Campus News

Closed for Inventory on June 30, 2017

The Pioneer Bookshop will be closed for inventory on Friday, June 30.  It will open in the early afternoon that day, after the inventory has been completed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Pioneer Tennis Honors Its Own

Distinctive for a tradition of lifelong connections among alumni, Grinnell’s athletic teams instill an abiding sense of community that Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13 understood before he even enrolled.

The Bay Area native was a high school senior when he first visited campus. He had been attracted to Grinnell because of the strength of its academics, its small liberal arts setting, and the tennis program. But it was the weekend he spent talking with senior all-American tennis captain Dan LaFountaine ’09 that had a life-changing effect.

“Dan talked about the tennis program, the College, and about life in general. It left a big impression on me. I remember thinking that if there are people like Dan LaFountaine at this school, then this is definitely the place I want to be,” Bhadkamkar says. 

LaFountaine graduated and began a career in New Mexico before Bhadkamkar arrived as a first-year student, but the two exchanged contact information and stayed in touch. Over the next four years they developed an enduring friendship, connecting in person at alumni tennis matches and on the team’s annual spring trip to Florida. 

Lifelong family

“Dan became someone I considered to be a mentor and even a ‘big brother,’” Bhadkamkar says. “You wouldn’t think that kind of thing would be possible between two people who didn’t actually go to school at the same time, but it is really a testament to him as an individual, as well as to Coach [Andy] Hamilton ’85 and the Grinnell tennis program. 

“I grew to appreciate that when you play tennis at Grinnell you’re entering a lifelong family,” Bhadkamkar says. “I feel that even more so now that I’ve graduated and kept in touch with those who are both older and younger than me. Dan cared so much about the Grinnell tennis program. It’s fair to say he is the best representation of that type of connection.”

Honor his legacy

When LaFountaine died in February of 2013 of a health complication while traveling for business, the shock rippled through the Grinnell tennis community. Last summer, that community had a collective epiphany: It resolved to combine the effort to upgrade the Grinnell tennis facilities with a commemoration of the player who had inspired and unified consecutive four-year cohorts of Pioneer tennis players through his passion for the game and for the College.  

“We all knew the College needed to upgrade the old courts built in 2003. I immediately thought about the impact Dan had on the tennis program as an all-American and team captain,” Bhadkamkar says. “Rallying alumni to fundraise for the new facility seemed like a great opportunity to honor his legacy.”

Outpouring of support

With the help of Grinnell’s development team and a gift from the LaFountaine family, Bhadkamkar and Hamilton, now athletic director, spearheaded a campaign that drew an outpouring of support from tennis alums and their families. A silent donor added an exclamation mark. In four weeks, $50,000 was raised to commemorate the No. 1 singles court at Grinnell in the name of Dan LaFountaine, the teammate and mentor his closest friends and colleagues knew as DLaf.  

The court was dedicated in a private ceremony in September with more than 30 tennis alumni in attendance. Technology made it possible for the LaFountaine family to be present in real time. 

“It was fortuitous timing because our tennis alumni reunion is on Labor Day weekend,” Bhadkamkar says. “Dan’s teammate, Juan Carlos Pérez Borja ’11, was being inducted into the [Athletic] Hall of Fame, so we had an unusually large number of tennis alums on campus. Being able to commemorate the court and pay our respects to Dan really meant a lot to everybody.” 

Make others shine

Indeed, Pérez Borja says, “It’s incredible that I got into the Hall of Fame, but I wouldn’t have done it without Dan’s help throughout my Grinnell career. 

“Dan was a very special person in my life,” says Pérez Borja. “One of the things I cherish about him was his willingness to put others before his own personal interests. He was always willing to give up his star position to make others shine. He allowed me to play as the No. 1 singles player at Grinnell, he helped me find a job, and he was supportive of my foundation [Teach for Ecuador].

“Today, in the work that I do, it is crucial to serve others and be guided by that effort. That is something I developed chiefly because of my relationship with Dan and seeing how he handled himself in front of the world.

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If you are interested in court named recognition opportunities, please contact Dinah Zebot at zebotdin[at]grinnell[dot]edu.


    Open for Learning

    Spring semester classes in humanities and social studies are taking place in the newly constructed portion of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). Faculty and students say they are excited about the new center and all that it makes possible. 

    Monessa Cummins, associate professor and chair of classics, teaches Roman Archaeology and Art in the HSSC’s case study classroom (Room N3110). “It is magnificent,” she says. “Students sit in tiered semicircular rows facing two large screens on which different high-resolution images can be projected at the same time. I can lecture in the well of the room or move seamlessly to a discussion in which all the students can see and respond to everyone else. After just one class, I can say this classroom is a pedagogical dream come true.”

    Thomas Aldrich ’19, a history and religious studies major from Minneapolis, also expressed excitement about the facility. “The sun-filled atrium reminds you of the history of Grinnell and ARH [Alumni Recitation Hall], seamlessly bringing together new and old.”

