Feature

Planting Seeds of Hope

 Anyone walking by the Grinnell home of Harold Kasimow on a Friday night in the 1970s might have paused to take in the sounds and sights coming from the modest two-story house. They might have wondered about the candlelight flickering in the windows and the sounds of singing, clapping, and laughter drifting through the evening air. They might have glimpsed the shadows of dancers spinning around the room.

For Jewish students at Grinnell College in those days, Kasimow’s home was a magnet on Friday nights. With no temple or rabbi in the community, Kasimow served as the Jewish student adviser. He and his wife welcomed students to their home for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and celebration that begins Friday at sunset and ends when three stars appear in the sky at nightfall on Saturday.

With no budget, one of the students baked the challah and Kasimow bought the wine. “We rarely studied,” says Kasimow. “We mostly sang songs and danced — we said the prayers.”

He adds, “I really loved Friday nights.”

A Way of Being

Harold Kasimow as an older man with grey hairThe love Kasimow feels for his former students is returned in full, even decades after graduation. Since 1972, he has been a faculty member in religious studies. Now emeritus, Kasimow was the first to be named the George Drake Professor of Religious Studies. He is a beloved teacher and adviser at the College with an international reputation as a writer and speaker on interfaith dialogue.

Among his many students, colleagues, and friends around the world, Kasimow is known for his empathy, his understanding, his thoughtful silences, and his kindness.

Robert Gehorsam ’76 arrived on campus the same year Kasimow joined the faculty. A religious studies major, Gehorsam made sure to take at least one of Kasimow’s courses every semester.

As an alum, Gehorsam’s volunteer work as Alumni Council past president and more has often brought him to campus. On one such visit, he happened to run into his former professor. They walked across campus together, chatting as they went.

Their conversation flowed naturally, as if they had been apart for two weeks instead of two decades. The occasional silence felt comfortable. “That’s the thing I still just adore about him,” Gehorsam says. “There was always a quiet space that he provided to let you think and reflect. He always has humility and humbleness. Who doesn’t love that?

“As a way of being, he’s still an inspiration to me,” Gehorsam says.

To honor their professor, Gehorsam and Grinnell Trustee Jeetander Dulani ’98 have created the Harold Kasimow Internship for Interfaith Dialogue Endowed Fund. The fund supports students who want to learn and work with organizations and groups that use interfaith dialogue to pursue social reconciliation and healing.

“We realized Harold had made such a difference, not just in our lives, but in so many others’, and his view of interreligious dialogue, pluralism, and engagement is a really powerful one,” Dulani says.

Henry Rietz ’89, who is now the George Drake Professor of Religious Studies and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, says the internship fund is a beautiful way to honor a man who has given so much to his students and the world. “Professor Kasimow has dedicated his life to interreligious dialogue and he is still publishing books, writing op-eds, and active in making the world a better place,” Rietz says.

The Grave

If the world had been a better place when Kasimow was a child, he might have been a fisherman, like his father.

He might have stayed in the small village north of Vilnius, Lithuania (then part of Poland), where he was born. He would likely have learned the trade from his father, Norman, a successful and prosperous fisherman.

The Nazis changed everything.

Kasimow was just 4 years old in 1942 when Norman Kasimow took his family into hiding in a shallow pit under a farmer’s cattle barn. For 19 months and five days, they never saw the sun. They barely spoke or moved. At night, Kasimow’s father slipped out to find enough food to keep them alive.

They called their hiding place the grub, or hole. Sometimes, they called it the keyver — the Yiddish word for grave.

“We were already buried there,” Kasimow says.

“It was all strange to me when I got out. I’d never seen the light. I’d never been out of the hole. It was always pitch black.”

Blurry photo of a group of people with what appears to be a train car in the background. Harold and another boy look at the camera

Kasimow (second from left) with the older brother of a friend (left) and other refugees on their way to Germany after leaving Poland in 1946.

The Promised Land

The family survived, thanks to the determination of Kasimow’s father. But a year and a half of near starvation, constant fear, and almost no movement had taken its toll. “We were like skeletons,” Kasimow says.

When the Russians liberated the region in 1944, Kasimow and his family found that the world was still a dangerous place, for civilians as well as soldiers. Kasimow’s parents decided to leave the area that had been their home and travel to the American-controlled zone in Germany.

The trip was long and hazardous. Once the family reached Germany, they spent about three years in Bad Reichenhall, a large displaced persons camp. It took time for them to find someplace to go. Laws in the United States limited the number of immigrants who could be allowed in. “We had my father’s sister to guarantee that if we came, she would support us,” Kasimow says. In 1949, they found their way to the United States and settled in the Bronx.

Harold Kasimow with his sisters Rita and Miriam. Harold wears a smart hat and one sister wears a striped shirt with a bow in her hair, the other a floral dress

Kasimow with his sisters, Rita and Miriam, at the Bad Reichenhall Displaced Persons Camp in 1947 or 1948.

It was a chance for a new life — a life of opportunity and education, of making friends and playing handball in the street, of basking in the sunshine and having enough to eat.

A sort of survivor’s mentality clicked in for Kasimow. Like many others, he turned his back on the Holocaust and focused on the future. His parents didn’t speak of it, and neither did he.

It would be many years before Kasimow began to re-examine the trauma of his early life.

Transformation

Kasimow went to Yeshiva University High School and then to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, studying Hebrew literature and Jewish tradition. Later, after serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, he earned a master’s and doctoral degrees in religion at Temple University.

Through his studies, Kasimow met two influential teachers: Bernard Phillips (“an incredible, fascinating human being” who influenced Kasimow’s teaching style); and his mentor and role model Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Holocaust survivor, Polish-American rabbi, and one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century.

Harold Kasimow in a U.S. Army uniform as a young man

Kasimow was drafted into the U.S. Army (“an invitation from Kennedy that I couldn’t refuse”) in 1961. He served in Okinawa and Thailand.

“I devoted my academic career to writing about Heschel, which changed my life,” Kasimow says.

They introduced Kasimow to ideas that would shape his thinking and his career. Phillips launched Kasimow’s lifelong interest in Asian religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.

When Kasimow read Heschel’s article “No Religion Is an Island,” he was struck by the statement that “diversity of religions is the will of God.”

Kasimow learned that what matters most is not the faith a person belongs to, but the person’s humanity. He embraced Heschel’s understanding of the true aim of religion — “to transform us, to have concern for others.” This concern is what makes us truly human, Kasimow says.

The Yiddish word for “human being” (mensch) describes someone who is dignified and compassionate, demonstrating integrity and a never-ending search for truth. To be a mensch is one of the greatest callings we can aspire to.

So began Kasimow’s dedication to interfaith dialogue. Every human being is created in the image of God, Kasimow explains. This principle is the foundation of interfaith dialogue. To downgrade a human being is to downgrade God.

“The hope of interfaith dialogue is to listen to each other so we can begin to see, to try to understand another person,” Kasimow says. “Transformation is always a possibility.”

Throughout most of his decades-long faculty career at Grinnell, Kasimow kept his Holocaust memories locked away. He wasn’t a Holocaust scholar. Because he had been a child during the Shoah (the Hebrew word for catastrophe, often used to refer to the Holocaust), he believed others were better qualified to write and speak on the subject.

It was only much later that Kasimow began to see how the Holocaust and interfaith dialogue were connected. If the principles of interfaith dialogue had been upheld — that every human being is created in the image of God — the Holocaust would have been impossible, a contradiction of God’s will.

“It has occurred to me in recent years that I became so involved in dialogue because of my early life that I’d never wanted to think about,” he says.

A Life Dedicated to Interfaith Dialogue

 

Harold Kasimow with Grinnell College President George Drake

Kasimow (left) with President George Drake ’56 in 1989 when Kasimow was named the first George Drake Professor of Religious Studies.

Kasimow is retired now, but his work on interfaith dialogue as a way to foster the common good continues at a remarkable pace. His list of books, lectures, and publications is impressive.

His most recent books, Love or Perish: A Holocaust Survivor’s Vision for Interfaith Peace (2021, iPub Global Connection) and Interfaith Activism: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Religious Diversity (2015, Wipf & Stock) have earned glowing reviews. Kasimow is currently working on major revisions to his book Divine-Human Encounter: A Study of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

An internationally renowned Jewish scholar, he has traveled the world to speak about interfaith dialogue, collaborating with scholars, leaders, and theologians of many faiths — including meetings with Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

More and more, Kasimow is embracing his role as a Holocaust survivor. “There are not so many Holocaust survivors who can still tell their story, which seems to be becoming more important every day,” he says.

Kasimow frequently speaks to groups about the Shoah. He values speaking at schools most of all. “Young people ask really good questions,” Kasimow says.

After speaking at a school in Minnesota, a mother shared her gratitude for Kasimow’s interactions with her son, who suffers from depression. “Talking with you helped him to see hope in the idea that things will get better, and we can survive these difficult times,” she wrote. “Please know that by sharing your story and by carrying light from the (literal) darkness, you are planting a seed of hope for future generations.”

“I was very moved by that,” Kasimow says.

This engagement with young people encourages Kasimow to continue speaking and writing about his Holocaust experiences, although it is never easy for him.

“I don’t want to see any more children lose their childhood,” he adds.

He still doesn’t feel that he is a Holocaust scholar. “I’m a Holocaust survivor,” he says.

Kasimow is frequently asked if he is optimistic. “I am hopeful for the future,” he says, “because there really is no other option for humanity.”

Kasimow and Alan Race presenting a mounted and glassed in copy of their book cover to Pope Francis over a curtained partition in the sun

Kasimow (center) and his friend and colleague Alan Race met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2018 and presented him with a plaque highlighting their book, Pope Francis and Interreligious Dialogue.

 

Join the Club

When students walk into the Student Organization Fair, they see dozens of tables staffed by enthusiastic fellow students promoting their clubs. It’s like a fabulous buffet where every dish looks more tempting than the last. These student-imagined and student-run groups add to the joy, variety, and richness of life at Grinnell. Here’s a sampling of a few of the organizations students can currently choose among.

A Toast to Trivia

by Yesenia Mozo ’22

“Quiz is in the name — fun is in the game!” says Maddie Hartog ’25, providing her sense of why Pub Quiz is a perennial student favorite.

Every Wednesday, Pub Quiz’s leadership — the “pub masters” — launch an hour-long trivia game. In typical Grinnellian fashion, students have coined playful and clever team names such as “Nutella Nation” and “How Many People Does It Take to Fix a Lightbulb?”

Five students are seated at a round tabletwo on the right lean towards each other as if talking while another looks to the rightOn a huge PowerPoint screen, the pub masters introduce different trivia categories, with 10 questions on each subject. Every week is different. Recent categories have included Current News, Star Wars Prequels, and PBS Kids. Once the category is over, one of the pub masters shouts, “Switch your sheets!” and the grading begins.

At the end of the game, the losing team chooses a category for next week — the “pity pick.” Pity picks pull students back in, creatively adding categories like American Tragedies, Scooby-Doo, and Kendrick Lamar. “I got the pity pick, and so I had to come back,” says Alex Carlon ’25. “I chose 2010s Disney shows, which then became a reason to play again with my friends and turn it into a tradition.”

Blue flying discIn another twist, the pub masters often invite a student organization (like NextGen Iowa and the International Cuisine and Cultural Organization) to host a round of trivia, whether it be about their organization, events, or activism on campus. Around the holidays, Pub Quiz often turns to seasonal categories, like Haunted Places, Frankenstein, and R.L. Stine for Halloween.

With all these fun twists, it’s no wonder Grinnellians love to join in a friendly and competitive game of trivia.

Athletes As Activists

by Tim Schmitt

A commitment to social responsibility and the common good is built into Grinnell’s DNA. Grinnellians are known for putting shared ideals and values into action to make a difference in the world. However, with classes, research, internships, and more, it can be challenging to find time for everything — especially for student-athletes, who also have practice, training, and competition. But when something is important, Grinnellians find a way.

Students in matching tshirts pose in front of a SALSC logo in dark blue and bright redStudent Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC) was created to ensure that student-athletes and others could be involved in social justice work. SALSC schedules meetings late in the day to allow athletes with many time commitments to participate. “We want to make sure everyone has the chance to bring issues they are passionate about to the organization,” says Co-President Lexi Mueldener ’23, who was a member of the women’s golf team while at Grinnell.

SALSC hosts events to build a campus community that shares similar views, ideals, and passions. And despite the organization’s name, SALSC is open to all students, not just student-athletes.

