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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.”

Street-Based Sex Work

A biology and religious studies double-major at Grinnell College, Katie Hail-Jares ’07 looks back on Professor Tammy Nyden’s Philosophy of Science class as instrumental to the way she approaches her research on sex work. It was in that class that she realized that in order to grow, science needed to include more diverse voices.  

Hail-Jares’ certainty that storytelling is essential to understanding research was the driving force behind Challenging Perspectives on Street-Based Sex Work (Temple University Press, 2017), which Hail-Jares co-edited. The book unites academics with the people whose lives are affected by street-based sex work (SBSW) to discuss policy and new directions for research. 

“Our book takes academic chapters about SBSW and intersperses them with response chapters written by people whose lives are impacted by sex work, including sex workers themselves, police officers, public defenders, activists, and medical providers,” she says.

The book grew out of her experience working with Washington, D.C.,-based HIPS, a harm reduction program that provides safer sex and injection supplies to street-based sex workers. She found that sex workers often felt taken advantage of by researchers because most of their work focused on a limited number of negative narratives. They often voiced frustration to Hail-Jares that the programming and policies that came out of it weren’t really helpful and didn’t address structural barriers like housing, unemployment, or transphobia. 

“Street-based sex workers have agency and are not pimp-controlled, drug-addicted caricatures,” she explains. “Many of the chapters authored by sex workers in the book discuss how they took on incredible advocacy opportunities to improve their communities. There are thoughtful discussions about pregnancy, gentrification, and the constitutionality of anti-prostitution statutes.”

Hail-Jares, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Griffith Criminology Institute in Queensland, Australia, says the unconventional approach of blending the activist, Everywoman perspective with those in the “ivory tower” was met with skepticism in academia. Some presses even urged her to not give authorship to nonacademic authors.

“We had a few presses that originally were interested in the manuscript that then passed when we refused to change the format and authorship to make those chapters more traditional,” Hail-Jares says.  

After the book was published, it resonated so much with the community that it inspired an original play, Project Dawn, which has been performed in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., in the past year.

The play explores the experiences of women in Project Dawn, a prostitution diversion court that really exists in Philadelphia. Two of the book’s chapters are firsthand experiences written by Project Dawn staff members. Hail-Jares’ co-editor, Corey Shdaimah, and the playwright Karen Hartman worked together closely to incorporate research and the voices featured in the book into the script. 

“It is very unusual for academic research to influence the creative arts in this way," Hail-Jares says. "We were excited about this opportunity to collaborate and reach a different audience.”

Hail-Jares’ work with underserved populations is not new. While an undergraduate, she received a national Harry S. Truman Scholarship for her work in coordinating the Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program. After graduation, she co-founded the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Skylark Project to provide legal and social services and support to incarcerated survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

This book has given her the opportunity to merge her past work with her current research. “I am so overjoyed that most sex workers have responded positively to the book and are supportive,” she says. “I keep every one of those messages.” 

Q&A with Misha Gelnarova ’18

Michaela “Misha” Gelnarova — an independent major in international relations and communications, from the Czech Republic — is vice president of academic affairs for the Student Government Association during the current (2017–18) school year.

Q: You seem like you’re involved in almost everything that happens on campus. Can you tell me about some of the leadership roles you serve in?

A: At Grinnell I lead a few organizations. The Extreme Society is an outdoor organization. We usually go over breaks to do some extreme activity, either surfing or hiking in the mountains. This past fall break we went to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We drove 16 hours there and we had accommodations for 20 people. We stayed in giant cabins and cooked together. We went hiking every single day, met with some alums in the area, and it was really cool. 

I lead the Gourmet Cuisine Society, a group that focuses on gourmet food. We invite people from different parts of campus and different backgrounds to come and cook with us on Sundays. There are some people who have experience, and some that don’t. We all just come and cook. And then we eat together.  

Then I co-lead the Friends of Slavs, which is a group of students who come from Eastern Europe. We get to celebrate different holidays or important days for the countries that we come from. And it’s kind of cool how you get to see that, even though I’m alone here from the Czech Republic, there are similar things in Poland, and in Bulgaria, and in Russia, so we can combine that together. 

Q: You have a position on the Student Government Association too, don’t you? 

