Strategy Session

Engaging Students

Embedding philanthropy as part of the educational experience helps students connect their learning to the careers they want to pursue and the lives they want to lead. It upholds our values and prepares students to be philanthropically effective in a changing world. 

Just as our Office of Development and Alumni Relations engages alumni in the life and work of the College, we have established ambitious goals to more effectively build relationships with current students. Students are helping to fuel the development of programs that encourage peers to demonstrate College affinity while preparing them to stay engaged after graduation. 

From the time they arrive on campus, Grinnell students gain a sense of becoming “alumni in residence.” As they become part of a deeply connected intellectual and professional network, they also find that this connectivity involves sharing their time, talent, treasure, and ties in their home communities, with other members of the Grinnell community, and with the College. They learn firsthand that strengthening commitments among people who represent the future of our alumni programming is healthy for the College and fundamental to what it means to be a Grinnellian.

We fortified this commitment in 2014 by adding to our staff an assistant director of student programs — a position dedicated to both building new programs and strengthening others that visionary alumni previously helped establish. Our professionals are partnering with a group of student leaders who comprise the Student Alumni Council and whose guidance established activities such as I Heart GC Week. These students invest personally and creatively to build philanthropic awareness and skills for future engagement with their peers. 

We are especially proud that this nascent program has already been recognized by our peers in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Last August, leadership from the Student Alumni Council and the Senior Class Gift Committee traveled to the CASE Conference in Washington, D.C. The trip was made possible by a gift from Barry Zigas ’73 and Jodie Levin-Epstein ’72. In addition to receiving an honorable mention award for National Philanthropy Week, the students benchmarked their philanthropy education program against their peers and had the opportunity to network with advancement professionals from across the country.

Our vision of achieving Grinnell’s enduring mission in unpredictable times is enhanced by our ability to connect with alumni at all levels. Whether we are helping to facilitate the effectiveness of future class fund directors or planting the seeds of networking opportunities throughout the global Grinnell network, we anticipate that this new student-focused approach will help guide the student-to-alumni transition.

As giving by Grinnell’s young alumni trends upward, we hope to see more young alumni stepping up in volunteer roles and larger numbers of alumni attending reunions. On campus, we are elevating the importance of giving back and paying forward as an essential component of what it means to be part of the Grinnell family. That is a trend that will benefit all Grinnellians, present and future. 

Q&A with the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force

In the spring of 2017, Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80, chair of the Grinnell College Board of Trustees, appointed a Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force to explore related issues including possible fossil fuel divestment in an unbiased, intellectually rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner. The task force consists of three trustees: Michael Kahn ’74 (task force chair), Kathryn Jagow Mohrman ’67, and Edward Senn ’79

Below is a Q&A with Kahn about the task force’s role on these issues.

Q. Why was this task force formed? (What impact did student protests and arguments have on its formation?) 

A. Student activism and engagement certainly helped shine a brighter light on the topic of divestment, and board chair Finkelman and President [Raynard S.] Kington both agreed a dedicated task force was warranted to address this complex issue.

Q. To support the task force’s work, President Kington appointed an advisory committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, chaired by Wayne Moyer, professor of political science. They identified resources for the task force to consider, including experts who participated in campus dialogues during the fall. What was your impression of those resources? 

A. The expert speakers and other resources identified by both the task force and advisory committee have been really excellent. We all learned a great deal from this process. 

Q. During the fall semester, three series of “dialogues” were held on campus and speakers from on and off campus were invited to share their expertise about topics including divestment, investor activism, Grinnell’s sustainability plan, and trends in renewable energy. What did you learn that was most surprising or useful as you think about these issues? 

A. We’ve learned a great deal over the 15 on-campus sessions. It was helpful to learn just how much Grinnell is already doing with regard to sustainability plans and surprising to learn that several recognized leaders in responsible investing favor investor engagement over divestment. 

Q. What was your impression of the participation by the campus community in the dialogues? 

A. The members of the advisory committee were actively engaged in each campus session, but broader turnout was otherwise pretty limited. Since the issues are more complex than many might realize, we hope those who are interested will go to the task force website,, to view some of the sessions. Everything the task force members are seeing and considering is available for all to see.

Q. At the spring 2018 board meeting, the task force will present its recommendations. How will the task force decide what to recommend? 

A. We will spend the next several months combing through all of the information we have received plus any other research or information the advisory committee provides for our review. We have been meeting weekly for many months already, and I believe we have a strong foundation for working through decisions on divestment and other actions the College could take to positively address climate change. We are all confident that this process will produce a number of impactful recommendations. 

