The Drive To Do Good

A small boy is getting his hair trimmed while reading No, David, which Alvin Irby holds open for him.

Alvin Irby crouches next to a colorful book holder with Barbarshop Books in bright yellow on the front

Alvin Irby says his project, Barbershop Books, is about bringing books to kids where they are are and helping them learn to identify as readers.

Alvin Irby ’07 looked in the mirror and decided it was time for a haircut.

When the final bell rang that afternoon, the first-grade teacher walked across the street from his school in the Bronx to a barbershop. Irby settled into the chair and was soon surrounded by the buzz of the clippers. As snippets of hair drifted to the floor, one of his students walked in and plopped down on the sofa, staring out the window, looking a little bored.

Irby thought, “Man, he should be practicing his reading! Someone should be putting children’s books in barbershops, so kids have books to read while they wait.”

In that moment, the idea for Barbershop Books was born. It would be several years before Irby could bring his dream to life, but with the help of a 2015 Wall Service Award from Grinnell, Irby’s nonprofit places colorful, kid-sized bookshelves and boy-approved books in barbershops in Black neighborhoods nationwide.

“That $25,000 Wall Award gave me a little bit more runway to be able to get to the next grant,” he says. “And here I am, all these years later, still working full time for Barbershop Books. Without the Wall Award, I would have had to find a job and work on Barbershop Books part-time.”

A Culture of Service

Since its founding, the ethos of Grinnell has been about making positive change in the world. Generations of Grinnellians have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place, from their involvement in the Social Gospel of the late 1800s to the New Deal in the
1930s to the issues making headlines today.

In 1996, Grinnell celebrated its 150th birthday with parties, lectures, concerts, and more, including the creation of the Joseph F. Wall ’41 Alumni Service Awards. The Wall Awards encourage alumni to imagine projects that contribute to the common good. If chosen, they receive unrestricted grants (currently up to $40,000) for their project. To date, the program has awarded grants to 68 alumni working in 18 countries.

Wayne Moyer, Rosenfield Professor of Political Science, says the Wall Award was designed as a tribute to Grinnell’s legacy of service. After the death of Joe Wall in 1995, the committee named the award in his honor. “He was inspirational to generations,” Moyer says. “It seemed appropriate to name it for him.”

More than 200 Grinnellians, many of them Wall’s former students, made generous gifts to fund the award and honor their professor. “It was a memory that a lot of people wanted to keep alive,” Moyer says.

Moyer, who chaired the sesquicentennial committee and has served on the Wall Award selection committee since its beginnings, says the program has maintained its emphasis on service. “We hoped that alumni would find something in their communities that they could do
that would provide tangible benefits to others — that’s still the center of it.”

Making a Difference

Renata Heberton with group of people posing fo rthe camera in front of a house

Renata Heberton used her Wall Award to create Angelica Village, an intentional community and nonprofit that supports programming and services for unaccompanied refugee minors, refugees, and others experiencing homelessness.

Renata Heberton and soneWhat inspires Grinnellians to apply for a Wall Award? Each story is unique, of course, but a few overarching principles hold true.

For instance, almost all the recipients speak of wanting to make a difference. Renata Heberton ’06 says, “I’d always been trying to figure out my place in the world and how to make a difference, and what that could look like.”

Her project, Angelica Village in Lakewood, Colorado, provides programming and services for refugees and others experiencing homelessness. Her 2016 Wall Award allowed Heberton to take a leap of faith, quit her job, and make Angelica Village her full-time focus.

“I feel like the Wall Award was a catalyst,” she says. “Grinnell was the place that ultimately gave that support that allowed us to do something that impacts a lot of people in a significant way.”

Giving Back

a group stands in the paved square between traditional Chinese buildings

Scott Raecker (left) put his Wall Award to work at the Lijiang orphanage school in Lijiang, China, building new dormitory spaces for the children.

Scott Raecker holds two young Chinese girls in traditional dress on his lapMany Wall Award winners also speak of responsibility — having been given much, they want to give back.

Scott Raecker ’84 says, “I think there’s a legacy at Grinnell — that you’re privileged to have such a great education, but there’s a responsibility that comes with that. How are you going to use that education to do good for others?”

For Raecker, Joe Wall exemplified Grinnell’s culture of giving back. “Professor Wall embodied that and inspired that in others,” he says.

Raecker’s project, funded in 2001, focused on the Lijiang Children’s Orphanage in rural China, where more than 300 kids lived in difficult conditions with no running water, inadequate food, and extreme crowding. With matching funds from Rotary, Raecker and his team installed solar panels, a water tank, and piping for showers. They built new living spaces and a greenhouse and purchased livestock for a self-sustaining farm.

