2019 Alumni Awards

The Grinnell College Alumni Council has selected 14 exceptional graduates to receive the 2019 Alumni Awards.

The Alumni Award recognizes individuals who embody Grinnell College’s mission of lifetime learning and service and contribute to the common good. Nominated by their classmates and peers, recipients have distinguished themselves by their service to their careers, their community, and/or the College.

Bruce Pauley ’59

Recognized as a top scholar of Austrian history, Bruce Pauley has taught history since 1961 and served as a professor at the University of Central Florida for 35 years. His books on Austrian socialism and anti-Semitism contributed substantially to Austria coming to terms with its own past. In 2010, Austria’s ambassador to the United States presented Pauley with the Austrian government’s highest award for scholarship and art.

L.R. “Bud” Roegge ’59

After majoring in chemistry at Grinnell, Bud Roegge decided to put his test tubes away and go to law school. Both subjects would go on to shape his career. As an attorney and longtime president of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roegge litigated numerous environmental cases, such as representing Michigan Chemical Co. in statewide contamination that affected the dairy industry. 

Janice Williams Resseger ’69

Janice Williams Resseger has been a tireless advocate for public education as a teacher, parent, community organizer, and staff member for a national religious social service political action group. In short, Resseger stands up for what she believes in. Working at the United Church of Christ, she developed programming around justice in public school policy for UCC churches around the country. She now authors a well-regarded public education policy blog.

Henry Wingate ’69

Henry Wingate has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the values of social justice and social service throughout his life and career. Wingate was the first black federal judge for the Southern District of Mississippi, appointed in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan. He also served as a Grinnell College trustee for 18 years and was deeply involved in recruitment and support of Grinnell’s black students and faculty. His numerous community service initiatives include providing educational opportunities for juveniles interested in careers in law and law enforcement.

Dr. Moses Lee ’79

As a physician, Moses Lee displays the utmost kindness and consideration for the patients and his fellow medical colleagues. Lee was an attending physician in the emergency departments of Cook County Hospital and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago for 28 years. He continues to volunteer in emergency medicine. In June 2018, he received the lifetime achievement award from the Illinois Department of Public Health for founding the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team.

Dr. Jeffrey Greenberg ’80

Jeffrey Greenberg has served his community, his profession, and Grinnell College for the past four decades. A surgeon and staff physician at Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center, Greenberg is known as a compassionate caregiver, brilliant researcher, and first-rate teacher. Since graduation, he has served as a class agent. Additionally, he has served on the Alumni Council, including two years as president. In recent years, he has participated in several medical missions, providing hand surgery care to underserved populations around the world.

Susan Henken-Thielen ’80

A highly effective marketing executive, Susan Henken-Thielen has a passion for growing entrepreneurial organizations that help people. As director of product management for Collegis Education, she is leading the effort to develop new higher education strategic data analytics. Previously as a director for Pearson VUE, Henken-Thielen established the global UExcel education program, where domestic and international students earn college credits by taking and passing online exams. For her alma mater, she served on the Alumni Council for seven years and helped recruit Minneapolis area students to Grinnell as a GRASP (Grinnell Regional Admission Support Program) volunteer.

Paula Nixon ’84

Paula Nixon’s enthusiasm can be contagious. It’s especially evident during Reunion Weekend, which Nixon has attended for the past 10 years as a pioneering force behind GRA/EY (Grinnell Reunion Any/Every Year). Rather than wait for their respective reunion years, Nixon encourages alumni to attend whatever year possible, adding another fun dynamic to the weekend. Her enthusiasm also shines through in the Grinnell social media sphere, where her notes of encouragement are widely appreciated. 

Noel Green ’94

As an educator, Noel Green has brought with him the same spirit of inclusion, community building, and acute awareness of individual needs that he brought to Grinnell College as a student 25 years ago. Green is the principal of Burlington High School in Vermont, where his kind, caring, and approachable nature has made him ideal to work with students who come from all over the world. An advocate of restorative justice, the school district now puts emphasis on the relationships and people who have been harmed rather than doling out traditional punishments.

