement with the subject matter, and the drive they have to explore can inspire and motivate even the most overworked professor.

In the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, faculty mentors find this effect even more pronounced. Mentorship requires faculty members to work one-on-one with students over two years at Grinnell, guiding them in long-term research, developing as a scholar, and preparing for graduate school and professional life. It’s a major commitment on the part of faculty members already carrying full course loads, office hours, and the other day-to-day tasks associated with their work. But it comes with major rewards.

“Working with my fellow, Ifetayo Olutosin ’18, for two years was a very rewarding experience as I got to watch her grow intellectually and truly become a scholar,” says Benoist. “We met weekly and Skyped when she was not on campus. I helped her sharpen her research skills, worked with her as she crafted her research questions and wrote and rewrote her argument, and assisted her with her presentation for conferences and applications to grad school and her submission of an article for publication. She is now in her second year of graduate school at the University of Southern California, where she is completing a Ph.D. program in Latin American Studies, but our relationship did not stop with her graduating. It has grown into a relationship of scholars and will become one of colleagues.”

Karla Erickson and Shanna Benjamin

Karla Erickson (left) and Shanna Benjamin

Karla Erickson, professor of sociology, became involved with the Mellon Mays Fellowship program in 2009, its inaugural year at Grinnell. She now serves as the second director of the program, taking over from Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English, a former Mellon Mays fellow herself who initiated the effort and led the program for a decade at Grinnell.

“We stay connected with our fellows for 10 to 20 years, for much longer than they are here,” says Erickson. “It’s wonderful to get them to graduation. When you hang the medal on them at Commencement, you really feel that. But when they get through graduate school and don’t just survive but thrive, it’s great to see. And it’s great for a program this young to have that kind of success.”

Shared Benefit

The Mellon program has demonstrated success, both at Grinnell and nationally, at producing scholars who enter the academic world and increase the diversity of faculty at the collegiate level, then continue to push the program forward.

Nationally, the program has produced more than 700 tenured fellows since it began in 1980. At Grinnell the program has already produced 55 fellows who’ve gone on to graduate school and three who’ve earned their doctoral degrees. Additionally, more than a dozen are currently pursuing graduate studies.

The program has gone well beyond that primary objective and created unforeseen positive consequences as well.

“The projects my fellows are working on really help me expand my own knowledge on the subject and how I teach it in the classroom,” says John Garrison, associate professor of English. “It’s really inspiring. They come in with new thoughts and ideas on the subject, and it helps me keep up with new ways of teaching and inspires me to do new things.”

Shakespeare doll with Mellon fellow Elijah Griffin sharing his research with professor John Garrison in background

Garrison is mentoring two Mellon fellows, Elijah Griffin ’21 and Saiham Sharif ’20. Both have presented at conferences on their research projects and have traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to study with other fellows from around the country.

“The program gives them an idea of what graduate work will look like, and it also provides them a community to support them,” says Garrison. “And just as they are getting a glimpse of what graduate school will be like, I am getting a glimpse of what it is like to teach graduate students and guide them on long-term projects, which is unusual at the undergraduate level.”

With 15 years of experience teaching the ins and outs of Shakespeare to undergraduate students, Garrison welcomes the fresh ideas and inspiration he draws from his mentees.

“It really reignites my passion when I see someone else so engaged in the subject,” he says. “It keeps me from getting in a rut, and I can continue to view the subject through a new set of eyes and keep up with not only where the field is currently, but also where it might be in five to 10 years.”

One of his fellows, Elijah Griffin, is conducting research and exploring the notions of blackness in Shakespearean performance as part of his fellowship. He’s looking at adaptations of the plays to see how blackness is approached and performed within Shakespeare and how it can impact the message and meaning of the work.

“This has really helped me rethink how Shakespeare exists in a contemporary sense,” says Garrison. “I want to think about Shakespeare as it exists now, not just in the 17th century — how it is relevant today and how it speaks to contemporary audiences. This helps inform why we still teach Shakespeare and why it is still relevant.”

For Benoist, who is looking forward to taking on more fellows as a mentor, Grinnell is the perfect environment for an experience that fosters growth from both student and mentor.

“The small classes, great students, and the opportunities for interaction with them in and out of class really make Grinnell perfectly suited for a program like this,” she says. “Meeting with your fellow and exploring new ideas makes you think about your own scholarship and pushes you in directions you might not have otherwise pursued. I wish more people could take advantage of it. It’s been an amazing experience, and I really look forward to participating as a mentor again, in addition to continuing the relationship I already have as a mentor with Ifetayo.”