SALSC has hosted a sexual assault awareness walk and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to raise awareness for local charities. These events have been well received and effective at raising awareness, but they also bolstered the resolve of SALSC members.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping and I loved the idea of using our platform as athletes to spread awareness and spur social change,” Mueldener says. “Participating in the group strengthened my belief that whatever I end up doing in life, I want to be helping people in some capacity.”

Swing, Swing, Swing

by Yesenia Mozo ’22

Two dancers appear to be having fun as onlooker take pictures and wait their turnsMusic fills the Bucksbaum dance studio as dancers feel the rhythm flow through their bodies. In a matter of minutes, Grinnellians are twirling, dipping, and swaying around the room.

Swing Society members are passionate about dancing. Even on a dreary day, they willingly trudge across campus to enjoy pure, uninterrupted dance.

To kick off a typical Swing Society meeting, one of the co-leaders shouts, “Leads, raise your hands! Follows, go find a lead!” Because Swing Society doesn’t use traditional gendered dancing roles, members can learn different dance styles and dance with everybody.

For newcomers, the leaders provide a 15-minute crash course in basic swing dance to get started. The teaching doesn’t stop there – co-leaders often teach new dance moves to the entire group. For example, Swing Society members have learned dips to pair with popular songs, like “Dear Future Husband” by Meghan Trainor and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!

Dance moves such as the mummy, the fake lift, the Titanic, the tabletop, and the pretzel are group favorites.

A film reel unspooling“Everyone is here for a good time,” says Gavin Felker ’23. “There are definitely people who want to improve their skills, but it’s meant to be a casual dancing experience, purely for fun.”

Swing Society members bring fun twists to their meetings, too. On birthdays, members love to surround the birthday person and take turns dancing with them.

Swing Society offers a close-knit community where members bring old friends and make plenty of new ones. “Although I think I’m generally a solitary person, I like having an excuse to go interact and meet with other people,” says Felker. “Swing Society is a great outlet for that.”

Cultural Kaleidoscope

by Jacqueline Hartling Stolze

The competing aromas of foods from around the world greeted a stream of people entering the Harris Center, lined up for the International Student Organization’s most popular annual event, the ISO Food Bazaar.

A student in chef's hats and gloves serve food to a guest holding out their plate across a tableExcited and exhausted international students in tall chef’s hats waited to serve a favorite dish from their home countries. They had worked on the preparations for hours. Finally, the food was ready, and the hungry crowd was eager to sample the food.

Food Bazaar is ISO’s best-known and best-loved event. Every year, it draws a huge crowd. “People love it,” says Jivyaa Vaidya ’23. At the 2022 Food Bazaar, ISO offered 48 dishes from around the world.

Black and white wooden chess piecesIt’s all worth it, she says, when you see the happy faces as people eat, chat, and connect. “I loved how everyone just came together for this event,” she says.

Vaidya is from India. When she arrived at Grinnell as a first-year student, Vaidya says she immediately felt at home. “The international students just bond,” she says.

It wasn’t long before Vaidya got involved with ISO. As a senior, she led the group as president. “I was so excited to be able to work with these people,” Vaidya says. “I became such good friends with each one of them.”

ISO sponsors many events throughout the year, such as Cultural Evening (an opportunity for student performers to show off their talents), scavenger hunts, study breaks, and more. International students also get ISO care packages during Finals Week with food and treats from home.

Beyond the events, the food, and the fun, ISO’s most important role is to create a home for international students at Grinnell. “I have always believed that students understand students best,” Vaidya says. “We are here for you, not just to give you events and fun — we are here for you because we think of you as our own family.”

Improv for a Cause

by Tim Schmitt

Though created to embrace the unknown, the Almost Always Improv student group is purposeful about its goals — having fun while doing good.

Appearing before an audience with no real plan except to entertain might sound terrifying. However, it offers students the chance to stretch their imaginations, sharpen their wits, and learn to roll with the (acting) punches, all while having fun.Five smiling students stand with arms around each others shoulders behind four crouched down and giving thumbs up signs

Members meet regularly to hone their short-form improv skills; they also perform before audiences a few times each year to showcase their talents, build community, and raise money for a cause.

Clare Newman ’23 knew she wanted to join even before she officially became a Grinnellian.

As a prospective student, she saw an improv performance and thought, “I want to do that.” Newman auditioned and was accepted. “It’s where I made my first friends at Grinnell,” she says.

Although the group’s structure is intentionally loose (every member is a co-president), their “work” has an impact not only on the students involved, but also on the community.

The members take their work seriously. They’ve attended improv conferences to learn new skills; they also put on a 24-hour show every year to raise funds for an organization chosen by the members. Last year they raised more than $1,000 for Iowa Safe Schools, which provides support for LGBTQ students and allies in Iowa.

three players peer around a corner, nerf guns ready to take out their opponents“We play games and make jokes, and it’s a lot of fun,” Newman says. “But it also helps build confidence. I’m a lot more comfortable and confident now just shooting from the hip, speaking without a script. Plus, it’s been a great way to relax and forget the stress of college for a little while.”

Indulge Yourself

Grinnell’s liberal arts education is a bit like that magnificent, hypothetical Student Organization Fair buffet — it provides nourishment for a time in a student’s life when they can try a little bit of (almost) everything. The College’s 100+ clubs and organizations do their part to offer Grinnellians a fun and rewarding way to make lifelong connections, explore their interests and passions, and learn a lot about themselves. Why not indulge and enjoy!

Small green nerf gun with ammo

 

American Journeys: The Quest

(photo above) Will Freeman took his Morgan three-wheeler on a 16,800-mile trek around the country, on a route planned entirely by students in the American Journeys class.
Photoshop illustration by Bruce Yang added Kesho Scott’s silhouette next to Freeman’s.

The clinking of coffee cups competed with the buzz of conversation at Saints Rest Coffee House, a favorite Grinnell setting for meetings of all kinds.

Most of the customers were unaware that something momentous was happening at the table where Kesho Scott DSS ’21 sat across from Will Freeman. Until that day, the two senior Grinnell faculty members had rarely spoken, although they had been faculty colleagues for decades on a small campus in a small town.

Kesho Scott and Will Freeman sit in side-by-side stone sculpted throne-like chairs in a stone stadium, lifted arms touching

Scott and Freeman pose at the 1896 stadium in Athens, Greece, site of the first Modern Olympic Games.

Freeman and Scott were oblivious, focused only on each other and their conversation. Their coffee cooled, and the macaroons sat half eaten as the meeting stretched on.

What drew them together? What keeps them so close that they often finish each other’s sentences? What has kept them energized for seven years, as they have worked to co-develop and team teach a popular, innovative course they call American Journeys?

An Epiphany Over Coffee

It all started with a book, as many things do at Grinnell.

Freeman wrote the book in question, The Quest: On the Path to Knowledge and Wisdom. As a faculty member in physical education, Freeman taught sports psychology and sociology at Grinnell for many years. He also coached the men’s track and cross-country teams at Grinnell for four decades. The book tells the story of a transformative spiritual journey that Freeman took with his 12-year-old son in 2013.

When Scott read The Quest (a gift from her friend, Evelyn Freeman), the professor of American studies and sociology realized she had underestimated Will Freeman.

“It blew me away,” she says.

Their failure to connect sooner was the classic separation of academics and athletics, Freeman says, but also something more. “I was a little bit scared of her,” he says. “She’s this former Black Panther. She’s known for speaking her mind.”

Scott, however, was determined to know Freeman and to understand his ideas. She invited him to coffee.

“We need to talk,” she told him.

Inspiration Strikes

The meeting was life-changing for them both.

“I was blown away,” Freeman says. “Holy cow — talk about misrepresenting somebody and not understanding the depth of this person,” he says.

Before long, they were speaking freely — Freeman about his family, particularly his father, a former police chief. “I began to realize you can’t put all white boys in the same bucket,” Scott says. “They make choices that cost them, that use their privilege in a way that helps, and he was inspired by this.”

Scott began to understand why she was so drawn to Freeman — they have so much in common. For starters, they each had a parent who gave them permission to be different — in Scott’s case, her mother.

They decided to meet again the next day. They began to envision a class they would teach together, an interdisciplinary course that would bring together American studies, athletics, and more.

By the end of the second meeting, they had outlined the first version of their course, American Journeys.

Will, wearing a white ball cap with Journeys stitched in red, gestures while speaking to the class

Freeman (above) encouraged students to think of the classroom as a safe space.

Journey to Freedom

That first class in 2015 explored journeys that characterize American experience and identity. It offered students and professors alike an opportunity to understand the power of the American journey.

The most meaningful experience for many of the students was a midnight walk, following in the footsteps of enslaved people escaping to freedom. They walked more than five miles through the darkest hours of the night on the backroads of Poweshiek County.

Each student had researched a freedom seeker and took on that identity to re-enact the journey.

“To actually have them embody an enslaved person and know their story — that was quite incredible,” Scott says. “That person went from being buried and invisible to being visible and historical.”

Kesho talks with a class.

Scott says, “This is an active classroom where they’re their own actors. They get to look at their own lived experience. They do their own theorizing based on their experiences.”

Incredible, yes, but scary, too. “You hear dogs barking,” Freeman says. “Imagine knowing there also could be people out there at the end of a gun.” Behind the fear lurked a question: After you’re free — then what?

“That’s what we wanted them to see,” Scott says. “We are an open-ended culture that’s not finished.” Students had to grapple with the end of the journey — what will you do with freedom?

The Olympic Journey

Four students pose for a selfie in front of a stone dais with carved columns

(front to back) Lila Podgainy ’23, Julia Tlapa ’23, Bethany Willig ’23, and Kille at the ancient Olympic Games site in Olympia

The second course, taught in 2022, focused on social justice and the Olympic movement. For Freeman, a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials finalist in the pole vault, this subject was at the heart of his professional expertise.

Not so for Scott. “I just watched it on TV as a kid,” she says. With Freeman’s help, she learned about the back stories and internal struggles. She immediately saw how the Olympics reflected the major social upheavals of their times.

For instance, the politically charged Berlin Olympics of 1936 were intended to showcase Nazi white supremacist philosophies. Those hopes were largely dashed, thanks to athletes such as Jesse Owens, the Black American track star who earned four gold medals for the United States.

Freeman and Scott originally planned the class around course-embedded travel over spring break that would begin at Auschwitz in Poland, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.

Then, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and suddenly Poland was off limits. Scott and Freeman began the trip in Berlin instead, where students saw thousands of Ukrainian refugees. “People are being pushed all over, and the students could see it in real time,” Scott says.

Instead of Auschwitz, they went to Dachau, the Nazi camp near Munich, and then to the BMW plant next door, where Jewish prisoners were forced to work. The students saw the 1972 Olympics athletes’ village, and the apartment where the Palestine Liberation Organization took Israeli athletes hostage. The class also visited the first modern Olympics site in Athens; the ancient Olympics site at Olympia; the Nuremberg Trials site; and the Jewish ghetto at Munich.

One of the highlights happened in Grinnell, when Olympian Billy Mills joined the class by Zoom. Mills, a Native American track athlete, won Olympic gold in the 10K in 1964 — what Freeman calls the biggest upset in Olympic history. Mills spent more than an hour talking with the students and answering their questions.

“He just was remarkable,” Freeman says. Just as remarkable, former Grinnell President George Drake ’56 sat in on the class to hear Mills speak. Drake, who had been a track and cross-country standout as a Grinnell student, was in the latter stages of his battle with cancer.

Two women pose, heads together, with Athens in the background

Elisabeth Kille ’23 (right) and Emma Schaefer ’23 in Athens

“It meant the world to me and Will because it was an affirmation that we are doing something right,” Scott says.

“He was a graduate of Grinnell, not just president. He loved this school like hell.”

The Journey Within

In spring 2023, American Journeys turned inward, focusing on the quest to discover and understand the true self.

“We are so often defined from the outside, through social media and social comparison,” Freeman says. Over time, the comparisons build up. “Layer after layer covers up the authentic you.”

Will, at left, stands at a small podium looking toward Kesho who is speaking to a class

The third iteration of the course took students on an inward journey to rediscover their true selves. “We began to realize that this question of going inward isn’t new,” Scott says. “We’re just updating the idea for this moment.”

The subtle message, Freeman says, is that you need to change or hide your true self to fit in.