Dorje Gurung ’94

After being imprisoned under false accusations while teaching science in Qatar, Dorje Gurung met several Nepalese people who were working there as migrant workers. Those interactions helped persuade him to return to his native Nepal to educate the next generation of Nepalese students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. He established Social Business for Education, which sets up income-generating projects that benefit the community by providing jobs and training. For his vast commitment to education and humanity, Gurung received an honorary doctor of science degree at Grinnell’s 2014 Commencement. Gurung was denied a visa to attend Reunion; his friend, Michael Hanna ’94, accepted on his behalf.

Rabbi Jason M. Kimelman-Block ’94

As director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Brock has traveled the country seeking to promote nonviolent activism on behalf of those at risk. He also serves as director of national government affairs and rabbi-in-residence at A Jewish Partnership for Justice. He directed the first leadership cohort focused on training Jewish leaders of color and is a frequent speaker on social justice in the interfaith activist movement. Particularly notable is his ability to support and relate to people who have had very different life experiences from his own.

Kent Messer ’94

Kent Messer has an exceptional record of scholarship, teaching, and service as a natural resource and environmental economist. Messer teaches at the University of Delaware as the S. Hallock DuPont Professor. He is also the director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics and co-director of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research. He has written two textbooks on how to apply economics to better protect environmental areas. His expertise was valuable recently as a member of the Grinnell College Fossil Fuels and Climate Task Force Advisory Board.

Lu “Maggie” Bian ’09

Maggie Bian made a lasting impact on the future of many Chinese students even before she received her Grinnell degree. As a senior at Grinnell, she founded the China Liberal Arts Tour, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between liberal arts colleges and prospective students in China. Now in its 10th year, the tour invites liberal arts colleges to travel throughout China and interact with Chinese students. Bian oversees the tour’s development while working in Hong Kong as executive director for Hillhouse Capital Management, a global financial services company.

Latona Giwa ’09

Combining her passion for social justice, a dedication to community organizing, an intense focus on helping mothers and newborns, and an entrepreneurial spirit, Latona Giwa co-founded the Birthmark Doulas Collective in 2011. The New Orleans organization provides informational, emotional, and physical support to pregnant women and their families before, during, and after birth. Grinnell recognized Giwa’s work by presenting her with the Joseph P. Wall ’41 Service Award in 2013. 

Changing Child Care

To hear Arrel Gray ’00 talk about the need for identifying and supporting quality child care, it’s no wonder that his business has been so successful. He recalls how difficult it was when he and his wife, who also works full time, first searched for care for their now 4-year-old son.

“That search was just excruciating, like it is for most parents in any urban area,” says Gray, co-founder of Wonderschool, a San Francisco-based company that works with educators and child care providers to help them start their own child cares or preschools out of their homes. 

“One, it’s just hard to find out what’s even out there; it’s kind of fragmented and confusing. And then when you go visit it, you don’t know what to look for. And it seems like all the top-tier places are ridiculously expensive and have too long a waiting list, anyway.” 

Wonderschool, which works with 100 programs mostly in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City areas, gives people tools to launch their own home-based child care programs. In exchange for a 10% cut of each enrolled child’s tuition, the startup, which was founded in 2016, helps new caregivers design their teaching philosophies, get licensed, build a website, and market their services. It has attracted more than $2 million in seed funding. And Inc. magazine says Wonderschool is creating a platform that will remake child care in big cities.

In a nutshell, Gray — a math major at Grinnell — says his business helps teachers and child care providers focus on children.

“Running a child care is actually two jobs — one is being a preschool teacher and the other is being a small-business owner and entrepreneur,” Gray says. “And [on] the Venn diagram of people who are good at both of those things, there is very little overlap. Teachers often tend to be so focused on human interactions and nurturing kids, and they’re really not interested in, or good at, marketing, finances, recruiting, and hiring teachers, and so we want to help with all of that. 

