First-Year Tutorial Is the Linchpin

Old black-and-white photo of Barry Clotfelter at desk One of the things that has made Grinnell College distinctive, particularly since the early 1970s, is the freedom students have to chart their own path through the curriculum. Beginning in 1971, Grinnell adopted a “no requirements” curriculum that eliminated general education and distribution requirements except for one, a new course now called the First-Year Tutorial.

“I would have been satisfied and pleased if this curriculum had lasted for 10 years,” says Beryl Clotfelter, professor emeritus of physics and lead proponent of the proposal. “I didn’t think it was going to be a long time. And I’m really shocked it’s gone 50 years.”

A New Curriculum for a New Era


In the late 1960s, changes were afoot at Grinnell. The faculty were concerned about the student experience as well as the curriculum and its staying relevant. Clotfelter, who was deeply interested in curriculum issues at Grinnell, helped develop a new science course for nonmajors. He and other faculty who tried to develop such courses discovered that they just didn’t work. The faculty were dissatisfied and so were the students.

That experience was in part what led Clotfelter to draft a proposal for a “no requirements” curriculum, which he submitted to the faculty for consideration in February 1970. Other proposals were submitted as well, but no final decisions were made that spring. The shootings at Kent State and Grinnell’s decision to close the College early that year shifted everyone’s attention to larger concerns.

That fall, Grinnell’s faculty held weekly meetings to discuss three curriculum proposals: the current curriculum with modifications, one that relied on divisional requirements, and one with no requirements. Week after week, the faculty made motions, raised new issues, and discussed some more.

During the Oct. 5 faculty meeting, the “no requirements” proposal lost in a written vote, 42 to 45. One of the concerns about it was that faculty advising would become more difficult without required courses. Under the existing curriculum and its 50-plus required credits, advising first- and second-year students consisted mainly of scheduling and helping them get the requirements “out of the way.”

Another wrinkle to academic advising was the arbitrary way students were assigned to faculty — by the dorm students lived in. (Clotfelter notes that it took him a couple of years of having all women advisees before he realized he’d been assigned to a women’s dorm.) As a result, students and their advisers didn’t necessarily have any interests in common, making it harder to connect. Under Clotfelter’s proposal, faculty advisers “would be expected to get to know each advisee well enough to genuinely advise,” he wrote in his 2003 history. That would take time and energy on top of an already busy schedule.

How could faculty be encouraged to know their advisees better and make more meaningful connections? A small group of students found the answer.

Students Made Themselves Heard

For this part of the story, let’s start with Ric MacDowell ’68, who returned to Grinnell to work as assistant to Joe Wall ’41, then dean of the College. During the 1969–70 school year, MacDowell persuaded President Glenn Leggett to let him work with students to develop their leadership skills.

MacDowell knew very well the positive changes students could make. He had served as Student Government Association president his senior year and helped change the single-sex residence halls into co-educational halls, in part by arguing that “students could govern themselves in the dorm.”

R foreground: Barry ZigasIn late 1969, MacDowell began organizing dinners with students he’d identified as “people who seemed like they were going to be leaders.” They met in a private dining room in the basement of the Forum. Barry Zigas ’73 was among them.

Zigas graduated from high school in 1968 at age 17 and then made an unusual choice for the time — he took a gap year. Given that young men were subject to the draft and the very real possibility of combat service in Vietnam, it was also a reasonable choice.

During his gap year, Zigas worked and traveled across the United States and Europe. By August 1969, after a year away from studying, Zigas was “raring to go,” ready for the college experience he’d been anticipating — learning what he wanted to learn and interacting with his professors.

His initial experience did not live up to his expectations. “It seemed a lot like a fifth year of high school,” he says.

So when MacDowell invited Zigas to participate in conversations about students’ rights and what would make the College better, he was primed.

A group of students, including Zigas and Anne Walter ’73, decided to focus on the first-year experience. They looked at how it could be improved and become a more satisfying transition from high school. They surveyed two or three dozen other colleges about the details of their students’ first year. One survey response, Zigas recalls, included the description of a “freshman tutorial of some kind.”

It was like they’d struck gold.

“We felt that the tutorial was an instrumental way to introduce students to academic life at a college and help them make a cleaner break with high school, and to enable them to engage more closely with their fellow students and the faculty,” Zigas says.

They drafted a proposal for a tutorial that would be limited in size, be taught by all faculty, involve a significant amount of writing, and make the tutorial leader the students’ adviser until they chose one for their major.

One of the faculty members with whom they shared their proposal during the spring of 1970 was Alan Jones ’50, professor of history. For several years Jones had been concerned about the experience of firstyear students. He was interested in students’ opinions, so it’s likely that he read with care the work produced by the student committee.

Jones had long been aware of the tutorial system as practiced in Oxford and Cambridge. In 1960–61, he shared an office with George Drake ’56, who was serving as a sabbatical replacement for the year. Drake had just returned from Oxford where he’d been a student in the tutorial system and sang its praises to Jones.

Tutorial Makes It All Work

In October 1970, one week after the “no” vote on Clotfelter’s proposal, Jones distributed a memo to the faculty, letting them know that he intended to introduce a new motion: “Each student is required to complete the Freshman Tutorial Program.” The three-page memo detailed how the new program would work and the rationale for it, including the attributes identified in the student proposal.

“Another justification for a tutorial program,” Jones wrote, “is that it is pedagogically innovative. … It offers immediately to freshmen a different kind of learning experience, one that is particularly appropriate to the kind of college we have become in recent years.”

When Jones presented the tutorial idea at a faculty meeting, Walter recalls the excitement of the back-and-forth discussion. “I remember feeling … the thrill [that] we had hit upon something that resonated with most of the faculty,” she says.

One part of the tutorial that she thought appealed to students “was the improved advising, the idea of really getting to know a faculty member. Well, I’m not sure that we wanted more advice, but I think we really wanted to know a faculty member well.”

Clotfelter amended his proposal, adding a tutorial provision, thus addressing two of the faculty’s biggest concerns about a “no requirements” curriculum — that they could teach writing skills and provide good advising in a curriculum without required courses. The tutorial proposal was fine-tuned over the next few weeks; and on Nov. 16, 1970, the faculty voted on Clotfelter’s proposal: 48 for and 12 against, with four abstentions.

In Clotfelter’s opinion, “the feature of the no-requirements curriculum which has been most important in its continued success is the tutorial as a device to bring students and advisers together.”

Tutorial Can Resonate for Years

Since fall 1971, the tutorial has been a significant part of the first-year student’s experience at Grinnell. It’s an excellent introduction to college-level writing and thinking by a faculty adviser who gets to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, yet it’s also evolved and become even more resonant. Community building, for example, is an intentional part of the class.

For many students and alumni, the impact of the tutorial has reverberated well beyond the classroom. A few alumni from different decades shared their experiences:

Literature and Spirituality: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, with Saadi Simawe (deceased)

It was hugely impactful for me — I was coming from a small-town public school with no access to advanced literature courses and felt way out of my league at Grinnell. Simawe liked my work and it meant the world to me. It made me feel like I belonged there.

Kendra Engels ’06, Minneapolis

Wild Lands: The History and Philosophy of Their Use, with Karl DeLong

[It] consisted of lots of memorable trips to the bio preserve (A flock of hundreds of blue winged teal on the water, their colors glinting in the sun! An honest-to-god “Monarch Tree” completely alive with monarchs gathering for the fall migration!) that still are vivid in my memories 47 years later.

I was a Blue Ridge Mountains gal and initially sneered at the flat, “empty” prairie landscape as “ugly.” I don’t remember what I learned specifically from that tutorial, but it sparked a lifelong love and appreciation for the subtle beauties of a prairie landscape.

Becky Leach ’78, Aurelia, Iowa

Karl DeLong

The Ethics of Research in Psychology, with David Lopatto

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation was part of the syllabus and it rocked my world. It had never even occurred to me that animal rights was even a thing (small-town kid from an extended farming family). It really reshaped my entire worldview of nonhuman life.

Rob Killion ’90, Tempe, Arizona

Personality and Politics: Case Studies of American Presidents and Their Secretaries of State, with Wayne Moyer

My mother thought it sounded like the most dull class imaginable, but it was my top choice. We met in a private room over dinner.

One memory was my introduction to critical thinking. After reading our first assigned book (my first scholarly monograph) and discussing it for at least four sessions, Moyer asked, “So, what is wrong with this book?”

I was honestly shocked to think that there could be anything “wrong” with a book that we had studied so carefully and in such detail. I realized that “learning” was going to be different now that I was at Grinnell. As a poli sci prof myself now, I love asking my students the same question.

Kimberly Lanegran ’87, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hope, with Al Lacson

Going into Grinnell, social studies was my second least-favorite subject (after P.E.). In my tutorial, I learned that history is more than just memorizing facts and figures, people and places, and dates. There’s this thing called social history, and I found that I enjoyed it.

Though I’m now a programmer/web developer, I think what I learned as a history major really parallels and applies to programming. In history, there’s no one “right” interpretation, but there are better and bad ways to interpret history. In programming, there’s almost always no one way to solve a problem, but there are definitely better and bad ways. You have to think and use judgment in both history interpretation and programming. In analyzing sources, you have to be able to identify potential bias, context, and quality. In programming, when looking at potential solutions to a problem online, you have to do the same.

Doug Dobrzynski ’13, Chicago

Share Your Experiences: How did the individually advised curriculum and/or the tutorial affect your life?

A New Required Course: For many years, Grinnell has promoted its First-Year Tutorial as the only required class outside of a student’s major, so it’s a big deal that in May 2021 the faculty approved a second required course for all first-year students. See Strategy Session, page 5, for more information.


Grinnell College: 1846 TO 2021 - 175th Anniversary Quiz

175 Years (white on black logo) What’s the right gift for a 175th anniversary? Grinnellians know the correct answer is TRIVIA!

Let’s see how well you know your alma mater beyond the years you spent on campus: Take our 24-question quiz, and don't forget the bonus question. Note that some questions have more than one correct answer.

Send your bonus answers to The Grinnell Magazine with “Quiz” in the subject line for a chance to win a Grinnell prize package.

