Giving

New Biology Chair Created

Guillermo Mendoza served as a pre-med adviser to hundreds of future physicians during his distinguished 34-year teaching career at Grinnell College. 

A gift from his son, Dr. Carlos Mendoza ’72, celebrates Guillermo’s legacy as professor, adviser, and researcher. This planned gift of $4.25 million will create the Dr. Guillermo Mendoza Endowed Chair. The new position in the biology department will be awarded in the future to a faculty member with exceptional academic, scholarly, and teaching achievements. 

Carlos himself was a pre-med/biology major at Grinnell. He recalls vividly his father’s recommendation to take advantage of the wide curriculum choices offered at Grinnell and diversify his intellectual interests. He took that advice, minoring in art history and studying abroad in Florence and London, providing him with flexibility in all pursuits.

“I thought Dad nailed it when he said get the heck out of the science building and educate yourself in different areas so you are not intellectually too focused in your career,” Mendoza says. “He was absolutely right. I think that trend continues 50 years later as Grinnell continues to produce pre-med graduates that are diversified in their education and interests. That advice is as good now as it was back then.”

Born in Mexico City in 1909, Guillermo Mendoza moved with his family to California in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. He went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at Northwestern University while working part time for University of Chicago professor Samuel Stevens. It was during this time that he married Olivia Coronado.

Guillermo started teaching zoology at Northwestern in 1940, the same year Stevens became president of Grinnell College. Three years later, Stevens recruited Mendoza to join the faculty.

A zoologist specializing in the study of a variety of freshwater fish unique to central Mexico, Mendoza’s long academic career included research and teaching biology, comparative anatomy, embryology, genetics, histology, and electron microscopy. He published numerous research papers, held offices in professional societies, and served as chairman of the department of biology and the division of natural sciences at Grinnell College. He held the position of Stone Professor of Biology from 1961 until he retired in 1977. 

Carlos attended medical school at the University of California San Diego, which his older brother, Dr. Guillermo R. Mendoza ’68, had also attended. After completing his training, Carlos voluntarily enlisted and served in the Army for three years as a staff cardiologist. Then followed 30 years in private practice. In 2012, he retired from medicine to his 200-acre farm north of Denver, where he remained busy with successful hay and llama-breeding businesses. 

Mendoza made his gift to Grinnell by contributing his farm to a charitable remainder unitrust, which provides him immediate tax benefits as well as lifetime retirement income following the farm’s sale. The remaining value of the trust will eventually establish the Mendoza Endowed Chair.

As long as Carlos can remember, Grinnell College was an important part of his family’s life. 

“We lived on the edge of campus,” he says. “We talked about the College at the family dinner table and attended Grinnell functions. Because the College was a huge part of my life as a kid and a young adult, the decision to give to Grinnell is a logical way to pay back and acknowledge the pivotal role the College played in our lives as a family.” 

If you would like to learn more about supporting Grinnell College with a life income gift, please contact Buddy Boulton, director of planned giving, boultonb[at]grinnell[dot]edu, 641-269-3248.

Learning Outdoors

In many ways, outdoor learning at Grinnell College was already synonymous with celebrated biology professor Kenneth A. Christiansen

“Anything and everything was of interest to him, particularly his research outdoors,” says Anne Spence ’66, a former College Trustee and student of Christiansen’s. 

Anonymous donors to Grinnell College are honoring the memory of Christiansen with a gift of more than $750,000 for outdoor learning spaces adjacent to the new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). The learning areas are scheduled to be complete by June.

“The gift of outdoor learning spaces to memorialize Ken Christiansen is perfectly aligned with the teaching and learning focus of the HSSC and the environmental strategy of the College’s landscaping project,” says President Raynard S. Kington. “It is a fitting tribute to Ken’s distinguished teaching and research career at Grinnell, as well as his deeply valued relationships with students and colleagues.”  