“And not only is it two separate skill sets, but it’s two exhausting jobs. Eight hours a day, you’re taking care of chasing after 3-year-olds, which is exhausting. Then you finish your day, and now you have a bunch of paperwork to do and emails to respond to and QuickBooks to manage and taxes to pay, and all these other things you have to do outside of the classroom. So, doing all of that takes a superhuman effort — and we want to make it just a human effort.”

Gray and his Wonderschool co-founder, Chris Bennett, previously launched Soldsie, an e-commerce company that enables businesses to sell products through their social media profiles. Gray says Grinnell was pivotal in taking him to where he is now.

“Grinnell just teaches you the basic critical thinking,” he says, “and because it’s so small and the classes are so small, you really learn about collaboration. That’s been incredibly valuable.” 

The Making of "All Things Grinnell"

Ben Binversie ’17, content specialist fellow with the Grinnell College Office of Communications, is producer of the new All Things Grinnell podcast. We asked him about it: 

Why a Grinnell podcast and why now?

When I started here last summer I brought my experience working at Milwaukee’s NPR station. Coming in, I thought that Grinnell would be an opportune place for a podcast because there is so much happening here in such a concentrated area. We’re already capturing a lot of stories in other formats, but there was no one doing what we’re doing with the podcast.

In your view, what advantages do podcasts offer over other media formats? 

It makes interviewees’ work more approachable and engaging, I think. For example, people might not read a book titled Shakespeare in the Afterlife without a prior interest in Shakespeare. A conversation with the author brings the topic to an audience that might still be interested in questions about life and death and how we make sense of any of it. 

How do you choose your topics and interviewees?

It’s kind of overwhelming at times because there is so much going on here. I try to latch on to things that are already happening on campus because I can cover people or events through a whole different lens for the podcast. Narrative stories like the one on the College garden (episode 6) are fun to make, but the process of interviewing and editing a dozen people and crafting a narrative is really involved. I try to focus on stories that are more easily achievable, but I would like to start digging into things like myths and legends at Grinnell and interesting figures from the past.

Is there a guiding approach or format to your interviews?

It’s very much a touch-and-feel thing. Generally, I try to make the content and the questions interesting to any alumni, from the class of 1937 to current students. I want the entire audience to understand and be engaged with an interview without necessarily having to know the ins and outs of current campus life, even though the interview should help them get a glimpse of that. The main thrust is that if you are connected to Grinnell, you will be interested in what I’m talking about. 

What are you learning about the people that comprise the Grinnell community? 

The first thing that comes to mind is just how different they all are. The wide range of ideas and experiences that people have to share is really tremendous. Being a part of that is what I enjoy the most.  

What about long-term sustainability of the podcast?

We are having those conversations, and listeners who are concerned should know it will go at least until my term runs out here at the College next year. I’m starting to work with students who are interested, and a lot of classes are incorporating podcasts and audio into their work, so by the time I leave Grinnell there is a chance that interested people will continue it. If people really value the podcast, then I think it will find a way. 

How do I find the podcast?

On a mobile device, search “All Things Grinnell” on an app like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, or Stitcher. Or you can go to and find links to all the episodes. For the hearing impaired, there’s a link to the transcript at the bottom of each episode. 

Artistically Adventurous

When Brian Cavanagh-Strong ’09 landed himself in the New York University Tisch School of the Arts graduate program for musical theatre writing, it was, he says, “like a dream.” And why not? To be among a handful of elite candidates in the mecca of musical arts is heady stuff for a kid who started out plinking on a Sesame Street piano at the age of 4.  

Today, Cavanagh-Strong is busy honing his craft in New York City, pursuing what would seem to those with similar hopes to be the dream life of the ascending professional artist.  On a practical level, he is also learning to finesse his creative aspirations into avenues for making a living.

