Bailey Dann ’17

After Bailey Dann ’17 graduated from Grinnell, she returned to Fort Hall, Idaho, intending to take the summer to plan next steps for pursuing a teaching career. But soon into this process, her phone rang. It was the principal of Chief Taghee Elementary, a Shoshone language dual-immersion charter school.

Dann, who is from the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, only knew a few Shoshone phrases yet agreed to work as a Shoshone language teacher.

“Our language has not been spoken in my family in the last four decades except in little bits and pieces here and there,” Dann says. “One of my gifts is language learning, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to gain fluency in Shoshone by learning from elders in our community.”

Currently, Dann is pursuing a master’s in linguistic anthropology from Idaho State University.

Her graduate thesis is focused on an accessible curriculum guide for Indigenous language teaching and planning.

“A guide like this doesn’t exist within my community,” she says. “I’m applying specific methods and theories that envelop the whole learner. A big part of my project is letting others know they are not alone. It is intensive work, but we are here. It takes an entire community to bring back a language.

Lisa Eshun-Wilson ’14

Lisa Eshun-Wilson ’14 envisions a radically transformed culture of scientific research and is thinking creatively about what it means to create a truly inclusive workspace.

Eshun-Wilson is a structural biologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Research Institute. For several years, she has worked with a technique known as cryogenic electron microscopy — cryo-EM for short — to determine the structure of biologically important proteins.

Along with her collaborator, Alba Torrents de la Peña, Eshun-Wilson used cryo-EM to resolve the structure of the surface protein of the hepatitis C virus, which facilitates the virus’s entry into host cells. Their discovery is a huge first step toward developing a structure-based vaccine for the virus, which afflicts more than 58 million people worldwide.

Eshun-Wilson is looking to entrepreneurship as an avenue to blend her research talents with her desire to transform the culture of science research.

If Eshun-Wilson must take an unconventional route to pursue the research she loves, she looks forward to the journey. “I am excited to work out something that fits my needs and my strengths and my values.” Whether that path exists already or not doesn’t matter. “I’ll create a new path,” she says.


Peter Willmert ’93

Peter Willmert ’93 took a winding road to Napa Valley in California, but the results have proved worth the journey. Willmert is CEO of Hudson Ranch and Vineyards, a working farm with a general store in Napa. The vineyards grow grapes for Hudson wines and other wineries.

“We manage all of that in a way which, hopefully, is thoughtful, sustainable, and in the pursuit of excellence,” Willmert says. “When you think about wine and how it’s different from so many other things you might consume, wine connects people to a place and a time in a way that very few other things do.”

After an early career in politics, Willmert realized he wasn’t interested in continuing campaigning. He decided to pursue a master’s in business administration at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School. Even though he saw major wine companies recruiting in the hallways of Kellogg, professors encouraged him not to be too quick to specialize. Their advice was to go and work for a “nuts and bolts” company for a few years.

The MBA and a stint at Johnson & Johnson “gave me a foundation across disciplines,” Willmert says. “It gave me a foundation to build upon, which is how I think about Grinnell, too.”


Marlú Abarca ’14

On Oct. 15, the final day of Latino Heritage Month, Marlú Abarca ’14 was inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame as part of its sixth class of honorees. During the ceremony, Abarca also received the Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award for outstanding and significant cultural, political, social, and economic contributions to the state.

“Since arriving in Iowa in 2010, I’ve organized, canvassed, marched, and protested, all to ensure that Iowa is better than the way that I’ve found it,” Abarca, who uses the pronouns they/them, said during the induction ceremony. Abarca has done that by “speaking my truth and using my voice.” It’s something they credit feeling empowered to do at Grinnell.

“We were in a culture of self-governance at Grinnell,” they say. “The student affairs staff was supportive of student autonomy and critical thinking. When I graduated, I felt empowered to speak my opinion — in a diplomatic way, of course. Grinnell helped me see, and now I can’t unsee, all the biases that exist and how they affect social and power dynamics.”

In 2016, Abarca was appointed to the state of Iowa’s Commission on Latino Affairs by then Gov. Terry Branstad. Abarca made a youth-empowering 2019 run for an at-large Des Moines City Council seat, and they organized the first bilingual satellite caucus site on the south side of Des Moines in 2020.

Kari Bassett ’98

Growing up in Des Moines, Kari Bassett ’98 experienced Black church through her grandfather, who was the bishop of the Church of God and Christ for the state of Iowa.

“This is the Pentecostal section, which is the holy-spirit, lots-of-dancing style of Black church,” Bassett explains. In 2017, just before her grandfather died, his Cedar Rapids church was designated an historic place of interest. “This was a fitting ending to his 45-year career,” Bassett says. “I wanted to do this for more Black churches.”

Bassett channeled this desire into reality, forming a nonprofit called the Black History Research Collective (BHRC), an organization committed to identifying Black churches that might be eligible for historic recognition. Starting with the Des Moines area, the research focuses on churches that have been around at least 75 years.

Last summer, the collective welcomed their first interns: Grinnell students Evelynn Coffie ’24 from New Orleans and Amani Alqasi ’25 from Bethlehem, Palestine. The research was challenging, as Bassett, Coffie, and Alqasi had to piece together many details due to lack of information.