In 1955, Christiansen began a storied career at Grinnell. His courses included general biology, zoology, evolution, ecology, sociobiology, invertebrate zoology, insect biology, parasitology, and marine biology. In 1962, he was named the Harry Waldo Norris Professor of Biology and in 1994 he became professor emeritus. Christiansen died in November 2017 at the age of 93.

“He was a biologist and a naturalist,” Spence says. “He could talk about birds, plants, insects, and animals. Along with Ben Graham [professor of biology, deceased], he helped find the spot for the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA). Having outdoor and teaching spaces combined is absolutely perfect for him.”

The outdoor learning spaces will be built next to the HSSC South Pavilion, south of the plaza that runs between the HSSC and Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center. Classes regularly meeting inside the HSSC and Noyce will have the option of quickly relocating to outdoor spaces. 

Four outdoor learning areas will accommodate up to four classes at once. The spaces are designed with sound configurations in mind so that audible disruptions will be kept to a minimum. The raised seating and lowered adjoining areas create a cove effect with a walkway running between the coves. The spaces will be accessible and have technological capabilities, thanks to the installation of electrical utilities. 

The outdoor learning area is part of an overall landscaping plan that encompasses the new Admission and Student Financial Services center, as well as areas along Park Street and Mac Field. 

“The outdoor learning spaces perfectly intertwine teaching with our efforts to develop landscaping that provides a strong sense of place and adds to the beauty of our campus,” says Jaci A. Thiede, vice president of development and alumni relations. “It also ties in so well with Professor Christiansen’s passions and interests. We are grateful to the alumni and friends who are honoring him with their philanthropy and in doing so, helping his spirit and love of Grinnell’s learning opportunities benefit generations of Grinnellians in the years ahead.”

Diane Christiansen ’81 expressed the family’s appreciation for the importance and appropriateness of the memorial gift. “It means so much for others to acknowledge my father in a way that illuminates his deep love of the natural world,” she says.

A Leg Up

Since 2010 Grinnell College has partnered with QuestBridge, a national nonprofit organization that connects high-achieving, low-income high school students with educational opportunities. 

“These students are otherwise hard to reach through more traditional recruiting methods like high school visits and college fairs,” says Sarah Fischer, director of admission. 

QuestBridge guides high school students through the whole college search process and helps them prepare a strong college application. Through QuestBridge, qualified high school students apply to and then rank the colleges they would like to attend. In turn, the Grinnell admission team examines which candidates they would like to select for admission. If there’s a match, the student is offered what amounts to binding early admission with a full scholarship. During the past three years, 46 students were matched to the College through QuestBridge. 

“We strive to enroll a class that represents a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and the partnership with QuestBridge has allowed us to attract a lot of outstanding students who come from lower-income backgrounds,” Fischer says.

The College covers 100 percent of the comprehensive fee for QuestBridge Scholars. This currently amounts to more than $260,000 over four years per student. While admission leaders enthusiastically embrace the benefits of QuestBridge, it does come with a financial cost. 

That’s where John Pilgrim ’65 and Anne Young Pilgrim ’65 have stepped up. The Durham, North Carolina, couple created the Pilgrim QuestBridge Scholarship Fund, pledging $65,000 over five years to offset a portion of the expenses.   

“Anne and I feel very committed to doing what we can to make the Grinnell student body today more economically diverse and to assure that all Grinnell students, regardless of their economic circumstances, can take full advantage of all the educational opportunities Grinnell offers,” John Pilgrim says.

By implementing this new type of scholarship fund, the Pilgrims hope to encourage other donors to consider making similar gifts. 

“The national policy is increasingly directed against low-income people and low-income students,” John Pilgrim notes. “This is intensified by the steady, significant rise in income inequality over the last 40 years. QuestBridge is one small step in the opposite direction. It fits our values, it fits Grinnell’s resources, and it’s our pleasure and privilege to make a small dent in the finances.” 

Questbridge participants

“The QuestBridge focus on the identification of talented low-income students from across the United States helps Grinnell realize its three fundamental commitments to academic excellence, diversity, and social responsibility,” says Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. “We are grateful to John and Anne for their support of these students and look forward to working with other alumni to serve more QuestBridge Scholars.” 