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program was established in 1988 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to address the shortage of minority scholars on college and university campuses across the country. Funding from the foundation allowed Grinnell to bring the program to campus in 2009 to support promising undergraduates considering graduate study.


From Internship to Leadership

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When English major Mark Couch ’87 was a senior at Grinnell, career planning wasn’t his top priority. He had vague ideas — maybe journalism, maybe law school – but little practical experience.

With help from Jo Calhoun, then internship coordinator and assistant director of the Career Development Office, he landed an internship in the Iowa Legislature with the chair of the house judiciary committee during the 1987 legislative session.

Twice a week Couch and several other students interning in Des Moines, Iowa, caught a 6 a.m. van shuttle from campus. At the state capitol, Couch handled typical intern chores, such as drafting responses to constituent letters.

His most significant project was researching other states’ laws for the legal sale of fireworks. At that time, fireworks sales in Iowa were strictly limited. The judiciary chair lived near the Iowa-Missouri border and watched Iowans cross the state line to buy fireworks.

“We collected the toughest restrictions from other states that allowed fireworks sales and assembled them into one bill,” Couch says.

To his amazement, it passed the house.

“I thought it was because we crafted the best bill ever. Really, it passed because my boss had a powerful position in the legislature,” Couch says. “The bill got killed right away in the senate.”

Although his bill didn’t change state law, the experience offered lessons to consider in pursuing a career. “I had learned how to hunt and gather useful information and how to present it clearly,” he says. “It also reminded me that the quality of the work isn’t the only — or even the decisive — factor in the ultimate outcome.”

Eventually, the experience turned out to be useful. But not right away.

His first job after graduation was stocking shelves at a bookstore in his hometown of Des Moines. After networking with friends, he landed an interview for a sales job with the Des Moines Business Record.

“If you had your druthers,” asked the sales manager, “would you rather be selling or writing?”

Writing, Couch said, figuring that would end the interview. Instead, he met the paper’s editor and got the job. “That job was like an apprenticeship,” he says. He covered three beats during his four years there, before finally landing a dream job at the Des Moines Register. “That started my journalism career,” he says.

From there, he jumped to other newspapers — the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Kansas City Star, and finally The Denver Post — “moving mostly for better pay.” He was a business reporter for most of his career, covering real estate and economic development, though he took only one economics course at Grinnell. “I read The Wall Street Journal every day,” Couch says. Grinnellians know how to learn.

While a reporter in Denver, he was assigned to cover the campaign of a prominent businessman, John Hickenlooper, who ran for mayor. “He was terrible as a debater, and I predicted he had no chance,” Couch says with a laugh. “But he won, and thus began my political reporting career.”

Couch was assigned to city hall to cover Mayor Hickenlooper. Several months later he was sent to cover state politics at the capital. “My experience in the Iowa Legislature had given me some perspective.” He didn’t want to cover predictable partisan debates. Instead, he wanted to learn how the state budget worked. From November to April, he attended budget committee hearings and learned the finer points of each department’s budget.

“To actually sit there day after day and really study it, all of that work I did at Grinnell as a student, learning how systems work and how human behavior interacts with those systems,” he says, “I got good at explaining a complicated system for the newspaper.”

But newspaper reporting as a career option was fading.

Couch’s expertise in the state budget combined with his communication skills made him a candidate for a job as a legislative liaison and public information officer for the Colorado Department of Revenue. He served as the department’s “flight traffic controller” by making sure subject-matter experts were available to testify for about 150 bills each legislative session. “It was fun but a grind,” he says.

In 2013 he moved into higher education as the director of communication for the University of Colorado School of Medicine. A few years later he was asked to be the new dean’s chief of staff, so he added that responsibility to his plate. “It’s a mix of practical and political and I still write every day,” he says.

For a student who enjoyed both political science and English but wasn’t sure how, or if, to blend those interests, his internship served as a practical launching point.

Anya Grundmann ’89 Shapes What America Listens To

Anya Grundmann ’89 stayed in Grinnell after graduation, taking music classes and working in town as she contemplated her next move. One day she turned the dial on her radio to the local public radio station. Fresh Air was on, and Terry Gross’ soft voice cut through the static, capturing Grundmann’s imagination through smart conversations with fascinating people on topics she had never thought about.

What Grundmann loved about Fresh Air — learning intimately about wide-ranging topics — she also found at Grinnell. Both drove her to a career in public radio and her current job as vice president of programming and audience engagement at National Public Radio.

Grinnell’s individually advised curriculum allowed her to spend as much time on her English major as she did on music — studying piano, singing in the choir and Grinnell Singers, and participating in music ensembles. Grundmann embraced opportunities to learn outside the classroom, including studying biology at a wilderness field station. She also worked as an editor of The Scarlet & Black, a valuable experience for her future career in journalism.