“In the future, I would like to expand our scope to other Iowa churches as well as neighboring states,” Bassett says. “I also want to connect with the church elders who came here during the Great Migration to learn their stories.”

Damon Williams ’14 and Daniel Kisslinger ’14

Beginning in the summer of 2015, Damon Williams ’14 and Daniel Kisslinger ’14 could be heard on Chicago’s WHPK radio station with their show AirGo. Seven years and 300 episodes later, AirGo continues to create a living dialogue-based archive of Chicago’s creative communities and social movements.

AirGo started “as a love letter to a very specific context,” Williams says, the combined wave of poets, spoken word, and hip-hop artists, and “radical upsurge of people throwing down politically” in Chicago. The intention was to create a kind of archive while documenting and building the kind of Chicago and wider world that they both wanted to see.

“It felt like we were observing people in Chicago who were historically significant, and we wanted to make sure that that there was at least an hourlong time capsule of people in this community processing their life, experiences, and what developed their relationship to the world,” Williams says.

The Grinnell diaspora portion of AirGo features interviews with Shanna Benjamin, former Grinnell associate professor of English, and two conversations with Kesho Scott, associate professor of sociology and American studies.

“You’ll get a conversation about the space of Grinnell — how it shaped us and shaped our work,” Williams says.


Athletic Hall of Fame 2022

New members of the Grinnell College Athletic Hall of Fame joined Director of Athletics and Recreation Andy Hamilton ’85, left, for a group photo after their public induction ceremony on Sept. 3, which took place during the 2022 Fall Athletics Weekend.

Pictured bottom row (left to right): Jeff Clement ’99, Shirlene Luk ’15, Mark Trocinski ’99, and Sarah Evans ’05. Pictured top row (left to right): Donald Kraitsik ’69/’70, Claire Reeder Fletcher ’11, Michael Brus ’14, Kate Bowen ’06, and Gene Reid ’83. Not pictured: Vince Anku ’65.


Melinda Pettigrew ’92

A popular professor, researcher, and administrator at Yale University, Melinda Pettigrew ’92 says much of her focus was influenced by her time at Grinnell.

“I really loved Grinnell,” she says. “The teaching was excellent and … along with the importance of service, [those] are two things I’ve carried with me. I felt that Grinnell students were there because they were interested in learning. I try to instill that in my students. I want to see what gets them excited and not look at education as a commodity and being all about grades.”

Besides teaching and administration, Pettigrew is a molecular epidemiologist. “We look at who gets sick, when, and where,” she says. “We use genome sequencing to identify and track specific strains of bacteria, and we use that information to identify sources of infection and outbreaks. These data help us determine the best methods of prevention and control.”

Pettigrew has also been chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at Yale School of Public Health, working on fair and equitable promotion, appointment, and hiring practices. On July 1, Pettigrew took over as interim dean of the public health school. She’s embracing it as another opportunity to try things.

Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 and Sarah Beisner ’22

As a Holocaust survivor, Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 possesses a great deal of resilience. When she was admitted to Grinnell College, she had just three years of formal education.

“I was barely 17 when Grinnell took a chance on me,” says Biniaz. “They gave me a full scholarship, and I’ve always been very grateful to the College for giving me the opportunity and allowing me to move forward with my life. I was helped, and I wanted to help others.”

She recently established the Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 Model of Resilience Award to support a graduating senior who has overcome obstacles to obtain an education. Award recipients pursue a teaching career or other work devoted to the education and welfare of young people.

Sarah Beisner ’22 is the first recipient of the award. Like the prize’s namesake, she has a compelling life story with a demonstrated desire to give back and work for the common good. Beisner is a paralegal at Children’s Rights, a nonprofit law firm in New York City that works on behalf of children in foster care and juvenile detention whose rights have been violated.

“Celina Biniaz is such a special woman who has lived a special life, so to be the first to get the award in her name, I don’t have the words to put to it,” Beisner says. “It makes me doubly committed to the work I want to do.”


Sim Wimbush ’08

As the daughter of a Korean mother and African American father, Sim Wimbush ’08 enjoyed the best of two cultural and culinary worlds.

“I got a lot of exposure to soul food through church — black-eyed peas, collards, mac and cheese, smothered pork chops, and chicken. Then my mother would try her hand at making those things,” Wimbush says. “She’d often ‘Koreanify’ soul food, which would mean adding ingredients like ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, or Asian chives that she grew in her garden.”

While working as executive director of Virginia Housing Alliance, Wimbush began thinking of starting a food truck to indulge her love of cooking. In November 2019, she launched her food truck, Seoul 2 Soul. For two years, Wimbush featured a Korean-soul food menu that reflected her roots and incorporated both meat and vegan meals.

The combination of the pandemic, a full-time job, and not being able to find someone to run the business when she wasn’t around made her decide to sell the truck and switch her food focus.

She’s now working on getting two of her fusion recipes onto store shelves. She’s also creating a cookbook and has started a new position as disability policy engagement director with Anthem, an insurance company.