He wanted the students to understand that process and how we can intervene. He and Scott challenged the class to rediscover their authentic selves, buried by years of comparisons and conformity.

An Empowering Environment

Looking inward created a unique classroom experience, says religious studies major Maya Sciaretta ’25.

Each class began with guided meditation — a routine that Sciaretta says became a welcome break from daily stress. “I loved having the opportunity to clear my head and to work through the thoughts and emotions I carried into the classroom,” she explains.

The professors created an empowered, critical, and reflective environment, says Agatha Fusco ’25, an economics and Spanish major. “Their teaching felt fueled by creativity and passion in a way that filled their classroom with an energy that I think can sometimes be hard to find.”

Students responded by opening up as never before. “We were encouraged to share personal stories and to share our reflections on a consistent basis. Dr. Scott and Coach Freeman were also ready and willing to share their own stories and taught us about their journeys as we explored our own.”

Hannah Biles ’24, a sociology and Spanish major, adds, “I stepped away from every class feeling more grounded in who I am, more grateful for the people in my life, and more confident in our ability to heal ourselves while we support others in their personal healing journeys.”

Hugh Werner ’25, a biological chemistry major, says the class helped him cope with a difficult period in his life.

“I hit rock bottom last semester — socially, physically, emotionally,” he says. “I had to face the real world earlier than I thought.” Even though he got support from his friends and teammates on the football team, he was struggling.

“This class kept me on my feet.”

Inward Expeditions

Near the end of the semester, several guest speakers visited the class. In the spirit of looking inward, President Anne Harris shared an important part of her personal journey with the class — her arrival in the United States at age 9 from Switzerland, where she had lived with her Swiss mother and American father. She arrived with only a few words of English and had to begin learning the language from scratch.

A student writes on a chalkboard while another stands ready, chalk in hand, and a third watchesFusco says she appreciates how honest and forthcoming Harris was. “I think, out of a respect and understanding for what my fellow students and I were doing in that class, President Harris did an excellent job of looking inward and providing genuine reflections.”

Harris says her experiences were not so different from the questions and anticipation that many first-year students face. “Students who come to Grinnell have made the decision to journey off the beaten path,” Harris says. “That brings with it a whole set of questions of purpose and belonging that fellow students from all over the world are also asking themselves.”

Harris says she appreciates the unique nature of the American Journeys course. “I loved it,” she says. “This is how a liberal arts education asks hard and necessary questions.”

An Ongoing Pilgrimage

Freeman and Scott, who are already planning the next American Journeys class, agree that the course has energized them as never before. “It has revitalized my teaching,” Scott says. “We are able to really think and teach courses that are from our hearts.”

Freeman agrees. “I’ve found another avenue to try to make a difference. And that is the most powerful thing in the world.”

Three students pose in front of a mural on the Berlin Wall

Emma Schaefer ’23 (right) with Elle Albrecht ’24 and Nina Baker ’24 at the Berlin Wall

Grinnellians Go Places through the Global Learning Program

Grinnell’s commitment to creating global citizens who can navigate the world’s complexities has never been more important.

Thanks to a generous $4 million gift from Susan Holden McCurry ’71 and her family foundation, the Roland and Ruby Holden Foundation, Grinnell students are experiencing the world firsthand through course-embedded travel and other global academic initiatives. It’s all part of Grinnell’s Global Learning Program, stewarded by the Institute for Global Engagement.

GLP allows Grinnellians to travel as a core part of their academic experience. Courses that include embedded travel are centered on first-year classes that focus on global issues; occasionally, they may include upper-level classes, such as the 2022 American Journeys trip to Greece, Poland, and Germany.

GLP participants learn about their own place in the world and how to adapt and problem-solve as they explore new cultures and places in a course designed by two faculty members. Through their engagement in global learning, they not only enhance their Grinnell education, they also acquire the skills they need to thrive in a fast-changing world. They learn about diverse perspectives and about their own personal and social responsibilities as citizens of the world.

Students participating in the GLP class pay a program fee based on their financial need. Thanks to the support of donors like Susan Holden McCurry, generous scholarships are available to help make such formative global experiences more financially accessible to all students, underscoring Grinnell’s institutional commitment to equity and inclusion.

The 60-Second Syllabus

What makes a college course relevant? Compelling? Career-changing? Our world-class faculty members’ expertise and creativity is infused into dozens of unique course offerings each semester. So, what have students been learning lately and why does it matter? Check out our sampling of 60-second syllabi, where professors reveal what makes their courses tick.

When Erick Leggans ’05 took chemistry courses as a Grinnell student, structures to help him succeed were embedded right into the syllabus. For example, he was required to join a group of classmates to collaborate on problem sets. The sequence of lessons in the course was carefully scaffolded to build skills in ways that would prepare him for professor-guided lab research later.

The approach worked: Leggans is now a tenured chemistry professor at Grinnell, and he uses his own courses, including Organic Chemistry, to offer today’s students the kinds of tools and opportunities that helped him succeed. “I want to give students the materials, structures, and guidance they need to pass this course, and also to go from here and to contribute to any field,” he says.

Across all divisions, Grinnell faculty are committed to teaching courses that do more than just impart knowledge. They also build skills that are useful beyond the classroom.

To learn more, we asked six professors to take us inside one of their courses and share their insider insights.

Students in Dobe's class attentive to the front of the classroomPHI 121
Philosophy for Life

Taught by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jennifer Dobe

Description

Students grapple with timeless, practical questions: How should I live? What is happiness? What kind of life should I pursue? Using philosophical texts and robust classroom discussion, students explore a variety of ways to interpret the world. “We want students to feel empowered as philosophers in their own lives and to see the discipline as indispensable,” says Dobe.

Selected materials

  • “Letter to Menoeceus,” Epicurus
  • The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Your Silence Will Not Protect You, Audre Lorde

Essential question

Students consider Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought experiment, which was first proposed in the 1970s: If you could enter into and program a machine to give you any experiences you wished, feel these experiences as though they are your lived reality, and have them continuously for the rest of your life, would you choose to enter into this machine for the rest of your life?

“It’s a way of looking at the way we feel and think about the unknown and connecting with a reality that is other than us,” says Dobe.

Beyond the course

Dobe hopes that the course helps students internalize the idea that life is not something that happens “outside of them,” but that they must seek to be active participants in it right now. “One student told me that at the beginning of the course, he wasn’t sure what philosophy had to do with life at all, but by the end, he believed that philosophy was integral to everything having to do with life,” she says. “I hope that the course helps students feel more at home and empowered in the lives they are creating.”

Maria Tapias leans over a seated student, both looking at the paper the student holds. They are smilingANT 295
Graphic Medicine: Reading Medical Comics Anthropologically

Taught by Professor of Anthropology Maria Tapias with Support from Tilly Woodward, Curator of Academic and Community Outreach, Grinnell College Museum of Art

Selected materials

  • Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
  • Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s through the Looking Glass, Dana Walrath
  • Coma, Zara Slattery

Description

Medical graphic novels use a combination of words and images to illuminate the culture of medicine, health inequities, and cultural understandings of illness.

Students read books on comics theory as well as graphic medical comics and graphic novels to learn how they work. These serve as a starting point for students to create their own graphic medicine project.

The course helps students synthesize medical anthropology, ethnographic field methods, comic theory, and art — a combination of diverse fields that Tapias says makes it “a quintessential liberal arts course.”

Key project

Students conduct in-depth interviews with someone close to them, such as a family member or close friend, who has experienced a health-related issue of some kind, from cancer treatment to menopause. They use the interview as a jumping-off point for a visual project, such as a poster or comic book, for public display in the Bucksbaum Rotunda.

Tapias says that students find the conversations valuable for more than just their class projects. “I told them: You’re going to learn something about your parents, brother, or sister that you don’t know. That’s an opportunity,” she says. “Their history is your history.”

Beyond the course

While the course itself is uniquely specific in its aims, Tapias wants students to walk away with broadly applicable insights. “My hope for the students is that they appreciate the power of storytelling as a vehicle for increased empathy,” she says. “I also secretly hope that students recognize the importance of having a creative outlet in their post-Grinnell lives. I began this class with the strong conviction that anyone can make a beautiful comic. Students proved me right.”

Eiran Shea looks over the shoulder of a smiling student who is showing her something in printed document while two other students look onARH 103
Introduction to Art History

Taught by Assistant Professor of Art History Eiran Shea

Unlike a traditional introduction to art history that offers a broad but surface-level overview of world art, this reimagined introductory course aims to build students’ analytic skills by focusing on 13 specific works of art and architecture, including those in the College’s art collection and the town of Grinnell itself.

Students learn visual analysis by looking closely at and describing art objects, considering how various elements contribute to meaning, and aligning their evaluations with historical material and analysis.

Selected materials

Students study numerous objects that are physically located in Grinnell and pair them with a variety of essays and other materials. These objects include:

  • a Buddha sculpture in the HSSC
  • a high-quality facsimile of Early Spring by Northern Song dynasty painter Guo Xi
  • The “jewel box” bank in Grinnell

Object lessons

Shea, an East Asian specialist, spends a week helping students understand Guo Xi’s Early Spring, a scroll painting that features trees, sloping landscapes, and heavy mists. “In one class, we talk about what makes Chinese landscape painting special. In another, we spend time in the Print and Drawing Study Room looking at this very high-quality facsimile. In a third, we look at related work and read primary source documents written by the artist,” she says. “It’s an approach that allows you to engage much more deeply with certain topics.”

Beyond the course

Shea hopes students gain skills to look at any art object and find meaning. “They can understand what the material it’s made of is telling them, what certain patterns might be communicating, and how it might have been understood as a social object,” she says. “I want them to be able to walk into any museum, anywhere in the world, and feel like they can engage with its contents visually. Visual literacy is important, whether you go into computer science, biology, or sociology.”

“We considered the Merchants’ National Bank by Louis Sullivan for one of our essays,” says Natalia Ramirez Jimenez ’24. “The close analysis of art pieces that were accessible to us was great to further my interest in art.”

Erick Leggans in a mask and face shield during the pandemic speaking from in front of a blackboard with molecular diagrams on the board behinidCHM 221
Organic Chemistry

Taught by Professor of Chemistry Erick Leggans ’05

What it’s about

The 200-level course, which has a lab component, is described as “a comprehensive study of organic structures, syntheses, reactions, and spectroscopy of organic compounds,” but Leggans says there’s a simpler description: “It’s the study of life.”

Selected materials

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Laboratory notebook
  • Molecular model

Key project

One highlight is a lab in which students create a banana-scented ester compound known as isoamyl acetate. (It starts as two different solutions that have decidedly less pleasant smells.)

While the project itself is an enjoyable one, Leggans notes that it’s the culmination of a series of smaller skills that students have learned in previous weeks: filtration, extraction, and evaporation, for example.

“What will I take away from this course? No matter what, just keep trying. Whether it was a failed attempt in the synthesis lab or struggling with a mechanism, just getting back into the lab and continuing to try was something this course really emphasized for me,” says Nell Horner ’24. “It’s something I will definitely take into future classes.”

“That lab is the first time students realize that all the skills that they’ve been learning from previous labs can be used here,” he says. It’s a nice bonus, he says, that this moment of synthesis is paired with a pleasant, fruity smell.

Beyond the course

Leggans is eager to bring as many students as possible into his research program, which focuses on synthesizing natural products, including antibiotics.

But even beyond that, Leggans hopes that anyone who takes organic chemistry — long known as an exceptionally challenging course — learns to take advantage of many different ways to master new skills and go further with their work through meaningful collaborative relationships. “I’m still talking to my science friends from Grinnell,” he says. “Community and collaboration are really important in the scientific world.”

Karla Erickson speaks to a group of students while gesturing with her handsSOC 295
The Sociology of Robots and AI

Taught by Professor of Sociology Karla Erickson

Course description

Students study tech ranging from robot pets to ChatGPT to understand how our relationships to machines have evolved and altered the social fabric.

Course materials

  • Your Computer Is On Fire, essays
  • Coded Bias (Netflix documentary)
  • Automating Humanity, Joe Toscano

Key questions

Students relentlessly interrogate the impact of technology and artificial intelligence that has become ubiquitous, says Erickson. “We ask things like: What are we told about this technology? What skills do these products build up, and what skills do they diminish? What are some of the consequences of broad adoption of these new technologies?”

Essential project

As a final project, students choose a specific product or technology, from Apple Watches to the “like” button, then develop a short project to describe its importance. The projects are designed to be shared publicly as a podcast, video, or blog post.