Q. Final thoughts? 

A. We believe our process has been as important as the serious questions we are seeking to address. This has been a completely open, inclusive, and transparent process. The voices and views of students, faculty, alumni, and staff have all played a major role, not just the voices of outside experts. Though our work isn’t done, I think all of us who have worked on this are proud of how we have gone about it. 

Developing a Comprehensive Diversity Plan

In 2009 the College decided that a campus climate survey to assess diversity and inclusion was necessary. The survey results and subsequent recommendations made by the Campus Climate Task Force helped the College take significant steps forward. Some of these steps included hiring an ombudsperson, creating the Staff Council, comprehensively revising the staff handbook, and creating the Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).  The CDI is composed of faculty, staff, and students and is responsible for reviewing, revising, and implementing the Grinnell College Diversity Plan. See the list of members.

In 2015, Lakesia Johnson was appointed chief diversity officer and co-convener of the CDI along with Leslie Turner Bleichner ’07, then assistant dean of students and director of intercultural affairs. Under their leadership, the CDI initiated a new campus climate assessment process, including an updated survey.   

Diversity plan development

The CDI researched and discussed multiple survey options and ultimately decided to return to the 2009 original survey questions, which were developed specifically for Grinnell College. The new survey questions were finalized in fall 2016 and submitted to the College’s Institutional Review Board for approval. In December 2016, Maure Smith-Benanti joined the CDI as co-convener in her new role as associate dean of students and director of intercultural affairs. At the same time, the survey was approved for release and went out to students, faculty, and staff during the winter of 2016–17. 

Developing a comprehensive diversity plan is an iterative process that requires considerable time, attention, and care, especially when gathering and evaluating confidential feedback. Because of this, it has not been a quick process. In addition to the climate survey feedback, other efforts have been underway which will also inform the content of the diversity plan. In the fall of 2016, the CDI divided into working groups to examine curricular initiatives; co-curricular and residential initiatives; employment policies and practices; and admissions, financial aid, and alumni relations. Each group reviewed Grinnell’s historical diversity initiatives related to its topic, met with relevant campus members, and presented a preliminary report to the entire CDI.  

For example, the working group on employment policies and practices presented employment data and the challenges that the College faces as it seeks to recruit and retain a diverse group of employees. While the College has made some significant progress in terms of faculty hiring, diversity hiring procedures for staff still need to be developed. Topics that emerged for further consideration from this working group include demographic trends in student on-campus employment and the development of concrete diversity hiring goals, among others.

Next steps in diversity plan development

Throughout the summer of 2017 we (Lakesia and Maure) have been working with Institutional Research to code and analyze the data, which we will present to the campus community this fall. We will ensure that there are multiple opportunities for feedback on this data. After reviewing the feedback, the CDI will write a draft diversity plan. We will make the draft public and solicit feedback on its content. We hope to do this during the spring 2018 semester. We anticipate that it will be a living, breathing, flexible document with staying power that will hold the College accountable, regardless of who occupies the position of chief diversity officer or director of intercultural affairs.

Recruiting, welcoming, including, and supporting lifelong Grinnellians is critical to the College’s mission. This work requires a sustained institutional commitment to campus policies and practices that promote the goals of inclusion, equity, and social justice. This sustained and institutionalized commitment to action is vital; and as co-conveners of the CDI, we are confident that with the right amount of attention, accountability, and care, this work will have a lasting and positive impact.  


Postgraduate Success: Meaningful and Purposeful Lives

The Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) is blazing new ground in its focus on preparing Grinnellians to lead lives of meaning and purpose. After extensive strategic planning, the CLS has developed a new model that rebukes traditional approaches to preparing for life after college. The CLS model is novel in many ways; holistic in scope, it is integral to each student’s experience and embraces the tenets of experiential learning. 

Holistic: The intersections of one’s professional goals, civic interests, and personal ambitions are important — very important. The CLS model actively engages students in discerning their values, strengths, and interests, and provides multiple opportunities for students to examine the ways in which they may contribute professionally, civically, and personally to the world. 

Integral: The CLS model is an integral aspect of every student’s experience at Grinnell College. From New Student Orientation to Commencement, students will engage with the CLS throughout their four-year experience. Every new student — first-year and transfer — will be assigned a CLS adviser. As students begin to discern their values, strengths, interests, and sense of direction, they will benefit from the CLS’s extensive team of specialized and career community advisers eager to work with them. Additionally, the CLS provides support to early career alumni, specifically those within three years of graduation.