“The whole point is that we’re there to learn and explore,” she says. “I tried to throw myself experientially into the different facets of academic subjects, but also in terms of the extracurricular things … I really appreciated the freedom and flexibility of that.”

How She Found Her Sound

With Terry Gross’ voice still ringing in her ears but without a semblance of a plan, Grundmann set out to Flagstaff, Arizona, in January 1990.

Flagstaff’s public radio station, KNAU, was housed in the music building where Grundmann started taking classes toward a master’s in music.

“I just kept walking by.” She told herself, “one day I’m going to walk right in there.” And she did, offering her services as a volunteer.

As it happened, the news director needed someone to cover a press conference on the Navajo reservation that day. So, armed with a recorder and absolutely no idea what she was doing, Grundmann set out for her first report.

She covered the press conference, returned to the station, and made a short radio spot — her first experience cutting tape and piecing together an audio story. “I thought that was magic.” Grundmann continued to learn the ins and outs of public radio, allured by the creative process of producing audio stories.

When the station needed someone to produce another classical music program, Grundmann jumped at the chance. They put her on air Friday and Saturday nights. “I was not that good, but it was enjoyable.”

At the station, Grundmann was able to channel her lifelong passion for music into her work and develop her skills as a public radio announcer.

From the beginning of her work in public radio, Grundmann focused on “connecting people with great music, the ideas and issues around music, the creative experience of music, that communal connectivity that music brings to us that’s beyond the spoken realm.”

How an Internship Helped Her Learn the Craft

Then, in 1994, she accepted an internship in the cultural programming department at NPR in Washington, D.C. She noticed people complaining about writing certain parts of their shows and volunteered to try her hand. In that way, she honed her skills in pursuit of that coveted NPR sound. She ascended the ranks from intern to associate editor and then supervising editor of the classical music program, Performance Today, before becoming executive producer of the NPR Music unit.

But it all started with an internship. For Grundmann, learning on the job was expected, and it was the best way to learn. “Historically in public radio, internships have really been a great pathway because it gives people a real exposure to the craft.”

Perhaps even more so back in the ’90s when she was learning the craft.

“Back then we were using reel-to-reel tapes and razor blades, and I have scars to prove it. And then in order to mix things that were beautiful and complicated, you had five different reels and you had to sync them up. It was like directing some kind of movie or something.”

Nowadays, digital recorders and audio editing software have enabled quick and accessible learning opportunities for audio production, allowing anyone (including the author of this story) to start a podcast.

A Pioneer in the Digital Realm

As technology evolved, so did Grundmann, pushing for new ways to engage with the audience in the 21st century. As NPR looked to expand into the digital space, Grundmann zeroed in on the opportunities she saw to enhance the music programming. At the time, much of NPR’s music programming was ephemeral, so a website that could aggregate and organize public radio music programming would have been a valuable addition. But Grundmann thought they should do more.

“We’re in a new space where it’s a different experience for people to click on something and engage on the web; and it’s very visual. So just taking the things we were doing on the radio and putting them online felt like a half measure.”

So, with Grundmann at the helm, they came up with ideas for the new digital space, landing on three initiatives as they launched NPR Music: Project Song, a documentary series detailing the journey of a song’s creation; a blog from Carrie Brownstein of Washington indie rock band Sleater-Kinney; and a recommendation list from renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The overwhelmingly positive response from these new ideas encouraged Grundmann that NPR Music was on the right track with the web-first music programming approach. From that spirit of experimentation also came the incredibly popular Tiny Desk concerts, a series of intimate video performances recorded live at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

The Ethos of NPR

Changes in the digital landscape have challenged NPR to grow and adapt while still adhering to its mission. As millions of viewers watch Tiny Desk concerts and millions more tune in to NPR’s podcasts, Grundmann’s focus remains fixed on innovation, maintaining the delicate balance of sustaining current listeners while connecting to new audiences across rapidly changing platforms. Part of what has made her so adept, throughout her career but especially now in her leadership role, is what she describes as a “surfer” mentality. NPR is filled with incredible journalists who are experts in their fields, “deep divers,” as she calls them. But just as vital in journalism are “surfers,” people who can learn and explain how complex issues relate and inform each other, a skill found in spades among liberal arts students.

From comedy shows like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me to the TED Radio Hour and everything in between, NPR’s content helps people understand our crazy world and, at its best, understand each other.

Grundmann believes the first step to understanding is listening better, urging us to “take a breath while we’re listening to people whom we may not agree with. Take a deep breath and then empathize and take a beat and then have a conversation.”