The goal, says Erickson, is to show students they can meaningfully participate in this discussion. “I want students to contribute to the emerging social study of machine life,” she says.

“The reading we did on the addictive nature of technologies, and the profits to be made in engineering such addiction, has made me more conscious of how often and for what I use my devices,” says Owen Gould ’26.

Beyond the course

While Erickson says that the course often has immediate implications for computer science students, she also hopes the course informs students’ perspectives as they go on to pursue careers in other fields. “I want them to have a set of tools when they’re at the decision-making table, for example, if someone wants to automate hiring,” she says. “I want them to be able to think critically about when we automate things and for what purpose.”

A student conducts research in a lab while Pascal Lafontant looks onBio 150
Regeneration Biology

Taught by Professor of Biology Pascal Lafontant

Selected materials

  • Principles of Regenerative Biology, Bruce M. Carlson
  • Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, Paul Knoepfler
  • Conversations with prominent scientists in the field
  • Current primary research papers in regeneration biology and regenerative medicine

What it’s about

Humans can’t regenerate their limbs, spinal cords, or hearts — yet. But plenty of animals can: Axolotls can regenerate their brains, zebrafish can regenerate their spinal cords, and planarian flatworms can regenerate nearly every part of themselves, almost infinitely. In the course, students learn how the regeneration process works, practice methods used in regeneration lab work, and analyze the challenges and opportunities of applying it to humans.

Essential details

Students study the microscopic anatomy of biological tissue, practice staining techniques to highlight specific elements of these structures, and do assays to pinpoint exactly when cells are growing and dividing. Then, in small groups, students generate testable hypotheses and investigate cellular signaling pathways that drive the regeneration process using these techniques. The goal is not to replicate work that has already been done, but to pursue real research. “We’re trying to find something that nobody knows yet,” says Lafontant. “I want students to realize that they actually can do science.”

“This was the first class where I was able to take what I know, what I learned, and what I want to know, and combine it in a lab setting to gain knowledge that has not even been published yet,” says Evan Stoller ’26.

From classroom lab to research

Students often discover that the questions they want to pursue through research require more than a semester-long course. “In a way, that’s by design, because it helps me recruit students to my lab,” says Lafontant, whose own research focuses on zebrafish heart regeneration. Some student researchers go on to spend the summer in Boston, where they work with Lafontant’s collaborators at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Mellon Grant Fuels Gateways

Eiran Shea spaking to students at a table with an image displayed on the wall behind her

Philosophy for Life and Introduction to Art History are two of several Grinnell courses that have benefited from a Mellon Grant that’s designed to help bring more students into the humanities.

The grant provides funding to develop or redesign introductory and 200-level courses to make them feel relevant and inclusive to today’s students. Other courses that have been reimagined include Humanities 101, Education 101, two introductory anthropology courses, and an Introduction to Shakespeare.

Shea, who helped redesign Grinnell’s Introduction to Art History course, says the grant has led faculty to align teaching approaches with the larger aims of a Grinnell education. For Shea, doing a deep dive on a smaller number of art objects through the new introductory class helps achieve that goal. “You’re not just ‘checking a box,’” she says of the smaller handful of objects they study. “You’re really understanding and engaging with them.”

Dobe says the newly developed Philosophy for Life course helps students immediately see the relevance of philosophy — and the humanities — to their lives. “Sometimes students have felt that philosophy is this erudite, inaccessible, obscure discipline — one they’re too intimidated to even enter,” she says. “This course is a way to bring philosophy down to earth and help students feel welcome in the department.”

 

Going Forth

A podcasting project that started out with a “how to navigate the future” mindset has found its groove as an informative and entertaining student-driven forum that’s creating new connections between students and alumni. How it came about, the topics covered, and who’s-who among alumni guests makes for engaging reading … or listening.

Driving to work or cleaning the kitchen, many of us turn on a podcast. Whether for entertainment, for the news, or just for company, we’re transported by engaging storytelling and by the voices of strangers. In fact, a whopping 1 in 5 American adults report listening to podcasts daily. Katie Kriegel, of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, identifies as one such “podcast person.”

Two people in a lounge talking with a view of Bucksbaum and Goodnow visible in the backgroundWhen Kriegel first began working as the CLS communications coordinator in 2018, podcasts hadn’t exploded to their present level of popularity. But even then, as she sought innovative ways to connect students with CLS resources, she saw potential in the audio format.

Transitioning to a role as an exploratory adviser at the CLS in 2021, Kriegel began working primarily with first- and second-year students — students still very unsure of their path after graduation. Their uncertainty about the future and desire to create fulfilling lives solidified Kriegel’s ambition to create what would become the Going Forth podcast. The podcast, she hoped, would be a unique and impactful take on career exploration.

Over winter break in 2022, Kriegel hired Meredith Benjamin ’24 and Nicholas Lampietti ’25 as student hosts and producers of the podcast. Both Benjamin and Lampietti had prior experience in audio or audiovisual storytelling and, perhaps more important, a gift for connecting with strangers.

Under Kriegel’s supervision, Benjamin and Lampietti built a production system from the ground up: unearthing microphones from previous CLS projects, honing audio editing skills, and exploring podcast hosting platforms. At the end of February 2022, the first episode of Going Forth launched.

Many of the podcast’s early episodes tackled topics of practical interest for college students: writing cover letters, finding summer opportunities, navigating the pre-health path, and so on. But it wasn’t long before Benjamin and Lampietti began testing the waters of conversations with alumni.

First, an episode on public health amid a pandemic led them to interview Erich Giebelhaus ’92. Then they recorded an episode featuring Jay Dick ’93 and his career in government affairs.

As the Going Forth team found their groove, Kriegel says, alumni stories became the focus of the podcast. “Listeners still return to those more practical episodes, but three semesters in, the alumni conversations have absolutely been the highlight.”

Student on left sits in front of a keyboard and mouse while student on the left adjusts a microphoneEpisodes released this season have featured conversations about financial reform and the importance of mentorship with Eric Otoo ’01 and examined blending astrophysics and activism with NASA’s Kartik Sheth ’93. A highly anticipated episode (and one of the hosts’ favorites) featured Oscar- nominated Kumail Nanjiani ’01 for a discussion of stand-up comedy, the importance of self-interrogation, and the special place that is Bob’s Underground.

For the Going Forth hosts, the objective of the podcast and the purpose of their conversations with alumni is to showcase the diversity of what it means to live life after Grinnell. “We’re obviously interested in compelling and fascinating life stories, but I would say our focus is much more on demystifying alumni journeys,” says Lampietti.

Episodes remind listeners of the meandering reality of a full life. As guests share their journeys from Grinnell to the present day, they reiterate the idea that a career isn’t something that simply crystallizes but, rather, is something slowly pursued and shaped. On the Going Forth pod, Grinnellians tell the stories of their doubts, failures, pivots, and passions. “The ultimate goal,” says Lampietti, “is to hear how Grinnellians have taken their experiences from the ‘Jewel of the Prairie’ and gone on to lead fulfilling lives.”

Jane Hoffman ’25 joined the Going Forth team as a student host this January, picking up the mike of Benjamin, who spent the spring semester on an off-campus study adventure traveling across Jordan, Nepal, and Chile. “As someone who deals with a lot of stress about the future and the unknown,” Hoffman says, “having the opportunity to talk to alumni who have gone down these myriad paths is affirming. It’s interesting. It’s continually engaging.”

During their conversation, Nanjiani told Hoffman, “That feeling of, ‘What do I want to do next?’ is the most exciting. I am so jealous of you that you get to be there right now, and that you have so many years ahead of figuring things out.”

It’s not often that a movie star tells you personally to enjoy life’s unknowns. But Nanjiani isn’t the first alum to tell Hoffman this.

“I find that I get so much out of these conversations,” Hoffman says. “Even when I’m talking to an astrophysicist like Sheth. I haven’t taken a physics class since high school, so there’s no future for me there. Yet I took so many lessons from that conversation — about being a free agent in your own life and making change, and about navigating challenging environments.”

“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian. I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.”
— Jason Darrah

As it showcases the diversity of postgrad Grinnell experiences and the lessons we can learn from them, the Going Forth pod is also creating conversations about what it means to “be Grinnellian.” A recent episode featured Emily Guenther ’07, director of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP) at Grinnell, as well as Jason Darrah and Jason Ross, two graduates of the program.

Nearly two decades ago, Ross and Darrah were students in poetry and literature discussions led by Guenther at the Newton Correctional Facility through Grinnell’s participation in the Consortium for Liberal Arts in Prison. The initiative gives incarcerated participants the opportunity to enroll in courses taught by Grinnell faculty and earn college credits.

In the Going Forth episode, Guenther explains, “LAPP isn’t adjunct to the College’s mission, it’s at the heart of what we do.” A college’s purpose is to find and educate qualified students, she says. One place that those students can be found: in prison.

Though LAPP students cannot receive a full Grinnell diploma, something that Guenther hopes to change, they are Grinnellians in every sense of the word. Students are collaborative, creative, highly driven, and dedicated to making change in their communities and the world beyond.

“I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m a Grinnellian,” Darrah tells Hoffman and Lampietti. “I’m profoundly proud to say that I’m speaking to other Grinnellians.” Not only has the podcast given Benjamin, Hoffman, and Lampietti a platform for powerful conversations with alumni, it’s become a meaningful tool for connection both with classmates and across generations of Grinnellians.

Three people with laptops sit in a circle around a small table in the HSSC. One gestures while speaking.

Episodes of Going Forth typically receive the most listens when they’re heard by alumni and shared within their own networks. “We’ve noticed that alumni are really excited to hear what their classmates are up to,” says Hoffman. “I think it shows that people continue to deeply care about each other after Grinnell, even when they’re dispersed across the country and the world.”

The podcast’s guests, hosts, and listeners represent manifold lived experiences, yet they’re connected by their time on campus and by the shared title of “Grinnellian.” As a result, the conversations within episodes are characterized by a sense of mutual care, Kriegel explains.

“The really beautiful thing about this podcast is that it is coming directly from students,” says Lampietti.

The topics, alums, and interview questions that shape an episode are selected entirely by the student hosts, according to their interests.

Are there any recurring themes in their conversations with alumni?

No matter the class year, Lampietti and Hoffman say, Grinnellians love to talk about where they lived on campus. “We often have to edit out huge chunks of interviews because our guests will talk for 30 minutes about where they lived and what they got up to on the loggia roof.”

Of course, given the chance to be guests on the podcast in 10 years’ time, Lampietti and Hoffman admit that they’d probably do the same thing.

“I think about what has been distinct in my time here, and what comes to mind is my first-year residence hall on Main 4,” says Lampietti. “I didn’t realize there was something special associated with Main 4 until I did an episode with an alum who had also lived there. She talked about the wonderful community she had, like I did, and I thought, wait, there must be something in the water in Main 4.”

“Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”

— Nicholas Lampietti ’25

His involvement with Going Forth stands out to Lampietti as the defining element of his Grinnell experience, and it’s an opportunity that he and Hoffman hope is available to many more students, not just for the incredible networking opportunities and skillset they’ll gain, but also for what the future hosts themselves will bring to the recording table.

“Grinnell experiences are radically different among the student body. So, as we look to the future, I’m most excited for a new voice and for somebody whose experiences are not my own to help drive it forward and inform the conversations,” Lampietti says.

Kriegel, too, hopes to expand student involvement with the podcast. “The richness of ideas and voices that come from multiple students; I want to lean into that as much as possible.” It’s what informed her initial decision to have more than one host, and it’s what drives her to seek more opportunities for student contributions to the production process.

Just as the guests of Going Forth reflect the infinite possibilities of life after Grinnell, it’s important to the team that the hosts reflect the varied experiences of current students. The ephemeral nature of a four-year college nearly guarantees this will be the case.

As current hosts graduate and join the alumni body themselves, future students will build upon the foundation they laid. They’ll bring new voices, new interests, and new ways of looking at the Grinnell experience. And, Lampietti hopes, they’ll care just as deeply about the Going Forth podcast and find it just as rewarding as he has.

“College is hard,” says Lampietti. “Sometimes I wake up and think, ‘I want to go home.’ And then I go and have these incredible conversations with alums, and I see Grinnell through their eyes. Hearing what this place has meant for these other people, it makes me fall in love with Grinnell all over again.”


Visit Going Forth Podcasts to listen to episodes from the past three seasons.

