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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.

2018 Athletic Hall of Fame Inductees

Grinnell College celebrated the accomplishments of nine athletes who were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame during the biennial ceremony Sept. 1, 2018.

Abe H. Rosenbloom ’34 (deceased) dominated as an undersized lineman for the Pioneers. He became president of Behr Machinery Corp. and stayed connected to Grinnell, contributing significantly to the football program. The current football stadium is dedicated in his honor.

Edward M. Hirsch ’72 was a two-sport athlete, playing both football and baseball. He was an NCAA First-Team All-American in football, recording nearly 100 receptions for over 1,000 yards. Later, he gained national recognition for his poetry, earning awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. 

As a soccer player, Chad Stewart ’97 was the all-time leader in assists (33), assists in a season (12), and assists per game (.67). A two-year captain and Most Valuable Player award winner, Stewart has stayed connected with the men’s soccer program while working as a lawyer after graduation from the University of Minnesota Law School.

John Aerni-Flessner ’01 is one of the most decorated and consistent Pioneer runners of all time. Still holding the school record in the steeplechase, he finished fifth at the NCAA Championships his senior season. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, he earned his Ph.D. in history from Washington University in St. Louis and wrote a book on the history of the Midwest Conference.

Tai L. Duncan ’04 had unmatched passion for both of her sports — volleyball and basketball. She earned the Freshman of the Year Award and became a captain and an academic and athletic all-conference selection. She graduated with honors from the University of Iowa College of Law and shares her passion for athletics with younger athletes as a coach and mentor.

Stephen F. Wood ’04 was a versatile and key contributor to the men’s basketball program for four straight years. He was named the Midwest Conference Player of the Year in 2003, led the team in scoring and assists, and is the all-time leader in steals. He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law and works in private practice.

As a diver for the Pioneers, Sarah Stayer Mills ’06 qualified for the NCAA National Championships three years in a row. Mills finished seventh in the 1-meter competition, earning All-American status. She earned a master’s of public health and M.D. from the University of Texas and now works as a fellow in palliative care.

Liz Carrier ’07 was the single most dominant defensive force in the women’s soccer program, particularly at the goalkeeper position. With 37.5 shutouts in her career, she also tops the record books in minutes played, shutouts in a season (14), and goals against average with an amazing 0.37. Carrier works as a CrossFit coach and trainer.

Juan C. Perez Borja ’11 was a tennis standout — an All-American, three-time NCAA national qualifier and 12-time Midwest Conference champion. Following Grinnell, he returned to Ecuador and founded Enseña Ecuador, a foundation committed to giving everyone an opportunity to education, regardless of their background.

Derriere in chair

Grant Faulkner ’87 says the best way to learn how to write a novel is to just sit down and write it. 

“Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters,” he explains. 

Encouraging people to put pen to paper and helping them find creative inspiration is his daily mission in his role as executive director for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which challenges participants to write 50,000 words — the length of a short novel — in 30 days. 

The 30-day writing challenge, which takes place during the month of November, provides a community of like-minded individuals a variety of ways to collaborate, support, and encourage one another in person and online during the brief, but highly intensive writing period. The program has grown every year since its inception in 2000 when 150 people participated; last year, more than 300,000 writers signed up. Though NaNoWriMo targets neophyte writers, it is also designed to help seasoned pros and has yielded thousands of published novels and multiple bestsellers.

“What makes the program really effective is that we’re very inclusive. We make writing accessible and inviting, and that’s important because it can sometimes be intimidating,” says Faulkner, who has led the nonprofit since 2012. “Many people are blocked when it comes to writing because they hear their inner editor’s judgments, or they don’t believe in the value of their story. We emphasize the imaginative exploration and the creative journey of writing a novel.”

NaNoWriMo provides several other writing programs throughout the year to more than 500,000 people — including 100,000 kids and teens who participate in its Young Writers Program — but Faulkner says the 30-day writing challenge is a particularly galvanizing recipe. “The pressure of a constraint often holds creative benefits. It’s important to bang out that first draft and just get the words on the page, because you can’t edit a blank page.” 