Raecker had found his passion and has never looked back. The Shining City Foundation, created by Raecker and his partners, is still at work today in China and Uganda. “We really are trying to do good in the world,” Raecker says.

Bringing History to Life

Rachel Walman talks to a group of people in front of a large monument

Rachel Walman’s Wall Award funded internships for students ages 14–20 to learn about history while also making important improvements to the monuments and landscape of Green-Wood Cemetery.

Some Wall Award winners want to share the love of learning they found at Grinnell.

Rachel Walman ’06 knows how to bring history to life, much like Joe Wall did. Through her Wall Award, she inspires students to make their own discoveries.

As director of education at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Walman used her 2021 Wall Award to enhance a summer internship for high school students. Through hands-on work in the oldest parts of the cemetery — a children’s lot with burials in the late 1800s — interns made important improvements to 74 monuments and to the cemetery landscape, while learning about history through first-person research.

The internship nurtures a love for history and discovery, Walman says, and students learn about the variety of career paths and disciplines that intersect in a historic cemetery.

“This internship experience is unique and allows youth to have an extraordinary impact on a major cultural institution,” Walman says. “Without the Wall Award, we couldn’t serve as many youths as we do and we couldn’t engage them as effectively. It gave us a foundation to build on.”

One Life at a Time

Sometimes, the desire to help others grows out of personal experience. Scott Porter ’80 was a marathoner until a spinal cord injury in his 50s left him a paraplegic.

“I was going nuts, not being active,” he says. Then he discovered a type of wheelchair called the handcycle. “It’s got a lot of components like a bicycle.” Porter says. “But you propel it with your hands.”

The handcycle made a profound difference for him. “It contributed to my quality of life, my being healthy, my ability to do things,” Porter says. To share this discovery, he set up a lending program with different types of handcycles for people to try out before purchasing their own — often with a grant that Porter helped them apply for.

In 2014, Porter won a Wall Award for his lending program. In the decade since then, his handcycles have been lent out only five or six times. “You’re only talking about making a difference in 30 people’s lives,” he says. “But on the other hand, it’s like that story about the
little boy tossing starfish back into the ocean. For those 30, it made a big difference, right?”

Take Your Shot

Porter, who is serving on the Wall Award Committee, wants more Grinnellians to apply for the grant. “Put it together and try,” he says. “You could be pleasantly surprised.”

Raecker agrees, adding that it’s particularly important now to work for positive change. “It seems like we’re trending in the wrong way, some days, but there are a lot of good people doing a lot of great work out there, so I’m always encouraged.”

He adds, “Grinnell College invests in its alumni to do good in the world. I’m proud of my experience at Grinnell — I am very thankful to have had that experience, and even more thankful that they continue to inspire the next generation of leaders to make that difference.”

Scott Porter in a red jersey with the Grinnell College logo and a black and white graphic on the front

Scott Porter shows off a Grinnell College jersey sewn for him by Desiree Winkler Meyer ‘80.

Scott Porter rides his handcycle with bicyclists. He wears a large hat and dark glasses with a nose guard

Porter rides his handcycle in RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. He devised the protective nose shield seen in the photo himself, to protect him from sunburn.

Joe Wall

The Wall Service Awards, named in honor of Joe Wall, offer a tangible way for Grinnellians to live out their admiration for Wall and their aspiration to a life of service.

Grinnell College at Its Best

Liane Ellison Norman ’59 remembers being transfixed in the ARH lecture room as Professor Joseph F. Wall ’41 breathed life into the past. Although it was almost 70 years ago, she still recalls clearly how his storytelling kept the class riveted. “He really made history come alive,” Norman recalls.

Wall was a Grinnell graduate and professor as well as a nationally recognized scholar, writer, and historian. But above 84all, it is his teaching that students still remember decades later.

The late George Drake ’56, Grinnell alumnus, professor, and president, recalled his experience in Wall’s classroom in an interview with Marshall Poe ’84 on the “Authors and Artists” podcast. “I would say the great genius of Joe was narrative. He could just weave a narrative in class. It was just spellbinding.”

George McJimsey ’58, historian and biographer of Harry Hopkins 1912, said, “[Joe Wall] was and will always remain my example of Grinnell College at its best.”

Learn how to apply for a Wall Award and read about other past award winners.