The Grinnell Connection

Shortly after graduation from Grinnell, Martha Grodzins Butt ’64 and one of her classmates, Livija Denavs-Rebane ’64, stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with flower garlands around their necks and smiles on their faces. Howard Bowen, then president of Grinnell College, had arranged for a Grinnell alum to meet them in every city where they landed en route to Thailand: Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. They had spent a memorable evening in Honolulu, danced at a Tokyo nightclub, learned about housing issues in Hong Kong, and arrived in Thailand ready for whatever came next.

Martha planned to teach there for one year, but she met and fell in love with another teacher, John Butt. They married, and in the nearly 60 years since, have lived and worked in Massachusetts and Minnesota in the United States and in Japan and Thailand abroad. They have now lived in Thailand for four decades. From the beginning, she has made it a point to stay connected with her fellow Grinnellians.

In the 1960s, that required patience and determination. “When I first came here, we had to go to the post office to make a telephone call,” Butt says. Today, internet communication is faster and easier, but maintaining and growing a sense of community, especially when living internationally, takes initiative. It may require work, she says, but the payoff is great.

We asked a few international alumni how they maintain their Grinnell connections, even thousands of miles from campus.

Martha ButtMartha Butt
Chiang Mai, Thailand

“I think Grinnell’s special,” Butt says. “I had so many wonderful experiences.”

Butt says her impressive network of connections is part of the Grinnell magic. “I think that’s a unique thing that only some small liberal arts colleges can offer.”

Butt has stayed tight with a group of 10 women from her class. They hold their own reunions, and for many years, they sent a round robin letter from one woman to the next, each adding her own news before sending it on. The full circuit could take an entire year.

They enjoy traveling together, and when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped travel, they set up regular Zoom gatherings. Who knows where they’ll go next? There’s no doubt, however, that they will stay in touch.

Butt’s career in international education has also kept her connected with Grinnellians. About 15 years ago, she encouraged Grinnell to include Thailand in Grinnell Corps. “I had wonderful students,” she says. “I’m very close to them.”

The program is important to her because she first came to Thailand in 1964 on Grinnell’s Fifth Year Global Service Scholarship. In addition to staying in contact with the recent Grinnell Corps group, Butt has reconnected with Grinnellians who served in Thailand in the Grinnell Corps program of the ’60s.

Her list of Grinnell connections goes on and on. For instance, when she visits her grandchildren in Arlington, Virginia, she meets up with the Grinnell Lunch Bunch in Washington, D.C.

Her network even extends to Grinnell presidents, from Bowen to George Drake ’56 to Anne Harris. She wrote a letter to Drake shortly before he died. “I didn’t expect him to write back,” she says. “He had cancer, and yet, he wrote.”

These Grinnell connections don’t fade away, Butt says. “We always feel like we’re just picking up where we left off.”

Wendy Werner and Iftekar AhmedWendy Werner and Iftekar Ahmed
New Delhi, India

Wendy Werner ’96 met one of her closest Grinnell friends in the pool at the American Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “We both had new babies,” she says. “We were just chatting and found a lot in common.” As they shared their life stories, they discovered their Grinnell connection.

Werner and her husband Iftekar Ahmed ’96 now live and work in New Delhi, India. Werner’s career at the International Finance Corporation has taken them from Bangladesh to Tajikistan, Belgrade, Vietnam, and now India. “Each place has been a new challenge in everyday practical life,” she says. Ahmed has been the support mechanism that has made her career at IFC possible, Werner says.

Ahmed is from Bangladesh, while Werner was an “Air Force brat” who lived all over. She attended high school in the U.K. and learned to adapt to new cultures at an early age. But she had never been to Iowa. “Neither of us visited Grinnell before enrolling,” she says.

Coming from a city of more than 10 million people, the quiet streets of Grinnell were a shock for Ahmed. “I thought there was perhaps a curfew due to civil unrest,” he says.

Today, although far from Iowa, Ahmed and Werner are part of a close-knit group of Grinnellians. They’ve extended their network to include Grinnellians in the countries where they have lived. “The further from Iowa, perhaps the stronger our Grinnell connection,”

Werner says. “We consider our Grinnell network as close as family.”

Elizabeth LeeElizabeth Lee
Thessaloniki, Greece

Even in childhood, Elizabeth Lee’s (’99) life experiences were preparing her for a diplomatic career in the Foreign Service. Originally from California, she spent many summers visiting her grandparents in South Korea. “Being steeped in two cultures and negotiating the differences between the two gave me important life skills, such as adaptability, respect for different cultures, as well as curiosity about the larger world,” Lee says.

U.S. Consul General Lee, now stationed in Thessaloniki, Greece, has spent 16 years in the Foreign Service, with postings in Seoul, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and more.

“Adapting to new cultures can be challenging, but living in different countries and seeing the world is also one of the huge upsides of this job,” Lee says. “Each new posting has changed me and taught me a lot, not only about the country that I’m in, whether it’s Greece, Israel, or Iraq, but also about the business of diplomacy, its opportunities and limitations, and how to be a good leader and manager.”

As a student, Lee was drawn to Grinnell’s focus on academics and social justice. She majored in English with a concentration in gender and women’s studies. “I absolutely loved my time there,” Lee says. She went on to earn a law degree and a master’s in public policy. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 convinced her to pursue a career in public service.

She’s found that her Grinnell network is portable and durable. “It is amazing where you find Grinnell connections,” Lee says. For instance, Grinnell alum George White, class of 1881, served as a professor and later as the president of Anatolia College, leading its relocation from Merzifon, Turkey, to Thessaloniki in 1924. A scholarship in memory of White allows a graduating Anatolia student to attend Grinnell College every year.

Lee says her Grinnell education shaped her in many valuable ways. “Above all, Grinnell College and the humanities education I received provided me with the building blocks for how to lead a meaningful life aligned with my values.”

Grinnell’s Global Reach

Grinnellians Around the Globe

Grinnell College has prioritized support for student opportunities around the world. A new web feature, Grinnellians Around the Globe, illustrates how recent graduates are building their own international connections as well as the scope and breadth of the endless possibilities worldwide. Visit to spin the interactive globe and see where Grinnellians are pursuing research, service projects, internships and externships, off-campus studies, launching their careers, and more.

Josh BlueJosh Blue
Hong Kong

Josh Blue ’01 was near tears when he called his parents from the bathroom at work to announce that he had resigned his job in Hong Kong. His mom said, “You are in a foreign country with no job — what are you going to do?”

He had the presence of mind to reply, “I’m a qualified teacher. Everyone needs teachers. I’ll find a new job.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Blue had planned to spend two years in Hong Kong. “Over 20 years later, I am still here,” he says. A history major with Elementary Education Certification, his positions have ranged from teacher to vice principal to his current role as principal of an international school. “I’ve discovered a passion for not only working with students, but for teachers and learning communities too,” Blue says.

Living thousands of miles from Iowa has made Blue more deliberate about maintaining his Grinnell ties. He’s part of a circle of Grinnellians in Hong Kong who stay in touch. “I don’t feel disconnected,” he says. “In some ways, by being abroad, I have to make a greater effort to stay in the loop.”

Blue’s life in Hong Kong includes his partner Taka and their son Isaac. “I’ve created a life for myself I don’t think would have been possible had I stayed stateside,” Blue says. “I am incredibly thankful.”

Daphne CunninghamDaphne Cunningham
Oxford, U.K.

Grinnell-in-London was life-changing for Daphne Cunningham ’95. It marked the beginning of her love affair

with the U.K., which is now her home. The G-in-L students enjoyed performances, exhibitions, and field trips. “It was just a fabulous experience of freedom,” Cunningham says.

She has a special fondness for Donna Vinter, who ran the G-in-L program for decades. They reconnected when Cunningham returned to the U.K. to live in 2005. “We’ve been friends ever since,” she says.

Donna sometimes invited Cunningham to speak to the Grinnell students about life in the U.K. Cunningham’s Grinnell community spans borders and decades.

Keeping up with it is worth the effort, she says. “I’ve had big returns. I’ve not had a bad experience at all being in contact with Grinnell people.”

Misha GelnarovaMisha Gelnarová
Czech Republic

For many Grinnell alumni, the friendships they forged on campus remain firmly embedded in their hearts, even years later and thousands of miles from Iowa.

“I feel like the close connection you make during your four years in (Grinnell) is just very hard to get in any other setting,” says Misha Gelnarová ’18, a native of the Czech Republic.

“It is honest, wholesome, intimate, and it runs deep,” she explains. “My Grinnell years have shaped who I am, and with Grinnellians, I am my true self — they’ve seen me at my best and worst. With them, I feel challenged and respected — I feel home.”

As an alum now who has worked in Brussels and Prague, Gelnarová says the bonds remain strong. “I think it is possible to nurture and expand your Grinnell network even thousands of miles from Iowa,” she explains.

“When a Grinnellian I know is coming to a nearby country, I take it as an excuse to meet up with as many close-by Grinnellians as possible.” She’s met up with Grinnellians in London, Berlin, Llastres (a village in northern Spain), Lisbon, Prague, Gdansk, Warsaw, and Lausanne.

The Grinnell connection doesn’t seem to fade — in fact, it often grows stronger. “That’s the most beautiful part,” Gelnarová adds. “The Grinnell sense of community extends beyond the cornfields. It is about the people, their mindset, and attitudes, about the shared lived experience.”

Jiazhen ChenJiazhen Chen
Shanghai, China

Is it possible to build a Grinnell network thousands of miles from campus? “It’s more than possible,” says Jiazhen “Jason” Chen ’07.

His Grinnell connections are both personal and professional. On a recent flight home from Malaysia, he made a stop in Singapore to hang out with a Grinnellian.

Professionally, he has hosted externs and he’s looking forward to working with Grinnellian interns in Shanghai this year. The city is also home to close-knit group of Grinnell alumni who socialize often. The Grinnell connection is real, Chen says. “It’s something we can’t see or touch — but it’s there.”


Save the Date: International Alumni Listening Sessions

Alumni Council members will facilitate virtual listening sessions for international alumni on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, to discuss how they engage and connect with fellow Grinnellians and the College.

The Grinnells

Sarah Smith grew up just five blocks from Grinnell’s campus, and in some ways, the College played a big role in her childhood. “I went to plenty of sporting events,” she recalls. “I was very, very comfortable there.”

Young woman shows a young girl how to finger crochet while an older woman looks on. Storytime Art in the park at Arenas Park

Still, there were some areas of the College that remained mysterious to her, despite the institution’s proximity. “I don’t think I ever attended any event that was in a College classroom,” she says.

That’s one reason that Smith, now the director of outreach programming and events at the College, has been such a big proponent of Grinnell’s Ignite Program, which for years has brought preschool and elementary-age kids to classrooms for a day to learn from Grinnell College students about a range of topics. “I think it’s really important for kids to get a feel for what a college classroom looks like and hopefully see themselves at college someday,” she says.

It’s outreach that makes the College feel a little less opaque to Grinnell residents and that gives College students a joyful appreciation for their in-town neighbors. The Ignite Program — a perennially popular event that, after a brief pandemic-related hiatus, is returning this spring — is one of the most visible and successful partnerships between the town and the College. It’s also just one of many.

President Anne F. Harris says the College and community’s intertwined futures help drive this relationship-building work. “We all understand that the vitality of the College depends on the vitality of the town, and the vitality of the town depends on the vitality of the College,” she says.

Monica Chavez-Silva, vice president of community engagement and strategic planning, adds that the connections that the town and the College have built over decades have helped both weather difficult times, from dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic to the devastating derecho. “It’s been critical that we’ve had all these connections in place with community partners over the years, because when there have been crises, we’ve been able to draw on the strength of our relationships,” she says. Here are just a few of the ways that town and College collaborate and improve one another.

Grinnell Educational Partnership Drives Student Learning.

When COVID-19 upended in-school learning for young learners, the Grinnell Educational Partnership (GEP) snapped into action. Team members, including Grinnell College alumni, added additional free little libraries around town, focusing on increasing access for kids, and stocked them with books.

Two men in safety glasses talk at a table with a laptop in a room filled with woodworking equipment The Stew Makerspace

The GEP team also wrote a grant for art supplies and activities to be distributed through the Tiger Packs Program, a community initiative addressing food insecurity among local youth. Recognizing that not every household has internet access at home, the partnership worked with the Drake Community Library and the Grinnell-Newburg School Foundation to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to make online learning easier.