Part of being a good listener, she says, is also about respecting the spaces in between.

“What if you were to walk through a day and think about the spaces in between what people are saying, or the spaces in the music and what the spaces do in terms of making that music really pop and be strong, and the quality of the conversations when you have some space?”

What happens, she says, could surprise you. “People might say some things that they wouldn’t have if you were talking all the time. I think if you practice that in your life, it’s actually interesting what happens.”

So the next time you turn on the radio, or ask your smart speaker to play a podcast, you might still hear Terry Gross’ soft voice, but if you listen closely to the spaces in between, you might be able to hear Anya Grundmann, shaping what America listens to.

Anya Grundmann helps manage NPR’s award-winning lineup of podcasts. If you want more podcasts with a Grinnellian flavor, you'll find brief descriptions and links at All Things Grinnell. Listen to the full interview with Anya Grundmann on season 2, episode 8.

A Short List of Podcasts by Grinnellians

Practical Experience Plus Practical Advice

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Chaz Del Mar ’22, an intended philosophy major, spent the summer interning for David Calvert ’75 at the Youth Action YouthBuild chapter in East Harlem, New York. Youth Action YouthBuild is a nonprofit organization that serves to uplift 17–24-year-olds in East Harlem communities by helping them achieve their high school equivalency, find jobs in food and construction services, and go to college.

“It was rewarding to work with youth my age because I have a lot of the same goals as they do,” Del Mar says. He helped wherever they needed him — in the computer lab, planting trees, renovating the office, planning community events and more, including grant writing.

“Grinnell students bring technical skills with IT and social media that supplement a lot of what we do,” Calvert says. He’s hosted 12 students in the past four years, both as interns and externs. “They bring energy and a desire to find out what’s next. They’ve also been really good at connecting with our community. I’ve always worried that students won’t land well here, but that’s never the case. They’ve connected with the young people in the program and have thrived in the East Harlem environment.” Del Mar was no different than previous interns. “I felt like a part of the community because the work that YouthBuild does is all about serving the community,” he says.

Connecting with a Grinnell alum was also a valuable part of the experience. “I decided to focus on my philosophy intended path instead of double-majoring, because I want to take classes in a broader range of topics,” Del Mar says. “David helped me through that, because he was a double major at Grinnell, and David’s experiences helped inform my choices moving forward.”

Good Help Is Hard to Find

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Why a Cellular Microbiologist Returned to Iowa

Imagine you’ve been working in Paris for several years, but now your job is ending. Where would you go next? And would the state of Iowa be at the top of your list?

In 2017 Lilliana Radoshevich ’04, a biology and French double major, was wrapping up her postdoctoral position at the Pasteur Institute in Paris while looking for a tenure-track faculty job in the United States.

“I saw one at the University of Iowa and I thought, ‘Oh, this is great,’” she says. One reason the job appealed to her? Its proximity to Grinnell and therefore the strong possibility of attracting Grinnell interns.

“I have a friend, Manav Pathania ’05, who started at Cambridge, and he was jealous because I would get Grinnell interns,” Radoshevich adds, smiling. “I immediately thought that I could tempt some Grinnellians to start working in the lab.”

She credits Grinnell’s biology department with preparing undergraduate research interns so well.

“That 150 course is really a deep dive into how scientists do science. And Grinnell really excels at placing people in graduate school, because the courses are designed that way. So I thought that would be a great way to help out Grinnell and also help out our lab,” Radoshevich says.

As a student at Grinnell, Radoshevich was in the first cohort to take the redesigned Biology 150 course, Introduction to Biological Inquiry, so she knows well the educational experience it provides. She also did a summer internship at the Pasteur Institute where she made the connections that helped her land her postdoc years later.

Shortly after arriving in Iowa City and starting her new job in December 2017, Radoshevich introduced herself by email to Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology at Grinnell, who was already in touch with one of Radoshevich’s colleagues at Iowa.

“Shannon is really an amazing professor and I want to give her all the credit. One thing that she’s been doing is incorporating visits to the University of Iowa labs and also journal clubs where her class talks, either in person or via Skype, with the lead authors of a paper from the primary literature,” Radoshevich says. Reading primary literature is not unusual in Grinnell courses, but it’s less typical for undergraduates elsewhere.

Sooner Than Expected, Radoshevich’s First Intern

Lilliana Radoshevich looks on while Madeleine Vessely peers through a microscopeMadeleine Vessely ’20 arrived at Grinnell planning to major in chemistry, but taking BIO 150 with Hinsa- Leasure changed her mind. “The topic was microbial pathogenesis. I took that class and that was it for me,” says Vessely, who decided to double-major in biology and anthropology.