Linking the Community of Grinnell Alumni in London

Everyone has a memory from Grinnell College where they couldn’t stop laughing, says Daniel Malarkey ’08

Maybe the memory is from a time at a dining hall or staying up late after drinking way too much caffeine. It’s a feeling of simple joy.

“I want us to have that sense of joy from being in each other’s presence,” Malarkey says. “Grinnell alumni often have common goals due to our social activism. To reach those goals, there’s more power in having a connection within a community. I want us to come together as a team. We may not agree on everything, and that’s fine. But we all can work together.”

Creating connections in London

In October Malarkey hosted a reception at the Groucho Club in London’s West End with staff visiting from Grinnell’s Institute for Global Engagement and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Faculty, staff, and students in the Grinnell-in-London program attended, along with alumni from across the United Kingdom. Malarkey also hosted a Grinnellian community brunch in December at the David Gill Gallery, where he is the director. The gallery is well known for art and furniture by leading contemporary artists including the late Dame Zaha Hadid and American artist Michele Oka Doner.

Since London is one of most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Malarkey sees great potential in creating more opportunities for Grinnellians to gather via events and speaking engagements by tapping into the great intellectuals, writers, and thinkers in the city. Events also could continue to incorporate the students studying in the Grinnell-in-London program.

“Grinnell is not just a four-year experience,” he says. “It’s a community of people who share something. This community ranges from 18 to 100 years old. To give money is not just about giving back to Grinnell. It’s about creating connections where a global community is working together toward common goals.”

A truly global education

Malarkey knew right off the bat that Grinnell College was serious about global education when he was allowed to defer his admission for a year so he could travel to France. During that year, Malarkey became fluent, which set him up to create an “umbrella plan of study.” His degree was in French, but underneath it he learned about literature, theatre, art, and history.

“I meet individuals in the art world, whether it’s collectors, artists, curators, or museum directors, where things come up in conversation that relate to history, literature, and languages,” he says. “What Grinnell did is give me a platform with super intelligent professors to create a lot of knowledge and ideas, which I use every day.”

Malarkey says understanding French cultural references, cinematic history, and literature allows him to find commonalties with people in the art world with whom he interacts. That global experience has become invaluable and is one of the reasons he has decided to make a yearly gift to support Grinnell’s global initiatives. 

Grinnell students’ cultural proficiency will be deeply affected by their ability to understand the local people and customs, whether it’s in London or a small town in Lithuania, Malarkey says. The Institute can help students get a sense of how different cultures and people operate. 

Malarkey invites Grinnellians living in London to be a part of building a strong College community there. London residents who are interested in connecting with fellow Grinnell alums can email Anna Halpin-Healy ’13, assistant director of alumni relations for regional programs, at halpinhe2[at]grinnell[dot]edu

Hola! Bonjour! Guten Tag!

Emily Ricker ’18 knew she could “get away with speaking English” during her 2016 summer internship in Pohnpei, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia. But when she learned she could add a language component to her summer internship, Ricker said yes.

Although the anthropology and political science double-major doesn’t consider herself particularly good at learning languages, she has some background in them. She studied Latin in middle school and took four years of Spanish in high school and three semesters of Arabic at Grinnell.

To learn Pohnpeian, Ricker met with her tutor, Koadendel, a few times a week. 

“I’d show up and sit on the porch for a couple of hours and chat,” Ricker says. Her tutor’s husband and children were often present and occasionally joined the conversation. “I can’t overemphasize the amount of social bonding and cultural learning.

“I learned a lot of basics, basic verbs, walking, hanging out, going to work, nouns for church. I also went to church services completely in Pohnpeian and got to the point where I could understand some of what was being said by others and could participate in greetings. 

“Without the language tutoring, the internship and experience as a whole would not have been nearly as rich, and I am beyond grateful for the wonderful opportunity,” Ricker says.