At a moment of extreme social isolation, the projects were instrumental in providing connections and support to help minimize learning loss during the pandemic.

Fueled by the College, the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, and more than 20 community organizations, GEP brings together the resources of numerous organizations to help support children and families in Grinnell. “By bringing communities together, we are able to work collectively to create opportunities through transformative partnerships,” says Melissa Strovers, director of collective impact at the College.

It’s not just young students who benefit. College students and recent alumni gain useful experience as they build relationships, develop programming, write grants, and plan events. In summer 2022 alone, eight Grinnell College students served as AmeriCorps members working directly with kids at partner sites throughout Grinnell.

Working collectively with community partners and the school district makes a real impact: Reading skills in the Grinnell-Newburg school district have improved measurably since the program’s inception in 2015, and the partnership has been recognized with eight state and national awards.

Distinctive Physical Spaces Bring Together Diverse Groups.

The built environment has a profound impact on human experience and interaction, and both the town and the College sponsor distinctive spaces that offer informal opportunities for people from different backgrounds to gather and connect over shared interests.

The Stew Makerspace, jointly supported by the College’s Wilson Center and the Grinnell Area Arts Council, offers everything from button makers to laser cutters for creative projects. High school and College students get free access to “the Stew,” which is near campus on Broad Street. Community members can join for a fee.

Saints Rest is a downtown Grinnell coffee shop friendly to high school and College students, College faculty and staff, and Grinnell residents. In 2018, an article in The New York Times noted that “all paths seem to cross” at the much-loved hub. In the spring of 2020, owner Sam Cox rounded up caps and gowns and hosted an impromptu graduation photo booth so seniors graduating remotely because of the pandemic could have a real-life graduation experience and memento.

Several people with disposable coffee cups are gathered around a wooden table Shafiq R. Khan, a Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize winner, has coffee with students, staff, and faculty at Saints Rest in October 2019

The Pioneer Bookshop, downtown on Main Street, offers typical college bookstore fare like textbooks and College-branded attire — a must-visit for College students. But its inventory also includes children’s picture books, toys, and locally sourced items including honey, making it an inviting location for Grinnell residents as well. The bookstore donates a portion of December sales to Grinnell-Newburg school libraries. “We hope to make it a little easier for the librarian to obtain the most popular books that spark the interest of young readers,” says Cassie Wherry, manager of the bookshop.

In late 2022, Grinnell trustees approved construction of the core residential building (to be named Renfrow Hall; see Page 22) of the Civic Engagement Quad project to be located at the edge of campus at Sixth Avenue and Broad Street. “The project is a way for the College to be more intentional about connecting the physical campus with the downtown business district,” says Chavez- Silva, who notes that the project will not only include student housing, but also public green spaces and a civic innovation pavilion for use by all. Together with a new mixed-use apartment building planned for the same block by Merge Urban Development, restaurants and retailers will enjoy much more foot traffic downtown.

Mellon Research Identifies Opportunities for Connection Through Humanities.

With support from a Mellon Presidential Leadership grant, the College worked with a qualitative research company to understand how individuals in the College and community defined the humanities. The research helped identify ways that the campus and community could come together for events such as lectures, films, classes, workshops, and exhibitions with humanities themes. “Through these events, we learn more about the world we live in and how to live in harmony and understanding,” says Smith.

The grant funded more than just understanding; with the help of Mellon funds, campus organizations and community nonprofits received funding to support their own community-based projects.

Young woman presenting a poster titled Community Strengths and Assets in Grinnell by Ekta Shaikh and Megan LeBlanc Build a Better Grinnell poster session in December 2022

Build a Better Grinnell Thinks Big About What’s Next.

In the spring of 2022, campus and community members started asking a big question: what would make Grinnell a stronger, more vibrant, more meaningfully connected community in the coming decade?

From that big question, Build a Better Grinnell 2030 was born. A collaboration among numerous organizations including the College, the multiyear project is now undertaking a communitywide assessment with broad participation from all parts of Grinnell. Based on its findings, contributors will map out a plan — and implement it. “This is an opportunity to identify and prioritize community needs and guide the community going forward,” Strovers says.

Grinnellians aren’t the only ones who see promise in the project. In November, Build a Better Grinnell received a $200,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge Grant that will support Build a Better Grinnell’s efforts.

The Ignite Program Catalyzes the Enthusiasm of Young Learners.

Twice a year, about 100 preschool-through-sixth-grade students head to campus for a day to learn from Grinnell College students. They crack codes, study the planets, or become amateur chocolatiers. The goal? To expose young students to a meaningful educational experience and get them comfortable on a college campus.

While the kids love it, the College’s Ignite teacher scholars might love it even more; surveys found that 100 percent of the teacher-scholars would recommend the experience to a friend — and many end up teaching at the event all four years at Grinnell.

Experiments Support “Good Neighbor” Vibes.

Creating meaningful connection points between campus and community doesn’t always require huge budgets or vast planning committees — that’s why Chavez-Silva and her team frequently test out modest, one-time events and other initiatives to inject a little more joy into everyday life. “The great thing about a small college and a small town is that if you want something, you can almost always help to make it happen,” she says. Here are just a few examples:

group of people in santa hats sing together a tree with lights to the right downtown holiday sing-along

For a late November “Jingle Bell Holiday” event, the College rented a horse and carriage to bring students from the Joe Rosenfield Center to downtown Grinnell, where they could warm up with a free beverage from Saints Rest. Some 350 students participated in the event.

To support local organizations and events — a local scout troop or an annual kite festival, for example — the College offers frequent donations such as gift certificates or items from the bookstore. “We want to be good neighbors,” says Chavez-Silva. “Our philosophy is basically to say yes to almost everybody if we can.”

The College also offers a more formal community mini-grant program where a committee of faculty and staff review grants to local area organizations seeking to expand programming or build capacity.

As part of the Volunteer Initiative Program, Grinnell College employees who volunteer their time at any nonprofit organization can fill out a simple form and designate $100 to be donated by the College to that organization. “We have volunteer firefighters, people on the board of a local historical museum, and people who spend their time volunteering at an animal shelter,” says Chavez-Silva. “It’s amazing to read the stories about the places that people spend their time.”

In some ways, these efforts are just the tip of the iceberg. As President Harris looks ahead, she’s thrilled about the potential for the town and the College to work together in the future. “I think there’s been a lot of appreciation for each other for many years, and in more recent years, the pandemic made us really understand what it meant to stand together and care for this community,” she says. “What gives me hope is how much we really value each other.”

A woman in a brown shirt with a wry expression is surrounded by young children in matching tshirts who are raising their hands Ignite program STEM event

New Residence Hall Naming Honors Edith Renfrow Smith

Portrait of a young black woman in a board frame with a decorative borderMore than 100 years ago, a little girl named Edith would climb into her mother’s lap and beg, “Mama, tell me a story.”

Her mother, Eva Pearl Renfrow, would pull her daughter close and spin out family stories for her. Sometimes Eva Pearl told tales of dramatic escapes from slavery, such as the story of Edith’s grandfather, George Craig, who was sold on the auction block in New Orleans at age 14. He was so miserable, he put tobacco juice in his eyes to lower his value as a slave. It left him partially blind for the rest of his life.

But his plan worked. Craig was sold again, this time to a plantation in Mississippi where he served as valet to the master. The overseer there allowed him to escape — for a price. And so, Craig began his long, circuitous journey north to Iowa, where eventually he and his family would put down deep roots.

Edith Renfrow Smith ’37, DHL’19, who was born in Grinnell in 1914, couldn’t get enough of these stories.

“Oh, I loved to hear her tell them!” she says.

A Foundation for Change

Exploded floor plan of the CEQ shows C-shaped structure with unique first floor, interior of three residence floors with atria and a green roofThe stories of Renfrow Smith and her ancestors continue to be intertwined with Grinnell. In December, President Anne F. Harris announced that the College Board of Trustees had approved naming the residence hall in the College’s new Civic Engagement Quad (CEQ) in honor of Edith Renfrow Smith.

What is now the CEQ is the evolution of former president Raynard S. Kington’s idea of a downtown student residence. Renfrow Hall will not only provide needed apartment-style off-campus student housing, it also will serve as a reminder of the difference every Grinnellian can make.

The four-story, 125,000-square-foot CEQ, set to open in 2024, features a design developed in partnership with David Adjaye, renowned Ghanaian-British architect. He believes architecture can be transformational, bridging divides and building relationships. 

Adjaye calls Grinnell “an extraordinary college … producing unique citizens, unique students with the knowledge to be able to take on the big issues that are in the world.”

Artists rendering of a four-story building with two wings sited on a cornerarchitect’s rendering of the residence facility that will be known as Renfrow Hall

At the Crossroads

Older Black woman holds hand up while talking to a white woman in a white mask a painting of the Black woman in academic garb hangs behind them Edith Renfrow Smith ’37 and President Anne F. Harris during an October 2021 campus event celebrating the re-dedication of the Edith Renfrow Smith ’37 Student Art Gallery.

Set at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Broad Street, the CEQ will inhabit the intersection of the campus and the community, with strong ties to both. The complex will welcome both College and community members, offering shared spaces that invite dialogue, exchange, and collaboration.

Sixth Avenue might seem like the dividing line between the town and the College, but Renfrow Smith never saw it that way, says Professor Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Louise R. Noun Chair in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Beauboeuf- Lafontant has conducted an extensive research project focusing on the experiences of Renfrow Smith. “That’s never been true for her,” Beauboeuf-Lafontant says. “She walked it. She crossed it. She made a path for someone like me.”

Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Edith Renfrow Smith, Black women faculty and students can thrive and succeed here as scholars, mentors, and leaders, Beauboeuf-Lafontant says. “I would hope that we would always want to do things in the spirit of Edith Renfrow Smith — to lead with kindness, to lead with self-respect, to lead with a sense that you can be a part of a small town and still make a big impact.”

Rebuilding Civic Trust

Edith Renfrow-Smith speaking at a podium“Take every opportunity to do your best,” Edith told the graduates at Grinnell College Commencement in 2019, when she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

The world faces complex problems that won’t be solved without collaboration extending over divides and across boundaries, Harris says. Future generations will be called upon to work together to find solutions.

“This endeavor requires determination and optimism,” she says. “It requires a commitment to civic trust.”

At its heart, Harris says, the ideas and aspirations that gave birth to the Civic Engagement Quad encourage us to abandon our separate ideological strongholds to come together and both talk with and listen to one another.

A liberal arts education offers one of the best models for rebuilding trust in our communities, she adds. “The way forward is reflected in the ways we teach and learn at Grinnell, through research, deliberation, and collaboration.

“The CEQ will serve as a living laboratory, supporting teaching and learning for our students as they engage with the community and each other,” Harris explains. “These interactions will prepare them to participate as citizens and leaders, questioning, shaping, and furthering the common good.”

Through this project and the efforts of students, faculty, staff, and citizens, Grinnell — both the town and the College — can become a national voice for civic engagement and community collaboration in a rural setting.

An Undaunted Spirit

Edith Renfrow-Smith as a young woman in a dress with an embroidered collar and bodice and a choker Edith, age 16 or 17, wearing her Camp Fire necklace and uniform

The naming of Renfrow Hall is a fitting honor for Renfrow Smith and for her family, whose members rose from enslaved persons to college graduates in just two generations. Renfrow Smith’s life reflects the value she placed on education and the deep, ongoing conversation between College and community.

“As we thought about Grinnellians whose lives and accomplishments embody these values and who have served as a positive and undaunted inspiration to others, it quickly became clear that Edith Renfrow Smith was that alumna,” Harris says. “Renfrow Hall will reside in a space that connects the city of Grinnell and the College — carrying the name of the truest of true Grinnellians.”

Get an Education

Renfrow Smith’s mother was only able to complete the eighth grade but held education in the highest regard. She and her husband, Lee Augustus Renfrow, raised six children (Edith was the fifth), and they were determined that all would earn a college degree.

“Get an education — that’s all we heard,” remembers Renfrow Smith.

A Black girl in a white dress and tights stands outside of a house Edith Renfrow at her 1929 eighth grade graduation in Grinnell

When Edith was only 5 years old, her mother began inviting Black students at the College to the Renfrow home on Sunday evenings. These Rosenwald scholars, who had been recruited to Grinnell College through a partnership between the College and the Rosenwald Foundation, made a big impression on the little girl.

She began to dream of attending Grinnell College herself one day.