  1. What was the College’s original name?
    1. Grinnell University
    2. Mears College
    3. Iowa College
    4. Goodnow College
Students studying in a dormitory in 1919

Students studying in a dormitory in 1919

  1. Which College president was responsible for the construction of North and South Campus residence halls, with the intention of making Grinnell “the best men’s college for men and the best women’s college for women in the country”?
    1. George Gates
    2. John Nollen
    3. George Magoun
    4. John H. T. Main
  2. In what eastern Iowa town did the College get its start after James J. Hill ceremoniously laid a silver dollar before those assembled and sounded a call to action to “take care of that dollar” for the new College?
    1. Dubuque
    2. Davenport
    3. Bettendorf
    4. Iowa City
  3. In the College’s first few decades, which of the following did it not initiate?
    1. A school of art
    2. A preparatory academy
    3. A conservatory of music
    4. A ladies’ course
Jesse Macy seated at a desk in the front of a lecture room

Jesse Macy achieved national prominence

  1. As a professor at Grinnell, Jesse Macy, class of 1870, helped develop this field of study and introduced some of the first courses in the country:
    1. Applied Christianity
    2. Social gospel
    3. Political science
    4. Sociology
  2. Grinnell student-athletes have participated, while students, in the following Olympics:
    1. 1924
    2. 1968
    3. 1992
    4. 2016
  3. In the 19th century, the College dominated these three sports:
    1. Baseball
    2. Basketball
    3. Football
    4. Track
  4. Before Title IX and the development of women’s intercollegiate sports teams, a handful of female athletes participated on Grinnell men’s teams, including one woman in 1963 who competed against men in the Midwest Conference in …
    1. Golf
    2. Tennis
    3. Cross country
    4. Baseball
  5. Beginning in the 1960s, Grinnell became known for the quality of the musical acts it brought to campus with the help of the student concerts committee. Which of the following performed at Grinnell?
    1. Duke Ellington
    2. Jefferson Airplane
    3. Bruce Springsteen
    4. The Police
  6. Compelling speakers have visited campus to share their expertise on everything from agriculture to zoology. Politicians have included:
    1. Geraldine Ferraro, 1984 Democratic, vice presidential nominee
    2. Former President Ronald Reagan
    3. U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.)
    4. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Martin Luther King Jr. preacing from a podium in Darby Gymnasium in front of a packed crowd

Martin Luther King Jr. in Darby Gymnasium (Photo by Robert Hodierne ’68)

  1. From Grinnell’s earliest days, social reform has been part of the mindset. Many successful reformers have come to campus to spark excitement about service, including:
    1. Harriet Beecher Stowe
    2. Martin Luther King Jr.
    3. Jane Addams
    4. Malala Yousafzai
The Grinnell Prize medallion
  1. President Raynard S. Kington, who served from 2010 to 2020, tapped into Grinnellians’ desire to serve by establishing the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The prize has been awarded to organizations that:
    1. Champion African children’s literature
    2. Respond to natural disasters
    3. Advocate for human rights
    4. Create sustainable agricultural technology
  2. Grinnell’s first, homegrown study-abroad program, in which two Grinnell faculty taught Grinnell students, was in:
    1. London
    2. Paris
    3. Rome
    4. Cairo
Students in Berlin

Students in Berlin (Photo by Misha Gelnarova ’18)

  1. Grinnell students have many options for global learning, including this most recent option, developed by the Institute for Global Engagement:
    1. Course-embedded travel
    2. The Global Learning Program
    3. Alternative Language Study Option
    4. Grinnell-in-Washington
  2. Since the 1850s, Grinnell’s curriculum has changed from a set of all required classical courses to an individually advised curriculum with few requirements outside the major. Identify a currently required course:
    1. College Writing
    2. Humanities 101
    3. First-Year Tutorial
    4. Historical Studies
Students at the base of a metal sculpture on campus, one holding a pole

Students participate in hands-on activities during New Student Orientation in 2012

  1. In the early 1990s, Grinnell began rethinking how it taught certain subjects, especially to students who were underrepresented in those fields. In 2011, this ongoing program was recognized by the Obama administration:
    1. Grinnell Science Project
    2. Grinnell Math and Statistics Project
    3. Grinnell Humanities Project
    4. Grinnell Social Sciences Project
Classroom at the Newton Correctional Facility

Classroom at the Newton Correctional Facility

  1. Initiated in 2003, Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program currently provides to incarcerated students at the Newton Correctional Facility:
    1. An occasional workshop in creative writing
    2. An occasional course taught by student volunteers
    3. Regularly scheduled courses for credit, taught by Grinnell faculty
    4. Tutoring support from Grinnell student volunteers
  2. Grinnell students like to contribute to the common good, and the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) can help them find and create positions, including:
    1. Local volunteer opportunities
    2. Community-engaged courses
    3. Service-learning work-study positions
    4. Postgraduate service jobs
Advising students is a core part of the CLS mission

Advising students is a core part of the CLS mission

  1. In 2013, Mark Peltz, Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, implemented a novel approach at the CLS to help students prepare for meaningful careers. The program now includes this component:
    1. A career adviser for each incoming first-year or transfer student
    2. Industry-focused advising and programming through seven distinct Career Communities
    3. Grant funding to send students to professional conferences
    4. Grant funding to help students purchase interview attire
The Noyce Sience Center elbow light up at sunset

Noyce Science Center “Elbow”

  1. President Russell K. Osgood, who served from 1998 to 2010, presided over a significant increase in enrollment, faculty size, and new and renovated buildings, including:
    1. East Campus residence halls
    2. Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center
    3. Bucksbaum Center for the Arts
    4. Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center
Exterior of Darby Gym from 8th Ave.

Darby Gymnasium, 1950 (Photo courtesy of the Grinnell College archives)

  1. Darby Gymnasium, formerly a separate building on the north side of Eighth Avenue, is now part of this building:
    1. Harris Center
    2. Physical Education Complex
    3. Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center
    4. Rand Gymnasium
Students in suits and gowns dancing

Students dancing at the Fall Waltz in 1986 (Photo courtesy of the Grinnell College archives)

  1. Dressing up in fancy clothes or costumes and going to a dance on campus was a tradition that began with the all-female Colonial Ball, first held in 1909. The fancy-dress dance tradition continues in the 21st century under what name?
    1. Mardi Gras
    2. Waltz
    3. Grinnell Ball
    4. Winter Wonderland
  2. In a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), students work closely with a faculty member on a research or creative project that integrates the knowledge and skills they gained at Grinnell. Over the past several years, what percentage of students completed a MAP?
    1. 2%
    2. 20%
    3. 40%
    4. 100%
Educational building and wind turbine at Conard Environmental Research Center

Conard Environmental Research Area

  1. A contemporary visitor to the 365-acre Conard Environmental Research Area, about 11 miles southwest of Grinnell, will find:
    1. Rows and rows of corn and soybeans, as far as the eye can see
    2. Restored native tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, woodlands, and wetlands
    3. An LEED-certified environmental education center with classroom, laboratory, and greenhouse
    4. Grinnell College’s farm

Bonus Question

Black and white photo showing the exterior of ARH within the atrium of the HSSC

What buildings on campus, familiar to all alumni, recently were renovated and are now part of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC)?

Send your bonus answer to magazine[at]grinnell[dot]edu with “Quiz” in the subject line for a chance to win a Grinnell prize package.

Gates Rawson Tower across the expanse of Mac and Ward Fields

How did you do on the 175th Anniversary Quiz? Check your answers below.

  1. C. Iowa College
  2. D. Main
  3. B. Davenport
  4. A. art school
  5. C. political science
  6. A., B., and D. F. Morgan Taylor 1926 took gold for the 400-meter hurdles in Paris in the 1924 games, setting a record in the process. Norris Stubbs ’72 ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes for the Bahamas in 1968 in Mexico City. Joshua Tibatemwa ’19 represented his native Uganda in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He swam the 50-meter freestyle.
  7. A., C., and D. All for men. Baseball was the first organized sport.
  8. A. In her first year at Grinnell, Julie Litchfield (now Tallman) ’66 shot a 94 and led her male teammates to a double dual victory over Cornell and Coe, which forfeited. She only played one match with the men’s team, as it was ruled that Grinnell had violated a conference bylaw that competition be limited to male athletes only. The terms “athletes” and “scholar-athletes” were in the bylaws, so John Pfitsch, director of athletics, and coach Larry Crawford assumed that women were eligible.
  9. All of them. Each played at least once.
  10. C. and D. Chisholm in 1980, Eisenhower in 1965.
  11. B. and C. King in 1967 and Addams in 1898 as Rand Series speaker and in 1924 as Commencement speaker.
  12. All of them.
  13. A. Grinnell-in-London began in fall 1974 with 17 students.
  14. B. The Global Learning Program, specifically for first-year students, offers an interdisciplinary course that’s team-taught by two professors who take students abroad during spring break or shortly after the spring semester.
  15. C. Humanities and Historical Studies were required courses until 1970.
  16. A. Grinnell Science Project, launched in 1993, was honored with a 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, administered by the National Science Foundation.
  17. C. and D. Students in the program can earn up to 60 credits from Grinnell College.
  18. All of them.
  19. All of them.
  20. A., B., and D. Bucksbaum was initiated by President Pamela Ferguson but completed during Osgood’s tenure.
  21. C. The Bear Center brings together all of Grinnell’s sports in one large complex and replaced both Darby and the physical education complex. Their facilities could no longer meet the College’s needs. Rosenfield Center, which houses the Marketplace Dining Hall and Spencer Grill and is the main campus center, was built on roughly the same site as Darby.
  22. B. Waltz is the current name and seems to have appeared in 1976 after more than a decade without such an event. Mardi Gras was a costume ball held from 1947 to 1962.
  23. C. 40%
  24. B. and C. CERA is a field station used for research, class field trips, and quiet enjoyment of Iowa’s natural beauty.


Grinnell’s Poll Position

Ethan Pannell ’21 was a poll junkie long before he arrived at Grinnell. He had taken a statistics class in high school that required students to track data from the news and politics website POLITICO. He and his dad frequently pored over the stories and data from the polling data analysis site FiveThirtyEight during the 2016 election season.

So when Pannell learned during his sophomore year at Grinnell that the College had teamed up with respected pollster J. Ann Selzer to develop the Grinnell College National Poll (GCNP), he could hardly believe his good fortune. A political science major with a statistics concentration, he signed up for a short course, Political Polling: Analyzing the Grinnell College National Poll, to learn more about how to study the data collected. And in 2020 he developed a battery of queries for the GCNP linked to the idea of the American dream. More than 1,000 people answered the questions.

He remembers the moment that Peter Hanson, associate professor of political science and director of the Grinnell College National Poll, emailed the raw data to him. “It was incredibly exciting to see [the results] from a question I helped create,” Pannell says. Among other things, he learned that a significant portion of respondents were optimistic about achieving traditional aspects of the American dream, such as homeownership.

Hanson works with students Wini Austin ’21, Abby Hanson ’21, and Isabel Ambrosoli ’21.

Hanson works with students Wini Austin ’21, Abby Hanson ’21, and Isabel Ambrosoli ’21.

For Hanson, engagement like Pannell’s represent the very best of what the poll can offer: deep, individually tailored experiences that support meaningful student learning. “Giving students the chance to participate in the creation and analysis of our own poll is tremendously exciting,” he says. “I don’t know that there’s another undergraduate institution in the country that gives its students that opportunity. When you’re teaching political science and you have data fresh from the field? It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Grinnell President Anne F. Harris agrees that the poll is a powerful complement to the work that professors and students do in their classes. “The issues that the Grinnell College National Poll takes on are the issues that are discussed in our classrooms, from political power to racism to democracy,” she says. “The poll gives students the ability to see just how immediate and relevant those issues are, because they see how people are thinking about them in almost real time.”

Since former President Raynard S. Kington approved the launch of the poll in 2018, Grinnell has developed six polls, taught short courses with dozens of students, and supported student MAPs and faculty research with the poll. Through the poll, Grinnell College’s name has been prominently included in top-tier national media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

The benefits of the GCNP go beyond numbers, but there’s no doubt about it: The numbers are very, very good.

Putting the Pieces into Place

When Selzer and Grinnell worked together to create the GCNP, the timing felt particularly fortuitous. The Data Analysis and Scientific Inquiry Lab (DASIL) had been created to support rigorous data analysis. And the new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), which now houses DASIL, was intentionally designed to bring together humanities and social studies departments, supporting collaborations among faculty, students, and departments on initiatives like the Grinnell poll.

Visiting professor Ron Rapoport leads a discussion with students Max Hill ’20, Yuejun Chen ’20, and Patrick Min ’19 (left to right).

Visiting professor Ron Rapoport leads a discussion with students Max Hill ’20, Yuejun Chen ’20, and Patrick Min ’19 (left to right).