Experiential: Given its high impact on student development and the ways in which it complements a residential liberal arts education, the CLS model embraces experiential learning. From job-shadowing to internships to undergraduate research to service learning, these and other modes of experiential learning provide students the context to garner valuable experience, develop new skills, make valuable connections, and develop the necessary insights to advance or potentially modify their goals. However, a singular high-impact experience is insufficient. All students who graduate from Grinnell College will have multiple, high-impact experiences to draw from.

Within this new model, five complementary teams work collaboratively.

The advising and exploration team helps students explore, discern, and articulate their values, strengths, and interests. Through small-group and individualized advising as well as a range of specialized programming, this team works with students to create, test, validate, and, at times, refine their preliminary personal, civic, and professional goals.

The career communities team provides industry-focused advising and programming to students and early-career alumni as they focus and connect their values, strengths, and interests to particular postgraduate goals and ambitions. The seven distinct career communities encompass art and communication, business and finance, education professions, government and social service, health professions, law, and science and technology.

The employer engagement team cultivates, develops, and sustains mutually beneficial recruiting relationships with a broad array of organizations seeking to recruit Grinnell students for internships, full-time employment, and related postgraduate opportunities. By using both high-tech and high-touch services, this team is responsible for ensuring recruiters know Grinnell College as a reliable source of remarkable talent.

The global fellowships and awards team coaches and advises students and early-career alumni through the application and nomination processes for highly selective awards. Working in close partnership with international foundations and trusts as well as the Grinnell College faculty, this team ensures Grinnell students and alumni are among the most prepared and polished candidates for Watson, Truman, Fulbright, and related postgraduate awards and scholarships. 

The service and social innovation team leverages the unique expertise and needs of our community partners, faculty, students, staff, and alumni to create partnerships that serve the common good and create an avenue for students to discern and integrate their values, academic interests, and emerging professional skills with their personal, civic, and professional goals.

My staff and I look forward to partnering with the broader Grinnell College community as we work toward bringing this vision to life.

Telling Grinnell’s Story

In 2015 President Raynard S. Kington presented to the community a road map for the College’s future. Called Vision 2030, it seeks to capitalize on the College’s strengths and build the programs that will make Grinnell distinct from its peers (see Kington’s “Strategy Session” on Page 4 of the Winter 2015 issue of the magazine). To support the progress of Vision 2030, the College has been making important strides to strengthen the ways in which we tell the Grinnell story. 

Starting with market research in 2012 with the Art and Science Group and then creative development in 2013–14 with Crane MetaMarketing, we laid the groundwork for a major marketing push. During the spring 2016 board meeting, trustees endorsed a comprehensive brand initiative designed to broaden awareness of the College among prospective students, alumni, and donors. This effort will also demonstrate Grinnell’s value as a top-choice liberal arts college and a cause worth giving to.

After extensive evaluation of more than a dozen national firms, the College selected Ologie, based in Columbus, Ohio, as its strategic marketing partner. The firm has developed comprehensive marketing strategies for other colleges and universities and we were particularly drawn to Ologie’s success with liberal arts colleges. 

In its “discovery” phase, Ologie team members are becoming familiar with Grinnell. They have been going through an expansive amount of background material, from The Grinnell Magazine, recruitment publications, and media coverage to web pages, research, and social media activity. Members of the firm’s team have been on campus twice to meet with students, faculty, and staff since starting the project in December. They have also conducted interviews with trustees and alumni. 

In addition to getting to know Grinnell, an essential Ologie goal is to better understand how our target audiences perceive the College. In February, alumni, prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, and a sample of the general population were invited to complete a survey designed to gain deeper insight into the impressions these audiences have of Grinnell. 

Once we understand our audiences’ perceptions of Grinnell, we can better tell our story. In the coming months, the College and Ologie will use that knowledge to develop a brand strategy for the College, then develop a marketing plan to support its rollout, working closely with the leadership of the Offices of Admission and Development and Alumni Relations. 

Comprehensive initiatives such as this take time, effort, and commitment on the part of many Grinnell stakeholders. We greatly appreciate your contributions and welcome your input. If you have any questions or comments about our ongoing brand project, you can reach out to us at communications[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

The Grinnell Magazine Redesigned

At first glance, this issue of The Grinnell Magazine looks very different — intentionally so. Some of the feedback from last spring’s alumni communications survey suggested that we reduce the magazine’s trim size and use less fancy paper, so we did. The trim size is an industry standard 8 inches by 10.5 inches. The uncoated paper stock uses the same amount of recycled postconsumer waste — 10 percent — as the glossier paper did and costs about the same. 