As a grade-school student, she walked to the then-new Davis School, where she delighted in weekend activities sponsored by Uncle Sam’s Club, a youth club founded and staffed by Grinnell students. They encouraged Renfrow Smith and opened her eyes to a world of opportunities.

Renfrow Smith also joined the local Camp Fire girl troop, led by troop leader Laetitia Conard (one of Grinnell’s first sociology lecturers and wife of Professor Henry S. Conard). Renfrow Smith and her family attended the Congregational Church every Sunday and once during the week, where she got to know many other Grinnell faculty and staff.

After graduation from Grinnell High School in 1932 (where she was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame), Renfrow Smith achieved her dream of matriculating to Grinnell College.

“Grinnell College was a part of our family from the very beginning,” Renfrow Smith says. “I wasn’t going to college unless I’d go to Grinnell College.”

A True Grinnellian

Edith Renfrow-Smith in academic robes Edith poses in cap and gown on her Grinnell College graduation day in 1937

But it wasn’t easy. Renfrow Smith worked her way through Grinnell as a secretary (she typed 60 words a minute) and lived at home to save money. In 1933–34, tuition was $275. She was the only Black student on campus at the time.

Renfrow Smith wasn’t about to let anything stop her from enjoying college life. “I was just part of the group, and I enjoyed all the group activities that we had at Grinnell,” Renfrow Smith says. She participated in women’s intramural dance, badminton, ring tennis, basketball, and field hockey. A talented athlete, she was inducted into Women’s Honor G as a senior.

As a member of Read Cottage, Renfrow Smith particularly loved the rituals of the formal Yule Log Dinner at the end of the fall semester. Women students, all in white dresses, gathered for the ceremonial relighting of the Yule log from years past. A cadre of white-coated waiters then served them a special holiday dinner.

Renfrow Smith also delighted in dancing the minuet in period costumes with her girlfriends at the Colonial Ball on Washington’s Birthday.

“Oh my, that was a time!” she says.

Grinnell Has Been My Life

After studies in psychology, history, and economics, in 1937, Renfrow Smith became the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College.

After graduation, she moved to Chicago to find work (she still lives there) and later married and raised two daughters. Renfrow Smith’s belief in education led her to become an elementary-school teacher, eventually rising to the level of master teacher. She retired in 1976 and spent the next 40 years volunteering at many organizations, including the Art Institute of Chicago and Goodwill.

In 2019, then-president Raynard Kington presided at the Commencement ceremony where the College awarded Renfrow Smith an honorary doctorate to a standing ovation from the graduates and assembled crowd. “Grinnell has been my life,” she told the audience. At 108, Renfrow Smith is the College’s oldest alum.

Focusing on the Good

Three Black women pose for the camera Professor and Louise R. Noun Chair in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Edith Renfrow Smith ’37, and Feven Getachew ’24

We can all learn from Edith Renfrow Smith, Harris says. “She loves this place with a clear-eyed acceptance of its shortcomings and potential.”

Renfrow Smith continues to be an active participant of the life of the College. She has developed a close relationship with Feven Getachew ’24, an international student from Ethiopia whom she met through Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s research. For Getachew, Renfrow Smith is both an inspiration and a challenge.

“I think it’s very hard to live up to her legacy, but I think we can at least try,” Getachew says.

Renfrow Smith’s wholehearted love for her hometown and her College is unconditional. And she has never stopped believing that we can do better.

Her optimism, her resilience, her dedication to the common good, and most of all her love for Grinnell make the naming of Renfrow Hall in her honor the perfect choice. Renfrow Hall will serve as the embodiment of the enduring and evolving relationship between the College and the community and an enduring testament to an amazing Grinnellian.

George Drake and Grinnell College

Timeline Flag
Education

Feb. 25, 1934

Born, Springfield, Missouri, to Alberta Grace Stimpson Drake and George Bryant Drake

1952

Graduates Lyons Township High School, LaGrange, Illinois

Fall 1952

Matriculates as Grinnell College Baker Scholar

1952–1956

Excels as scholar-athlete; active and engaged across campus, develops lasting friendships with faculty and classmates; senior year leads cross-country team to its first conference championship and personally qualifies for national championships

1956

A Phi Beta Kappa, George wins Archibald Prize for highest grades in his class

1956–1957

Fulbright Scholar, studies French Protestant history, University of Paris, France

1957-1959

Rhodes Scholar, studies modern British history, Merton College, Oxford University, England, receives B.A. and M.A.

1959–1964

Years under the aegis of the University of Chicago/Chicago Theological Seminary; B.D. (Divinity), 1962; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in church history, 1964. Rockefeller graduate fellow

George in white jacket and black pants and Susan in wedding dress and holding bouquet The 1960 wedding of George Drake ’56 and Susan Ratcliff ’58 at Ladue Chapel in St. Louis.

When my father turned 80, I was working in Grinnell’s Development and Alumni Relations office. In that role, I discovered that an unanticipated job perk was alumni and Grinnell colleagues sharing stories about my dad and what he meant to them. What they told me emphasized how important relationships were to him and how carefully he cultivated them. As Dad’s birthday approached, I reached out to these individuals, encouraging them to write these accolades directly to him. The missives flooded in through mail, email, and even on Facebook. Over the next weeks, my father not only read each one, but, true to character, answered all that he could. Eight years later, as Dad entered hospice care at the end of his journey with pancreatic cancer, his granddaughter, Hannah Drake ’18, shared this news with the Grinnell community. A similar outpouring of messages came in, and we were able to read many of them to him during his final days.


Man and woman flank three smiling kids The Drake family, 1975, in Colorado Springs where all three children were born (LR: George, Melanie, Cindy, Chris, and Sue).

Common themes emerge from these messages. George Drake was a good listener. He genuinely engaged with each person, asking questions that allowed him to get to know them and allowed them to feel heard. He was responsive. He helped problem-solve. He pushed people to enhance their own learning and being. His humility endeared him to others. And the vast knowledge and intellect he shared was notable and appreciated. These sentiments were no surprise to his loved ones, but what struck us was how fully Dad was able to connect with so many individuals, even those he encountered only briefly. As I have absorbed this and observed my father getting to know people (most recently in hospital settings, whether the nurse on duty or the person cleaning his room), I know that Dad never met a stranger; from the moment of greeting, he immediately connected, learning from them as much as about them.

Family of eight pose in front of a tree and lake A new generation; their six grandchildren with George and Sue at their Golden Anniversary in 2010 (back row, LR: Nick, George, Sue, Danielle; middle row, LR: Lila, Sam ’25; seated, LR: Hannah ’18, Elizabeth).

The constant in Dad’s life, through which he cultivated many of these relationships, was Grinnell College. His life path was greatly impacted when he was recruited out of Chicago to this small Iowa school by Coach John Pfitsch. A self-described “indifferent high school student,” Dad remembered his father’s words when his parents dropped him off at the College. “George, I’m not worried about you making friends or having success in sports. I’m worried that you’ll flunk out.”

He took his father’s words to heart, knowing that college was costly ($1,300 annually in 1952!) and committed himself to being the student his dad didn’t think he could be. As Dad put it, “Grinnell turned me on. It was fun to work hard, and I loved the classes.” And he didn’t sacrifice friends or athletics in the process. His running prowess that got him into Grinnell continued to hold steady. Years later, at reunions, Dad’s classmates would tell me memories of sitting in the stands, hearing George Drake’s name called over the loudspeaker as they watched him effortlessly stride around the track.


Timeline Flag
Family and Early Career

Fall 1959

Reconnects with fellow Grinnellian Susan Ratcliff ’58, beginning a “whirlwind courtship”

June 25, 1960

Marries Sue Ratcliff at Ladue Chapel, St. Louis

1960–1961

Returns to Grinnell through Rockefeller grant to intern with chaplain, teach as instructor of history, serve as men’s soccer coach; Sue teaches at Cooper Elementary

1961, 1962

Takes a summer job as pastor of a small mountain church in Marble, Colorado, spending two consecutive summers in this role

Early 1960s

George and Sue purchase land in Marble and build a rustic cabin themselves, which becomes their home away from home almost every summer

1964–1979

Colorado College professor of history

1965–1970

Drake family grows by three: Christopher (Chris), Cynthia (Cindy), and Melanie ’92

1969–1973

Dean, Colorado College, oversees implementation of the distinctive Block Plan

1970–1979

Serves on Grinnell College Board of Trustees

Man and woman stand in front of the screen door of a wooden building The couple at their “home away from home,” a cabin they built together in Marble, Colorado.

There were many aspects of Grinnell College that were important to my father: learning from and later working with the professors, running track and cross country, being a trustee, succeeding as an administrator, and, of course, the years he spent as a professor. Yet the most important part of Grinnell to him by far was meeting my mom, Sue Ratcliff Drake ’58. They did not date as students. Mom always said he was “too smarty” for her, and she shied away because so many people were in awe of him. As fate would have it, he hitched a ride with her back to Chicago after a homecoming weekend. She recalls that he spent the majority of the ride hanging over the seat, “talking my ear off!” Soon after, he asked her out. Several months later, they were married — a partnership that lasted more than 62 years.


George and Sue stand arm in arm against a backdrop of meadows farms and mountains George and Sue, who taught in Lesotho during their Peace Corps service, pictured in southern Africa.

Even though Dad started his teaching journey at Colorado College, he remained close to Grinnell in spirit. While in Colorado, he joined Grinnell’s Board of Trustees; and, in 1979, when a trustee encouraged him to consider the presidency, he was honored but wary because of his own father’s experience. My grandfather had been president of Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, during the World War II era, and he struggled in that role, in part because he supported the notable Japanese population on campus when many others did not. My father sensed that his situation would be different. Having been a trustee meant he already had his finger on the pulse of the College and was aware of challenges he might face. So, this time, my dad didn’t heed his father’s warning but instead opted to take on the role.

Dad’s humility served him well as president, as did his way of connecting with others. He often described himself as a “pushover,” feeling he could be swayed easily to another opinion. But I’ve come to learn that this was not an apt description of his leadership style. He was an active listener who considered all sides when making decisions. He kept open office hours, meeting with students, faculty, alumni, and staff who requested his time. This sometimes meant he was delayed in coming home or getting to another meeting, but he remained fully present and rarely let on that he had other commitments.

Interactions with my father were not limited to his office walls. He was regularly spotted around campus. At the dining hall, he frequently joined students to chat with them while eating at their table. He attended various campus events, and his love of sports put him in the stands or on the sidelines at many games and meets. There is a rare student who doesn’t recall seeing Dad running or him greeting them while bicycling past.

Timeline Flag
Grinnell Presidency

1979

Selected to serve as Grinnell’s 10th president and first alumnus president

1979–1991

During his tenure, Grinnell’s reputation as a liberal arts institution grows stronger; College is consistently rated a top national liberal arts college; endowment grows from $45 million to $300 million; diversity initiatives grow enrollment of Black students and Iowa students; Grinnell-Nanjing Exchange launches

May 4, 1980

Inaugural address; speaks of a vision of the “future in the past” and the College’s progressive ideals of service, its traditions of scholarship, academic freedom, and liberal dissent, and a purposeful future for Grinnell

1980s

Receives four honorary degrees — Colorado College, LLD,1980; Ripon College, LLD, 1982; Illinois College, LHD, 1985; and Ursinus College, LHD, 1988

1991

Board of Trustees honors presidential service, creates the George Drake Professor of Religious Studies

George Drake in a light dress coat riding a bike while holding his briefcase in his right hand A familiar sight on campus; George biking past the North campus residence halls, circa 1980s.

Dad mostly went with the flow, even when, in typical Grinnell fashion, students would stage a protest or pull a lighthearted prank on him. Early in his presidency, a fake mailing went out to all first-year students inviting them to our house for an ice cream social. My sister and I, the ones home at the time, spent the better part of an hour politely turning away dozens of confused students. Our father was amused by this practical joke while simultaneously applauding the idea. The next year, he and my mom hosted a real ice cream social, which became an annual tradition.


George Drake in suit and Melanie Drake in a wedding dress The author and her dad on the day she married Tom Wickersham ’90.

When I decided to attend Grinnell, my dad was both overjoyed and wary. Still the College’s president, he worried he’d end up mired in some hot-topic issue that would suck me in as well. I, too, experienced both emotions. I knew enough students already to sense that they could separate me from who my dad was, but I also wanted to be distanced from the Drake name. Yet I kept coming back to Grinnell as my top choice. My parents had always told me to trust my gut, which I did. Four years later, I walked across the Commencement stage, proudly joining my parents as an alum. The Grinnell bond we share has been incredibly meaningful, and we’ve delighted at the fact that Mom and I both took classes from art professor Richard Cervene and Dad and I both lived on Younker’s third floor — my room was across the hall from where his was.