That paired well with other Grinnell strengths: a politically engaged student body and exceptional political science and mathematics faculty members. The College’s Iowa location made it a hotspot during presidential primaries and a prime hub for polling. Selzer’s company, just down Interstate 80 in West Des Moines, had a coveted A+ rating for accuracy and methodology from FiveThirtyEight.

Selzer saw an opportunity to raise Grinnell’s profile with a national poll. And she was delighted to work with a school whose values aligned with her own. “When I saw that Grinnell’s unofficial motto was ‘Ask hard questions, question easy answers,’ I got really excited,” she says. “What could a pollster want more than that?”

New Frontiers for Student Learning

Students who work with the poll data get insights about the country that go well beyond what they could learn from a textbook or the daily news.

For example, as part of a polling short course she took with Hanson, Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 analyzed data collected just before the 2018 elections about political activity.

At the moment of polling, the story of women’s political participation had taken center stage in the media. A handful of events, including the Women’s March after President Trump’s inauguration, an enthusiastic new group of women running for office, and predictions of a “blue wave” that ultimately came to pass, led many pundits to suggest that women’s interest in politics and voting had skyrocketed.

But Rawhouser-Mylet was less interested in the media narrative than what the numbers said. She pulled data from the GCNP to dig into the details. “We expected that we would see a difference — that women would be more politically active than men,” she recalls.

Their work found no statistically significant relationship between political activism and respondent’s gender — or party identification or race, for that matter. The initial hypothesis didn’t pan out — but Rawhouser-Mylet didn’t mind. “It made the analysis more interesting,” she says.

Selzer, who occasionally speaks to students taking polling short courses, says that counterintuitive results are common. “I ask [students] what their hunches are about the way [a poll] is going to turn out, and very often, their hunch doesn’t turn out,” she says. If the results they want don’t show up in the data, “they’ve got to be able to walk away,” she says.

From Hanson’s standpoint, these types of surprises — which he sees frequently in his classes — are golden teaching opportunities. “It’s a wonderful moment when you see somebody being awakened to the possibility that they have to re-evaluate the way they’ve been looking at the world, because the data doesn’t support the assumptions they’ve had,” he says. “Testing your own suppositions against the data teaches us all to have humility.”

The process of creating polls, collecting the data, and analyzing the numbers takes time and demands serious intellectual firepower. But it also leads to a more accurate understanding of the world. “The phrase that I use is research, knowledge, wisdom,” Selzer says. “You gather the best data you can, and you turn that data into knowledge. Then, what do you now know that you didn’t know before? You can turn that knowledge into wisdom by asking: What should I do with [this knowledge]?”

Ethan Pannell ’21 and Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 have both completed significant projects with the GCNP.Ethan Pannell ’21 and Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 have both completed significant projects with the GCNP.

Some students' work on the poll has already paid off in settings beyond Grinnell.

Max Hill ’20, now working on a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Michigan, took a survey design class while he was at Grinnell and did research with Hanson. The knowledge he gained from the process — which included the challenge of determining what he actually wanted to understand from the data — has helped him with his current statistics coursework. “Having a real-world experience with statistics reinforced key concepts so that I really understand them,” he says.

Fueling Faculty Research and Teaching

Students aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the poll’s unique value. Caleb Elfenbein, associate professor of history and religious studies and director of the Center for the Humanities, had attended some of the earliest meetings for the GCNP. He was curious how the poll might help him explore his interest in religion, community, and public life in new ways. He also wanted to learn about possibilities for working through the center to connect the humanities and humanistic social sciences at Grinnell to the poll.

He was drawn in by the idea that he could collaborate with polling experts to create questions in areas that were most interesting to him. In 2018, he worked with Hanson and Selzer to devise a series of questions about equality, religion, and what it means to be American.

The results illuminated a gap that was far greater than he might have initially imagined: 91% of respondents said that treating people equally was core to being American, which stood in stark contrast to existing data suggesting that approximately half of all Americans had doubts about whether Muslims truly could be Americans. The tension between those numbers led Hanson and Elfenbein to co-author an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Those statistics also served as a central framing device for Elfenbein’s recent book, Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us About America. The poll results succinctly illustrated a larger and more complex problem. It was an irresistible hook. “Numbers have currency,” Elfenbein says. “They can grab attention, offering the chance to then present data in a more humanistic fashion by focusing on stories behind the data.”

Since then, Elfenbein has created other questions for the poll and worked with Hanson to develop a course on creating polling questions. He is eager to widen the pool of students who use it to investigate ideas that animate them. “Political science and economics students see those connections,” he says. “My goal is to pull in more students from the humanities to think about how we can translate humanistic questions into questions that are appropriate for polls.”

students Julia Schafer and Farah Omer work with professor Caleb ElfenbeinGrinnell College students Julia Schafer ’18 and Farah Omer ’19 work with Caleb Elfenbein on a 2017 project mapping incidents of Islamophobia in the United States.

Faculty are finding ways to bring the poll’s data and details into their classrooms. Xavier Escandell, associate professor of anthropology and director of DASIL, says there are numerous ways that the poll can be integrated into Grinnell’s classes. “I regularly teach Introduction to Statistics,” he says. “The GCNP is an excellent tool for students to undertake serious statistical analyses and practice using data visualization tools. It’s great when students can use data that is so close to home.”

A Look Ahead

The past three years have offered students and faculty many ways to take part in aspects of the poll, but Hanson says they’re only beginning to tap into the possibilities. “We’ve experimented with different ways of involving both students and faculty, and we’ve learned a lot,” he says. “We also know we have a group of students excited about the poll and looking for opportunities to engage with it, so we want to generate as many of those opportunities as possible.”

Along with the many other opportunities that Grinnell offers to support student learning both in the classroom and beyond it — from internships and off-campus study to research and Mentored Advanced Projects — the poll is a distinctive “tool in the toolbox” for Grinnellians. “At Grinnell, we find that we often ask questions in a way that’s just a little different or has a slightly different emphasis than other polls,” Hanson says. “There’s a real richness there.”

And as the years tick by, the general public’s familiarity with the poll will only grow. Already, the recognition is significant. After Grinnell’s August 2020 poll, for example, the College garnered some 180 major media mentions, from NPR to Bloomberg to USA Today, resulting in widespread national awareness for Grinnell and its programs.

For President Harris, the even bigger goal is to use the poll to put Grinnell’s values into action and enhance its role as a laboratory for global democracy. “People get to see what we do, from coming up with questions to doing analysis,” she says. “The GCNP puts the core habits of a democracy — research, deliberation, and collaboration — into practice. The general public sees Grinnell College at work in its mission,” she says.

Govind Brahmanyapura and Razmeet Samra analyze data from the poll.Govind Brahmanyapura ’21 and Razmeet Samra ’20 analyze data from the poll.


The Pivot

Ahon Gooptu ’21 remembers the exact moment he found out he'd been awarded and an internship at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, a position he’d been trying to earn for two years.

Ahon Gooptu in three poses

“I was in choir in Sebring-Lewis Hall in the Bucksbaum Center in late February 2020. It was around 4:35 or so, and the note I received just said ‘Ahon — Steppenwolf internship,’” he recalls. “I took a moment and stepped outside, and I screamed to myself in the corridor. I couldn’t believe I got it! It definitely took a couple days for it to settle in and feel real.”

The euphoria was short-lived, however. Soon after receiving the news, Gooptu found out that Grinnell College was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting to remote education and sending students home. And just one month later, he learned that Steppenwolf was going to award only four virtual internships, rather than the dozen or so it normally sponsors.

“Participating in this [virtual] internship has really shaped my career path and how I approach networking. From now on I know there will be greater emphasis on communicating on a digital platform. The work has really improved my tech savviness, and I feel lucky to have had this opportunity.”

— Trinisa Fung ’23

“They said, ‘We don’t know what we are doing. We will let you know as soon as we can,’” he recalls. “It was my dream internship. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. And then getting the news that it might not happen? It was devastating.”

With encouragement from his CLS adviser, Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, who serves as director of the Arts, Media, and Communications Career Community, Gooptu reached out to Steppenwolf and expressed interest in one of the limited slots for the virtual internship. He was chosen as one of four interns and spent the summer of 2020 doing education and outreach for the company and helping it expand its national audience.

Gooptu helped high school students engage with working artists virtually and with teachers who would teach George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In addition, he completed a study guide for students to use while producing a radio version of the play.

“We did a lot of planning for the fall season,” he says. “Usually education, the area I was working in, is in charge of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, another wing geared to high school students in the Chicagoland area. But we expanded the program to students outside of Chicago for the first time, ultimately reaching more than 20,000 students in all 50 states and around the world.” (Watch Gooptu and other Grinnellians talk about how CLS is giving students a competitive edge in their future pursuits.)

More personal than in person

Other Grinnell students joined Gooptu in making the leap into the virtual world. And, in 2021, the College jumped into the fray, transforming traditionally in-person opportunities for externships, short-term job-shadowing and mentoring experiences, to virtual ones.

Coordinated by the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), the externship program at Grinnell had in previous years allowed students to meet with alumni who volunteered to spend three to five days mentoring them, bringing them to work, arranging informational interviews with colleagues, and giving them short-term projects. Many alumni even hosted students in their own homes, adding an even more personal connection to the experience.

“It is always a really good experience that the students benefit from immensely,” says Donna Miller, assistant dean and director of advising and exploration in the CLS. “Last year all these externships had to be canceled at the last minute. We didn’t want to just lose the program for another year, so we decided to see if virtual externships would work.”

Earlier this year, 22 alumni volunteered to host students virtually for an externship over spring break — a new twist on the program that could have a lasting impact.

“I had one prior externship experience three years ago in which I had a student come and live with me for a week and go with me to work in person,” says Dawn Benard Fritzell ’89, senior manager of strategic initiatives for the global procurement center of excellence at Kimberly-Clark. “Last year I signed up again and had been paired up with a student who was set to come last March. After it fell apart, we stayed in touch, and I was happy to make it work this year with her.”

That student, Jivyaa Vaidya ’23, had planned to travel to Appleton, Wisconsin, to stay with Fritzell at her home over the 2020 spring break and go to her workplace in person for her externship.

“I thought an internship would be most productive or fruitful when I was in the office meeting with people,” Vaidya says. “But this worked out for the best. Dawn is on a global team, so I met a lot of people virtually anyway.”

Vaidya sat in on virtual team meetings, during which Fritzell always shared her computer screen and her notes as she made them so Vaidya could see how she ran and organized the meeting. She observed one-on-one work and also met individually in virtual meetings with Fritzell’s colleagues in several areas of the business and in several countries.

“I tried to include her in conversations where there were participants from all over the world, and she got to see them rather than just hear them. Had it been in person, it would have just been a conference call rather than a video conference. So, it was actually more personal, even though it was not in person.”

Jivyaa Vaidya, Rachel Edwards Harvith, Dawn Benard Fritzell, Rochelle Gandour-Rood

(clockwise from top left) Jivyaa Vaidya ’23 Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02, Dawn Benard Fritzell ’89

Involved, Engaged, and 2,000 Miles Away

Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02 has hosted students at her home for externships three times since 2012 and had planned to do another in 2020. Kaitlin Michaels ’23, a student from the Chicago area studying the medical humanities, was set to come to Gandour-Rood’s home in the Tacoma, Washington, area for an externship at Tacoma Water, where Gandour- Rood works in community engagement and conservation.