During her second year, Vessely applied to “a bunch of internships.” All of them turned her down. She went to her adviser, Hinsa-Leasure, and asked, “Do you have any ideas of what I could do this summer?” Hinsa-Leasure reached out to Radoshevich, and Vessely soon had a summer internship.

“It was the first time that I worked in a lab outside of class, and I loved it,” Vessely says. Her parents are both medical doctors, so she’s familiar with the clinical side of medicine. Working with Radoshevich exposed her to the research side.

How an Internship Helped Shape a Student’s Career Plan

Radoshevich’s research is focused on a protein called ISG15. “It’s up-regulated or stimulated by interferon, which is one of the main proteins that makes you feel feverish,” she says. She uses Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne bacterial pathogen that can invade host cells, to understand what this protein is doing generally. “We try to understand the basic and fundamental biology associated with these proteins and that could then be used to treat diseases,” she says.

During Vessely’s summer 2018 internship, she experimented with Listeria in liver cells. “We were looking at it just for fun,” Vessely says. In the process she made a discovery. “We didn’t expect anything different. And then we saw a different phenotype in these liver cells compared to a different kind of cell.” She found that in liver cells the protein gets upregulated when the cells are starving — cells can starve just like humans can.

Vessely followed up on her 2018 findings the following summer, interning with Radoshevich again. She conducted experiments and repeated them to try to get reproducible results.

“That’s one thing that many students have to learn,” Radoshevich says. “It’s not like a canned lab class where your experiments would all work. You actually have to troubleshoot. Changing variables and getting something to work is a big part of graduate school. I think a lot of people start in this area because they want to help human health, but getting something from bench to clinic can take 30 years.”

Which means many experiments that don’t return the hoped-for results. “It’s definitely hard at first,” Vessely says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m doing something wrong.’ But sometimes you just have to get good at it, at failing.”

One reason Vessely did a second internship with Radoshevich is because she likes the self-directed nature of the work. “If you have a question that you want answered, you can go about finding it yourself. But it’s also about collaborating with other people,” she

As a result of her 2018 internship, Vessely’s interest in public health research has deepened. In spring 2019 she did a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) with Hinsa-Leasure, researching antibiotic resistance. She intends to apply for post-baccalaureate positions to see
if she wants to pursue a doctoral program in the future.

“I feel like she’s a perfect Ph.D. student,” Radoshevich says of her first intern. “But she’ll do
whatever she wants. She has a very bright future.”

One can imagine Radoshevich’s internship supervisor saying that about her once upon a time too.

Wanted: Bright Students with a Strong Social Conscience

This story is part of the series:

What Grinnell Interns Brought to a Tech Company

In April 2019, as Grinnell students scrambled to track down summer internships, a mobile health startup in Los Angeles offered the motherlode to four lucky Grinnellians — paid internships plus help with housing. At mPulse Mobile, Rena Brar Prayaga, director of behavioral data science, and Ram Prayaga, chief technology officer, wanted interns from Grinnell, but not because their sons Gyan Prayaga ’21 and Jeev Prayaga ’22 attend the school. “One of the reasons is the social justice mission focus that we’ve seen when we’ve visited and talked to students,” Rena says. “That was important because we are a mobile health startup where much of what we do is focused on trying to help to improve outcomes for underserved populations and hard-to-reach populations.”

Those populations include people on Medicaid and Medicare, who are often lower income, older, more vulnerable, and more isolated. Uncovering the needs and barriers related to health behavior and communications for these populations was crucial. “We wanted students who’d be willing to engage in that kind of thinking and be committed to that approach, which requires a lot more effort,” Rena says.

The ability to take risks when you don’t know exactly what the outcome will be, Ram says, was also something they were looking for in interns. It was a quality they’d spotted among Grinnell students. “The willingness to put yourself out there, to put your ego on the line, that’s not something that you find very often,” Ram says.

Students Put Their Creative and Critical Thinking Skills to Work on Practical Projects

Rena and Ram, who have hired interns before, decided to try something new for summer 2019 by creating a cohort of four interns. Carlton Segbefia ’21, Ridhika Agrawal ’20, Ben Nguyen ’19, and Aditi Munshi ’19 joined mPulse Mobile’s behavioral data science team. “We brought them in to do some high-value innovation projects,” Rena says. “These were projects that the CEO was watching and waiting for.” Segbefia, a computer science and sociology double major from Ghana, built a dashboard that shows daily metrics — what’s working and what’s not — that’s displayed on a large TV screen at the company’s office. “We were very impressed with his ability to think through the problem,” Ram says. “He wasn’t too nervous about taking on something outside his comfort zone.”