Cavanagh-Strong’s circuitous route to New York City — from hometown Ann Arbor, Michigan, through Grinnell — might seem a pedestrian detail except that the classically-trained student of jazz piano  “was decidedly not looking for music programs” when seeking out a liberal arts experience. A “magical” campus tour and the energy of the Grinnell campus sold him on coming to Iowa.

“I didn’t take a music class my first semester; I didn’t even plan on studying music at Grinnell, necessarily,” Cavanagh-Strong says. “I didn’t do very well in a philosophy class my first semester, and I think that was an impetus to study music theory in the spring of my freshman year. After that I was hooked.” 

The decision to major in music produced artistically fruitful relationships for Cavanagh-Strong. He cites Grinnell music faculty members Eric McIntyre and John Rommereim as “primary mentors” in his studies. His participation in the Grinnell Singers and a cappella group Con Brio were also key in his development, and it was on a Grinnell Singers tour that he first became aware of the Tisch School.

“I think I applied to NYU/Tisch out of curiosity,” Cavanagh-Strong says. “I didn’t know that I wanted to write musicals for a living. I just thought it would be an exciting adventure.” 

Cavanagh-Strong is now in the midst of that adventure — writing musicals, music for plays, opera, a film score, and “music-directing the work of other writers in theatre and other media.” He returned to Grinnell twice recently for two “amazing opportunities”— the first as music director for the film Saints Rest, and another built around the premiere performance, by the Grinnell Symphony Orchestra, of the orchestral version of Cavanagh-Strong’s short opera, A Gardener

Cavanagh-Strong says the breadth of his current projects speaks not only to his diversity of interests and capabilities but also to “how I have to survive.”

“The journey of the musical theatre writer from conception to production is perilous,” Cavanagh-Strong says. “The responsibility to develop patronage support is on the writer for a very long time, and that patronage is not immediately available for even the most deserving creators.” 

After nine years in the New York scene, Cavanagh-Strong says he’s only just starting to see the benefits of building a network of relationships that can provide a solid professional grounding.

“In creative work there are no guarantees,” Cavanagh-Strong says. “Saying ‘yes’ to all kinds of opportunities allows me to meet new people, to experience music and storytelling in different ways, and to clarify my aspirations for the future. 

“Pursuing a master’s degree in musical theatre writing is exactly what I needed to do, though it represents a great cost to enter into a field with few clear lines upward. Finding a way to support yourself in a city with a high cost of living and still pursue your greatest passions means taking a wide look at all kinds of storytelling and continuing to explore them.”

Fight Club

Next time you’re challenged to a sword fight, call Ricki G. Ravitts ’70, a fight director who has taught stage actors around the world how to parry, thrust, and stab for almost 25 years.

Certified through the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), Ravitts is qualified to teach in eight different weapons styles, including broadsword, knife, rapier/dagger, and quarterstaff. In her class Found Weapons, she shows that anything you can wave at someone can be used as a weapon.

“Stage combat is very exciting; it’s a physical discipline that runs the gamut of triumph and tragedy — or even comedy,” says Ravitts, a member of the stage combat faculty at American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a performing arts conservatory in New York City. “It’s telling a story with a fight, while keeping the actors safe.”

As a youngster growing up in Illinois, Ravitts played pirates and Zorro with neighborhood kids and, later, acted in high school productions. At Grinnell she majored in English “to gain insights into different ways of thinking and problem-solving,” she says, and performed in plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Brecht, among others. 

“I chose Grinnell because I wanted to study in a small liberal arts college, and I enjoyed being around so many smart, passionate students who were involved in theatre, writing, music, and political movements.

“Plus, Iowa is such a friendly state,” she adds with a laugh. “My grandfather was a country doctor in Montezuma, Iowa. I walked into a Grinnell drugstore once and when someone introduced me, the druggist asked, ‘Are you related to Doc Ravitts?’”