Knowledge into Action Guides Grinnell’s Future Course

The Trustees of Grinnell College endorsed Knowledge into Action: A Strategic Plan for Grinnell College 2023-2030 at the board’s regular meeting in October 2023. The plan, designed with insight from multiple studies, campus-wide and small group discussions, individual interviews, on-campus workshops, and contributions from divisions and departments, sets a course for strategic actions and implementations for the next seven years.

“Knowledge into Action builds on Grinnell’s distinctive values and speaks to their continued relevance in a rapidly changing world,” says Michael Kahn ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Its objectives focus on how Grinnell impacts individuals and prepares them to make meaningful contributions to the common good at the local, national, and global level.”

“This is truly a plan that belongs to our stakeholders. It centers how the College is experienced by students, faculty, staff, alumni, visitors, and the community. It envisions and celebrates how we ‘Go Forth’ into the world to shape it by moving knowledge into action, having been educated and inspired by a global college in a rural setting with a national voice,” says President Anne Harris.

People sit in a circle, some on the pavement and others on a short stone wallThe plan centers on four themes and twelve objectives intended to empower the College and its constituents to be catalysts for educational excellence, foster belonging and connection, work to create collective equity, and find shared goals and common ground in the College’s connection to society and the common good. The plan is undergirded by the principle of intergenerational equity and stewardship of resources to benefit both current and future Grinnellians.

Building on Grinnell’s educational excellence, Knowledge into Action will more explicitly connect teaching and learning to empower students to be agents of positive change in all fields throughout their lives. As a Catalyst for Educational Excellence, Grinnell will coordinate curricular and co-curricular experiences for students, support faculty in creating even richer learning experiences, and create opportunities for staff development in support of the mission of the College.

Belonging and Connection seeks to strengthen connections between the College and its constituents through enhanced student recruitment and support for persistence and retention. It will work to ensure that all students feel a sense of belonging, that faculty and staff members are empowered to create high-quality student experiences, and that alumni connect that experience to membership in a global Grinnell community in support of the institution after graduation.

“Knowledge into Action builds on Grinnell’s distinctive values and speaks to their continued relevance in a rapidly changing world.”

— Michael Kahn ’74

The focus on Collective Equity identifies and implements changes that foster thriving and success of individuals of all religions, those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), first generation and limited income (FGLI), as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+), or with the disability community. It seeks to change the culture of work at Grinnell by identifying ways to balance priorities and support wellness. Finally, it focuses on financial stewardship as an enabler of these changes, including reducing endowment dependency while ensuring equitable access to a Grinnell education without requiring student loans.

Kesho Scott, seated, is gesturing while speakiing to a class.Shared Goals and Common Ground capitalizes on the College’s setting and community to project the benefits of coalition building and civic engagement to amplify Grinnellians’ positive impact on campus, in the community, in American democracy, and in the global community. Through this goal, Grinnellians will address pressing issues, practice democratic modes of deliberation, and become more focused stewards of our environment.

“It is gratifying that the final plan reflects what we heard about how people experience the College and how the mission meets the moment we are in.”

— Caleb Elfenbein

“Strengthening collaboration and discovery at Grinnell and wherever Grinnellians are present will take many forms and will demand our active participation in culture change. It will require us to discuss, debate, and define issues. It will require us to think differently about how structures and processes may stand in the way of belonging and equity and to find common ground where new solutions are envisioned and created,” says President Harris.

People stand around a poster in a crowded hallCaleb Elfenbein, professor of history and religious studies and associate dean for faculty development and diversity, equity, and inclusion, co-chaired the plan development with Monica Chavez-Silva, vice president of community engagement and strategic planning.

Elfenbein says, “It is gratifying that the final plan reflects what we heard about how people experience the College and how the mission meets the moment we are in. My hope is that everyone can see how their work fits in.”

Chavez-Silva agrees. “All along, we’ve emphasized the power of collective impact, and Knowledge into Action both prioritizes and creates the conditions for more coalitions and partnerships on campus, with alumni, in the community, and beyond.”

“Today’s students are inquisitive, inspiring, and focused on their contributions to positive change. They go forth to become alumni who move knowledge into action in their own lives and communities on multiple scales. Through this plan, we will strengthen collaboration and discovery for positive change for Grinnell and the world that Grinnellians shape,” says Harris.

Caleb Elfenbein talks to a student who holds a document

For more information, visit Knowledge into Action: A Strategic Plan for Grinnell College, 2023–2030.