She put her basic Pohnpeian to use the next summer when she did a Mentored Advanced Project on the experiences of Pohnpeian migrants to the Midwest. Being able to say “hello” in their language “was sort of an in,” Ricker says. 

That’s the kind of cultural connection that Joel ’65 and Nancy Shinder hope to foster with their newly named Shinder Family Fund for Advanced Language Development. They originally endowed the fund anonymously in 2003 and recently decided to name it. “I began to think that if you put your name on it, that you tell the world that you care about it,” Joel Shinder says. 

“Language is so important,” he says. “I feel it’s even more of an imperative today.” 

He credits his interest in languages to his maternal grandfather, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, perhaps near Minsk, where many languages were spoken. His grandfather spoke and wrote several. 

“It’s not just the language itself, it’s the culture,” Shinder says. “The first thing you learn in a language is the way you think about things.”

He learned several languages, beginning as a child with Hebrew, then Latin and Russian in high school. “Russian, because of the Sputnik fear,” he says. He studied German and French at Grinnell, where he majored in history. 

He was interested in Middle Eastern histories and earned a doctorate from Princeton University. “Once you get interested in an area, you really have to do the languages,” he says. He studied Arabic and Turkish in graduate school and figured out some Spanish, Italian, Persian, and Greek as needed for research while studying Ottoman-Turkish. 

Nancy Shinder was an enthusiastic student of French and Polish and traveled to both France and Poland. She wants students to have the advantage of a good grounding in another language and culture. 

Student Eligibility

The Shinder Family Fund for Advanced Language Development is designed to support students 

who’ve completed two years (or the equivalent) of a non-native language. The Shinders would like students to benefit from advanced studies or applied experiences, such as internships or immersive language research. However, the fund will not apply to traditional, semester-long off-campus study.  

Developing Expertise in Data Science

Imagine the vast quantity of data an online retailer such as Amazon collects from shoppers in a day. Or the amount of data the New York City Police Department collects on “stop and frisks” in a year.

Analyzing and interpreting such huge, quickly changing data sets is the province of the interdisciplinary field of data science.

Data science is “an intersection of mathematics, computer science, and statistics that has developed this new field, where we’re working with very different data, with very different techniques than were common 20 years ago,” says Shonda Kuiper, professor of mathematics and statistics and an expert in statistics pedagogy.

 “Students need those skills to compete in today’s world,” says Jeff Jonkman, associate professor of mathematics and statistics. “Students are very interested in it. A lot of high school students who come to visit want to talk about data science.” 

Kuiper, Jonkman, Samuel Rebelsky, professor of computer science, and other faculty have been working on incorporating data science into the curriculum in various ways. Two new data science courses have been developed, an introductory course and a capstone course. In Rebelsky’s CS 151 course, he’s relating the study of functional problem solving to the practice of data science. 

To support these efforts, the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust awarded Grinnell a $200,000 grant in 2016. Since it began its grant-making activities in 1987, the Carver Trust has distributed more than $258 million in the form of nearly 2,000 individual grants. The Carver Trust focuses its charitable giving on biomedical and scientific research; primary, secondary and higher education; and youth-related needs.

“The grant has provided us some time and space to really think about how to move forward in this new discipline in an efficient way,” Kuiper says. She took 10 online courses and received a certification in data science during spring 2017. 

Of those 10 courses, three were review, “but there were a lot of things that were very new to me as well,” she says. Such as natural language processing. 

“Analyzing text is something that wasn’t commonly done by statisticians before, but now it’s something that we should know how to do,” Kuiper says. “How do you take blogs, how do you take movie scripts, and find patterns?”

During the summer of 2017, Kuiper and Jonkman developed the curriculum for a new 200-level course, Introduction to Data Science. They sketched out what topics they needed to cover and in what depth. They worked “with students collaboratively to develop and design tutorials to train students in these new areas,” Kuiper says. They had 10 tutorials set up before classes started.