Giving writers advice on how to keep that momentum going is the motivation for his recently published book, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.

“I’ve talked to so many writers who want to write year-round, who want to finish their novels after National Novel Writing Month, but it can be challenging to keep writing,” he explains. “I want people to prioritize creativity and develop a creative mindset so that they’re not just creative in November, but every day of their lives.”

Studying abroad in France as a Grinnell College student — and spending many hours reading novels in cafes — is what convinced Faulkner to eschew becoming an economics major and to focus instead on English literature.

“My English degree equipped me to think critically about art and aesthetics, so I’ve brought Grinnell’s intellectual intensity to my reading and writing in many ways,” he says. 

Though Faulkner has been writing since his mother gave him a journal on his seventh birthday, leading an organization like NaNoWriMo has taught him that no writer’s process is perfect.

“Writing is just so challenging, and every story holds new mysteries and problems to solve, so I’m always learning, always fighting the same inner battles, always experimenting with my approach.”

2018 Alumni Awards

Peter Kranz ’63

“His encouragement, support, and wisdom have shaped the success of countless students at his university, other academic institutions, psychology departments throughout the Rocky Mountain region, and the larger community and nation in which we live.” 

– William Douglas Woody, professor, University of Northern Colorado

Deborah Feir ’68

“Her [class] letters never fail to delight. She knows when to congratulate, when to empathize, when to encourage, when to give us her news, and keeps it all flowing.”

– Judith H. Wallace Crossett ’68

Catherine “Kit” Gage ’73

“Kit is indefatigable in her passionate pursuit of social justice. She has worked throughout her career to bring together diverse and sometimes unlikely communities to work together for the common good.” 

– Barry Zigas ’73 

Barry Huff ’73

“Barry had a large impact while he served as senior vice president at ‘Be The Match,’ the National Marrow Donor Program. He led a great, hardworking team with a large budget, and they could see the difference in lives that they contributed to.” 

– Jeff Taft-Dick ’73

P. Carter Newton ’77

“Carter has demonstrated his commitment to and appreciation for Grinnell College in almost every way possible. He has served as our class agent, writing and sending periodic newsletters with photos and news of the College and our classmates.” 

– Sharla Fishhaut Levine ’77

Douglas Spitz ’78

“Doug has in mind one goal — finding a way to cure, not just treat, pernicious cancers. His singular and impressive achievements in his field will, no doubt, help make that dream that so many share a reality.” 

– Sheryl Walter ’78

Rachel Bly ’93

“Rachel is not flashy, she does not like the spotlight, and she would never complain. Her tireless commitment to the College and the community often goes unremarked-upon; she’s one of those people who, if she ever left, the entire town and College would feel her loss keenly, though few may realize it today.” 

– Doug Cutchins ’93

Margaret Tandoh ’93

“Dr. Tandoh represents the best of what Grinnell trains us to be — she works hard for humanity, helping wherever and whenever she can while reaching across to the next generation to help them succeed. As a trauma surgeon and healer, she went to Liberia in 2014 to help Ebola patients.” 

– Sharyn Obsatz ’93

Kirpal Singh ’97

“Kirpal is so helpful [and] honest and truly desires to foster the Grinnell community among alumni and current students. He is dedicated to aiding the success of others. I am so happy to continually receive Kirpal’s support and guidance. He has inspired me to become a mentor myself.” 

– Emily Hackman ’16

Adrienne Enriquez ’98

“I think the reasons for [Adrienne’s] success are threefold: her deep commitment to social justice, her belief that education can help level the playing field and open the doors of opportunity, and her drive to utilize her skills and abilities in service of others. I witness these things in action on a daily basis as she strives to make our programs the best they can be.” 

– Stephanie Carnahan, director, Oregon GEAR UP

Read more about the award recipients

A Pioneering Doctor

In the late 1960s, when the future president of the American Medical Association expressed an interest in medicine, her high school guidance counselor advised her that women don’t go to medical school. Today Dr. Barbara McAneny ’73 is a nationally recognized leader in oncology treatment, and this June begins her term as president of the AMA, the fourth woman president and the first president from New Mexico. 