“We had met twice, and she had sent me her list of interests. And I was already setting up informational meetings with my colleagues,” says Gandour-Rood. “She had done all the legwork; and right before she was set to come here, it began falling apart.”

In 2021, Gandour-Rood volunteered to host a student virtually and was again matched with Michaels for an externship that looked quite different.

“One of the things I value with the home stay is the less-structured evening time when I can talk with the students about their day and learn about who they are,” says Gandour- Rood. “So, we didn’t get that time together, or the time to do casual debriefings after a meeting. There was a conscious effort to put time on her calendar every day to talk.”

In the weeklong virtual externship, Michaels conducted several informational interviews with people about their roles in the company, attended various events, viewed presentations from staff members, worked on a small project researching ideas for public engagement, and presented the ideas to Gandour-Rood at the end of the week.

“In-person externships are valuable,” Michaels says. “But digital externships are important as well. I think continuing them would allow more students and hosts to participate, and it would mean even more opportunities for Grinnell students.”

Virtual Possibilities

While virtual internship programs are relatively new, they are not unheard of. The federal government has had such a program in place for several years, and many Grinnell students have already participated with great success.

Since 2009, the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) has offered eight-month virtual internships with various branches of the U.S. government in areas such as counterterrorism, human rights monitoring, and developing virtual programs.

Destiny Magnett ’22 participated in the VSFS program as an intern for the Religious and Ethnic Minorities Unit in the Middle East Bureau at the U.S. Agency for Development (USAID).

“I think continuing [virtual externships] would allow more students and hosts to participate, and it would mean even more opportunities for Grinnell students.”

— Kaitlin Michaels ’23

Among her many projects, Magnett worked with the team carrying out the June 2020 Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, created communications about the “Rebuilding Our Homes” initiative in Morocco, and worked to identify faith-based organizations for future USAID partnerships.

“The internship allows me the flexibility to work on projects on my own time around my class schedules, but also includes a few synchronous meetings each week that allow me to forge mentorships with my supervisors as well as meet the other interns on the team who are from colleges and universities around the country,” she said.

Trinisa Fung ’23 is virtually working a VSFS internship with the U.S. State Department consulate in Prague.

Trinisa Fung, Destiny Magnett ’22, Claire Pollard ’22

(l to r) Trinisa Fung ’23 Destiny Magnett ’22 Claire Pollard ’22

Fung fact-checks and creates presentations that her mentor shares with other researchers. One of her projects analyzed how foreign governments use social media and news outlets to present an image of themselves to the international community.

“Participating in this internship has really shaped my career path and how I approach networking,” she says. “From now on I know there will be greater emphasis on communicating on a digital platform. The work has really improved my tech savviness, and I feel lucky to have had this opportunity.”

Through the VSFS, Claire Pollard ’22 is interning virtually from her home in Champaign, Illinois, with Ron Packowitz, a diplomat with the U.S. State Department.

In addition to the VSFS internship, Pollard worked last summer in a remote internship with the Champaign legal department and Champaign United Way. When her current internship wraps up, she will begin an internship with

Ethan Cohen ’86 in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Chicago district office. This internship will be virtual at first and shift to in-person later.

Pollard says working virtually made it “easier to set up events in multiple states in the same day and connect with multiple people at one time. The lawyers I worked with last summer worked extra hard to make me feel included because they knew there was that extra barrier in place. People are more conscious of their interaction with interns, and I really appreciated that.

Changing Days, Changing Ways

Before she was hosting student externs at her home, Gandour-Rood was a Grinnell student who went through the extern program herself. While that in-person experience helped shape her career and who she is today, she believes that the virtual opportunities now available can just as effectively — and maybe more easily — have the same impact on today’s students.

“I was an extern in January 2000, over winter break,” she recalls. “I spent a week shadowing John Elmore ’90 in his middle school science classroom at the all-girls Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I stayed with a friend on Long Island; I took the

[Long Island Rail Road] and the No. 6 train to the school every blustery morning and home again in the cold, dark evenings. I learned not just about teaching, but about commuting, about school community, about social class, and about continuous professional learning.

“Being an extern is a chance to see what work life and adult life will be like when a student graduates. So, if going virtual is the truest way for students to learn what work is like now … then we should have the virtual option for the careers that can accommodate it.”

— Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02

“I believe in the externship program because it worked for me as a student, and it still works for me as an alum. Now, it gives me a connection to campus — to hear what’s going on and what students are doing these days — and is my favorite way to give back to the College that did so much for me as a young adult.”

But as jobs and the workforce have changed over the years, Gandour-Rood says the programs that are meant to introduce students to the working world should adapt as well.

“More than anything, being an extern is a chance to see what work life and adult life will be like when a student graduates,” she says. “So, if going virtual is the truest way for students to learn what work is like now — or if it makes the externship more accessible to more students, and easier and more environmentally friendly without all the travel then we should have the virtual option for the careers that can accommodate it.”

With the first round of these virtual externships now complete, CLS is reviewing the program.

“We’re really hoping to expand our alumni participation, and doing so virtually would be less onerous for them,” Miller says. “We are still assessing how the virtual component worked this year, but we’re moving ahead and plan to do it again next year.”

Gooptu’s reflections on his Steppenwolf internship also capture where Grinnell is today and where the College, career mentoring, and society are headed.

“Everything changed,” he says. “But I felt at every step along the way that this was not just a temporary measure. I felt that we were laying the groundwork for how things would be in the future.”

One of the Most Influential Grinnellians

Grinnell College may well have been a different place without the long, dedicated service of Waldo “Wally” Walker.

The bulk of his career was spent in the administration, and he thoroughly enjoyed the work. He had several different titles over the years and at least once was in the running for the top job — president. He served several presidents, from Howard Bowen to Pamela Ferguson, loyally and thoughtfully.

Some of the work Walker did was thankless — like telling faculty and staff that their positions were eliminated due to budget cuts. Through it all, he supported the continuous improvement of Grinnell’s academic quality, because he valued the College as an institution and its role in Iowa and the country.

An Iowa boy who appreciated differences

Walker, who died in Grinnell on Aug. 28, 2020, at the age of 89, grew up in Fayette, a small farming town in northeast Iowa. He was close friends with Vera Stepp, a Black girl whose family ran a well-known produce farm. For a young white man from rural Iowa in the 1940s, that was surely unusual.

It was in the Army, however, where Walker had extended, significant interactions with people of color, especially Black people.

Black students studying in a house

Walker was a longtime supporter of Grinnell’s Black students.

He enlisted in 1953 after completing his bachelor’s degree at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. It was near the end of the Korean War, and his decision to enlist, rather than waiting to be drafted and possibly sent to Korea, paid off. He spent his two years at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he helped soldiers move to their next assignments.

Walker’s time in the Army was crucial to the development of his racial awareness and understanding of racial inequities, which became important to his work at Grinnell.

“Wally learned a lot about equality” by serving with Black soldiers, says Frank Thomas ’71, who was good friends with Walker. Walker talked with him about his time in the Army. “Wally had a great deal of respect for a master sergeant, who was Black,” Thomas says.

In his work with the master sergeant, Walker observed how Black soldiers, who were following all the rules and obeying orders, were nevertheless denied access in ways that were injurious to them. That awareness stayed with Walker throughout his life and work.

In November 1971, a few dozen members of Concerned Black Students occupied Burling Library and issued a manifesto demanding several changes to improve campus life for Black students and faculty. Walker was the lead negotiator on the College’s behalf.

Wally Walker in library with group of black students

A photo of him during negotiations shows what appears to be a casual pose, but Walker was actually trying to hide his nerves. Years later he told Thomas, “I was so nervous, confronting the students at that time, that I was visibly shaking.”

Walker became friends with a number of the students who occupied the library, including Barry Huff ’73 (deceased, see Family Creates Internship Fund in Memory of Trustee G. Barry Huff ’73), whom Walker frequently referred to as his “son.”

Trustee Shelley Floyd ’72, who was president of the Student Government Association that year and worked closely with Walker, says he was tough and wouldn’t abide law-breaking but he empathized with the Black students. He listened to their concerns.

From faculty member to dean, finding his best fit

In 1955, after his tour with the Army, Walker headed to grad school at the University of Iowa on the GI bill. He started teaching biology at Grinnell in 1958. His empathy for and understanding of students were qualities that stood out.

James Stauss, dean of the College, was on the lookout for faculty who understood students’ perspectives during the turbulent 1960s — an era of protests over civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War. He tapped Walker to become an associate dean, a new position.

Participants in caps and gownsAnother reason for the new position was that President Bowen had won a grant from the Hill Family Foundation to support a “junior liberal arts experience.”

Running that new program “was dumped in my lap,” Walker said.

Commencement 1977: (left to right) Louis “Studs” Terkel; R. Hal Dean ’38; President A. Richard Turner; Carolyn Swartz Bucksbaum ’51; Dean Waldo Walker; Garretson “Garry” Trudeau; Patricia A. McIlrath ’37.

He invited three other faculty members to join him in developing a reading list and exam. They met all summer, up to three hours per day, and “selected great books that we would assign to the students,” he said — books like Moby Dick, On the Origin of Species, and Madame Bovary. “That’s my major liberal arts training right there. I learned so much about the world then.”

The program lasted only three years, but “it was one of the most interesting educational experiments I was involved with,” Walker said.

The experience also may have given him a sense of how he could positively influence Grinnell on a broader scale.

“Wally could see the College’s potential, and he bought into it,” says George Drake ’56, president emeritus, whom Walker served as executive vice president. “He was loyal to Grinnell College and its ideal.”

In service to all, for the greater good of Grinnell

Student listening to tapes

The early 1970s brought tremendous changes to Grinnell’s academic experience. The faculty voted to abolish general education requirements and adopt the “no requirements” curriculum in the fall of 1970. One of those requirements had been a one-year humanities course that included significant writing instruction from expert faculty.

Walker worked tirelessly to enhance students resources, including a language lab pictured circa 1986

In its place, a new, one-semester course was created — the course now known as the First-Year Tutorial. It was taught by faculty across all disciplines, including professors who didn’t feel well prepared to teach writing.

Walker could clearly see the difficulties arising for professors and students. “[T]he reality is that many of the tutorial instructors have neither the expertise to teach composition skills, nor have they had the pedagogical experience in teaching these skills to aid students in correcting their writing problems,” he wrote in a 1973 memo.

He talked with Peter Connelly and Don Irving, professors of English, and developed a two-part proposal: 1) Faculty members would offer a selection of writing-intensive introductory courses requiring at least five papers, so that “students will be writing about something of substance in which they have more interest than they would in composition drills”; and 2) faculty who taught these courses or tutorials would be offered a one-week summer seminar on how to teach writing.

Despite the tight budgets of the time, Walker also offered to pay faculty for their time taking the seminar. He wanted to encourage them to participate in it, not mandate it.

Walker was a proactive dean, says Drake. He didn’t wait around for ideas.

About the same time, Walker was also quietly creating support for students and their writing. In the early days of the tutorial, “students were wandering around in despair,” about their writing said Mathilda Liberman, lecturer emerita in English.

Walker asked Liberman to meet with a few of the students one by one to discuss their writing problems, and soon the Writing Lab was born. Initially, Liberman was director with the assistance of a couple of resident advisers, but the work was crucial and the need was ongoing. Since Walker had a good command of the budget, he figured out a way to pay for it.

“Trying to squeeze in two or three extra positions at the College just to help students with writing was a big step,” Drake says.

Walker believed deeply in the Writing Lab, the Math Lab, and other support services for students. “Those things developed at a critical time,” Drake says.