They also looked at what people were doing at other schools “where data science is trying to grow into whatever it will be when it grows up,” Jonkman says.

“I think one thing we agreed on,” Kuiper adds, was that “we really wanted this to be an applied class, where students have a final project that they could present to possible employers when they leave the class.”

In addition to developing the curriculum together, Kuiper and Jonkman team-taught the course in the fall. “The team-teaching is incredibly beneficial,” Jonkman says, “because Shonda knows more about it than I do, and I can learn more as I go and hopefully be a lot more ready in the spring.”  They’ll each teach the course again, separately, in spring 2018.

Kuiper adds, “There is no way I think either one of us could have done this without mutual support.”

One of the biggest challenges with this course is that everything is very new, she says. “The tutorials we built this summer are now outdated, because if we’re pulling live data, it’s changing constantly. And we’re using free software, which I think is also very beneficial for the students to use, but that creates a lot of messiness in the classroom and with the data itself.”

In the course, students examined many different types of data, including college data sets; millions of New York Police Department reports; housing prices in Ames, Iowa; movie ratings pulled from the web; and a database of global terrorism incidents.

“Our goal is to be as interdisciplinary as possible,” Kuiper says. “I think every discipline is now using data in new ways.”  

Chemistry in Copenhagen

Lucy Chechik ’18, a chemistry major from Minneapolis, wanted to study abroad and chose DIS (Danish Institute for Study Abroad) Copenhagen because of its focus on medicine. 

During fall 2016, Chechik enjoyed getting a chance to interact with female Danish doctors. “My classes were taught by doctors. We got a crash course in anatomy and diagnostics and learned a lot about the health care systems in Denmark, Sweden, and Estonia,” she says. 

She liked spending time with her peers and host family and relished traveling around Europe, but still, she felt like she wanted something more — a chance to really live and work in a place rather than just visit it as a student. 

One thing she’d hoped to do that fall was a research internship, but she couldn’t work it into her schedule.

Chechik had gotten a taste of research during the summer of 2016 when she completed a Mentored Advanced Project with Mark Levandoski, professor of chemistry. She studied neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) — proteins in the brain that are implicated in a variety of diseases including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. 

Since 2014, Levandoski has been collaborating with Bente Frølund, principal investigator in a lab at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology. Her lab also does work with nAChRs. In fact, some of the compounds synthesized in her lab are sent to Grinnell and used for testing purposes in Levandoski’s lab. 

After Chechik’s fall semester abroad, she continued working in Levandoski’s lab. Meanwhile she was determined to go back to Copenhagen. 

Levandoski had also hoped that Chechik would work in Frølund’s lab during her semester abroad. The summer of 2017 seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

“She did most of the work to get it arranged,” Levandoski says. 

After securing the summer position, Chechik applied for internship funding through the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS). The CLS awarded Chechik funding through the chemistry department. Gifts from Shenda Baker ’85, a chemistry graduate, and Mark and Barbara Maisel, parents of Brenton Maisel ’11, made Chechik's global research experience possible, for which she is “incredibly grateful.” 

Although Chechik admits she sometimes felt overwhelmed by her responsibilities in the lab, she soon got the hang of it. “I’ve gotten a lot more confident in what I’m doing,” she says. “I like the hands-on nature of this sort of research. It’s shown me that I want research to be a part of my medical education.” 

Chechik also enjoyed working closely with students from many different nations. 

“Before coming to Copenhagen, I didn’t have a tangible sense of this big, international scientific community. It’s cool to realize that yeah, we’re in this lab, but the international community is working on this.”

Chechik also learned something about the value of talking with people from other countries, even if it’s not about anything important — like bidets. 

“Chinese students are blown away by it,” she says with a laugh. “They tell us stories of their first experience with bidets, and apparently, every Italian home has a bidet. I think that even if we’re talking about something as silly as bidets, we’re starting to understand other cultures and other people. That’s the first step in international relations.”

From fossil fuel divestment to accessibility

Topics relevant to the larger student and alumni community were the focus of discussion sessions between the Alumni Council and College administrators during the council’s March meeting on campus.

