Valencia Alvarez ’20

Valencia Alvarez ’20For Valencia Alvarez ’20, the journey from her hometown of Yucaipa, California, to Grinnell was notable for several reasons. She was the first in her family to attend college, it was the first time she had traveled by plane, and Iowa was the farthest she’d ever been from home.

By the time Alvarez graduated, she was a Fulbright Scholar who had visited more than a half dozen countries to study immigration and global health issues through the College’s Institute for Global Engagement (IGE).

“As part of the Global Learning Program, we learned about education within migrant communities, talked to border patrol agents about security and policies, spoke to migrants about their experiences, and visited Greece and Germany at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis,” she says.

In September 2021, Alvarez traveled to Mexico to help students learn English and focus on empowering girls through soccer. Once that is completed, she will use a Stouffer Fellowship to earn her master’s in public health, then hopes to work as a public health provider helping immigrant and vulnerable communities.

“As long as you’re able to open your mind to the world, you’re able to learn a lot about yourself and the world in the process,” she says.

Heather Benning ’96

Heather Benning ’96 never thought she would be part of conversations that decided the course of the NCAA basketball tournament and other collegiate sports championships.

In a volunteering journey that started when she was soccer coach at Grinnell College 18 years prior, Benning was part of the team that guided the country’s largest collegiate amateur sports organization through the pandemic. A member of the NCAA board of governors and chair of the Division III Management Council, Benning helped tackle sport cancellations; return to competition; student-athlete eligibility; name, image, and likeness; and a bevy of other substantial issues.

It was exhilarating and exhausting.

“It was an excellent professional opportunity to be at the table during a crisis,” Benning says. “I got to hear how the pandemic was affecting different institutions and conferences and take part in unprecedented discussion about how to move forward with college sports during a pandemic.”

Benning has served as executive director of the Midwest Conference since March 2014. She oversees the administration of 18 varsity sports and is the conference’s chief administrator on financial, compliance, and operational matters.

“My volunteer roles with the NCAA helped me feel really grounded when I would have conversations in the Midwest Conference about what we were going to do as a league,” Benning says.

Five Generations Family

Sisters Nancy Welch Barnby ’61 and Jill Welch ’64 said they never felt under pressure to attend Grinnell College. It was just an expectation that they never questioned.

“When we started thinking about college, there was never a question of where my sister and I would apply,” Jill Welch says. “We slept and ate Grinnell from the time we knew what a college was.”

The Grinnell tradition began when Hazel Wilson 1906 married Carl Wright 1905. All four of their children (Margaret Wright Gleysteen ’32, Janet Wright Welch ’34, Catharine Wright Carns ’38 and James “Bob” Wright ’44) attended Grinnell. From this generation, all but one of Nancy and Jill’s aunts and uncles are also Grinnell alumni.

With the arrival of Lucy Hartley ’25, Jill’s granddaughter, on campus for fall 2021 classes, there are now five generations of Grinnellians in the family. When her great-aunt learned of Lucy’s college choice, she mailed a symbolic gift to her — Nancy’s Honor G sweater.

“When I decided on Grinnell, my grandmother was so excited,” Lucy recalls. “It was the height of the pandemic, so we were on Facetime. I was glad that I got to see the look on her face.”

Nancy Welch Barnby and Lucy Hartley

Suyog Shrestha ’06

Born and raised in Nepal, Suyog Shrestha ’06 knew early on that he wanted to study physics in the United States; and in the summer of 2002, he came to Grinnell. Now a particle physicist, he’s been working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), just outside Geneva, Switzerland, for the past decade.

“CERN’s like a big Grinnell but dedicated to physics,” says Shrestha. “It’s a Disneyland for physicists, very diverse and international.”

Shrestha describes his research as “finding new laws of nature.” The overarching goal of his research is to understand the fundamental constituents of the universe. His work has practical applications in data science, supercomputing, nuclear medicine, medical imaging, and radiation therapy for cancer.

Shrestha was also part of a team that convinced Nepal government officials to invest more in basic science. He helped form a partnership between CERN and Nepal to provide an exchange of technology and knowledge — including the donation of 200 extremely powerful computer servers to a university in Nepal.

“We do a kind of on-the-road program in Nepal for villages, schools, colleges, and cities, to bring a flavor of the research we do,” he says. —

Neil Matin ’99

When racing was shut down by the pandemic, Neil Martin ’99 didn’t stop. He did dozens of 26.2-mile training runs, the equivalent of 57 marathons in a row. That’s one every weekend.

Martin is clinical director of radiation oncology and co-director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston. Running was a stress reliever at an incredibly stressful time.

“All of a sudden we had to figure out how to keep seeing patients and keep the staff safe,” he says. “In the early days, it was really emotionally fraught.”

And so began the streak. The first April weekend, Martin took on the Boston Marathon course a bit slower than he wanted, so he decided to aim faster for the next weekend. He would run with a friend or two and soon running 26.2 miles on an early Saturday morning felt normal.

“That state of really concentrating and pushing and working at something is really appealing to me,” explains Martin. “There are periods where you are sort of in flow and it feels effortless, and there are long periods where it’s hard, and you’re telling your body to keep going.”

Kyle Parker ’17

During his Grinnell student days, Kyle Parker ’17 found himself either asking basketball teammates to cut his hair or trying to navigate his full schedule and find transportation to get to a barbershop in Des Moines.

Eventually, he reached out to his Des Moines barber and asked if he would come to Grinnell to provide haircuts. The result was overwhelmingly positive — the clients were multiple, and the barber’s travel and time were well-compensated.

Parker knew he was onto something. That year, he founded ClipDart, an on-demand mobile barber service for people who do not have reliable access to barbershop services that focus on their specific hair care needs.