Lasting impact

Grinnell’s academic rigor and reputation experienced major leaps during the Wally Walker years. Don Smith, professor emeritus of history, believes Walker is second only to Joe Rosenfield ’25 in terms of his importance to the College during the last 50 years. Walker’s longevity and institutional knowledge made him invaluable. His warm humor, ready smile, and ability to tell a good story made him well-liked.

During his 43-year career at Grinnell, his influence was expressed and felt in myriad ways — in his care for students, in his care for faculty and staff, and in his devotion to the College overall.

Share your stories about Wally Walker.

Walker with students in a biology lab with one student using the electron microscope

Walker with students George Herman ’69 and Susan Sleeper ’69 using an electron microscope

The Best Advice

Let Go

I still have a couple of letters from James Kissane ’52, English professor emeritus, from 2002, four years after I graduated. His replies to my messages about deciding to go to graduate school, in his distinctive bucolic and self-deprecating style, encouraged the pursuit of intellectual curiosity without guaranteed outcomes.

At that time, he was working on several writing projects; and though he did not know whether they would be published (Google tells me they were!), he described how satisfying and fulfilling the work was.

His words have new relevance for me. I’m working on a couple of writing projects. Though I have publication goals, I have no idea whether I’ll publish these or even finish them. In letting go of the goals, I can be fulfilled by the pursuit.

Almost twenty years later, his advice is still wise, still applicable. What moves me most is that this favorite venerable professor took time to write me after I left Grinnell.
 Amy Goldmacher ‘96

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Say It with Confidence

Elizabeth Dobbs in our Chaucer seminar, when we were learning to pronounce Middle English and we’d gotten the basics but were still struggling to apply them, suggested this: “If you’re not sure, just say it with confidence, and everyone else will think they had it wrong.”

As someone terrified to make a mistake in public, especially around words, around pronunciation, that resonated with me and has become a core part of how I approach situations in which I am uncertain.

Janice Lee Johnson ’95

Have Faith

In a Russian class taught by John Mohan, he told us that his favorite Russian word was something like “sredadehnraviolirvaht,” basically a verb meaning “To eat ravioli on Wednesdays.” I dutifully tried to figure out how to spell it as I wrote it in my notes. I remember that John paused, watched us all scribbling, then said something like, “Friends, I was just joking. But seriously just because someone is a professor or seems more educated than you are, don’t just take them at their word. Have faith that you are all smart folks.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot in my life.

Nieka Apell ’93

Find Solutions

I was in office hours with Professor Arnold Adelberg, showing him where I got stuck on page 7 of a proof in Linear Algebra.

Adelberg said, “Look, this is a 200-level class. There are no seven-page proofs in a 200-level class.”

I apply that observation all the time. Am I writing 150 lines of code to implement a session timer? Come on. Did it really take an hour to explain Occam’s razor? No. This is a normal dinner at home, why is it taking three hours to make? And so on.

If the effort of a solution seems really disproportionate to the problem, you probably picked the wrong solution.

Mark Schumann ’88

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Show What You Know

My first-semester political science class was the first time I had a huge exam that would count for like a third or half my grade (my high school didn’t do that), and I was totally freaking out about it.

Professor Keith Fitzgerald told me something that has framed so much of my communication in my adult life. He asked, “You’ve been reading all semester, right? And you understand the material, right? It seems so, since you participate in class. I’m going to ask you some questions. Your goal is to tell me what you’ve learned. Ideally, you’ll make your information sound like it’s answering my question, but mostly you need to show me you’re learning.”

This framed how I approached all the rest of my exams at Grinnell and then law school. And perhaps even more importantly, it’s how I frame all media interactions (and when I train people in media or public speaking). It’s always about telling what you know and making people think you’re answering their questions.

Jessica Roff ’93

Go For Size

I was at McNally’s, in the wine aisle with a friend, debating which to select. From behind, in an unmistakable voice, we hear, “Just buy the biggest one!”

It was Sheila Wilder from Cowles dining hall.

Ed Chung ’92

Drive the Profits

During finals week of my senior year, a member of the Board of Trustees, Nord Brue ’67, held a lunch and invited a few economics majors to join him. Nord talked about his career working for big corporations and being an entrepreneur. To paraphrase his advice: If you are part of driving the profits of an enterprise, you will always have a job; if you’re part of overhead, you will be susceptible to being laid off when things inevitably get bad. Having grown up in a household where layoffs happened frequently, this hit home.

Sean Bell ’97

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Look Into It

My dad was at his favorite lunch counter in Chicago, and the conversation turned to football. He mentioned to the man next to him that his son was planning to go to a small college — Ripon, in part, so he could play football. The man replied that Ripon was a fine school, but Grinnell, where he had gone, was a great school, and recommended that I look into it.

Advice from a stranger, to whom I’m forever grateful — as are my wife, Arlene (Stoller) ’53, and son, John ’76.

Alan Goldfarb ’52

Skip the Class

Professor Michael Cavanagh: “Learn German!”

The context was that I wanted to read Rainer Maria Rilke in German and didn’t have room in my schedule for the classes. He had to repeat himself before I realized he was telling me I didn’t NEED a frickin’ class to learn anything I wanted to learn. Formal education is not meant to funnel or constrain our curiosity.

Confession: I haven’t learned much German, and I haven’t read Rilke in it. Yet. But I wing free of formal structures with jubilation. And I remember it’s up to me to apply myself.

Dani Long ’00

Be Curious

Ilse Leitinger, sociology professor at Grinnell College in the early ’80s, was a lively lecturer.

I attended more than one class with her. One of her focuses in sociology was other cultures. To this day, I continue to be interested in different cultures, particularly in world music. During the summer of 1982, I was a guest in her house, met her daughter, Christine, and ex-husband.

Ilse shared some of her story: as a young woman, she survived World War II while living in Berlin, which was very heavily bombed.

Ilse taught me to ask questions, be curious. I got encouragement from her to be a lifelong student. She focused on women’s writing and thoughts. Thanks to Ilse, I am still interested in what women have to say. Actually, as I age, I am even more interested in what women are thinking. Thanks, Professor Leitinger!

Carol Baker ’83

Make It Up

First semester, first year, Kelly Herold had us practice our numbers in Russian by asking us to recite our phone numbers. When people were struggling, she laughed and said, “Just pretend I’m a guy at a party who you don’t actually want to give your real number to. Just make up a number!”

I totally made up numbers when I was hit on after college.

Aimee Hutton ’02

Ask Professor Brown

“Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Advice from Victoria Brown used daily (and not just when writing) and passed along to many others.

Elizabeth Smith-Tyko ’94

“You are your own best advocate.” From Victoria Brown after I’d waited a bit
too long outside her office.

Dave Bede ’94

Enjoy Every Phase

Camarin Bailey Madigan ’00 told me to “enjoy every phase” when I got engaged. It was fun to be dating, it was fun to be engaged, it is fun to be married — but enjoy each one for what it is. It’s still solid advice that I share with other newly engaged folks and remember as my life and family enter into new stages.

Linnea Ostling Rich ’99

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Dating Advice

In 1971, Linnet C. Harlan ’72 told me that I should go out with Mark Nissen ’72. Here we are, almost 50 years later, and Mark and I are still together.

Mary Jo McKlveen Nissen ’72

Hey, Coach!

“Keep your knees bent,” Coach John Pfitsch told me.

John McDonald ’65

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Teaching Transformation

“We’re in new territory now, and we’ll make the best of it.”

This was the first conversation Matthew Kluber, professor of studio art, had with his students at the beginning of the Fall 1 term.

He was, of course, correct. In March 2020, Grinnell College took the unprecedented step of sending students home from campus and reorganizing all classes to online or remote learning formats as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.

When the College made this move, its primary considerations were the safety of students, faculty, and staff, and limiting community spread of the virus. But even as students were packing their bags and leaving campus, the College also prioritized their ability to continue a Grinnell education — to have learning opportunities that encourage exploration and connect students with one another, with faculty, and with the world.

“In the first conversation I had with my class, we discussed and acknowledged that all of this was a new situation for me as well as them, and that we would get through it together,” Kluber says. “That was crucial, and the students were really on board and understanding. That made a big difference.”

Taking the leap

For many students who grew up with a computer within arm's reach, the concept of online learning was not unusual. But for many professors, whose focus on hands-on learning is part and parcel of what makes a Grinnell education unique, this was foreign territory.

“I had no prior experience teaching online other than using Blackboard (a web-based course-management system) for assignments,” says Joshua Sandquist, associate professor of biology. “I never even took a class online as a student. One of the things that makes the biology department unique is that we leverage the ‘doing’ of science early on. My first thought when the shift to online learning happened was, ‘Oh no, there goes our whole philosophy of teaching. Our program is built on learning by doing.’ But when the time came, I thought, ‘All right, this is the reality of the situation. What can I focus on to help them learn?’ And I realized you can design experiments without being in a lab, and you can analyze data even if you didn’t create it.”

The general consensus among faculty was that the situation was not ideal and posed many challenges, but it was necessary and would not prevent them from providing the best possible opportunities for students.

“I was filled with a lot of anxiety, just like our students,” says John Garrison, professor of English and program chair of peace and conflict studies. “I was worried about learning to teach online effectively and worried that what I did in the classroom could not be transferred to an online environment.

“Like a lot of faculty, I spent most of the summer trying out different tech platforms and interactive tools, thinking about how they might or might not translate to the classroom. I kind of came back to the basics of what worked really well in my in-person classes — getting students talking to each other and reading text aloud. I realized that could continue to happen without me learning a bunch of new tools.”

Making it work

Jennifer SnookEven professors who had experience teaching online found it challenging to provide the typical hands-on Grinnell experience.

Jennifer Snook, senior lecturer in sociology, spent the decade before she arrived at Grinnell in 2015 teaching both in-person and online courses through the University of Mississippi.

For Fall 1, Snook was planning to teach a tutorial, The Art of Craft: How Crafting Informs the Social World. Her idea was to incorporate Black voices and experiences in the class, explore how people perceive art versus craft, and interrogate how those ideas are influenced by class and gender. The plan was to order yarn from a Black yarn dyer and then invite her to speak to the class in person. Students would then sit together to crochet and ultimately “yarn bomb” campus in a community-building exercise. Then word came that her class would not meet on campus.

“Well, crap,” Snook thought. “There goes my entire schtick.”

The irony of a professor with years of experience teaching online having her plans for in-person interaction thwarted by returning to her area of expertise was not lost on Snook. But the challenges were not insurmountable.

Snook ordered the yarn as planned, then divided it into individual balls for each student. She filled small glass vials with dust from central campus, put one in the middle of each yarn ball, and mailed them to students along with a crochet hook.

“I wanted to give them a piece of the earth from this place to hold onto, to help them maintain that connection to this physical place,” she says. “When they finally do get to come to campus, they will have the tools to complete the yarn bomb as planned. It was important to me that this physical aspect remain a part of the class. There’s something about engaging in the world with your body that the digital screen just can’t replace.”

Studio art at home

Other professors have used the digital world to inspire and create real-world experiences and engagement over the past year.

Matthew Kluber’s Art 111: Introduction to Studio course has always taught students the tools of the trade through hands-on studio work. Shifting this to an online format required what he described as a “radical rethinking of the class.”

His students in Fall 1 were provided a “studio packet” containing many of the materials they would normally use — pencils, sketchbooks, assorted papers for different projects, rulers, drawing instruments, glue, and wire. Although the equipment was then in hand, every student was working from a different environment and facing different challenges that had to be taken into consideration.