A: I serve as the vice president of academic affairs with the SGA. I get to represent the whole student body on different committees like the curriculum committee, and I get to sit in on the faculty meetings as well. 

A big part of my job is also everything that is related to the building of the new buildings [the Humanities and Social Studies Complex and the Admission and Financial Aid Center]. We’re choosing the furniture right now, and the colors in the building, and all the navigation and way finding, what the outside’s going to look like, what the landscape’s going to look like. So that’s super exciting.

Q: What have you learned by being on the Building Projects Committee?

A: That I know nothing about building [laughs]. I feel like you really take it to the details. We look at chairs and talk about what the bottom of the chair should look like. Are students going to be turning or moving around in class, or are they going to be just watching what’s happening at the front? It is really talked through, every single detail. It’s important not only to say what I think during those meetings, but also to bring information back to the different groups on campus and ask them what they think, and do my best to represent the student body. 

Trial by Fire

I slid into a booth in a swanky joint I frequented little, if ever, in a part of town I saw only at night, if then. It was high noon. I was meeting up with an alum we’ll call “Joe.” He had a story to tell. I’d been there half a second when a pair of sharp eyes appeared opposite me. 

I looked him over. Well-groomed. Not too young, not too old. I’m paid to notice details. 

“Just the facts,” I said. “How’d it happen?” 

Joe spun a credible yarn about signing up as assistant to the head honcho of a company on the rise. He became a utility player extraordinaire — reports, promotions, site logistics, sales support — whatever the boss needed, he did it and did it well. 

“So what’s the beef?” I pressed. I flagged down a server. “Bring two anything,” I said sideways, not losing eye contact with Joe. Two sarsaparillas arrived. We chewed the straws. 

“No beef, I loved it,” Joe said through a foam moustache. The trouble started when the company’s longtime cat herder retired to the window sill. They’d searched around and found a new one. 

“We did the required background check,” Joe said. “Everything looked jake. Over time we were tipped off that our enterprising feline had used a relative’s pedigree to hide a rap sheet. Same name except for the middle initial.”

“Ouch.”

“It gets worse,” said Joe. “He shows up late one day and slinks out with a whole stack of employee files.”

“Not too bright, even for a calico,” I said.

“He did time,” Joe said, his eyes flashing satisfaction. “The cage suited him.” 

“What happened next?” I didn’t have all day and even less for the tab.

“We called the agency. They sent us another one,” Joe said, his voice lilting. “She wasn’t clinical, just irrational.”

Uh-oh.

“Three months in, she gives us one of those looks that only cats can give you and says, ‘Nothing personal, but I’m not suited for this job.’” 

“And?”

“We never saw her again.” 

Strike two. I was wearing down. It was way past my naptime. I blinked at the server with eyelids like damp canvas. From out of nowhere came a bowl of coffee grounds and two spoons. 

The company’s next cat herder looked great on paper, Joe said, interviewed like a pro, and pounced on the offer. “In retrospect,” he lamented, “the tiara should have been a tip-off. 

“She had no idea that anything she did could ever be wrong!” Joe said with the rhythmic incredulity of a ’40s film noir tagline. “She set herself up for failure.” 

I sensed the payoff was near. 

“My boss, the CEO, got involved. He said ‘Look, all the cats here know you. They trust you. I think you’d make a great director of feline resources.’” 

“As in cat herder,” I surmised. I’m paid to connect the dots. 

“Still, I had nothing but doubts,” Joe said. “I had zero FR experience. My first task was literally to cut the previous director’s final check. It was trial by fire.”

I had the big picture now. 

“The point is, it’s a really interesting job that I never expected to be doing. The company’s growing. I love training,” Joe said. “I envision my story with a headline like ‘Grinnell Teaches You Never to Fear New Challenges’ or maybe ‘FR Fun with Joe.’”

I shook my head. “I was thinking ‘The Felon, The Crazy Kitty, and The Princess,’” I said, “but I don’t think I can use it. I don’t look good in civil suits, if you get my drift. Besides, nobody would believe it.”

Joe didn’t look too disappointed. He said he had cats to herd and sprang off. I left a tip and went off to track down another improbable alum story. Something about a famous movie star who couldn’t even get a part in his school play.

This story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.