“For Black and Latino people, part of our culture is our hair. Our barbers can be therapists. They provide safe havens in the community,” he explains. “Some people know their barbers as well as they know their parents. When you go away from that, you feel like a part of yourself is missing.”

After the pandemic halted his professional basketball career in Germany last year, Parker returned to the United States and launched an app for ClipDart. The service has resulted in a new way to do business for barbers and a boost in positive self-esteem for clients, he says.

Josh Blue ’01

As he worked to adjust his everyday life to the new realities created by COVID-19, Josh Blue ’01 faced one of the tougher challenges posed by the pandemic: how to ensure young students continue to learn amid drastically altered learning environments. And for an added layer of difficulty, he did it in a city that has no shortage of educational expectations.

“Hong Kong is fast-paced and highly driven, and expectations are incredibly high,” Blue says. “Trying to find a system that would work for us, that was manageable, and that would appease parents was the real challenge.”

Blue, head of primary at Discovery College Hong Kong, says international schools in Hong Kong operate much like U.S. schools, and the language of instruction is English. A major difference comes in the diversity of the student body in Hong Kong, with many students’ families coming from abroad, creating a greater mix of language backgrounds.

“I definitely think that Grinnell helped encourage a global mindset,” he says, “and instilled the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice — the heart of being international-minded

2021 Alumni Awards

Frances Gray

Frances Gray ’71

Serving as a pediatrician in an Indianapolis urban clinic for 33 years, Dr. Gray provided care to immigrant, refugee, and Native Hoosier families facing language, cultural, and financial barriers. She also participated in a national project to coordinate community services to improve care of abused children and regularly mentors girls who are interested in medicine as a career.

Sheena Thomas

Sheena Brown Thomas ’71

Thomas is known as an artist and a community organizer. A goldsmith who co-owned Elements Ltd. in Des Moines, Iowa, for 25 years, she has made more than 100 individual medals for Grinnell students, faculty honored with endowed chairs, and winners of the Grinnell Prize. She has led numerous civic and social justice initiatives, including organizing nonpartisan Get Out the Vote walks in low-voter-turnout areas in Des Moines and collecting food and supplies for homeless immigrants in Cedar Rapids following the 2020 derecho.

Sally Campbell GalmanSally Campbell Galman ’96

A professor of child and family studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Campbell Galman is a scholar and activist committed to improving the lives of children and their caregivers. She combines art and social science to capture a nuanced understanding of children’s diverse gendered lives across school, home, family, and community contexts and uses visual research as a vehicle for outreach and advocacy. She is the principal investigator of the Gender Moxie Project, a research group studying gender diversity in childhood.

Sabrina EaganSabrina Eagan ’96

Eagan has made remarkable contributions to public health through her work on HIV and tuberculosis projects around the globe. In her 18 years as a public health nurse, she has helped develop health networks in 15 countries. As a senior technical adviser at the JSI Research and Training Institute, she works to improve service delivery and patient management.

Jake JosephRev. Jake Joseph ’11

A minister at First Congregational Church of Guilford, Connecticut, Joseph is creating change through a focus on equity. A specialist in leadership, fundraising, teaching, and community organizing, he helped write a national framework for inclusion of people with disabilities in affordable housing, advocated for Habitat for Humanity initiatives, and helped plan one of the largest LGBTQ conferences in the world. His Grinnell volunteerism includes serving as co-chair of Grinnell-on-the-Front Range and co-founding the Grinnell-in-South­ern New England regional network.

View the 2021 Alumni Assembly ceremony.

Ron Stanford ’71 and Fay Hazelcorn Stanford ’72

During his years at Grinnell, Ron Stanford ’71 was one of the students in charge of booking concerts for the College. He helped bring Jackson Browne, Steve Miller, John Prine, Bill Monroe, and other marquee name acts to campus.

But it was another band that ended up being the most influential to Stanford and his wife, Fay Hazelcorn Stanford ’72. The Balfa Brothers, a Cajun family that hailed from Basile, Louisiana, told Stanford that if he ever wanted to visit, he was welcome in Basile.

After graduation, the Stanfords received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant; for the next two years, they documented music and culture in and around Basile, taking hundreds of black-and-white photos. The couple also produced a Cajun and zydeco album, J’étais au Bal (I Went to the Dance), complete with a 30-page liner notes booklet. The groundbreaking recording showcased Black and white musicians together at a time when races in southwest Louisiana rarely mixed.

In 2016, Ron rediscovered a huge box of photos from the Basile days. He assembled a batch for an art exhibit in Philadelphia and then compiled 100 of the best shots for a book titled Big French Dance: Cajun & Zydeco Music, 1972–74.

“Before people were aware of how distinct Cajun culture was, they were just living their lives,” Fay says. “Music was part of their lives, family gatherings, and festivals, and they let us go along with it.”

Amanda Hodo ’14

As an aquarium biologist, Amanda Hodo ’14 makes sure the animals at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, are getting everything they need to have healthy and fulfilling lives.

Hodo has wholeheartedly embraced roles that educate and inform aquarium visitors about marine life. The latest example came in April when she was featured on CBS’s Mission Unstoppable.

“I was really excited with the way that they highlighted the shark training, because that’s something that our guests really enjoy; and people who haven’t been to Mote may not have realized sharks can be trained in such a way,” Hodo says. “I also was excited to be shown in such a magnificent setting on TV in scuba gear because of the visibility implications.

“Visibility and trying to represent minority women in a career that normally doesn’t have very many of them is a really amazing thing to be a part of,” Hodo adds. “It can also be really stressful. I put a lot of pressure on myself sometimes, but it is ultimately a really great opportunity to showcase marine science and hopefully inspire the next generation to consider this as a career.”