Fossil fuel divestment 

Council members learned more about recent demonstrations by students asking for Grinnell to divest itself of all endowment funds placed in the fossil fuels industry. President Raynard S. Kington informed the council of the policy recently adopted by the Board of Trustees for dealing with such requests from any segment of the Grinnell community. Emphasizing that he is pleased when students take on issues like global warming and divestment, Kington also affirmed the College’s responsibility to guide them toward viewing these matters in the widest possible context. Becoming educated about the impact of financial decisions is crucial, he said.

Continued growth of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service

Mark Peltz, the Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), explained several aspects of CLS’s current strategies for preparing students to thrive both during their years at Grinnell and after graduation. On-campus efforts include engaging more students in externships, internships, industry-focused visits, and career counseling. 

Angela Onwuachi-Willig ’94, council president, noted that two CLS programs are an outgrowth of earlier Alumni Council undertakings: 1) recruiting alumni to host spring break externships and 2) encouraging them to participate in alumni/student mentoring programs. Both of these efforts remain vital, ongoing interests of the council.

Ensuring accessibility 

Autumn Wilke, assistant dean for disability resources, discussed plans for the new Humanities and Social Studies Complex (HSSC), which includes renovations of Alumni Recitation Hall and Carnegie Hall. At the beginning of the design process for the HSSC, the Alumni Council passed a resolution insisting upon the inclusion of hearing loops in the HSSC and other campus buildings and requesting accessibility of all kinds that exceeds legal requirements. The Alumni Council continues to be a vocal advocate for guaranteeing campuswide access for all persons with disabilities.

Strategic planning

In addition, the council engaged in strategic planning for the future. Specific concerns focus on the council’s visibility to the alumni body and students, the representative capacity of the council, its efforts to improve communication with and representation of alumni, and aligning the work of the Alumni Council more deliberately with the College’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations to achieve the greatest effectiveness. 

New members, leaders

Members finishing their terms on the council include Richard Raridon ’53, Gof Thomson ’62, Barbara Hunt Moore ’65, and Edward Senn ’79. All four have made valuable contributions during their years of service and were recognized and feted at the Alumni Council closing dinner at Grinnell House.

Incoming members were selected by the Council Membership Committee and affirmed by the full council on the basis of their Grinnell era, their current location, and their potential specific contributions to the College and the council. They are Robert Ruhl ’76, Phillip Hales ’02, Brigham Hoegh ’08, and Graciela Guzman ’11. Their terms begin June 3, during Reunion 2017. 

Council leadership will also change, as Onwuachi-Willig becomes past-president, Peter Calvert ’79 becomes president, and John “Fritz” Schwaller ’69 steps into the role of president-elect. 

Finding Direction

Austin Simmons ’90 routinely describes Grinnell as a winning lottery ticket. “It was pure luck that I ended up there,” he says. “Grinnell was everything I needed.”

Now a successful real estate developer with Brightwork Real Estate in Tampa, Fla., Simmons came to Grinnell with no idea of what he wanted to get out of the experience. “When I came to Grinnell, I didn’t have a plan,” says Simmons. “I wanted to play soccer and run around with my friends.” He may not have had a plan, but Simmons knew he needed what Grinnell offered — small classes and individual attention. Reflecting on the experience, particularly after having pursued a law degree at a large institution, Simmons realizes how crucial Grinnell was in his development. 

Ultimately, it was John Pfitsch, then Grinnell’s soccer coach, who directed Simmons’ rambunctious energy into specific goals. Pfitsch had been Simmons’ first point of contact when he was looking at colleges. “I don’t know how many thousands of kids approached him in a state of disarray,” says Simmons, “but I was fortunate to catch him at a time when he was extremely wise and a calming influence.” 