Ben Nguyen and Aditi MunshiAgrawal, an economics and math double major from India, and Nguyen, a psychology major from Michigan, worked together on a study about patients refilling their prescriptions. The work included cleaning and preparing data, data analysis and modeling, literature reviews, and writing. Their contributions earned them co-author status on a paper accepted by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Munshi, a computer science major from California who is completing her second year in a 3-2 electrical engineering program at Columbia University, helped build application software, specifically an “activation score.” The score helps describe how likely a patient is to engage in healthy behaviors, Rena explains. “We gave her some guidelines and she wrote the rules.” Ram worked with Munshi on the project. “There’s a lot of data,” he says. “If you don’t do it in an efficient manner, then it takes too long. We definitely had challenges along the way. I thought, she’s not going to be up for it, she’s going to be frustrated, but she just plowed through it and kept going. That was cool. We were really proud of her and what she was able to accomplish.”

Ram and Rena were also impressed with the students’ level of maturity. “They brought a high level of integrity to their work,” Rena says. “Even little things.” Like work hours. “They would be here on the dot. They didn’t take long lunch breaks. They worked usually a little beyond what they were supposed to.” “We had to shoo them out,” Ram says. “They were constantly asking for more,” Rena adds. “We weren’t used to that.” Ram jokes, “It was kind of annoying for us, actually.”

A Shared Apartment and a Short Commute Make for a Homey Stay

Figuring out short-term housing, especially in high price locations like Los Angeles, can make internships, even paid ones, expensive learning experiences. For a while, the four interns had plans to share an Airbnb. “We knew they’d need a place to stay,” Rena says. She and Ram proposed to their CEO that the company rent an apartment that could be used by the interns during the summer. At other times, the company’s own remote workers could stay there when they’re in town. “We wanted [the students] to feel safe,” Rena says, “and not spend an hour commuting.” The apartment was about a 10-minute walk away. The CEO and CFO donated furniture and dishes to help make it comfortable.

With their own place to retreat to, it would have been easy for the interns to hole up by themselves, but they embraced the mPulse community. “They were outgoing,” Ram says. “They didn’t keep to themselves. Whatever social events the company was holding, they participated.” Their contributions, both professional and social, made an impact.

“It was a big loss when they left,” Rena says. The company is thinking about replicating the cohort model next summer.

Meanwhile, the company offered ongoing internships to Segbefia and Agrawal, who worked remotely from Grinnell during the fall. “That was fantastic for us,” Rena says, “because they have the domain knowledge.”

And fantastic for the students.

Internships Help Grinnellians to Launch

The Powerful Combination of a Liberal Arts Education and Practical Experience

A brief history of internships at Grinnell

Internships have become such an expected part of the college experience that it’s hard to imagine they weren’t always ubiquitous. Yet before the 1960s, throughout the United States internships were most common in medicine and K–12 education — aka student teaching.
Grinnell’s internship program began in 1977, just three years after the appointment of the College’s first full-time director of career services, John Adams. His model was a legislative internship program run by Ed Gilmour, a professor of political science at Grinnell, in the 1960s.

How internships evolved at Grinnell

In the 1970s and 1980s, internships were most often done during the school year, rather than in the summer. Students were responsible for finding faculty sponsors, keeping journals, meeting with their sponsors, and setting internship goals. Students spent two full days per week during the spring or fall semester at their internship sites, which had to be within driving distance of Grinnell. They earned four hours of academic credit for their ability to reflect on and learn from their internship experience.

Summer internships started gaining more traction as funding for unpaid opportunities became more available. In 1985, when Wayne Moyer, professor of political science, became director of the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights, he started fielding requests for modest support of summer internships that fit the Rosenfield mission.

“Internships became a big part of the program,” Moyer says. “They continue to be a major element of what the Rosenfield program does. To some extent we were a trial balloon for overall internships at the College.”

Steve Langerud, director of the Career Development Office from 1993 to 2006, agrees. He used the Rosenfield program as a model for attracting funding for other summer internships. “One of the most compelling things about internship opportunities, particularly in the summer,” Langerud says, “is that you could do things then that you couldn’t do in a college setting, and that you couldn’t do without money.” Helping students get paid was a crucial part of it, Langerud felt. Because otherwise, some Grinnell students had to go home and work to make enough money to come back the next year. They couldn’t afford to take unpaid internships.

“I was inspired by Grinnell College’s underlying philosophy — allow students to transcend their economic status and create an even playing field,” Langerud says.