She credits her adviser James Kissane ’52, professor emeritus of English, guest artist Robert E. Ingham, and Pirkko Roecker, who taught folk dancing from 1966–74, with deepening her understanding of excellence and performance: “Pirkko had a gift for getting the best out of each student,” she says. “And Dr. Kissane was a role model in many ways; so when he encouraged me to pursue my passion for the theatre, it meant a lot. Or maybe he just didn’t want to read any more of my term papers,” she adds with a laugh.

In her junior year, with guidance from Ingham, Ravitts won an internship with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, her first chance to work with a professional company.  (Today, Grinnell continues to help fund students so they can accept unpaid or underpaid internships.)

Ravitts earned an MFA in acting at New York University. But it wasn’t until later, when a friend of hers broke his nose in a summer stock production of Picnic, that Ravitts found her way to stage combat. 

“The play has a fight scene, and during rehearsals, the director said, ‘Have a little tussle.’ But no one knew what they were doing,” she says. “On opening night, my friend broke his nose on stage and spent the rest of the performance trying not to bleed on the leading lady. Immediately after the show, he was off to the emergency room.”

Later that year, back in New York City, she took her first stage combat class, prompted by the realization that safety was needed onstage — and because fighting with swords just sounded like fun. “And it was!” she says. Ravitts continued taking stage combat courses from the SAFD and in 1995 became the third woman in the United States certified as an SAFD teacher of stage combat. Even now, she continues taking classes to learn new techniques.

All this combat knowledge has given her a keen eye — and when she watches a movie, she can’t help but to critique the action: “I’ll sit there and say, ‘Aw, you really don’t know how to use a sword, do you?’”

I Think, Therefore I Draw

As a young copywriter working at a New York City ad agency, Ken Krimstein ’80 had a routine. Each Wednesday he would walk around the corner to the offices of The New Yorker, drop off a batch of his cartoons, and hope that the editor would like one enough to publish it. Ten years and 400 cartoons later, his first one was accepted by the magazine. 

“In those days and even now, that’s what it took to get in,” says Krimstein, a longtime ad agency copywriter and creative director who’s since had more than 30 of his cartoons appear in the magazine, as well as in several New Yorker anthologies. At the time, however, “I could have wallpapered my bathroom with the rejection slips. But I had this incredible desire and belief that my work should be in there and I knew this was part of the process. Of course the minute I got the OK, I called everyone — and it didn’t run for another year.”

The son of an art director, Krimstein grew up in a home packed with art supplies. And like lots of kids, he loved cartoons, from “Peanuts” to “Archie” to the stuff that ran in the National Lampoon and The New Yorker

“I really love the combination of words and pictures,” he says. “In cartooning it’s one plus one equals three. You have something that’s more than the sum of the parts; and even without words, the picture should convey an idea.” 

He drew for his high school newspaper in suburban Chicago; once he arrived at Grinnell, he wrote features — “weird and strange human interest stories” — and drew cartoons for the Scarlet & Black. “I’d come in the day they were putting the paper to bed and see what was in the news – registration or graduation, for example. Then I’d improvise on the spot. The nice thing about cartooning is all you need is a blank piece of paper and a felt-tip pen.” 

A history major who also focused on English and philosophy, Krimstein doodled in class and spent hours drawing in the Forum. It was his First-Year Tutorial, “Plato’s Republic … and Ours,” along with a lifelong thirst for learning, that culminated in a recent obsession with philosophy and his first graphic novel, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt (Bloomsbury, September 2018). The book’s structure was inspired by a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics (translated by Grinnell professors H.G. Apostle, Elizabeth Dobbs, and Morris Parslow) that Krimstein bought in Grinnell’s Pioneer Bookshop during his last reunion.

After several decades in New York City, Krimstein now teaches at DePaul University and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he shares his knowledge of design, writing, strategy, and storytelling with students. He’s also begun work on his next graphic novel. “I was visiting Grinnell and having coffee at Saints Rest with (Professor) Harold Kasimow, and we talked about the recent discovery in Lithuania of pre-World War II autobiographies of teenagers.” Like his Arendt novel, he’ll take their words and add pictures to describe the emotions of that place and time. 