A longtime resident of Albuquerque, McAneny fell in love with New Mexico when she did her fellowship there. She’s been politically active since early in her career, when she worked with other doctors to get the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act passed. “I learned when doctors work together for the benefit of patients we can do some pretty remarkable things. We can take on the tobacco lobby.” 

Her main goals as AMA president include providing better and more accessible health care and insurance to all. “In the richest country on the planet, we ought to be able to deliver affordable health care to people. I’d also like to see more Americans have access to meaningful insurance. I’ve seen too many patients who survive their cancer and are then uninsurable for anything else.” 

Her own oncology practice has a foundation that supports patients with nonmedical expenses such as rent, car and house repair, and buying food. “One of the things patients told me a long time ago is that cancer can be an economic disaster,” she says. 

McAneny is also the recipient of a nearly-$20 million grant to duplicate nationwide what her practice has done — aggressively manage the side effects of cancer and its treatment early enough that it can be done in a doctor’s office. This not only cuts costs for everyone but also decreases hospitalizations, which can be emotionally and physically traumatic for patients.

The daughter of two professors at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville — her father was a physicist and her mother was a mathematician — McAneny was always a pioneer. Bored with high school and a few credits shy of graduating, she left high school at 16 after applying to and being accepted by Grinnell. She arrived on campus in the fall of 1969. 

“In my high school classes I was the smartest kid in the room. At Grinnell I wasn’t, so I had to figure out how to work, and I’d never done that before.” It was also a magical time on campus. “We were all hippies then,” she recalls. “Late-night dorm discussions were about how do you want to make the world a better place, and that’s stayed with me.” 

McAneny loved Grinnell, but after meeting and marrying her first husband (who was graduating), the two moved to Minneapolis in 1971, where she completed her undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Minnesota. She returned to Iowa College of Medicine where she was one of seven women out of 170 graduates in the 1977 University of Iowa Medical School class. “It was pretty competitive, so you had to outperform the men to be considered equal,” she says.

She discovered her specialty, oncology, when she rotated through the acute leukemia service. “I recognized that these patients were some of the most courageous people I’d ever met. You quickly get a window into their heart.” 

Though much of her time today is spent on AMA leadership issues, McAneny still thrives on daily interactions with patients. “To help someone go through the scariest thing they’ve ever faced is rewarding,” she says. “You can feel like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”

Human and Wildlife Trafficking

People are sometimes surprised to learn that Steven Galster ’84 works equally hard to protect both humans and animals.

“When [my organization Freeland] first started out, we were looked at very oddly,” he says. “I used to go to meetings in the human rights community and there was this misconception that those who worked in wildlife only cared about animals and not about people.” 

However, Galster says that while working on issues surrounding global security for other organizations, he realized that the transnational trafficking of humans and animals had some things in common: “corruption, organized crime, and just the commodification of life.”

Galster says he began to grasp that there was a real need for risky frontline work on investigations and solutions aimed at the intersections in trafficking. “While conducting an investigation in the Russian Far East on Siberian tiger poaching, I met criminals who were trafficking tiger body parts and women,” he says. “When I tried to get police involved and sensed they were not ready to take on the crooks, I realized we had a role.”

So he founded an organization in 1995 that eventually evolved into Freeland (www.freeland.org) by 2002. The nonprofit provides training and technical assistance to police and customs and environmental agencies, giving them the tools to reduce poaching, illegal logging, enslavement, and the criminal exploitation of endangered people and animals.

“The vision of the organization is a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery,” he says. “The mission is to collaborate with civil society and governments to protect vulnerable people and wildlife.”

Freeland has had many successes since it was founded. In 2015, the nonprofit partnered with the Thai police to dismantle a human trafficking network controlled by a military general. It battled poachers targeting Indochinese tigers in 2017, helping to bring the big cat populations back from the brink of extinction. Freeland also teaches organic farming in poor communities to make them less of a mark to traffickers, and it trains airline staff around the world to identify and report signs of human or wildlife trafficking.