Larissa Stalcup, our staff graphic designer and the magazine’s new art director, created the design using the fonts and colors recommended by Crane MetaMarketing, the firm the College hired to help craft its institutional identity. 

In terms of content, we’ve added a few new departments — one of which is written by readers. “Prompted” will present a different writing prompt and a deadline in each issue. All writers whose work is selected for publication will receive a T-shirt with a fun image designed by Kevin Cannon ’02.

Another new department is this one, “Strategy Session.” In future issues, President Raynard S. Kington and members of his senior staff will write this column to help explain Grinnell’s vision and strategy across all areas of campus. 

Some of the content changes are modifications to existing sections. For example, “In Memoriam” now includes short obituaries whenever possible rather than bare facts. 

What hasn’t changed is our interest in telling compelling stories about Grinnellians from all walks of life. 

Brian Vicente ’99 was at the forefront of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use. He explains how his work came about in a Q&A with staff writer Denton Ketels.

Ketels also tells the story of Michael Kahn ’74, who’s mentored many Grinnell College interns at TIAA-CREF since 2000.

Last spring I had the privilege of interviewing a campus legend — Georgia Dentel, the woman who brought Bruce Springsteen to campus, among many others. 

We are always looking for compelling story ideas — quirky or straightforward, serious or funny. Please send your ideas as well as your feedback on this new design to magazine[at]grinnell[dot]edu.


The Institute for Global Engagement: Cultivating a Global Mindset

Most people never leave the place where they are born. And yet, their lives today are more affected by what happens in other parts of the world than at any time in the past. Similarly, faraway forces affect students, staff, and professors at colleges and universities. Those of us in communities of higher learning have the added task and responsibility of grappling with the effects of a world in which the distance between places far and near is compressed. 

How do we live fully and justly in a world in which lives and livelihoods here are affected by and affect lives and livelihoods there? Places hold different people, experiences, ways of thinking about and doing things, as well as unequal distributions of resources. How do we encourage a way of thinking and being in the world that makes us better citizens of it? 

The purpose of the Institute for Global Engagement is to cultivate a mindset that invites faculty, students, and staff to grapple with these kinds of question. The institute leads strategic thinking about the College’s global initiatives, fosters and administers external partnerships and collaborations, promotes faculty and staff development in international areas, and supports global programming and research. It encompasses programming for off-campus study, course-embedded travel, and visiting scholars. A new program will support language acquisition and build intercultural competence. 

The institute aims to support the Grinnell community as it:

Internationalizes the curriculum. This goal may be met entirely on campus, for example by identifying and promoting courses that have a global component or perspective. Or it might involve travel related to the pedagogical objectives of a course. The institute supports faculty and courses that allow students to gain a deep and critical knowledge of the world, including the United States. Faculty-led, course-embedded travel is one way Grinnell has made its curriculum more attentive to how students understand (1) a place different than their home country, (2) a global process or system, (3) contextually informed debates about practices, customs, and ideas, and (4) their home countries in a global context. 

Promotes closer ties among students from different countries and/or those who have lived in, or had significant experiences in, countries other than their own. Students who come to the United States from other countries or U.S. students who travel for short or long periods all have insights and perspectives to share with each other.  

Supports travel to other places so that students and faculty can get to know people there, their experiences, how they think, their struggles and travails, and how our worlds are interconnected as well as the same and different. The institute supports travel that helps Grinnellians learn about the people, the history, science, and art of another place.  

In its first year, the institute will focus primarily on laying the organizational foundations on which to build in subsequent years, but also on providing existing programming for students and faculty. There is much work to be done, but possibilities are thrilling! 


Living and Learning on Campus

Grinnell College’s renewed efforts to increase the retention of our students and implement strategies toward overall student well-being and success led President Kington in 2015 to appoint a Task Force on Residential Learning to evaluate intersecting areas of campus life. The task force goals are to:

