Financial Future Update

In February 2013, the Grinnell College Board of Trustees voted to keep the College’s commitment to need-blind admission and to meeting 100 percent of domestic students’ financial need. At that same meeting, the board called for a fall 2015 review of efforts to establish financial sustainability. Trustees noted that a lack of significant progress would mean a discussion of more aggressively managing enrollment strategies or a change to an openly “need-aware” admission strategy effective with the class entering in 2017.

Last year saw a significant increase in tuition revenue. For 2015–16, Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment, says, “One question we had was, ‘Can we repeat what we did last year?’” 

The short answer was yes. 

Bagnoli attributes the successful growth in part to a change in how Grinnell College markets itself. “We no longer lead with financial aid information,” he says. “We talk more about the actual experience of attending Grinnell. We don’t emphasize financial aid in terms of what makes us distinctive.”

This year, a higher percentage of students across the board accepted Grinnell’s offer of admission. Bagnoli thinks two initiatives contributed to the increase. After admitted students received their financial aid awards, College staff members called each one to review the offers, answer questions, and help overcome objections to enrollment.

Another tactic was mailing a personalized postcard. “There was social media buzz about that,” Bagnoli says. “Admitted students posted about how well the College seemed to know them. Our objective was to convey to admitted students our boldly individualized approach to education, and their responses confirmed the efficacy of the cards to achieve that understanding. 

“As pleased as I am about recent increases in net student revenue,” Bagnoli continues, “the level of net revenue from students is not yet adequate to underwrite the increasing costs associated with their education.” 

He and his team are examining additional initiatives. For example, what if the College were to admit a higher percentage of well-qualified international students with the resources to finance a significant share of their Grinnell education? That was one idea Bagnoli described to the trustees in June.

Whatever strategy they choose, Bagnoli says, “We are seeking solutions that will allow the College to maintain its commitments to access and diversity while increasing revenue — a tricky combination of objectives to achieve.” 

In their October 2015 board meeting, trustees will vote on whether to continue need-blind admission. The College will announce the results of the vote online and in the winter issue of The Grinnell Magazine.


Kate Walker was named vice-president of finance and treasurer at Grinnell College in October. Walker will succeed vice-president and treasurer Karen Voss, who retired. “Kate Walker brings to the position strong analytical skills and a reputation for enthusiasm and integrity,” says President Raynard S. Kington. “We are excited about the perspective that she brings to this important position.”

“It’s not often that one gets an opportunity to serve an institution of the caliber of Grinnell,” Walker says. “I’m honored to become part of Grinnell’s leadership team as we work together to prepare the next generation of world leaders.”

Formerly assistant vice-president for finance at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., Walker has significant experience in higher education and in private foundations. Before joining Macalester in 2007, she held leadership positions at the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul and at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. Her experience includes accounting and finance, budgeting, forecasting, human resources, and technology work at nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Minnesota, Illinois, and Alaska.

Walker earned a B.A. at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and received her M.B.A. from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. 


In July, Donald Tom became the College’s director of information technology services.  

Tom comes to Grinnell with extensive experience in the application of information technology in higher education, having worked for many years at the University of Chicago and Brown University. He also has considerable experience in private industry and the nonprofit TCS Education System.

Tom “impressed the search committee as an individual with tremendous talents, drive, and dedication. We are very excited that he is joining the Grinnell College community,” says John Kalkbrenner, vice-president for College services.

“From the very beginning of the process of applying for this position, I was excited by the prospect of serving at Grinnell College. Those of us in the higher education community have a deep appreciation and understanding of Grinnell College and its place in the higher education landscape,” Tom says. “As I moved further along the process, speaking and meeting with some of the people I would work with, I became even more enthusiastic about becoming part of the Grinnell College community.” 

Tom holds a B.S. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. 

Ties that Last

Commemorating a decades-long friendship, the Grinnell College Department of Biology is preparing to instate the new Waldo S. Walker Endowed Chair in Biology. Peg Martin Stiffler ’63 gifted the chair in her estate, a tribute to Waldo Walker, professor emeritus of biology. The announcement, made at the 2013 Reunion, came just a few days before Stiffler died on June 6 at the age of 71. 

A biology major herself, Stiffler was a student assistant and one of Walker’s advisees. “Peg had a little table behind my desk, and we would carry on conversations about everything,” Walker recalls. “It’s an honor — and I can’t say very much about it, because I’ll cry,” he adds.