When asked which of his cartoons is his favorite, Krimstein pauses. “I love them all, even the ones that haven’t sold,” he says. “One of my first cartoons that was published and that I really liked ran in The Wall Street Journal. It showed a statue in a park of a very pompous guy and it said, ‘Statesman, Scholar, Bore.’ 

“You always have that little twist in cartoons. I love the fact you can be a little subversive and tell the truth in a way you can’t in real life.”

Getting to the Meat of the Matter

If you drive to Grinnell on Interstate 80, you might be inclined to think Iowa’s economy is heavily agriculture-based. Your eyes might deceive you, says Jack Mutti, professor emeritus of economics. 

In terms of actual production, the agricultural sector accounts for about five percent of Iowa’s GDP. Yet, agriculture is connected intimately with many other industries, including manufacturing. So, the impact of recent tariffs is bigger than some of the numbers might lead you to believe, especially because the tariffs most directly affect exports.

When the United States fired the first volley of the recent trade disputes by placing tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, Canada, Mexico, and China responded with different strategies. With respect to relevant sectors here in Iowa, China employed a tit-for-tat strategy; multiple rounds of tariffs have resulted in a 50 percent increase in tariffs on pork, an additional 15 percent on ethanol (on top of the previous year’s 30 percent), and 25 percent on soybeans. Mexico responded in a slightly different manner; rather than raise tariffs on soy and corn, Mexico increased pork tariffs, eventually by 20 percent. 

Mutti suggests this tactic was part of a concerted effort by Mexico to protect its economy by increasing production of livestock, which relies on corn and soy from the U.S. Meanwhile, Canada’s response was heavily motivated by political pressure, as it targeted specific regions and states for political reasons.

The impact of these tariffs is difficult to assess in the short run, but there is already some evidence we can point to, says Mutti. Because the soybean harvest is up from last year, the impact of reduced prices will be somewhat mitigated for soy farmers. Still, China imports about 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports, so the 25 percent tariff will surely be felt by farmers, with a projected loss of income to Iowa producers of over half a billion dollars. Corn is not as heavily impacted by the Chinese tariffs, because China doesn’t import nearly as much corn as it does soybeans. 

But it is also important to look at ethanol and animal exports as proxies for corn, says Mutti. Approximately 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol production. As such, the full impact of corn prices ripples through other sectors. Mutti cites a study by Iowa State University assessing the impact on pork, which estimates the value of a hog this year will decrease by about $18 per hog. Over the course of a year, that could mean over $700 million of lost revenue for Iowa’s pork industry.

In August, the USDA announced the Market Facilitation Program as a compensation mechanism for farmers impacted by tariffs. The program set different rates of compensation for various crops, including a first stage measure of $1.65 per bushel for half of soybean farmers’ crop. Corn, meanwhile, is only reimbursed at a rate of 1 cent per bushel, even though corn prices have decreased significantly. Mutti says the rationale behind the crops and amounts included in the program has been less than transparent, and possibly motivated more by politics than economic impact. 

Although every dollar, or penny, helps, the program will not completely appease farmers, many of whom have lost significant earnings because of these tariffs. It’s something, Mutti says, but it won’t make them entirely whole. For example, in 2017 Poweshiek County produced 6.2 million bushels of soybeans. If they lose about a dollar a bushel on this year’s crop, as it currently stands, that could mean approximately $6 million in losses, which can have ripple effects on local economic spending. Anecdotally, Mutti notes that there have been significantly fewer purchases of combines in Poweshiek County this year, a sign that farmers are responding to lower prices and greater uncertainty. 

Her Perfect Advice

“From the minute I was first introduced to Japanese in elementary school, my life changed,” says Anneke Walker Nagao ’87. “My whole life revolves around that moment.”