After graduating with a degree in political science, Simmons returned to campus regularly. “I came back for reunion every year for the first five or six years and slept on John Pfitsch’s floor,” he says. He attributes his strong bonds with other members of the alumni community to returning as often as he did. Most recently, Simmons returned for the College’s 171st Commencement to celebrate Emily Pfitsch, John’s widow, as she received an honorary doctorate.

Simmons has given gifts to Grinnell nearly every year since graduating but finally found himself in the position to give a major gift this year. “Athletics was very important to me,” says Simmons. “I felt like if I could be involved at Grinnell in a specific area, there would be no better place than the athletics department.” Sarah Johnson, assistant director of major gifts, worked with Simmons and Andy Hamilton ’85, director of athletics and recreation, to make sure Simmons’ priorities matched the College’s needs. 

“My fantasy was to be a big part of the soccer program at Grinnell,” says Simmons. He considered stating outright where he wanted to direct his gift. “But then I thought about my own business. I have to trust my people’s input and collaborate with them,” he says. Instead, he asked Hamilton where the gift would be most useful. When Hamilton said the football program needed an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator, Simmons immediately agreed to fund the position. In March 2017, the College hired Matt Reed to fill the position. Reed spent the past three seasons at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and will work with quarterbacks and running backs at Grinnell. He will also attend recruiting events throughout the United States, increasing Grinnell’s presence and strengthening what has been an area of the football program in need of improvement.

Simmons describes himself as a collaborator. Buying a piece of property, building a structure on it, and seeing it become a doctor’s office, a restaurant, or a store — and knowing that he was an important part of that process — gives him a unique sense of satisfaction. His gift to the football program gave him a similar feeling. “I’ll never have enough money to pay Grinnell back for all it gave me,” he says. “I just want to be part of Grinnell’s future.” 

Q & A: Mentoring Current Students

In 2014, the Alumni Student Connections Committee of the College’s Alumni Council initiated a project to facilitate mentoring relationships between alumni and current students. After developing a mentoring handbook, six committee alumni volunteered to mentor six current students on the Student Alumni Council for the 2014–15 academic year. 

Mentors Rick Stuck ’82Nancy Schmulbach Maly ’61Rania Mohamed Robb ’03Peter Calvert ’79, and Rhonda Stuart ’86 all reported positive connections with their mentees. In 2015–16, the program doubled. 

Ultimately, the connections committee hopes that every student on campus will have the opportunity to connect with an alumni mentor. Through Grinnell Connect, the College’s new online networking platform, Grinnellians past and present are already making strides toward accomplishing that goal. Sign up at grinnellconnect.com.

Q. Tucker: What makes an effective mentor or mentee?

A. Calvert: In my view, most students have the chops to solve their problems already. But when they get caught in a rut or a seeming dead end, they sometimes forget how to reason their way through knotty issues or looming crises. The best mentors do not take ownership away from their mentees but rather help them step back and remember themselves at their best. Once they get their mojo back, mentees are often able to leap two steps forward or reenter the fray from a different angle.

Q. Tucker: Can you give me an example?

A. Calvert: I recently mentored a student who was applying to medical schools, and we found that it was especially helpful to evaluate long-term strategies. We talked through a variety of questions: What if your top schools don’t have slots available this year? Can you identify alternate tracks — what about pursuing a research internship or considering other lines of study in parallel medical fields? These exercises helped my mentee develop a flexible mindset during his senior year. He was ultimately accepted into an exceptional two-year research program in the Boston area, which is helping him build a stronger resume for a subsequent try at medical school.

Q. Tucker: What do you want Grinnell alums to know about mentoring current students?

A. Calvert: I want them to know how rewarding and natural it is. The time commitment is not excessive — perhaps three Skype calls a year and maybe some texts. Hopefully, an in-person meeting can be arranged. The ability to gently guide a current student and be one part of their Grinnell journey is a fantastic use of our life experience. And we share that unique link to the Grinnell crucible we were all catalyzed by once. 

The Alumni Council is a group of 26 Grinnell alumni and two student representatives working with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Additional information is available at alumni.grinnell.edu/alumnicouncil.