The gift highlights the powerful mentoring relationship between students and faculty, relationships that often extend well beyond four years on campus. Walker and Stiffler became close personal friends — and remained so for many years — when she took a job in the Grinnell admissions office with then-husband Joe Stiffler ’64

“Long before it became a reality, Peg told me of her desire to endow a chair in honor of Wally Walker,” says David Evans ’64, the Stifflers’ friend since their Grinnell days. “She clearly never forgot the impact he and Grinnell had on her life.” 

Chair recipients will be chosen “to enhance the teaching and research capabilities of the Department of Biology (or any academic division subsequently incorporating this field of study),” with preference given to candidates who specialize in whole plant biology or ecology. Beth Halloran, vice-president for development and alumni relations, who worked closely with Stiffler in setting up the gift, adds, “I’ve worked in the field for a long time, and Peg was one of the most remarkable benefactors I’ve worked with.”

“Peg was a bright and caring person who held strong positions that she would not yield without a terrific battle,” Evans recalls. “She told me that she would have liked to have lived a longer life, but was fortunate to have enjoyed the life she had.”

Grinnell Courses Go Digital

High school students at a select group of 32 schools across the United States and in four other countries will be able to take some Grinnell College courses for credit online, thanks to a new partnership between Grinnell College and Global Online Academy (GOA).

A nonprofit partnership of leading independent schools, GOA is designed to bring the intellectually rigorous programs and excellent teaching of its member schools online.

“We are very pleased to announce this innovative new partnership,” says College President Raynard S. Kington. “Global Online Academy offers online courses that are consistent with what we emphasize and value here at Grinnell: small classes, close attention from talented faculty members, and small-group discussions. This new partnership will give Grinnell exposure to the world of online education in an environment that allows our faculty to interact with very talented high school students.”

Grinnell’s involvement in Global Online Academy will be supported by a gift from Clint Korver ’89 and Miriam Rivera, of Atherton, Calif. Korver, who chairs Grinnell’s Board of Trustees, says he made the gift to help Grinnell explore innovative new teaching strategies, including new uses of technology to enhance the liberal arts curriculum. 

GOA classes are deliberately small (enrollment is capped at 18), and students are graded and evaluated as they would be in a traditional classroom setting. Because students come from time zones all over the world, the classes do not have set meeting times; rather, the professor creates the class materials and assigns student work throughout the week. Students collaborate on work with their classmates, often using Skype or similar platforms. They work together on projects, discussions, and in other collaborative ways.

Those who enroll in Grinnell’s GOA classes will receive course credits at their own high schools, as well as course credits that will apply if they enroll at Grinnell. Grinnell’s immediate plan is to offer one course — Advanced Statistics, taught by Shonda Kuiper, associate professor of mathematics and statistics — beginning in fall 2013. 

“This is an exciting and important new opportunity for GOA students,” says Michael Nachbar, director at Global Online Academy. “Allowing our students to participate in college courses — particularly at an academically rigorous liberal arts college like Grinnell — will allow our students to explore subjects that are academically interesting and challenging while supplementing their coursework and preparing for college.”

Perfecting Peer Mentoring

Peer mentoring has been part of Grinnell classrooms for decades. Now, a $250,000 grant from Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will help the College deepen and expand its programs over the next four years. The funds, says grant writer Susan Ferrari, will go toward evaluating and growing existing programs, refining mentor selection and training, providing faculty workshops, and disseminating information to other colleges and universities. 

The grant adds to mentoring programs that, over time, have expanded throughout the Grinnell curriculum. Many departments employ peer mentors for a variety of courses. The libraries and writing lab both have mentoring programs, and the Alternative Language Study Option (ALSO) not only employs peer tutors, but also helped add Japanese and Arabic to the curriculum, Ferrari notes.

“When the students report on their learning gains from a research experience, students who work with peer mentors report higher levels of gains in areas such as tolerance for obstacles, readiness for more research, and self-confidence than other students do,” said David Lopatto, Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professor of Natural Science and Mathematics, professor of psychology, and interim vice-president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “Students who were the peer mentors scored even higher, thus supporting the adage that teaching is the best way to learn. Peer mentors report greater gains in leadership skills and sense of accomplishment in their peer mentor role than when they first became undergraduate researchers.”  The grant helped the Writing Lab place 18 mentors this year, up from the previous high of 12.

Heather Lobban-Viravong, associate professor of English and associate dean, is the grant’s administrator. Grinnell has received seven awards and $650,000 in funds from the foundation, beginning with a grant in 1974 for a minicomputer system.