“It worked a lot better than I anticipated,” Kluber says. “I learned my anticipation and nervousness over teaching in this unfamiliar way was worse than the reality of it. Once we got started I realized that, while it’s not the ideal scenario, it works pretty well. It just comes back to being able to talk about what you’re passionate about, which is the same thing you do in the classroom.”

Hannah Taylor ’21 works in the printmaking studio on a project for her fall term 2 advanced studio art class.

Hannah Taylor ’21 works in the printmaking studio on a project for her fall term 2 advanced studio art class.

Analog experiences in a digital world

When his classes first shifted to an online format last spring, Joshua Marshack, assistant professor of anthropology, focused heavily on the digital aspect required of the class.

“When it became obvious that we would have to shift to remote learning, I was first worried about the state of the world, and then I was concerned about how we were going to provide the same Grinnell experience virtually,” says Marshack.

Reflecting upon his initial foray into online teaching, Marshack determined he would shift his focus in future classes to using the digital realm to create analog experiences for his students.

He discovered he could do this without relying on complicated or flashy technologies. For instance, Marshack engaged Nick Lehane, a Brooklyn-based puppet artist and theater maker, to speak to his animal studies class. Lehane told a story titled “Chimpanzee” about a chimpanzee born in the wild who is raised in captivity and ends up in a laboratory. Marshack then asked the students to contemplate the last animal they had touched, how the animal experienced the world, and how it reacted to them. They then used household objects to create a simple puppet of their animal, to help them imagine the best and worst that the animal felt. Then they incorporated those feelings into the way they worked the puppet.

“It was really in their head and reflective,” Marshack says. “It’s an exercise that helped them understand other life forms on the planet and have deep empathy for them.”

Marshack, who is in his second year of teaching at Grinnell, also discovered that virtual field trips and visits with experts allowed both him and his students to develop a relationship with and an understanding of their educational home.

“Yes, we have the world at our fingertips, but it’s important to make people realize that Grinnell is special, too,” says Marshack. “I reached out to colleagues in Portugal, California, and Indiana to visit with the class, and that’s nice; but it doesn’t connect you with campus, with home, with Grinnell and all the resources available in those places.”

Marshack incorporated virtual field trips to the Grinnell College Museum of Art, the Des Moines Art Center, the Natural History Museum at the University of Iowa, the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, and other locations into his coursework, using the vast virtual world to introduce students to opportunities in their own backyards.

“It has really helped me connect to a lot of local resources,” he says. “And it has helped students feel a connection to the place in which they live. When this is over, they might want to do research or an internship at one of these locations that they might not have known existed.”

Emoji as a teaching tool

Like many professors with years of classroom teaching to their credit, Garrison has become adept at “reading the room” when addressing his students. Their immediate reactions — or glassed-over eyes — help him recognize whether his students are truly engaged or drifting off to sleep.

This ability allows Garrison to adjust lectures on the fly to ensure he is reaching as many students as possible. When he’s teaching online, however, these cues are far less obvious, or even nonexistent. Learning to read students’ reactions in this environment can be especially challenging.

“That was really hard for me, and I told my students that I was concerned about that,” says Garrison. “I asked them to use the chat function to provide emotional reactions — smiley faces, emoji, affirmations for fellow students — to help me understand what was working for them. It really helped me keep them engaged to the material, to me, and to each other. I have also gotten better at reading facial expressions, as that’s been my primary cue. It has been an area of unexpected growth for me. And for students learning to present online, it has been very beneficial for them and will be important in the future workplace.”

Erick Leggans teaching organic chemistry to a few spread-out students wearing PPE

Advanced organic chemistry, taught in Noyce Science Center by Assistant Professor Erick Leggans ’05, was one of a small number of classes meeting in person on campus during fall term 2.

Going forward

Even as professors and students are finally becoming comfortable with the radical changes to teaching and learning mandated by the pandemic, their focus is shifting to their eventual return to campus. The digital leap that began as a necessity now serves as a glimpse into the future of education.

“Nothing will ever be as good as the in-person classroom,” says Garrison. “But learning to present online has been very beneficial and will be important.”

Among the lessons learned or confirmed to be true for faculty: It's not always necessary to be physically present in a lab to design experiments or analyze data. Simple content delivery is sometimes better served up as a recording that can be paused and re-watched as needed. Small group meetings to discuss readings or other content can be easier to facilitate online than in person and often inspire more meaningful participation. Virtual visits to museums, historic sites, galleries, and elsewhere provide learning opportunities that might not exist otherwise due to location or cost.

While Grinnell faculty plan to incorporate such online opportunities into their future classes, they say their in-person instruction will change, too.

“When we do get back in the lab, I wonder if there might be some benefit to making it more like a cooking show,” Sandquist says. “You put a cake in the oven and then, ‘Oh, look, here is one that’s already done.’ What learning did they miss by not waiting for 30 minutes for that thing to bake? Perhaps we could use that time recovered for other pedagogical benefit, such as discussing the theory of the lab technique.

“I realize that some of what I try to do in the lab can be repetitive or boring, as it is just waiting for something to happen. I want students to know that this is part of the process, but there has to be a sweet spot, and maybe that will force us to find where that sweet spot is.”

And getting to that “sweet spot” has always been the goal, whether learning takes place at home, in the lab, in the classroom, or in the field. “We are learning to not only adapt to the constraints we have been given, but to use them to our advantage,” Marshack says. “It’s been challenging, but absolutely worthwhile. It perfectly demonstrates Grinnell’s spirit of creativity and commitment to experiential learning and the liberal arts.”

A Student's Perspective

Mathhew Kluber's studioNoa Goldman ’22, a third-year French and English double major, is taking classes from her home in Chicago.

When she was sent home in the middle of the spring 2020 semester, her first concern was not how she would manage a shift to online classes, but how other aspects of her Grinnell experience would be affected.

“I think for me and a lot of students, we were thinking more about our friends and people graduating whom we wouldn’t see,” she says. “It was tough to adjust to the idea of leaving our friends.”

And while she hoped to be back on campus for the fall term, she was still at home, adjusting to the reality of remote learning and making the best of her situation.

“It’s been going really well,” she says. “I think students have been very flexible about the situation; and professors have, for the most part, been flexible as well. It’s hard not being around people day to day, but I’ve found it to be as good as it possibly can be.

“For the most part, the people I know and have talked to agree that the quality of their education hasn’t diminished in any crazy way,” she adds. “People are still busy and working very hard. The professors are really reaching out, and that’s something Grinnell has done well. I certainly learned as much last semester as I had in prior semesters.”

Note: Goldman is a reporter for The Scarlet & Black and has, along with others, written about the effect remote learning has had on classes. Read her excellent article on Matthew Kluber’s art class in the Fall 1 period.

“It kept getting more intense.”

It got dark quickly around noon on August 10 at the Elm Street house in Grinnell rented by brothers Jackson Breshears ’21 and Kort Breshears ’23 and their roommates.

“At first we thought the fast winds were super cool,” Jackson says. “But then it kept getting more intense. Out of nowhere we all got a little quiet. We had the same thought: Perhaps we should go to the center of our house in case there’s a tornado. We hadn’t heard of a derecho before.”

A few trees stsill stand amongst plintered and downed ones in the hammock groveA derecho (pronounced duh-RAY-cho) is a wide line of severe thunderstorms with high lateral winds, comparable to a hurricane but without the advance warning. One look outside in Grinnell and other parts of Iowa showed just how much destruction a derecho can leave behind. For Grinnell College alone, the storm caused an estimated $2 million in structural and tree damage. For the Breshears brothers and many others, it caused a week or longer without power.

While the storm took a physical toll on Grinnell, it also sparked an emotional outpouring of camaraderie. From campus to every corner of town, Grinnellians bonded together to assist one another in countless ways, says Sarah Smith, director of outreach programs and events.

Large, old tree ripped out at the roots blocks a sidewalk with safety cones mark the obstacle“It’s been really awesome to watch what I always knew was here in Grinnell — the great community spirit and caring for each other,” she says.

While compassion and volunteerism are important factors in storm recovery, it also takes coordination, preparedness, vision, and dedication. A dose of luck also helps.

“There were so many moving pieces to our storm recovery; it was absolutely crazy,” says Heather Cox, associate director of emergency management. “But somehow everyone fell into their niche and was able to make it all happen. I’m thankful that people came together and showed a lot of care for each other. It made me proud to be part of the Grinnell College team and to live in Grinnell.”

Trees and roofs take a beating

Storm damage to a roof missing open to the rafters and. crushed on one sideOf the 95 structures the College owns on campus and around town, about 80 had some type of roof damage. Most had minor damage with a few shingles missing. Neighboring trees hit a few structures, such as Chinese House, which had damage to its north roof gable. A tree branch punctured the roof of a guest house at 1002 Park Street. A fallen tree smashed railings at the golf course clubhouse. Two trees fell onto the Forum’s roof. On the north side of Herrick Chapel’s pitched roof, 75 percent of the shingles are gone.

With very few students living on campus, online courses, and little damage to residence halls and the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, the storm’s main impact was pushing the start of the term back one week.

“The damage shouldn’t have much impact on operations going forward,” says Rick Whitney, assistant vice president for facilities management. “Most of the buildings affected were auxiliary buildings.” Still, repairs may take months.

Staff gather large chunks of sawn limbs The College lost a large number of trees, which is particularly noticeable on central campus. Facilities management staff removed trees on the ground and on streets around campus first and then dealt with hanging trees. The last step is taking down old trees that have been destroyed, a process that could take six months or more. The College will submit separate insurance claims for the trees and structures. The damage estimate for each is about $1 million, Whitney says.

“My team [in facilities management] is really stepping up,” Whitney says. “As soon as they got off work, they had their own emergencies to deal with. It was double duty for a lot of folks.”

A natural disaster within a pandemic

Shortly after students departed campus in March to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, College leaders participated in a simulation to practice responding to a tornado in a pandemic. Cox says that made-up scenario involved limited damage and power outages, so it wasn’t a direct comparison to the derecho. But it was helpful.

“The scenario helped quite a bit in just thinking about what services we need to make available,” she says. “How would we make sure students would be fed if the power was out? How do we make sure people have access to an air-conditioned place? What we didn’t anticipate was the expansive internet outages across town and that a remote workforce would not have the ability to communicate because of cell and internet outages.”

After the storm hit, the first order of business was making sure students were safe. Without cell service, residence life coordinators went to residence halls to check in on them. Student Affairs staff began reaching out to off-campus students as well. Faculty and staff mobilized to check on each other. Dining Services staff members worked to determined how they would prepare meals.

“My team is really stepping up. As soon as they got off work, they had their own emergencies to deal with. It was double duty for a lot of folks.”

Cox says they put together an emergency operations center as best they could in a pandemic.

Masked student walks past piles of brush and limbs at 8th Ave near the Rosenfield Center“We found a space where people could be together and still be socially distant,” she says. “We had President Anne Harris, Dean Elaine Marzluff, and Chief of Staff Angela Voos together so they could quickly make decisions. People could pop in and ask a question and get the answer very quickly and then go out and disseminate the information.”

When it became evident that the power was going to be out for a significant amount of time, county officials reached out to Cox about opening a community shelter at the College.

“As an emergency operations team, we had already thought about what spaces made sense as a shelter,” Cox says. “That changed a little bit in a pandemic when we are trying to think about how to set up a shelter in a way that we can easily sequester it from the main campus and not have it right in the middle of where students and employees are coming and going.”