As student shakes the hands of a grey-haired man wearing a Grinnell College t-shirt

Scott Shepherd '82 greets a student during the Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care package

Becoming Rooted: The Conard Environmental Research Area

Over a century ago, Professor of Botany Henry Conard began bringing students to a wooded hillside southwest of Grinnell’s campus to study the spring ephemeral wildflowers that bloomed there. Parasols in tow, the class took the train west from Grinnell to Kellogg, then trekked three miles to the hickory and oak woodlands.

Grinnellians have returned to those same woods ever since. Rather than hiking, these days they roll up in College vans. They still come to document the spring wildflowers, but they also come to conduct research, to write, to birdwatch, to hike, and to make art. The place, now named the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) in honor of its first patron, has become a meaningful destination for Grinnellians seeking to understand their place in the natural world.

An Endangered Ecosystem

The land became the College’s official property when it was bought for just $60,000 in 1968. The 365-acre mixture of farmland and pastureland is made extraordinary by the few acres of native, unplowed prairie that it contains.

Over 99.9% of Iowa’s original prairie has been erased by conventional agriculture, explains Emily Klein, CERA’s manager. The remnant at CERA belongs to the 0.1% of surviving native prairie, and the preservation and expansion of that prairie drives the space’s management.

Regular prescribed fires, native plantings, and careful invasive species management over 50 years have resulted in more than 125 acres of restored prairie, as well as a restored oak savanna and woodland and many experimental plots.

“Where Is the Prairie?”

Woman drains water from a jar into a creek while another holding a box with equipment looks onPeter Jacobson, professor of biology and current CERA director, says that over the years CERA has grown into a site not only for productive scientific research and teaching, but also a space that Grinnellians use for recreation and learning across disciplines. The construction of the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in 2005, a state-of-the-art laboratory and classroom facility, has enabled more classes, speakers, retreats, and events to make use of the setting.

“We now estimate that over a third of students in a class year are using CERA during their time at the College. Increasingly, that’s not just in the context of STEM classes,” says Jacobson.

Sociology, anthropology, and art classes alike make use of the space, and eight tutorial classes visited CERA this year to be guided through the land’s history by Klein. She sees CERA as an especially important tool for students just getting oriented at college.

“A large percentage of first-year students are not from Iowa or the Midwest. They’ve never seen a landscape like Iowa’s before, and when they come to Grinnell, they’re observing a landscape that is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world,” says Klein. “CERA allows us to tell the history of that landscape and to illustrate how much has changed.” Though almost entirely wiped out but for places like CERA, the deep, fertile soils of prairie ecosystems are what first catalyzed Iowa’s transition to a hotbed of agricultural productivity.

“Students live in Grinnell, a town called ‘the jewel of the prairie.’ But where is the prairie?” Klein asks. She gestures out the windows of the EEC, toward CERA’s restored Wilson Prairie. “This is it. And it’s one of the best examples we have.”

A Seed of Belonging

Like Klein, Hai-Dang Phan ’03, associate professor of English, believes that time spent at CERA helps new Grinnellians to better connect with their new environment. He uses the place to frame tutorials that revolve around place and belonging, including his 2022 course, Birds: Nature, Joy, and Belonging.

“We are all always learning to see and to listen, or at least we ought to be, and places like CERA can help us practice these forms of attention and care,” says Phan. For the tutorial’s first birdwatching excursion, he brought students to the field station.

“I bring my students here, and I bring myself here, to cultivate a greater sense of place and belonging,” Phan says. “I would want CERA to act like a seed of belonging, dispersing, and growing elsewhere.”

For some, there is another stage: return.

Students in rubber boots and carrying long-handled nets stand in a shallow creekIdelle Cooper ’01 first caught the “science bug” as a student at CERA. Now a member of the biology faculty, she includes students on damselfly collection expeditions at the research station in the hopes of sparking a similar love.

Coming Home to CERA

Idelle Cooper ’01 first fell in love with CERA in 1999. Professor of Biology Jackie Brown had brought students in his Evolution and Ecology class to survey the plants in the annually burned and unburnt experimental plots there. Brown tragically passed away following a car accident in 2019 while conducting research in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but this research, work that nearly 100 biology students contribute to each year, “totally captured” Cooper. “The idea that any of us — that I — could find something no one else has ever known … it was beautiful.”

Cooper conducted research at CERA with Brown the following summer. She credits her work there with leading to research publications, graduate school, and, eventually, a career as an evolutionary biologist. Last year, Cooper returned to Grinnell — and to CERA — as an associate professor and new member of the faculty. Of the return, she says, “It feels like coming home.”