Timeline Flag
Service, Teaching, and Writing

1991–93

George and Sue join the Peace Corps and serve in Lesotho in southern Africa; George teaches at a high school and Sue travels to regional schools training teachers.

1993–2022

George and Sue give their time and talents widely to the community through the library, United Church of Christ, the hospital, and Mayflower Community; George parlays lifelong love of singing into performing and fundraising with Shults & Co.

1994–2004

Resumes teaching history at the College on a full-time basis

2002

Grinnell College Athletic Hall of Fame induction for Men's Track and Field, Men's Cross Country

2004

Assumes Professor Emeritus status but continues his love of teaching on a parttime basis mainly through tutorial on campus and in Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program at Newton Correctional Facility

2006

Receives Grinnell College Distinguished Alumni Award; Sue is honored in 2008

2008

Drake Community Library named in honor of the couple’s longtime dedication to the town's public library

2019

Publishes Mentor: Life and Legacy of Joe Rosenfield

2020

In the face the global COVID-19 pandemic, George reluctantly elects to stop teaching

Fall 2021

Publishes his final book Seventy Years in Academe: A Memoir

2021–22

Despite pancreatic cancer diagnosis, George remains deeply involved and connected to the College

Oct. 15, 2022

George Albert Drake, a good man who lived richly and well, dies at the age of 88, in his Grinnell home surrounded by his loving family

While he was a successful president, Dad’s true career love was teaching. He was fully in his element when engaging with students. He continued teaching well into his emeritus status, each year asking students and colleagues alike to let him know if it was time for him to step back. In the latter years, as Grinnell continued to request his presence as an adviser and tutorial teacher, Dad’s only complaint was about technology, which outpaced his knowledge.

George sits near two students. His forearms rest on his thighs and he's leaning forward. A quintessential image of George, professor and mentor, talking with students.

When a global pandemic forced his hand, Dad stopped formally teaching, recognizing his limits with online instruction. Yet he never truly hung up his professor’s hat, remaining connected with students who often came by the house to visit. There are still students on campus today who have benefited from his tutelage. One even asked him for a recommendation letter this past fall.


Dad often said it was an honor to teach students, and this was most pronounced when he spoke of teaching in the Grinnell Liberal Arts in Prison Program. He loved these students deeply, celebrating their humanity, curiosity, and intellect. He kept up with alumni from these classes, even traveling with several of them to showcase the program at regional alumni events. One of the most meaningful conversations Dad had in his last days was with a student from this program who called to explain the incredible impact George Drake had on him. Dad was having difficulty speaking, but, at the end of that call, he told his student, “I’m listening.”

George wearing academic dress, arm in arm with Hannah who wears a robe and mortar board George delighted granddaughter Hannah when he made a surprise appearance to present her diploma at the 2018 Commencement ceremony.

In 2019, at age 84, my father authored a biography aptly titled Mentor about the legacy of Joe Rosenfield 1925, who committed much of his life to the college he loved so well. I had the unique privilege of observing Dad’s research and writing process. It energized him to delve into the story of this beloved man he had known and respected. I loved reading his early manuscripts and hearing the stories that didn’t make it into the book. A historian at heart with a great passion for Grinnell College, Dad was overjoyed to explore both interests in a book that also gave tribute to someone he admired.

Recently, my family rediscovered a recording of Dad teaching a Mayflower Community “bucket course” about Joe at the town’s Drake Community Library. I relished watching his lively storytelling of Joe’s deep and rich contributions to Grinnell. Anyone who had the pleasure of being taught by my father knows that he did not simply lecture. He engaged students, often knowing enough about them that he made personal connections to the subject at hand. By linking history to the present day, he brought relevancy to the topic while peppering it all with a healthy dose of humor.

Dad started the bucket course by reading the foreword, penned by Joe’s lifelong friend, Warren Buffett, who served on the College’s Board of Trustees with Joe. Listening to Dad read Buffett’s words describing Joe as “wise, humorous, generous, friendly, public-spirited” struck a chord. These are words often associated with my dad. Later, in the foreword, Buffett states, “Joe loved the Grinnell students as he loved the members of his own family.” This, too, parallels how my father connected with students. Growing up, we often had students at our dinner table, and some even stayed with us during College breaks, quickly becoming an extension of our family. Buffett ends by describing Mentor as “a story that could not have been written without a lifetime love affair between Joe Rosenfield and Grinnell College.” Similarly, this deep love of the College is embodied in the life of George Drake. As Dad states in his own memoir, Seventy Years in Academe, “I was very lucky in my choice of Grinnell and in Grinnell’s choice of me … I am a Grinnell College junkie.”

7 team members in matching track suits and an older man in a light colored suit Cross country team photo taken just before George broke a course record in 1953 (George, far left).

Lessons from Plants

Beronda Montgomery reviewing flowers in a field

Montgomery says her earliest memories of plants include her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts, who all shared an extensive knowledge of and love for plants.

When Beronda Montgomery was growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, she and her older brother and sister spent the long, hot summer days exploring the wild places where plants grew and thrived, largely ignored by humans. “It was the rhythm of our summers,” Montgomery says.

Although they left the house with packed lunches and their mother’s warnings ringing in their ears (“Don’t eat anything!”), the patches of wild blackberries were irresistible.

When they got home, their mother would ask, “Did you eat anything?” They would reply, “No, Mama, we didn’t eat anything.” They didn’t quite get away with it, though. “My brother and sister, being older, were careful, but I would come home with blackberry stains all down my shirt,” Montgomery says.

And so, the lessons began. “She realized she had to teach us really early how to distinguish what was good to eat,” Montgomery says. They began to learn about plants and how to stay safe in their environment.

At that time, Montgomery says, she didn’t fully appreciate her mother’s knowledge of and love for plants, or her incredible green thumb. “I really did not understand my mom’s curiosity with plants. They looked like they were just sitting there,” she says.

Welcoming a New Dean

Montgomery, who is Grinnell’s new vice president of academic affairs and dean of the College, is also a scientist focusing on biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and molecular genetics. In addition, she is the author of Lessons from Plants, a book that explores the surprising lives of plants. Plants move, they make decisions, they take actions, they cooperate, and they communicate, mostly unseen and unappreciated by people.

fingers holding up a smooth blue aster bloom with rest of plant visible in the background

Montgomery examines a smooth blue aster blooming on the Grinnell campus. The aster is native to the prairies of the Midwest and attracts many pollinators.

As an author, Montgomery blends her keen understanding of ecosystems with her gift for storytelling, reflecting on how we can apply what we learn from plants to our lives, from the personal to the professional.

And perhaps, even to the life of Grinnell College.

A Passion for Plants

Montgomery had originally planned to be a lawyer. When she took a plant physiology course almost by accident because it was the only course that fit in her schedule, Montgomery got swept up in her professor’s passion for plants.

She went on to earn a doctorate in plant biology from University of California-Davis, conducting research focusing on how plants respond to light and nutrients. After a postdoc in microbial biology, Montgomery joined the faculty at Michigan State University.

It wasn’t until she was well into her study of plant science that Montgomery reflected on the impact of the time she had spent with her mother and how much she had learned about plants just by watching and listening.

The Importance of Light

Beronda Montgomery holding a potted plantMontgomery remembers being astonished by a photo of two genetically identical plants growing in identical conditions, with just one difference: one was growing in the light, the other in darkness.

“They were completely different,” Montgomery says. The plant in the light thrived; the plant in darkness struggled.

“What’s going on around them really determines whether they have success or not,” she explains. “That has changed the way I think about myself as a teacher, mentor, and leader.” For biological organisms with similar potential, success or failure depends on the environment.

For example, children who go to school without breakfast often can’t focus in class. It’s easy to assume that they aren’t as capable as other children; however, we should be thinking about what’s happening around them, which factors in their environment might be keeping them from living up to their full potential.

“Humans are just biological organisms,” Montgomery says. “We are subject to the principles of the universe like anything else.” And yet, she adds, we often don’t apply lessons from the natural world to ourselves. In the process, we miss out on what can be learned about how we see ourselves and our interactions with others.

In the biological world as well as our own, these reciprocal relationships result in more resilient communities.

The Three Sisters

Grouping of an ear of corn, a squash, and beans in a podOne example is the “three sisters” approach to growing crops — an indigenous farming practice that has inspired Montgomery. The three sisters are traditionally corn, beans, and squash, grown together for the good of all three.

Corn is the first sister, and as all Grinnellians and Iowans know, it grows tall.

The second sister, beans, grows on a vine that uses the tall cornstalk for support. By growing up rather than staying low to the ground, the beanstalk can better access sunlight. In return for that support and protection, the bean plant transforms nitrogen into a liquid fertilizer shared with the corn.

The third sister is squash, which forms a ground cover that protects the soil from drying out and prevents weeds from gobbling up resources. The squash gets some of the nitrogen fixed by the bean plant, as well as some of the shade provided by both sisters. “There’s this kind of reciprocity, and they do indeed grow better together than if they were growing in isolation,” Montgomery says. When eaten together, the three sisters also provide complete nutrition.

Montgomery cultivates the principles of the three sisters in her work as a teacher, leader, and mentor. We do better when we work together in communities, she explains — just like the three sisters. By building coalitions with others, we nurture and support each other to develop stronger individuals and communities.

Competing Demands

Beronda Montgomery in a face mask at a Grinnell College lecture speaking to an audience

During a recent Scholars’ Convocation, Montgomery spoke about the indigenous farming practice of growing corn, beans, and squash together for the mutual benefit of all as a lesson from plants about the value of cultivating a community of reciprocity at Grinnell.

Like many of us, Montgomery has felt pulled in many directions by the demands of a busy life competing for her time and attention. Inspired by the three sisters, she began to see that different aspects of her life could exist in reciprocity. Her teaching could feed her research, and research could enrich her teaching and service.

She also thought about how the three sisters could apply to her role as a mother. Perhaps there were opportunities to include her son in her work? By bringing him with her to the greenhouse, for instance, he could learn about plants while they both enjoyed time together.

“For me, that was really transformative because I started to see if I was spending one hour doing something, it was actually enriching several parts of my faculty life.”

As a leader at Grinnell, Montgomery says she looks at faculty, staff, and students as the three sisters. By examining the competing commitments in our lives and considering how they can enrich each other, we can gain a new understanding and mutually beneficial approach to work and life, Montgomery says.

“How we actively think about the work we do to enrich the classroom also changes or impacts other parts of life,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of work that can happen when we understand this interdependence.”

She hopes these principles, learned from indigenous cultures and plant communities, can allow her to contribute meaningfully to the common good and the thriving community of Grinnell.

So Many Things to Learn

Montgomery says one of the happiest outcomes of her career as an academic has been the permission it gives her to be a lifelong student. “I have always loved being a student, loved learning,” she says. Opportunities to mentor students and younger scientists, along with her love for writing, have combined to create a rewarding life in higher education and research.

“In many ways, being a professor is a way for me to stay a student forever. Being an administrator is also about asking questions,” Montgomery says.

“It really is a wonderful life. So many things to learn!”

 

What Would a Plant Do?

Cover of Lessons from Plants by Beronda MontgomeryGrinnell College’s new dean, Beronda Montgomery, combined her love of plants and her love of writing in a book titled Lessons from Plants (Harvard UP, 2021), which explores the ways that plants live vigorous, creative lives. Plants’ transformative behaviors help them survive in a constantly changing, often unfriendly world. They move, act, and communicate, and their actions and adaptation skills offer valuable insights for humans as well. Montgomery encourages readers to think differently about plants and to consider how we can learn from their example — what would a plant do?

Montgomery, who is also the vice president of academic affairs, says that talking with her about plants is the best way to get to know her. “I do love them,” she says. “I’m really thrilled to be able to share some of this.”

Montgomery discussed her book with host Marshall Poe ’84 on Grinnell’s Authors and Artists podcast, which showcases Grinnellians’ latest creative work. You can find it on your favorite podcast site or at New Books Network (search for “Grinnell”); or visit the College’s podcast page.

In addition, you can buy a copy from Grinnell’s Pioneer Bookshop, 641-269-3424.