  1. Define the goals of self-governance in order to serve the mission of the College. Self-governance has been and continues to be an important element of Grinnellian tradition and identity. However, there is a clear need for the community to engage in some collective introspection around how we understand self-governance. A pattern we see is students interpreting the “self” in self-governance to refer to just the individual, rather than to a broader community that is self-governing. Some students’ beliefs that self-governance means “no rules and/or rule-enforcement” has contributed to data which show significant numbers of our students being negatively impacted by other students’ use of alcohol and other drugs.
  2. Suggest avenues to infuse the College mission into the residential experience. In recent decades, the residence halls have evolved to areas where many students “hide” from their looming academic responsibilities, and our alcohol policies have left the lounges to be used primarily for community-building around alcohol. Students’ residential environments should not detract from the academic experience but should instead contribute positively to learning by supporting a healthy framework to focus on academics and offering additional opportunities to support cocurricular and extracurricular learning goals. Thoughtful programmatic endeavors can revive the status of the residence halls as a place to learn, govern, and explore adulthood in a mentored environment.
  3. Help students thrive, not just survive. The intersections of student mental health, substance use and abuse, sleep, loneliness, and academic rigor are converging in ways that negatively affect student well-being, which affects retention and success. For example, exit interview data from students who opted to leave Grinnell displayed a struggle to find a social niche. Prospective students and their families report discomfort around Grinnell’s “party culture,” and the 2015 data from the National College Health Assessment returned some concerning statistics about the campus environment around mental health as well as the individual and community impacts of substance use. A public health approach suggests that we must work at multiple levels ranging from individual to interpersonal to institutional levels. Some alcohol policy changes have already been made (see Page 9), but we are aware this constitutes only one step in a complex series of solutions.
  4. Provide leadership development for students. Grinnell is notable for a large number of student organizations and generous funding from the student activity fee, but most function without significant relationships with faculty or staff. Herein lies an opportunity to meaningfully situate leadership skill development, which is valuable in College and also in postgraduate success. Given the wealth of student organizations, many students are in leadership positions at some point during their time on campus. Expectations for increased mentoring, the creation of formal mechanisms to ameliorate risk, and dedicated programming aimed at supporting leadership skill development will benefit our students.

In 2016–17, the task force will refine its recommendations. Most importantly, it will launch a year of consultation with students, staff, faculty, and alumni in order to rearticulate self-governance and create a definitive text on this topic that will guide a new generation of Grinnellians.

Student Research and Its Impact

David Lopatto, professor of psychology and director of Grinnell’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, has spent much of his career analyzing the impact of student research experiences. And he has discovered something profound — when students create new knowledge, they are fundamentally transformed. Lopatto writes: “Personal development benefits from undergraduate research experiences include the growth of self-confidence, independence, tolerance for obstacles, interest in a discipline, and a sense of accomplishment — features of student maturation that are ‘seen out of the corner of the eye.’”

That phrase captures the serendipity created when students step into laboratories, archives, and field research sites. It also reflects the way that student research has provided Grinnellians with a learning experience that has deeply enriched their lives. They have become co-authors on professional journal articles, delivered papers at national and regional conferences, and stood shoulder to shoulder with experts in their fields, at times the only undergraduate in the room. Their experiences have enabled them to demonstrate the creativity and skill that have won them admission into professional school in law or medicine and have made Grinnell among the top 10 institutions in the United States, per capita, in sending students on to Ph.D. programs in the arts and sciences.

Yet the impact witnessed “out of the corner of the eye” goes much further. It helps students discover interests and talents that they didn’t know they possessed. It enables them to begin professional lives of great purpose and meaning.

Edward Hsieh ’16 partnered with Jackie Brown, professor of biology, to pursue a growing interest in the evolution of animal populations. After working summers on research projects supported by the National Science Foundation, he has gained an incisive perspective on the way that forces of climate change are transforming life across the planet.

Through study abroad in India, Liliana Bagnoli ’15 developed an interest at the intersection of anthropology and economic development. When she returned to Grinnell, she researched informal labor activity in India, presented her work at the Central States Anthropology Society, and won the American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service, an award that placed her with an Indian nongovernment organization, providing critical analysis of health care, education, and infrastructure for the Indian government.

Alexandra Odom ’16 knew that she was interested in the history of the American civil rights movement. Study abroad in London and inquiry into the history of British women’s activism deepened her curiosity in the movement’s international dimensions. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program fellow, Odom conducted civil rights research with Al Lacson, associate professor of history, and gained a full scholarship to complete a Ph.D. in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, launching her scholarly career.

The benefits of student research are so compelling that Grinnell’s faculty members are now seeking ways to embed research experiences throughout the curriculum, making such transformative work an integral part of the College’s degree. The forms of those experiences will vary. Some students will complete Mentored Advanced Projects, while others may engage in department-based research seminars, course-embedded projects, or independent studies.

As a key part of Grinnell’s inquiry-led curriculum, over the next few years the College will work to provide all students with an opportunity to link the creation of knowledge with compelling, personal transformation. That’s a very exciting step, and one that will have impacts for decades to come.