Nagao grew up in the town of Grinnell, and her mother encouraged her to attend the College. “My family has always taken advantage of what Grinnell has to offer for town people,” she says. “My mother took a position in the Office of Development, and we hosted several Japanese students during College breaks.”

When Nagao was 13, she went to Japan to stay with a local family for the summer. In preparation for that trip, her mother searched for someone at Grinnell to teach her a few Japanese phrases. The College was not formally offering any Japanese language classes at that time, so Nagao took a private class with Donna Solis Yount, then the spouse of a music professor at the College. 

After returning from her first trip abroad, Nagao looked for every opportunity to learn more Japanese. While she was in high school, Nagao took Yount’s private, beginning Japanese class “over and over again,” and “I started going to the Japan table [at the College] and having dinner with the students,” she says. 

When Nagao enrolled at Grinnell in 1983, Japanese was not yet part of the regular curriculum but it was available as an Alternative Language Study Option class. “It was very easy for me, but I was always eager for any Japan connection,” she says.

In the summer before her third year, Nagao, an anthropology major, went to Japan again. As graduation neared, Nagao says, “I was wondering what the heck to do with the rest of my life, like so many recent grads do. I went in to talk with my adviser, Kathy Kamp, [professor of anthropology]. I knew I wanted to travel and not live in the U.S. Her perfect advice was to continue down the road I’d started and specialize instead of dabbling in other things.” Immediately following graduation, Nagao moved back to Japan, where she’s been living ever since.

For the past 30 years, Nagao has been using Japanese almost exclusively. She began with teaching jobs and then worked for several years as a translator with an interior design company, where she met her husband Masanori Nagao. He is Japanese and does not speak much English. She now works as a kindergarten teacher in Yokohama. “Technically, I teach English, but they are four years old, so obviously most of the communication is done in Japanese,” she says. “I think in Japanese often and dream in Japanese sometimes.”

Yet, when she and her husband are out together, store clerks often address only her husband. And several times a day Nagao is asked if she can speak Japanese. “It can be used to one’s advantage, too, though,” she says. “A singer I like came to Japan and I went to his autograph session. They were announcing ‘No pictures,’ so I pretended not to understand and asked him for a picture. I was the only person in the group to get a picture!”

Nagao credits the College for nurturing her interest in travel and her sense of adventure. “The time spent with the Japanese people I met through the College created a strong interest in traveling and learning about other cultures for me,” she says. “Grinnell shaped me and my future in every way possible. There is no better education than travel.”

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“My whole life I said to myself, ‘I will not teach,’” says Kaydi-Ann Newsome ’14, an economics major from Jamaica. “I remember my chemistry teacher in year nine saying to me, ‘You know, one day you’re going to be a teacher.’ I was just like, ‘No, sir. It’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen.’”

But in her second year at Grinnell, Newsome took Comparative and International Education with Deborah Michaels, associate professor of education. “That’s when I realized I’ve been thinking all wrong,” Newsome says. “I love education. I want to be a part of this whole movement and get into studying education a lot deeper.” 

She dove into a summer research project with Michaels, studying the Teach for All movement. At the time Newsome was doing her Mentored Advanced Project, Teach for All had just started programs, or was looking to start programs, in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Jamaica. 

Newsome’s deep research was a discipline for discovery: What does it take to bring this organization, which is rooted in the United States, into less economically developed countries? How are they going to attract graduates from a less economically developed country? How are they going to fund this? 

“That was the point where everything started to come together,” she says. Her economics background in social development, her global development studies concentration, “and then of course, this education as the tool that’s supposed to lift you all out of this.”

Yet teaching was still not on her radar. Three weeks after she graduated from Grinnell in 2014, Newsome moved to London where she knew she had the support of her extended family. Because her dad was born in Britain, Newsome has dual citizenship, so she was able to start looking for work right away.

She found a job tutoring in math and English for a private company. On her first day she recalls thinking, “Man, this feels so natural.” 

