Mansir Petrie '99

Mansir Petrie ’99, right, pictured with Peace Corps colleagues in Panama in February 2020.

When Mansir Petrie '99 studied abroad in Kenya as a Grinnell College student, the experience sparked his lifelong desire to travel the world.

For the past two decades, Petrie’s work in international development has taken him to Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mozambique, Russia, and, most recently, Panama. No matter how far away he was from Grinnell, Petrie remained attached to his alma mater.

“It’s hard to imagine anything about my life without Grinnell,” he says.

Petrie and Graham Gelling ’99, class co-agents, crafted a class letter during the early stages of the pandemic that combined alumni updates with ideas for future Grinnell encounters as well as quarantine media recommendations (the TV show Scrubs led the list).

“It was a communication that emphasized we are all in this together,” Petrie says. “We want to have a sense of community. With our busy adult lives and now COVID, I know our class is not at the same level of communication as we used to be, but the letter is something to join us together.”

Mala Adiga ’93

Mala Adiga ’93When Mala Adiga ’93 was a law student at the University of Chicago, she was taught by Barack Obama.

It would not be the last time Adiga crossed paths with a future president of the United States. In November Adiga was appointed by then President-elect Joe Biden to be policy director for Jill Biden. Adiga previously served as a senior adviser to Jill Biden and was a senior policy adviser for Biden’s 2020 campaign.

An educator by profession, Jill Biden has said that as first lady, she intends to prioritize education and military families. Adiga previously worked for the Biden Foundation as director for higher education and military families.

Adiga, whose family emigrated from India’s state of Karnataka, graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in Spanish language and literature. She later worked for a Chicago law firm and clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon before joining Obama’s campaign in 2008. She went on to hold several positions in the Obama administration, including deputy assistant secretary of state for academic programs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and chief of staff and senior adviser to the ambassador-at-large in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Dave Dale ’78

Over his 35-year information technology career, Dave Dale ’78 has seen campus technology grow from the mid-1980s era, when students had access to a handful of computer terminals near huge mainframes, to today’s wireless campus, where students, faculty, and staff can go nearly anywhere in the world with a laptop to work.

Dale originally wanted to be a guidance counselor, but after taking Introduction to Computing with Professor Gene Herman his senior year, plans changed.

In 1985, Dale started his Grinnell College career as manager of operations in Information Technology Services (ITS), doing everything from managing hardware systems to installing and repairing personal computers. The job evolved into project management for infrastructure. He retired from the College this summer to focus on a farm that’s been in his family for five generations.

“The consistent thing was that I enjoyed helping people,” Dale said. “You can provide the campus with a service that helps students learn, faculty teach, and staff do their jobs. It was never boring.”

Carson Peters ’20

As a global public health student, Carson Peters ’20 cherishes the importance of working with community. In June, she launched Essential Cards Campaign, a card-writing campaign to thank essential workers in College Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“Their contributions are integral to our lives and their efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed,” she says. “They put their health and safety at risk.”

Peters collects handwritten notes from the community and she writes her own notes, then packages them in an Essential Cards envelope and ribbon. She’s hand-delivered them to workers at restaurants, gas stations, banks, and grocery stores, and to postal workers and public works employees.

At Grinnell, she served as a class ambassador for four years, a tour guide, and a mentor at local schools. She’s currently a class agent and working as a contact tracer for the Maryland Department of Health. Peters has completed her master’s of public health degree and is applying to Ph.D. programs.

“At Grinnell, I learned the importance of service and the impact of sharing positivity with communities,” she says.

Christopher Maag ’95

In his more than 20 years as a journalist, Christopher Maag ’95 has covered everything from the waning days of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to the devastating floods that overran Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s why, at age 46, he remains committed to journalism, despite its tribulations.

Maag has alternated between columnist and investigative reporter, but his goal has always been to report the news with the heart of a poet.

“At age 28 I discovered Tom Wolfe and found what writing could be,” he says. “I read The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and thought, ‘This is amazing. I’m feeling things.’ I had never read anything where art was the point.”

For the past seven years, he’s been at the northern New Jersey-based Record, covering New Jersey and New York City and topics ranging from cranberries to a local serial killer. “I never let an idea go, and the quirkier the better,” he says.