Experiential learning connects the liberal arts to the workplace

Mark Peltz has built on Langerud’s work. As the Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, Peltz began in 2011 to reshape what’s now known as the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) so that experiential learning is embedded in the student experience from their earliest days on campus. In terms of internships, Peltz has forged a two-pronged approach — cultivating opportunities and providing nuanced advising to help students prepare themselves.

What Career Communities Offer

Grinnell’s seven career communities include arts, media, and communication; business and finance; education professions; government and social service; health professions; law; and STEM. Students can join one or more. Each is led by a professional with extensive industry-specific knowledge and experience. Students can participate in industry-specific treks and skill-building workshops and access a network of advisers, peers, and alumni.

Kelly Harris, associate dean and director of employment engagement, leads the team that cultivates internship opportunities, many of them with alumni and parents. Internships are one way for students to explore and test out their interests, she says.
Harris also manages the funding process for unpaid and underpaid internships. The best, most equitable way to distribute internship funding is something she and Peltz have discussed. Should the College provide partial funding for as many students as possible, or fully fund fewer students?

“There are more students requesting internship funding than there is money available,” Harris says.

“We fund as many as we can.” From 2015–2019, students received, on average, 84% of their funding requests.

“Grinnell was one of the first institutions in the country that was awarding internship funding to students to do unpaid experiences,” Peltz says. “That’s no longer distinct, particularly among our peer schools, some of which award $800,000 or more to students each summer.”

While funding and opportunities are important, so is solid advising about the internship search process. “That’s where the career communities come in,” Peltz says. “They provide more specialized advising and coaching so [students] can understand some of the nuances.” Such as the subtle differences needed in a résumé for an internship with a science research lab compared to a library. Or the timing of the recruiting process in different industries. Finance and consulting begin in late summer to early fall, while many nonprofits recruit in late winter to early spring. CLS advisers guide students on how to best present themselves as well as on when and where to look for these critical experiences.

Expert advice and support from CLS staff help students transform their thinking and their skills and ultimately their lives. If you’d like to assist the CLS in its efforts, consider making a gift to the Campaign for Grinnell College.

Internship Funding and Stipends

Total Funding Awarded

Total Funding Awarded: 2015: $304,953 - 2016: $422,404 - 2017: $457,106 - 2018: $487,209 - 2019: $368,026

Average Stipend Awarded

Average Stipends 2015: $2823 - 2016: $2,913 - 2017: $2,968 - 2018: $3,087 - 2019: $2,747

Available funds fluctuate year to year based on gifts, budget allocations, and endowment returns.

Alumni Care Package: Variation on a theme

“This one should not go back to college, right?” I said to my 10-year-old son while pointing toward Sarah. His loud laughter filled the room as he rolled back and forth on a floor mat, his right fingers inside his widely smiling mouth. It was Aug. 1, 2019, and Sarah Weltz ’21 was soon heading back to Grinnell to start her third year. My son made loud grunting sounds any time we talked about Sarah’s impending return to campus. Her summer working as his caregiver and advocate had been adventurous, fun, and reaffirming of the deep connections Grinnell can foster across generations and circumstances.

Sarah and I were first connected by her roommate Lauren Miller ’21, who did a 2019 spring break externship at Global Nomads Group (GNG), a nonprofit virtual exchange and global education organization, where I am currently chief of programs and learning. After her externship I had emailed Lauren and Peony Teo ’21 (another former extern at GNG) to ask if they knew of any current Grinnellians or recent graduates who would be in New York City for the summer and might be interested in a modestly paying caregiving and advocacy job. I was impressed by both Lauren and Peony during their externships and was hoping perhaps one of them would be interested in the position. I tried to enhance the limited compensation by describing in the email “all the learning my family has to offer: health care (medical/nursing/systems/politics), rehabilitation (PT [physical therapy], OT [occupational therapy], speech), neuro-atypical communication, systems thinking, education and disability rights, jazz music, and the hard-earned wisdom and life lessons from the Warrior Prince and his weary parents.”

Lauren forwarded the email to Sarah, who is originally from New York City and was planning to live with her parents that summer. As a biological chemistry major interested in medical school, she saw the relevance of this work to her career interests and responded enthusiastically to the forwarded email (“OMG LAUREN THAT SOUNDS AMAZING! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will contact her now!”). Soon after, we were on a FaceTime call making plans to meet.