Putting the community in community shelter

The field house inside the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center opened as a community shelter two days after the derecho, becoming an example of community solidarity and preparation.

Eleven members of the Grinnell Fire Auxiliary — spouses of Grinnell firefighters — went through a Red Cross certification in January to become emergency shelter helpers.

“We didn’t realize that we would be setting up a shelter so soon, but it turned out to be perfect timing,” Aundi Smith, a shelter volunteer, says. “We were able to get people’s phones and laptops charged up and provide hot showers.”

Large machinery in use to gather and move brush piles Several College staff members in facilities management, athletics, and campus safety helped get the field house ready. Local companies donated food, water, and supplies. Volunteers staffed the shelter 24 hours a day. In the first week, the shelter served 345 people. While it was a difficult time, Smith said those coming to the shelter were in high spirits.

“They were happy to have this facility open,” Smith says. “We had a lot of people come in and ask to volunteer. One student who stayed the night in August volunteered the next day and threw two other volunteers our way as well.”

Organizing volunteers

The community spirit also was evident in Grinnell neighborhoods. Hailing from Tucson, the Breshears brothers — who play basketball and run track at the College — were quick to check on neighbors and clear branches. Sarah Smith noticed a Facebook group that had many posts asking for help with yard cleanup or chainsaws. She asked if she could help get volunteers organized.

“It was pretty much a question of asking who needs help and who can help,” Smith says. “We had over 230 volunteers. The response was incredible.”

Adds Aundi Smith, “It’s a spirit of ‘you help me, I help you, and we will get through this together.’ ”

Two volunteers use a saw to cut up a large mossy downed tree limb

The Pillars of Raynard Kington’s Presidency

At a Grinnell College presidential search committee meeting more than a decade ago, as the committee members debated whom to select as the institution’s next president, Paul Risser ’61 (who, sadly, passed away in 2014) stood in front of a whiteboard, uncapped a marker, and suggested an exercise to rank the top 10 candidates.

The group, including Risser’s presidential search committee co-chair, Clint Korver ’89, went down the list, scrutinizing candidates’ strengths. “One of them was ambition — ambition for Grinnell and what Grinnell could possibly be,” says Korver, recalling the group’s interest in an outsider who could push the organization. “That was the sea-change moment.”

Raynard S. Kington was not the conventional choice to lead a small liberal arts college. Rather than arriving from another higher education environment, he came to Grinnell with decades of experience managing studies, people, and budgets at federal agencies — the National Institutes of Health, and, earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He was methodical and data-driven. He observed things differently. He thought differently. And he pushed.

But if there were ways in which he seemed like an outlier, there were also ways that Kington could not have been a better fit. “My entire career to date has been a reflection of three core values,” Kington says. “The pursuit of academic excellence, the advancement of a diverse community, and the promotion of social responsibility. I thought Grinnell was undervalued in the community of higher education, and I thought there were opportunities to change that.”

Over the course of his 10 years with the College, those were the strengths that would help Kington make the difficult but essential decisions that would align the daily work of the institution with its most deeply held values.

Raynard S. Kington holds a copy of The Iowa Band during speech

“My entire career to date has been a reflection of three core values: the pursuit of academic excellence, the advancement of a diverse community, and the promotion of social responsibility.”

Meeting the financial need of students

Grinnell has long offered generous financial support to its students. Its twin policies of offering both needblind admission to domestic students, and meeting 100 percent of financial need for all students, are exceptionally rare in higher education.

Soon after arriving, Kington asked an essential but provocative question: Is the policy pair sustainable? Declining net tuition revenues and giving levels required Grinnell to rely heavily on a fluctuating endowment to meet operational costs. Could Grinnell continue to bring in such a significant share of students with financial need and afford to meet 100 percent of that need?

The question raised hackles. Abandoning the policies, said many students, faculty, and alumni, would mean abandoning part of the College’s identity. Failing to achieve a balanced funding model, countered Kington, would also mean abandoning the commitments.

Kington didn’t back away from the tension. He’s never been afraid to challenge the status quo, and he doesn’t think Grinnellians should, either. “I truly believe in the notion that colleges and universities should be marketplaces of ideas,” he says. “Especially ideas that people don’t like. They learn to deal with uncomfortable ideas, wrestle with those ideas, and have their assumptions tested.”

Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid, says when it became clear these policies were bedrock values, Kington offered a new way to think about achieving them. “Raynard took the position that what we’ll need to do is invest in our programs and increase demand among students and their families,” he says. “Charging a higher net price to those who can afford it will help us fund our commitments.” The plan included strengthening fundraising efforts and seeking greater market returns on endowment investments.

The ambitious effort, guided by a strategic planning process and 1,000 submitted suggestions, paid off. In 2012, Grinnell received about 2,900 applications for admission. For 2020, Grinnell received more than 8,100. Along the way, the academic profile of the student population improved — SAT scores rose almost 100 points — while the share of domestic students of color applying for admission and enrolling increased even more dramatically.

These days, with significant economic uncertainty and a challenging environment for college enrollment, such efforts have put Grinnell in an enviable position compared to its peers.

Building a cohesive global identity

When Kington arrived, the College already had a Center for International Studies and a Global Development Studies concentration. It also had regional studies, internationally focused courses, language programs, and international internships.

What it didn’t have was a way to harness all those strengths to create an institutional pillar, embedding “global” into Grinnell’s identity.

Todd Armstrong, faculty chair from 2018 to 2020 and professor of Russian, also served as the first director of the Center for International Studies from 2001 to 2008. He was appointed by Kington to co-chair a task force to address the College’s global identity.

“When I first came to the center, I was charged with creating an inventory of everything international,” he says. “And it became an impossible task, because it was almost everything.”

Raynard S. Kington at table in classroom

Kington helped guide a process that led to significantly more collaboration among the College’s divisions, academic units, off-campus study, and the Office of International Student Affairs. The result, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) launched in 2016. It created opportunities for faculty-led learning abroad, off-campus study, language exploration, visiting scholars, faculty collaboration, and strategic partnerships

“Raynard supported and helped facilitate a process that resulted in something new and visionary,” says Armstrong. “His leadership has helped us foreground the global as an essential and central part of what we do as an institution.”

Bringing together the humanities and social sciences

The success of IGE mirrored a similar effort to bring together the humanities and social sciences.

The divisions had a history of academic and physical separation, with departments and disciplines scattered across buildings and across campus, explains Mike Latham, former vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “We looked at the future of education and said, ‘The world’s moving in a much different direction. The big problems our students have to solve are inherently interdisciplinary in nature.’”

Faculty members asked what might happen if departments were intermixed, if professors collaborated in new ways, and if students and faculty pursued research in different ways.

The new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), which opened in January 2019, is the result of this philosophy of collaboration and connection. It preserves and renovates two historic campus buildings — Carnegie Hall and the Alumni Recitation Hall — and joins them with new construction to create new classrooms, inquiry labs, faculty offices, and research space for five interdisciplinary “neighborhoods.”

HSSC's four pavilions and central atrium foster synergies within through what Latham describes as “intellectual collisions.”

“Raynard saw this as an opportunity for Grinnell to do something pathbreaking, to allow our faculty to do something truly distinctive in higher education,” he says. “He framed those values in a way that was very powerful.”

Creating a more inclusive environment

In 2009, before Kington arrived, Grinnell conducted a campus climate survey, which revealed room for improvement to ensure that all members of the campus community were supported and engaged.

“The College was struggling to understand how various constituencies experienced being at Grinnell,” recalls Lakesia Johnson, assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer from 2015 to 2020.

“We were struggling to figure out the concrete steps that needed to be made in order to improve their experiences,” she says.

Kington established a committee to examine in depth how various members of the Grinnell community experience being at the College and how diverse identities — geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic — shape their experience.

Kington was open to immediate changes but also pushed the College to create a larger, more comprehensive plan.

“He wasn’t waiting for the perfect plan to make improvements,” says Johnson. “The combination of concrete action and planning made it possible for us to move quickly and establish momentum.”

Of the 70 recommendations presented in an early Diversity and Inclusion Plan, the College has completed or is implementing more than 60. Initiatives include training and workshops; salary and personnel reviews; and recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts.

“Raynard set the bar high, and it’s only going to get higher,” adds Johnson, who says Grinnell’s diversity and inclusion advances make it a national model in higher education.

Raising the profile for social responsibility

The Grinnell Prize medal and laurel wreath chainOne of the first ideas Kington put forth in his tenure was the idea of a Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The award would honor change-makers around the world who creatively confronted society’s toughest challenges, including poverty, violence, natural disasters, refugee displacement, disparities in healthcare, and mass incarceration.

It would be distinctive, without question. But would the investment pay off?

Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80 recalls being skeptical. Awarding $100,000 to two or three winners every year was an unexpected step from a president advancing a balanced funding model. She wondered if the initiative could really take hold.

Finkelman, who was on the board’s presidential search committee that brought Kington to campus (and served as Board of Trustees chair from 2015 to 2019), became a convert. “Part of raising Grinnell to the next level was raising Grinnell’s profile nationally and internationally,” she says. “The caliber of people who have won the prize, the process Grinnell goes through to make the award, and the way the College integrates prizewinners — they come to campus, students do internships with them — has transformed student experiences.”

Opeyemi Awe ’15 was one student who had such an experience because of the Grinnell Prize. While she had grown up mostly in Nebraska, she was keenly interested in West Africa. Her possibilities and purpose came into focus when Grinnell Prize winner James Kofi Annan came to campus.

Annan established Challenging Heights in 2003 to support Ghanaian children escaping slavery and child labor and to work with at-risk families. He came to Grinnell and taught a two-week course on African development.

It was exactly what Awe wanted from her Grinnell experience. “It connected my domestic, American education to the rest of the world, which is where I really wanted to be,” she says.

Awe applied for a summer internship with Challenging Heights and witnessed Annan’s holistic approach to helping children: exploring economic forces that lead parents to sell their children into slavery and offering community support to children who get out of slavery. When she returned to campus, she was able to reflect on what she’d learned.

“I found that high-touch engagement to be incredibly effective,” she says. Today, she is participating in the Schwarzman Scholar program that gives talented students the chance to develop leadership skills and build professional networks in China.

Raynard S. Kington bestowing the medal on the 2019 winner Shafiq R. Khan

Helping Grinnellians find a meaningful “what’s next”

Although Grinnell’s individually advised curriculum has long set it apart from other schools, its career services have not always risen to the same standard. The College had established itself as a top producer of graduates who go on to earn doctorates. It was not as successful at launching graduates straight into the job market.

CLS Leadership Donors

  • Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80 and Daniel Finkelman ’77
  • Pamela Crist Fuson ’68 and Harold “Hal” Fuson ’67
  • Michael Kahn ’74 and Virginia Munger Kahn ’76
  • Dr. J. Michael Powers ’67 and Linda Bird Powers ’67
  • Penny Bender Sebring ’64 and Charles Ashby Lewis

Kington saw that the moment had come to develop services that would help students thrive not just at Grinnell, but in all the things Grinnellians might do after graduation.

“Employment opportunities were being missed from both sides,” says Finkelman. “Students weren’t being exposed to job opportunities, and employers were not aware of Grinnell.”

That belief that Grinnell had a responsibility to support students in all their future endeavors led to the creation of Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), which could not have been launched without significant philanthropic investment from alumni and friends (see leadership donor recognition list above).