    Kaylin Kuhn ’21, who’s from Bettendorf, Iowa, and plans to major in mathematics, toured the HSSC with a friend on the first day of classes. “The classrooms look like a perfect learning environment with plenty of natural light,” Kuhn says. “I am very excited to have class here and to spend lots of time exploring and finding new study nooks.”

    Jim Swartz, Dack Professor of Chemistry and co-chair of the College’s Building Advisory Committee, also strolled through the center on the first day of classes. “After six years of planning, design, and construction,” Swartz says, “it is thrilling to see our dreams materialized with spectacular new classrooms, students interacting with one another and with faculty members in common spaces, and faculty members interacting across disciplines as they are in neighborhoods mixed together and not siloed into departments.” 

    The estimated completion date for the entire HSSC, including renovation and expansion of ARH and Carnegie Hall, is summer 2020. 

    Commencement 2019

    Amy Tan headshotAmy Tan, author of several novels including the bestselling The Joy Luck Club, will be Grinnell College’s 2019 Commencement speaker. Born in California to Chinese immigrant parents, Tan went against her mother’s expectations that she become a doctor and a concert pianist, turning instead to writing. Her most recent book is a work of nonfiction, Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir (ECCO/HarperCollins, 2017). 

    Watch Grinnell’s Commencement live on May 20 at

    Grinnell Has a Podcast

    Longing for a taste of campus life? Then give All Things Grinnell ( a listen. Hosted by Ben Binversie ‘17, the podcast features interviews and stories with students, faculty, alumni, staff, community members, and visiting speakers. Topics include research, campus life, and current issues of cultural, economic, social, and political significance. 

    All Things Grinnell is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts. Several episodes are available now, and new episodes will be published every other week. Send comments and story ideas to podcast[at]grinnell[dot]edu. Watch for a Q&A with Binversie in the summer issue to learn how the podcast came about.


    Studying How Galaxies Grow

    Charlotte Christensen, assistant professor of physics, recently received a $484,300 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    CAREER Awards are the most prestigious and competitive grants the NSF awards. They are made to junior faculty members who are exemplary scholars and teachers to enable them to pursue projects encompassing both research and teaching. 

    Christensen is the second Grinnell College faculty member to receive a CAREER grant. The first was Eliza Kempton, associate professor of physics, who received a CAREER grant in 2017 to conduct research on exoplanets and develop a spatial reasoning course and peer-mentoring program for STEM students. 

    Beginning June 1 this year, Christensen’s CAREER grant will support her research into how galaxies form. Astronomers have found that galaxies grow through a balance of gas loss, gas in-fall, and star formation. What drives these processes, however, is only poorly understood.

    To enhance that understanding, Christensen will model dwarf galaxies, which are ideal test subjects for studying galaxy growth because they have low masses and are especially sensitive to energy input from supernovas. 

    For the teaching component of her project, Christensen will develop a set of computational exercises, labs, and open-ended research projects for students that will be integrated into the physics curriculum. 

    Christensen and her colleagues had earlier integrated a computational lab into the 200-level mechanics course with the support of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. Building on this work, Christensen will improve the overall education of physics majors by incorporating computational problem-solving, an increasingly fundamental component of a modern physics education. 

    The grant also will support summer research projects for 12 Grinnell students, including opportunities to present at national conferences and to visit collaborators at research institutions. By participating in these innovative projects, Grinnell students develop a dedication to truth, evidence, and critical thought.

    In addition, Christensen’s curricular development will address a gap in computational skill development that the physics department has observed between male and female physics majors. Female students, including physics majors, are substantially less likely to enroll in computer science classes than male students. 

    Best Qualified Pool of Applicants

    Applications to Grinnell College have risen dramatically since 2012, when the number was 3,131, the largest at that time. For 2019, the figure is 7,961, a new application record.

    “The people here in the enrollment services division have worked diligently and wisely on a variety of strategies to increase our visibility and subsequently our applications,” says Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. 

    Although increased visibility unfortunately translates to more applicants being denied admission, “it gives you a great deal of flexibility in shaping your class,” Bagnoli says. “I believe Grinnell’s three primary commitments to academic excellence, social responsibility, and diversity should be reflected in every entering class. Having a robust pool of applicants from which to select the class makes it easier to deliver on all three commitments.”

    One major piece of good news is that Grinnell has received its highest number of applications from domestic students of color. “There are not just more students of color in our pool,” Bagnoli says. “They’re not just a more diverse group. The applicant pool also appears to be among the best qualified we’ve ever seen. So, that’s why we’re excited.”

    While many factors account for the increase in domestic students of color, one is the increase of applicants from QuestBridge, an organization that helps high-achieving, low-income students apply to colleges. “That’s the single source of greatest increase,” Bagnoli says. Grinnell has partnered with QuestBridge since 2010.

    Before admission staff members read applications in depth (and derive a more thorough understanding of academic achievements), they can get a quick sense of the whole pool’s overall academic qualifications from SAT test scores. “The 25th percentile is 1,320 and 75th percentile is 1,500,” Bagnoli says. “This puts us in the company of the most selective schools in the country.”

    Applications are up in virtually all categories of data: domestic students and international students, first-generation students, public schools, and private schools. 