How an Out-of-the-Blue Disease Changed Our Lives

My family’s circumstances are rather exceptional. My son, whom my husband and I adopted at birth, was perfectly healthy and typically developing until he was almost three, when a rare autoimmune encephalitis dramatically changed his and our lives. We woke up one morning to his first seizure, went by ambulance to our nearest hospital, and returned home 15 months later to vastly altered lives. Our apartment filled with medications, supplies, and equipment. Our attention shifted to our son’s moment-to-moment safety, insurance navigation, and medical bills. Our careers and professional aspirations narrowed dramatically. Our interdependence with multiple paid caregivers grew. Now, almost eight years since the onset of his illness, my son still requires round-the-clock care and is fully dependent for all activities of daily life. His recovery from the acquired brain injury caused by his disease has been glacially slow but steady. He is funny, smart, spirited, determined, nonverbal, non-ambulatory, and an incredibly good judge of character. He took to Sarah immediately. The first time Sarah met my son and me in person was on a trip to the dentist. Near the barrier-free door to my son’s school, Sarah hopped into our wheelchair accessible van and helped me navigate heavy traffic to the Bronx dental clinic (one of the few in the vicinity that both takes insurance and serves children with special medical needs). She watched attentively as I rattled off my son’s complicated health history and long list of medications, observed closely as I restrained his arms while the dentist examined and cleaned his teeth, and laughed heartily as I did a happy dance when informed that he had no cavities.

Often, new caregivers struggle to figure out ways to be helpful, but Sarah jumped right in, asking great questions and immediately demonstrating deep respect for my son. From the first time they met, she figured out that he understands everything being said and interacted with him accordingly. She avoided the common missteps of speaking to him as if he were a baby, or loudly, or simply. It takes most new caregivers a while to overcome the flawed assumption that what people express outwardly is a reliable indication of what they absorb inwardly. Sarah seemed to assume his comprehension, which in situations like my son’s is the least harmful — and, in his case, most accurate — assumption. I was also pleasantly impressed by how she made sure to talk with and to my son, rather than just with me or my husband, about him.

Sarah Weltz, Sandra Joy Stein, and Stein's son sitting on a park bench

One Shared Summer, Lasting Connection

Our summer together was full of adventure and learning, as well as a hefty dose of daily drudgery. Thankfully, Sarah was up for all of it. She accompanied us to a Central Park race where she ran alongside my son in his wheelchair and cheered him on when we helped him out of his chair to run across the finish line with assistance. She stealthily attended to all the medical tasks of getting through our day — drawing up medications, hanging a feeding bag and priming the long plastic tubing that ultimately connects to my son’s gastrostomy tube while he sleeps, feeding my son while deftly dodging his often-flailing arms, then settling into read a book or play superhero wrestling games with him.

We have had lots of meaningful conversations, on topics ranging from our deeply flawed health care system, to the lived realities of classism and racism, to the fraught languages of adoption and disability. She has read several books and articles related to my son’s condition and our family life, as if approaching her summer job with us as a college course with a reading list we collectively curated. We had the kinds of conversations that I remember experiencing frequently at Grinnell on what we then called the Forum Beach. We have discussed how Grinnell compels its students to take a deep look at themselves, at their communities of origin, and at the broader world in ways that are unique and compelling. We have marveled at how the Iowa cornfields and vast, dramatic skies somehow provide a protected path for the common discomfort of profound personal growth.

We have met and hung out with each other’s Grinnell friends with ease and appreciation (even though my friends and I are around her parents’ age). We have shared timeless stories about picking majors, dorm life, relays, food services, campus dating, and themed parties. One of my favorite moments was when Sarah cautiously asked two of my friends whether the Alice in Wonderland parties of our time were in any way like the Alice parties of hers, then probed further to make sure that they understood exactly what distinguishes this particular party from all others. (Yes, Sarah, yes, they were then as they are now!)

For three days a week during Sarah’s time with us, my son was in an intensive assisted-walking physical therapy program. In this program, he walked on a treadmill while suspended by a harness, with his legs attached to robotic legs that guided his movements. Sarah stood by my son as he walked up to three quarters of a mile, cheering him on as she would her own teammate on Grinnell’s swim team, ultimately and effectively distracting him from any pain or discomfort he might have been feeling during his session. He rewarded her cheering by walking faster and flashing her his huge, illuminating smile.

Our common Grinnell experiences, even with 30 years between them, have proven to be a powerful bond. We share a passionate sense of wonder and curiosity. We are open to possibilities. We seek justice and call out injustice. We are radically and creatively pragmatic. We laugh when things go wrong, then try again to get them right.

So, when I told my son that Sarah shouldn’t go back to Grinnell, of course I didn’t mean that in a literal sense, and I hope she understood the ribbing as an expression of the fierce love and deep gratitude we have for her. While my whole family would have benefited tremendously had she stayed in New York City and continued to work with us, we are also incredibly excited for Sarah to have two more years of learning and growth at the college that has contributed so distinctly to the women who we both are today.