A colleague at her new workplace suggested she apply for Teach First, the U.K.’s sister organization to Teach for America. Newsome did “loads and loads of research” on the organization, which only accepts applications once a year. 

She landed the job, and in June 2015 she started six weeks of summer training with the organization. She learned about the pedagogy of teaching math and how to manage herself and students. “It was just intense,” she says. 

In September 2015 Newsome started her new job teaching 11- to 16-year-olds at Trinity Secondary School in Lewisham, South East London. 

During her first year of teaching, Newsome was, herself, a full-time student. “Every six weeks, I was either writing a research paper or writing a paper based on a class that I had taught,” she says. 

In addition, she was doing all the things a teacher regularly does. “Assessments don’t mark themselves. Lessons don’t plan themselves. Assignments don’t write themselves. Things like following up with parents at the end of the day, that definitely doesn’t do itself either.”

Grinnell prepared her well for that intensity, Newsome says. “We went through the fire, went through the ice, and I learned how to come out stronger. I’m a resilient Grinnellian.”

In fall 2018, she started a master’s program in education planning, economics, and international education while continuing to teach at Trinity, both part time. “I have been challenged to steer my career in a direction that can tie my experiences from growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, my Grinnell years, and my own lessons from teaching in London to broaden my impact in the field of education.”

White Coats

Separated by 35 years of education and experience, what could Miranda Thomas ’17 and Sara Mathews ’82 possibly have in common? Dedication to animal care, white coats, mutual admiration, and Grinnell’s externship program.

Thomas, a biology graduate now attending the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, was matched with Mathews, a Vero Beach, Florida, veterinarian, during the spring of 2015. Mathews and her husband own and operate a small animal hospital, in addition to her pro bono work for trap/neuter/release animals. 

Thomas, who had veterinary medicine in mind since seventh grade, says her externship with 

Mathews “showed that my skill set and interests aligned with vet med but maybe not in a clinical setting. When I shadowed with Sara, we were with animals and clients all day, every day.” Now in her second year of veterinary training she is leaning toward research and possibly nongovernmental organization work in an international practice.

“Grinnell was such an amazing experience for me that I feel I have a lot to give back,” Mathews says about her commitment to four externships she has hosted to date. “I learn as much from the students as I give. I continue to be impressed by the quality and well-rounded nature of the students I see. I’m always a little sad when they leave.”

The connection forged between these two Grinnellians — both raised in Iowa, biology majors at Grinnell, and Iowa State vet students — led to Thomas asking Mathews to participate in her white coat ceremony, the rite-of-passage entry into the profession.

White coat ceremony with Miranda Thomas ’17 and Sara Mathews ’82

“It was an incredible honor to be asked,” Mathews said. “I respect Miranda and will continue to encourage young men and women in the profession, just as my own parents were encouraging to me.”

Thomas says, “I chose Sara for my white coat ceremony because I value her opinion and the symbolism of both of us choosing Grinnell and Iowa State. She’s so successful and loves what she does. I hope it’s good karma. Grinnell alumni are so amazing with keeping strong relationships and making sure others have opportunities. I want to do this in a few years when I can offer experience too.”  

What’s an Externship?

The externship program in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) matches current students seeking to clarify their career path with alumni in their chosen career fields. Open to all students, the externship program is primarily geared toward first- and second-year students who are still exploring majors and career options. 

The three-to-five day externship experiences occur during spring break and involve shadowing an alumni professional through a normal day’s activities, including a homestay. Registration for 2019 externship hosts runs through Oct. 25.


Alumni interested in offering a spring break externship with homestay should contact Brooke Vonderheide, assistant director of alumni and donor relations, career programs, at 641-269-3196, vonderhe[at]grinnell[dot]edu. For general questions about the externship program, contact Stephanie Burrows, assistant director of advising and exploration, at 641-269-4940, burrowss[at]grinnell[dot]edu.