Cooper brought her Introduction to Biological Inquiry class to CERA this fall and cannot wait to introduce future students and establish her own research projects at the field station. It’s important to her that students see the full range of Iowa’s landscapes, beyond corn and soybeans. “I think if students can appreciate and value where they are while they’re here in Iowa, then they can take ability with them, and they can do that wherever they are,” says Cooper.

Jake Hill in a brown coat and blue cap upends a 5-gallon bucket of gravel while Emily Klein in a blue hat stands ready with as shovel

Bridge construction projects led by Emily Klein and Jake Hill (pictured) have vastly expanded CERA’s trail system. Improved access to the research area means more opportunities for recreation, research, and reflection.

“CERA feels richer and more mature as a prairie now than it did when I was here before. Both because it really is a more established ecosystem, but also because it now represents a lot from my own history,” says Cooper. “Having been a student and now faculty, I feel like this is one of our greatest assets.” It’s a sentiment she shares with many faculty.

Getting Grounded

Andrew Graham has taken groups of students to CERA since first joining the Grinnell faculty in 2012. As a geoscientist, the associate professor of chemistry and environmental studies is often encouraging students to look down while out at the field station, to get their feet wet and their hands dirty — literally. From the tallgrass roots that break down into soil rich in organic matter, to the minerals that collect at the base of Perry Pond, the ground at CERA is ripe for exploration, Graham says.

“The tactile experience of putting your hands in the muck and picking it up and feeling the grit of the sand and the smoothness of the pebbles, those sensory experiences can result in a kind of contemplation about the way that the world works that’s difficult to achieve in the classroom alone,” Graham explains. “You understand something about yourself and your place in the world by really close observation of what might be considered the mundane.”

Ultimately, this understanding is the goal behind all of Graham’s class trips to the field station. “When I bring students to CERA, I want them to gain a sense that their home extends beyond just the Grinnell campus.”

Restoring the Past and Planning for the Future

It’s an exciting time at CERA. “There’s a lot going on in terms of increasing access and making it a facility of even broader use at the College,” Jacobson explains. Year round, student assistants and summer interns work with Klein and Jake Hill, CERA’s horticulturist, to fight invasive species in the restored plots and to expand access to the property. They’ve broadened CERA’s trail system to reach previously inaccessible areas of the property and have built bridges by hand that span creeks and ditches. Their work has not only extended the trails available for recreational use, but it’s also made accessible huge swaths of land that can now be managed and restored to prairie.

Using seeds harvested from CERA’s prairie remnant, Klein and Hill have plans to expand the remnant bit by bit. The process will create interesting experiments for Grinnell, says Jacobson. “We can ask, for example, how long does the replanted land take to reorganize itself and how long does it take for agricultural effects to fade from the system?”

Three people crouch down viewing may apples while a fourth looks onA new solar array has made the EEC a carbonneutral facility, and plans are underway to renovate the old Benjamin Graham Lab into a residence for visiting artists, writers, and scientists. The residence and its sweeping views of the pond and prairie will offer a new way to embed people into the natural space, says Klein. And as she sees it, the more Grinnellians who engage with CERA — and the more frequent their engagement— the better.

CERA is a laboratory for student and faculty learning, say Klein and Jacobson, but it’s also an experimental ground for much more. “CERA gives us an incredibly important pedagogical opportunity,” Jacobson says. “Iowa is at the epicenter of so many global challenges. How do we manage increased agricultural production while protecting natural lands? How do we manage air, water, soil? How do we do it sustainably? These are issues that the world is facing. There’s no better place to engage with these questions than at CERA. Because we’re at the frontlines of it all.”

Support from Alums Helps CERA Grow

The expansion of infrastructure and learning spaces at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) over the last decades has been made possible by countless alumni donors.

The Christiansen Laboratory, the Environmental Education Center’s primary learning space, was funded by gifts from Anne Campbell Spence ’66, Karen Van Dusen ’77, and Joel Spiegel ’78, in honor of Professor Emeritus of Biology Ken Christiansen, who passed away in November 2017. Van Dusen and Spiegel also partially funded the recent solar array project, while a generous gift from an anonymous alumni donor has kickstarted the renovation of the Benjamin Graham Lab residence.

Alumni interested in providing philanthropic gifts to grow CERA and students’ experiences there can request that their donations to the College be designated to support CERA.

“Students live in Grinnell, a town called ‘the jewel of the prairie.’ But where is the prairie This is it. And it’s one of the best examples we have.”
— Emily Klein

brown grasses and small trees near the banks of a pond are reflected in the water

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.


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


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


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