Galster spends most of his time these days in Freeland’s Bangkok office, but the organization is headquartered in Green Lake, Wis., which is where it held the North American version of the Freeland Film Festival (www.freelandfilmfest.org) June 15–17 this year. The soon-to-be annual film festival, which began in 2015, has been hosted in Asia and is set to rotate through Africa and South America in coming years.

It might also seem a bit unusual that a wildlife and human trafficking nonprofit hosts a film festival, but Galster says good storytelling is critical for inspiring change. The more we understand each other’s perspective, he says, the more people will “wake up” and want to take action.

“Environmentalism and human rights issues can sometimes become very political,” Galster explains. “So our focus and our stories are what people from many backgrounds can agree on as everyone’s priorities. It is my hope that the inspiration that people find while attending the festival will bring new hope for people, wildlife, and ecosystems everywhere.”

Galster credits his political science major at Grinnell and Wayne Moyer, professor of political science, for sparking his interest in human rights work. 

“He was so passionate about his work and took such a great interest in his students,” Galster says. “My mind opened up a lot at Grinnell.” 

The Running Man

Barry Matchett ’94, director of external affairs for NRG Energy, a power generation company, is running campaigns to promote clean energy development. He also campaigns for running as the secretary of the board for USA Pentathlon, the governing body for the Olympic sport.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee restructured USA Pentathlon in 2008, committee officials asked Matchett, a former pentathlon athlete with the U.S. national team, to join Pentathlon’s board. He later served as board chairman for six years; and now as board secretary, he helps organize fundraisers for the group and advises the board on governance issues.

At NRG, one of the largest owners of solar power projects and wind farms in the United States, he works with coalitions of industrial, environmental, and consumer advocates to create legislation that promotes renewable energy in Midwestern states. His goal, he says, is to lobby lawmakers and “stop bad ideas.” 

One bad idea: A move in Ohio to subsidize two outmoded 75-year-old coal plants. That battle he is confident of blocking. However, recent attempts to end subsidies for nuclear power plants in Illinois and several other states ended in defeat. 

“Should we subsidize certain types of power, or should we be more concerned with encouraging the development of clean, renewable energy?” he asks, then points out how energy sources like solar and wind power would help stave off global warming.

“Global warming is important to me because I have children, and I’d like to see us leave them a world that’s stable from a climate perspective,” he says. “I want to reduce today’s environmental problems by convincing people in office that we have solutions that work.”

Growing up in Chicago, Matchett had two passions in high school — politics and running. He joined the Model U.N. and the track and swimming teams. He continued running at Grinnell, where he proudly notes, “Our cross country teams won conference championships in all four years I was there. In my junior year, we won the cross country and indoor and outdoor track titles in the same season. My teammates remain some of my closest friends today.”

He credits Grinnell’s “excellent political science program” for his success, saying his instructors taught him to think critically and gave him the confidence to learn how to deal with people. He especially credits Ira Strauber, professor emeritus of political science: “He challenged students to not be sloppy in their thinking and taught in a way to replicate the academic rigor necessary to succeed in law schools. He was a stringent stickler for facts and sharp thinking, and anyone who took his class was made better for it.”

After graduation, Matchett trained for the Olympics at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., living at the facility for three years. When he missed the final cut for the 2000 Olympics, he returned to Chicago to work as a senior policy adviser for the Illinois Commerce Commission while earning a master’s of public policy from the University of Chicago. He later served as co-legislative director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a nonprofit consumer protection group, then joined the for-profit NRG in 2014.

“NRG offered me the opportunity to work with a company that was implementing things I’d spent a lot of time advocating for in the nonprofit sector,” he says. “After telling people, ‘Companies should build solar farms,’ I saw NRG was actually doing it.”

Matchett is proud of the ecological work he’s doing — just don’t call him a tree-hugger.

“There are people who, unfortunately, spend their time demonizing environmentalists for political purposes,” he says with a sigh. “But at the end of the day, everyone deserves to have clean air and water.”