    “The share of applicants applying for aid is quite high,” Bagnoli says. He learned recently that among the 40-plus colleges and universities that are both need-blind and meet 100 percent of need, “no other college or university, as a share of annual operating expenses, invests more institutional grant assistance to students than does Grinnell College.”

    Domestic Students of Color Graph

    Behind the Scenes with the Grinnell Prize

    How can awarding $100,000 to a social justice innovator each year benefit Grinnell students and the College? More than a few people asked that question when the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize was first awarded in 2011.

    The answer has evolved as the prize itself has evolved. 

    “Initially we saw the prize as a way to recognize Grinnell’s distinctive history and identity,” says Raynard S. Kington, president. “In recent years, we’ve seen how embedding the prize into our curriculum, making the winners accessible to our students, faculty, and staff so they can learn how these innovators do what they do — that’s where the real value lies — in helping us all create connections.” 

    Susan Sanning, associate dean and director of service and innovation with the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), took over management of the prize in 2014. “That forced me to think about the value of service and innovation. I wanted to integrate the prize into the CLS and the College,” Sanning says. 

    One of the ways that happens is through the planning and execution of Grinnell Prize week each fall. The winner is invited to campus and participates in a variety of events. 

    Mélanie Marcel, the 2018 Grinnell Prize winner, is founder and CEO of SoScience, an organization that helps scientists and social entrepreneurs collaborate to solve societal challenges. SoScience advocates an approach to research that focuses on social impact rather than on projects for which they can secure funding from industry or governments.

    “Mélanie is doing something that is redefining the box,” Sanning says. As she planned public events for prize week, Sanning wanted to provide enough opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to see the immediate things Marcel is doing as well as the systemic things.

    Workshops helped lay out the practical pieces of Marcel’s work. In “Using Science for Good,” Marcel introduced the field of responsible research, its actors, and its methodologies through a simple game she developed and uses in the annual “Future of” conference SoScience hosts. Another workshop, “Facilitating Collaborations Between Scientists and Social Entrepreneurs and Grassroots Change Agents,” focused on the practical strategies and tools Marcel designed and uses in SoScience.

    “The participants got to interact and discuss social issues with Mélanie, while also getting to hear about her life, personal experiences, and specifics in this area of work,” says Joy Suh ’19, major in biological chemistry. 

    Prize Week culminated in a career panel to help students see how diverse careers can connect science and the social good. Sanning “looked for folks who are using their liberal arts education as a catalyst for careers in multiple fields.” 

    The alumni panelists filled that role well. They included chemistry major Mitch Erickson ’72, science adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; biology major Indrani Singh ’08, director of community health partnerships at the University of Rochester Medical Center; and Emily Stiever ’09, an independent major focused on political ecology and chief operating officer and vice president of field operations for Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit.

    Sanning also wanted to “include an unexpected academic perspective in there,” which is why she invited Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy. Nyden’s civic engagement with Mothers on the Frontline helps show students another way to connect work with service. Nyden is co-founder and president of the group, which helps inform scientific research on children’s mental health by presenting stories that aren’t typically heard. 

    A theme of connection wove through all the events. Making connections with people, with ideas, and with students’ own interests was key.

    During her keynote, Marcel said about the Grinnell Prize and the College: “The work you are doing is really like no other. We need special places like this one, places to collaborate, places where empathy, openness, and understanding are fostered.”

    Awarding the Grinnell Prize to an innovator in social justice and asking that person to share his or her experience with students provides a mutually beneficial learning opportunity. Students get to see how education is a catalyst to do what they’re passionate about, and the prize winner gets to extend his or her influence and create more connections to grow the work.

    Oops! Our Bad

    Grinnell College is a tad late in handling a simple vote — okay, 50 years late. 

    In 1967–68, the College introduced a change to its Latin motto. “Christo Duce” — translated as “With Christ as leader” — became “Veritas et Humanitas” – “Truth and Humanity.” The new motto was part of a new seal and logo — the laurel leaf design that’s set in a square with 1846 above it, surrounded by the new motto and the College’s name in Latin. 

    The design was originally an experiment, but it was well received. The laurel leaves have been used as the College’s identity ever since, while use of the official circular seal depicting an open book was limited to diplomas, transcripts, and other official documents.

    The “oops” part is that although the Board of Trustees liked the new square seal, it was still on probation, so to speak, and wasn’t formally approved for use 50 years ago. That changed at the board’s October 2018 meeting, when it voted to approve a bylaws amendment, confirming this text: Collegium Grinnellense and Veritas et Humanitas. In addition, the laurel leaf design has become the official College seal. 

    AFA Construction Update

    The new Admission and Student Financial Services center at the southwest corner of Park Street and Eighth Avenue opened for business in November. 

    Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid, anticipates the new building will help make a more compelling case for enrollment at Grinnell while providing visitors with a warm welcome. 

    See Page 25 for a story about the welcome desk. Wood for the desk came from trees removed from the construction site for the Humanities and Social Studies Center just across the street.stairs in AFA building

    Fireplace in the AFA

    Front desk in AFA