Karen Smith Hirshon ’73

When Karen Smith Hirshon ’73 takes the stage, the possibilities abound. The versatile Grinnell alumna plays more than a half-dozen stringed instruments: fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, bass, and hammered dulcimer.

Prior to the pandemic, Hirshon (pictured above right) and her Simple Gifts bandmate, Linda Littleton (above left), entertained audiences at colleges, churches, libraries, schools, and senior centers. The duo also teach elementary school students to play the ukulele, help high school students arrange compositions, and do musical work with the elderly and people with severe disabilities.

During her first year at Grinnell, Hirshon befriended guitarist Celia Millington-Wyckoff ’72, now a bluegrass bass player in North Carolina, and Michael Drayton ’72, an old-time fiddler and violinist in California. While most students at the time were into pop music like the Beatles, Hirshon and friends gravitated to country music and prison songs.

“Grinnell really did expose us to the whole concept of just following your curiosities,” Hirshon says.

Face Shields from Scratch

When Jonathan Rebelsky ’20 and Sage Kapland-Goland ’20 learned about an effort to support local hospitals by using 3D printers to create face shields, they sprang into action. They found an open-source face shield plan, connected with Erik Sanning ’89, technical director in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and got to work.

Using a pair of 3D printers, including one typically used to build props, they honed a process for the delicate, time-consuming tasks and have completed dozens of shields. (A single shield, which consists of two distinct pieces, takes more than five hours to print.)

“I am lucky to have both the tools and skills to print the parts,” says Sanning. “I’m pleased that, in at least some small way, I’m able to contribute to the safety of those who are really doing the hard, dangerous work.”

Rebelsky agrees. “I’m glad that I can do something to help make the situation better,” he says.

Have you used your skills to help others during the pandemic? Tell us about it.

Nightly Piano Bar Show Takes Off Online

Jon Richardson ’10 has been a full-time performer since graduating from New England Conservatory in 2017. But the weekly piano bar shows that were his bread and butter vanished as COVID-19 accelerated.

His solution? Creating a nightly virtual piano bar on Facebook and Instagram. The lively events have drawn thousands of regular viewers. The interest has been so high that he’s brought in a partner to manage it. New artists have joined the roster to help maintain the schedule.

While there are challenges to the format (“It’s really tough to get used to finishing a song and not hearing applause,” he admits), he says he’s learning at a breakneck speed — and hopes his performances may just be a bright spot in someone’s day. “Music is a therapeutic treatment during this difficult time,” he says.

To learn more, search for “Jon Richardson Music” on Facebook.

A Transformation for an Event Space

Like many other businesses, the Central Collective, an event space in Knoxville, Tennessee, closed its doors in mid-March. But co-founder Dale Mackey ’07 has worked hard to fulfill its mission in different ways during the pause.

Instead of its regular “Good Sport Night” — a mystery event that encourages people to “be ready for anything,” Mackey sold a “Good Sport Box.” Buyers received an array of art and goods made in Knoxville. She’s also hosted a successful virtual art reception on Instagram Live, with a portion of the proceeds going to local relief efforts.

Mackey says that while the events don’t come close to replacing the income the space had during normal business, she’s proud of the work the organization has been able to do. “Seeing people banding together, helping to support each other, and finding new and innovative ways to stay afloat has been really inspiring to me,” she says. “[We’ve tried to] provide a little light during a very dark time.”

If you’ve made a surprising adaptation as a result of the pandemic, we want to hear your story.

Artist Creates Team of "Social Distancing All-Stars"

For graphic facilitator Brandy Agerbeck ’96, the pandemic has taken a brutal toll on her business. Her spring teaching tour in Europe was postponed, and her live workshops are on hold.

If there is any silver lining, it is the clarity with which she sees her role in this moment. “I’m turning to the same tool I teach,” she says. “Drawing.”

That sense of purpose led her to create a series of mascots that she calls the Social Distancing All-Stars. The lighthearted cartoon animals — from “Shelter in Place Turtles” to “Frontline Fighters” — are sold on T-shirts, mugs, and stickers.

Agerbeck says the response has been positive. “Folks get relief from humor,” she says. “There’s the fun of picking your team and feeling more of a sense of teamwork, even in isolation.”

See all of Agerbeck’s “Social Distancing All-Stars.”