Poonam Arora joined Grinnell College in July as associate dean for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer, and Rosenfield Professor of Diversity and the Liberal Arts. Arora will lead the College’s efforts to recruit and retain a diverse faculty, administrative staff, and student body. 

Formerly professor of English at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., Arora also served as Hamline’s associate vice president for diversity integration. She has been an associate dean and professor at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates and taught English and film studies for nearly 20 years at the University of Michigan at Dearborn. 

“Arora’s professional experience in celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion, and her scholarly expertise on identity formation in pluralistic societies make her a great addition to the dean’s office and to campus leadership in this important area,” says Paula Smith, former vice-president for academic affairs and dean of the College. 

Arora holds a B.A. from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, India; an M.A. in English from the University of Delhi; and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University in New York. She also holds a graduate diploma in American studies from Smith College and a diploma in film appreciation from the Film and Television Institute of India.

Honoring Innovators and Activists

Sarah Kay received a doctor of humane letters for expanding the reach and power of spoken word poetry. She began performing at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York at age 14 and was a featured performer at the 2004 World Youth Report at the United Nations. In 2006, she was the youngest competitor in the National Poetry Slam. She appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam; performed at Lincoln Center and the Tribeca Film Festival; and was featured in Wired, Inc., Poets & Writers, and other publications. Through her Project VOICE, she has taught thousands of children and young adults to create spoken word poetry. 

David Abarr ’83, a fourth-grade math, science, and social studies teacher at Davis Elementary School in Grinnell, received a doctor of science for helping his students develop a love of learning through his enthusiastic teaching. Every year, he brings a portable planetarium to school to teach all Davis School students about astronomy. Through his work with the school’s curriculum advisory committee, he has strengthened science and math coursework throughout the Davis School. Abarr received a Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching from WHO-TV, was recognized by the Governor’s Scholar Recognition Program, and was honored by the Belin-Blank Center Teacher Recognition Ceremony at the University of Iowa. 

Nathaniel Borenstein ’80 received a doctor of science for technical innovation and commitment to justice and peace. A math and religious studies major with a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, Borenstein developed the MIME protocol for email attachments; co-founded First Virtual Holdings, the world’s first “cyberbank”; started; wrote three books, including Programming As If People Mattered; developed metamail and Safe-Tcl software; and is chief scientist for Mimecast. He has received the New York University Olive Branch Award, is past president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and was primary author of the One Planet, One Net campaign. He is frequently listed among the world’s famous vegetarians.

Bonnie Tinker ’69 received a doctor of laws for a lifetime of social justice work. A theatre major, she protested the College’s policy of comprehensive exams and as a result never received her diploma. She co-founded Red Emma, a free health clinic and halfway house; was founding director of the first West Coast battered women’s shelter; was first chair of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; created a documentary about lesbian and gay marriage called Love Makes a Family; and founded an organization dedicated to LGBT marriage and family equality. Just before her death in a bicycle accident in 2009, she presented a workshop on nonviolent change. Her son, Alexander Tinker, accepted the award on her behalf.

Expanding Anthropology

Anthropology professor emeritus Doug Caulkins co-edited A Companion to Organizational Anthropology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), with University of North Texas professor Ann Jordan. It is the first comprehensive textbook exploring anthropological studies of complex organizations, heralding a coming-of-age for the subdiscipline. 

The book boasts 38 contributing international scholars and highlights organizations as diverse as government agencies, nonprofits, and transnational corporations, examining how these organizations interact to shape market, societal, and global trends. 

“I’ve been studying organizational life since my dissertation research on voluntary or nonprofit organizations and community social capital in Norway,” says Caulkins, whose recent work has included sustainability issues in organizations, as well as heritage organizations in post-conflict Northern Ireland. 

In addition to editing, Caulkins co-authored three chapters: “Expanding the Field of Organizational Anthropology for the 21st Century,” “Entrepreneur-ship Studies,” and “Sustaining Social Sector Organizations.” The book also features other Grinnell connections, including chapters by Davydd Greenwood ’64 and associate anthropology professor  J. Montgomery Roper

Meet the class of 2017

Preliminary data on the incoming class show:

  • Applications are up 55 percent from two years ago.
  • 30.3 percent of applicants were admitted — down from 45 percent two years ago.
  • 26 percent of the entering class is domestic students of color, versus 23.6 percent of last year’s class.
  • 15 percent of the class is international students.
  • 10 percent of the class is from Iowa, compared to about 8 percent in each of the past two years.
  • The class’s SAT/ACT high score average is 1351 — similar to last year’s class.