A combination of experiential learning and facilitated exploration is now part of every incoming student’s Grinnell experience as soon as they arrive on campus. The experiences and resources are designed to help students connect their personal, civic, and professional identities to purpose, pathway, and meaning.

It’s worked: According to a Gallup-Purdue report, most college students visit their career services office only once or twice prior to graduation, often waiting until their senior year. During the 2018–19 academic year, more than 84 percent of Grinnell’s student body connected with CLS an average of 5.6 times. Nearly 5,100 employers targeted more than 20,000 internship and full-time job opportunities to Grinnell students.

“Grinnell is now being viewed as a leader in this space because of innovative things CLS is doing,” Finkelman says.

Even at a time of extreme uncertainty for new graduates, the work students have put in with the support of the CLS gives them an advantage. “These are extraordinary times to be a student and to graduate from college,” says Kington, “but I think Grinnellians are up to the task.”

Leading in a crisis

If many of the big changes that Kington helped implement were the result of careful, long-term processes and decision-making, Kington’s final major acts as president were the swift, decisive moves he made in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

In the early months of 2020, COVID-19’s grip was just starting to take hold in the United States. Kington drew on his extensive scientific background, along with the data gathered by a small team of administrative leaders, to make the decision to close down campus and move to online learning. Grinnell was among the very first colleges to commit to this extraordinary step (see “They Moved Mountains,” Summer issue, page 20). In the coming weeks, nearly every college in the nation would follow suit.

As Kington departed Grinnell for a new chapter as head of school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he left Grinnell at a time that felt especially tenuous in the world. But the foundational work of his presidency leaves the College in a strong position.

When Risser uncapped his marker a decade ago to ask the presidential search committee members if they were ready for an ambitious president like Kington, they knew that they would be choosing someone who was unconventional.

But then again, so are Grinnellians. During his presidency, Kington pushed Grinnell to make the hard decisions and big commitments that brought the College greater recognition among its peers, better outcomes for its students, and closer alignment with its highest aspirations.

Kington wasn’t like the others. But his 10 years at the College have proven that he was exactly right for Grinnell.

Raynard Kington: A Presidential Timeline

Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees announces Raynard S. Kington, M.D., M.B.A., Ph.D., as Grinnell College’s 13th president on Aug. 1, 2010.
The College awards the first Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize.
The Board of Trustees votes to retain the policies of need-blind admission and meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for domestic students.
The Innovation Fund is established, providing grants of up to $500,000 to enrich campus life.
The Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) is launched.
The Institute for Global Engagement is established.
New First-Year Experience course focuses on helping new students develop skills that will contribute to their academic engagement and personal well-being.
The newly constructed portion of the Humanities and Social Studies Center opens.
The African American Museum of Iowa recognizes President Kington as a History Maker.
The Campaign for Grinnell College, an ambitious $175 million campaign and Grinnell’s first comprehensive campaign in nearly 20 years, is publicly launched.
On March 10, a day before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic, President Kington announces the decision to close campus and move to distance learning. Grinnell is the first Iowa college to do so.




President Anne Harris: Building a Sense of Belonging


Anne Harris joined the Grinnell community in 2019 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. She became interim president of Grinnell upon President Raynard Kington's departure and was named the 14th president of the College on July 14, 2020.

In her first few months in this position, Harris has demonstrated her collaborative approach to leadership as the College has been forced to navigate a global pandemic, face a long-overdue national reckoning with racial injustice, and recover from a derecho that caused much physical damage to campus.

In the pages that follow, Harris shares what guides her as a leader and an individual, and what the Grinnell community might expect from her in the coming years.

What drew you to higher education?

My parents put education above everything else. My father went to college through the GI Bill after serving in World War II and believed in the transformative power of education. My mentor,

Donna Sadler, art history professor emeritus at Agnes Scott College, showed me, through the example of her teaching and her life, the enduring connections between people and within communities that art and learning could make. Teaching, learning, and research — and how these three practices connect people and produce knowledge — are all connected to the drive of inquiry, which I think will always keep me going.

At some point, in graduate school at the University of Chicago, as we really became aware of how knowledge was produced, I came to see higher education as one of the fundamental institutions of democracy. The whole idea of critique, of deliberation and debate, of collaboration, and of arriving at shared understanding are the fundamental practices of a democracy — and I’m drawn to how our colleges and universities foster that practice.

What are the principles and values that guide you as a leader?

There are three primary ideas that drive me:

  • Collaboration, especially as it builds shared understanding, and enables engaging in worthwhile endeavors.
  • Curiosity, in what drives an individual and in what makes a community function (or not).
  • Stewardship, the knowledge that there are resources to tend to so as to foster the talents and ambitions of individuals, a community, and an institution.

All of those principles and values guide my actions and I would want to work to have them be important in how we all relate to each other as well. As Professor Kesho Scott so beautifully put it in an interview about her being a 2020 Women of Influence honoree, “Leadership is a relationship.” In all that we do at the College, I think of partnerships and projects and how to foster and support both.

“The shared endeavor of being Grinnell College within adverse circumstances has created many new partnerships between faculty and staff, students and faculty and staff, and alums and all.”

Who are some of the people you admire or who have influenced your life?

The people who have most influenced my life are students — for 17 years, those with whom I was in the classroom and, since joining administrative work, those for whom I advocate. Faculty and staff colleagues, for the same reasons, also continue to influence and shape my life.

In terms of individuals: certainly John Dewey, who wrote in 1916, “Democracy must be born again with each generation and education is its midwife.” And Dolores Huerta, who said in 2016, “Education is the new civil rights movement.” Both of those quotes are vibrant inspirations for me, and I return to them again and again. The author Iris Murdoch is a favorite of mine; I read her book The Sea, the Sea at a time of great sadness in my life, and her meticulous descriptions of everyday life in the midst of grief stayed with me as a treasured way of understanding how the mundane can actually sustain us through the monumental.

The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich is another. She wrote several works, but the phrase that stays with me is “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” It’s not just a repetition of wishful thinking; it’s an insistence upon a possible future, even in hard times, and that approach to life resonates powerfully with me.

I am also very influenced by Toni Morrison’s resistance to one monolithic language, which she delineates in her 1993 Nobel lecture: “Whose heaven [the protagonist of her story asks]? And what kind?” Toni Morrison’s call to “take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives period” as the dynamic of the Tower of Babel is a lasting inspiration.

Ann Harris in a group discussion“There are tremendous opportunities to learn from ourselves as a community. I learned early on … just how much students value being together on our campus, just how much faculty sustain the highest standards in connection through teaching and research, just how much staff foster belonging and empower problem-solving, and just how much alums want to be involved.”

What have you learned about Grinnell since coming here last year?

I knew, and learned more fully, that Grinnell was a welcoming community, filled with vibrant and brilliant people. What the pandemic and the derecho taught me is just how simultaneously vulnerable and undeterred we could all be — living out these disruptions in our full humanity and talking through the experiences everyone was enduring, and at the same time, designing and producing and implementing an educational experience that will connect students meaningfully to knowledge and to each other.

The standards of excellence that have been set by faculty and staff have sustained us as well as driven us — I learned a great deal about how the love and excellence of what we do have made it possible for us to do it in the most adverse circumstances.

I also learned that we are a community that is ready to engage in anti-racist work, with the full realization of the commitment and change that this crucial work will take.

How have you adapted to deal with the unprecedented circumstances we currently find ourselves in?

I now operate within a dynamic in which compassion and resolve are in much closer connection. Where, before our society was overtaken by a pandemic, resolve might have been reserved for some projects (initiatives, for example) and compassion for others (e.g., relationships and community), the two come together for the tremendous number of decisions and logistics in which we are consistently engaged.

Has it changed the way in which you lead?

I do think that what we’re enduring as a society, as a community, and as individuals has made me even more aware of everyone’s labor, of how present everyone at Grinnell (truly, everyone) is to the work at hand. When there are difficult decisions to be made or complex logistics to work out, I now approach them knowing that there is both fatigue and creativity in the room; and I do my best to hold space for the former and foster the latter.

Ann Harris at the podium at virtual commencement

“… we build the sense of belonging so that more students feel that powerful connection to the College all the way through to graduation, and so that all faculty and staff and alumni have it as well, both for the College and for each other.”

How might the challenges we are facing now also pose opportunities for growth and development?

The shared endeavor of being Grinnell College within adverse circumstances has created many new partnerships between faculty and staff, students and faculty and staff, and alums and all. I’ve heard variations of the statements “When we return, I don’t want to give up this new relationship” or “It turns out, there was another way of doing things” many times.

The growth and development of new relationships, new appreciations of each other’s expertise and talents, and finding out what matters to people outside your immediate work has been noted; and now we need to understand how we have been irrevocably changed by the past six months.

What new opportunities might arise for Grinnell from the current situation?

There are tremendous opportunities to learn from ourselves as a community. I learned early on — during those very first town halls in March — just how much students value being together on our campus, just how much faculty sustain the highest standards in connection through teaching and research, just how much staff foster belonging and empower problem-solving, and just how much alums want to be involved.

In all of those lessons, I see our learning and living community under a new light that reveals the interconnectedness of our experiences. It makes me think about our identities and the spaces in which they are nurtured and sustained.

What are your immediate goals for the College?

Rebuilding from the derecho and enduring the pandemic while championing and living our mission are the most immediate goals I have. Then: that we build the sense of belonging so that more students feel that powerful connection to the College all the way through to graduation, and so that all faculty and staff and alumni have it as well, both for the College and for each other.

Some of that work will entail how we think about how spaces and identities are connected to belonging. For that, how we are thinking and moving forward with student housing will be crucial, especially the projected renovations on campus and the downtown student residence hall.

In the next year or two, I also look forward to the glad return to in-person collaboration and travel that energize teaching and research after the major disruption of the pandemic. We’ll be thinking about community both locally and globally again. Locally, we have so many great connectors between the College and the community through our centers (Prairie Studies, Humanities, Wilson, Rosenfield), which is another area of expansion I’m eager to explore. Globally, the Institute for Global Engagement has positioned us for connections all over the world, and we will be ready to form relationships with institutions and partners globally.

What would you like to see happening at Grinnell 10 years from now?

I hope that our sense of how we come to be a community of inquiry would be visible and accessible to all, so as to create a sense of belonging that sustained all of the constituents of Grinnell College.

We would have blurred the boundary between the campus and the community, starting with the downtown residence hall and the multiple points of contact and shared action that our centers provide; our definition of civic trust — of what we hold in trust for each other as a community — would have grown; our teaching and research would continue to reach wide audiences; and our practice of sharing the knowledge that faculty, staff, and students have created would benefit communities.

Within this framework of public trust, in which we are conscious of how knowledge leads to action that improves people’s lives, voices and narratives and experiences would be amplified through the shared endeavors of community projects — the inscription of names in the Alumni Recitation Hall, the expansion of student media and digital storytelling, the gathering of national conferences at the College, and an engagement with the history of the town and College, in all their complexity.

“I also look forward to the glad return to in-person collaboration and travel that energize teaching and research after the major disruption of the pandemic. We’ll be thinking about community both locally and globally again.”

One of the issues that comes up repeatedly in community conversations as well as on campus is mental health; in the Grinnell of 10 years from now, I would want to see more resources and support for mental health and well-being.

Through all this, Grinnell’s leadership will have become even more palpable within academic disciplines and within communities that seek to engage racial justice, socioeconomic realities, the activism of art and music and theatre and dance, the empowerment of civic actions like voting and voter education, and much more.