The Great Awakening

The numbers have been staggering: In 2021, an average of 3.8 million American workers left their jobs every single month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers are quitting at twice the rate that they were just a decade ago, leading pundits to dub the trend “the Great Resignation.”

The reasons behind the trend are myriad: Many have left the workforce entirely to retire early, take care of family members, or to address their own health after two years of a grinding pandemic.

Others, including Grinnellians, have used this time as an opportunity to do wholesale reassessments of their careers. For many, these past two pandemic years helped illuminate not just the problems with the trajectories they were on, the years helped them see that another path was possible. In many cases, they’ve left stressful and unsatisfying jobs in favor of jobs that feel more aligned with their values and needs.

In other words, they haven’t simply been part of a great resignation; they’ve been part of a great awakening.

Mark Peltz, the Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean for Careers, Life, and Service, says that Grinnellians tend to be particularly adept at this type of career change. “A Grinnell education helps students identify, define, and clarify their values, strengths, and interests,” he says. “This self-knowledge and awareness is essential not only when considering professional opportunities, but also for gauging when it’s time for a change.”

In the five stories that follow, alumni share the complicated and important lessons of changing jobs and careers at this extraordinary moment.

Lesson 1

It’s Okay Not to Know Exactly What’s Next.

Meagan McKinstry ’16 seemed to have her life all mapped out. She’d wanted to be a lawyer since middle school. After Grinnell, she went to law school, secured internships linked to her interest in landlord and tenant law, and passed the bar. In late 2020, she launched her career as a staff attorney at the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project, part of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association. She had executed her plan perfectly.

She was thrilled, at least initially. “For a while, it was just cool to be learning so much and to be getting paid for my work,” she says.

Illustration: Woman making OK sign with stars and arrowsBut for all the things she knew she’d love about being a lawyer — reading, writing, and making a real difference to people on the margins of society — there were also parts that made her work feel untenable. For one thing, the stakes were enormous; no matter how hard she worked, failure meant that a client literally could end up homeless. Not only that, but the work was adversarial in a way that felt all-encompassing. “I recognize that there is conflict in any job, but litigation by its very nature centers on conflict,” she says. “While I could handle adversarial interactions, I didn’t want to. I’d prefer to work collaboratively rather than confrontationally.”

By the fall of 2021 — as colleagues left the organization, her workload skyrocketed, and her mental health deteriorated — she knew she had to leave. And she did. She began seeing a therapist and has been exploring other options both within and beyond the legal profession.

For now, she says, she wants to remain compassionate to herself and make decisions that feel healthy as she continues to network and apply for jobs. “I’m trying not to get bogged down in feeling like I need to select the ‘perfect’ path,” she says.

While she’s the first to say she wouldn’t want to relive the past stressful year, she also acknowledges that without the acute stresses presented by COVID-19, she could have spent years in roles that were fundamentally a bad fit for her strengths and skills. “Without the stresses of the pandemic pushing me over the edge, I could have easily been one of those lawyers who stayed long-term and continued to tolerate conditions that weren’t a good fit for me,” she says. “As difficult as it [has been], I’m grateful that I had the extra push that forced me to confront reality now, instead of years down the road — or worse, never.”

Lesson 2

Your New Job Can Be Better — Without Being a Dream Job.

Benjamin Cantor-Stone ’07 had been working in collections management roles at museums and historical societies for more than a decade when COVID-19 hit. The pandemic wreaked havoc on his field — and helped Cantor-Stone realize it was time to find something new.

Even before COVID-19, jobs in his field had been tough to come by. He was often competing against more than 150 candidates when he applied for positions. Predictions that more a third of museums might shut their doors permanently in the wake of the pandemic made him even less optimistic about the future. More than that, he was tired of feeling lonely at his job. “I had spent so much time in the back rooms of a museum, basically by myself,” he says. “I missed having a community.”

Illustration: Man sitting in armchair with laptop open and cat sleeping on the back of the chairSo when he learned that his brother was succeeding in a project management role, he was intrigued. Cantor-Stone did his research; jobs in the field were plentiful and forecasts for coming years looked promising. The roles would allow him to work more closely with lots of people. And the skill sets he brought to bear in his collections management role — a good mind for details and complex systems, for example — might be just what he needed in project management, too.

To prepare, he spent a year getting a certificate in project management from a community college. Recently, he landed a job at a firm that designs, manufactures, and installs cabinets and interior trim. “I was able to convince them that, despite my unconventional background, I was worth taking a chance on,” he says.

Cantor-Stone loves a lot about his new job. He enjoys being a part of a team, having more job security, and knowing that plenty of options are available to him moving forward. “Is it a perfect fit? Not necessarily,” he acknowledges. “But it is a comfort to know that I don’t have to look for work. That gives me peace of mind.”

“In academia, they call it ‘publish or perish,’ and it’s really high-stress. If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty. I hadn’t taken a whole Thanksgiving weekend off in 15 years, because I was always grading.”

– Kate Anderson ’02

 Lesson 3

Finding Your “Dream Job” Might Also Be About Building Your “Dream Life.”

Kate Anderson ’02 had been thinking for years about leaving the academic world.

While she’d been productive in her decade as an assistant professor in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and as a visiting professor in the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems at the University of Pittsburgh, the lifestyle had been a grind. “In academia, they call it ‘publish or perish,’ and it’s really high stress,” she says. “If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty. I hadn’t taken a whole Thanksgiving weekend off in 15 years, because I was always grading.”

She knew she had a job that many envied, but she also knew she wasn’t happy in it. And in 2020, when the budget for her position as a visiting professor dried up as the pandemic raged, she decided to make a shift. She was ready to close the door on the academic world for good.

She ultimately landed a role as a senior methodologist at Interos, a company that helps organizations assess their supply-chain risks. Instead of studying labor market networks, which she did as an academic researcher, she now analyzes supply-chain networks. While she enjoys the role and works hard at it when she’s on the clock, she also loves the life she can build beyond her job. “I pick up my kids every day at 3. I built a woodworking workshop in my basement because now I have time to do that,” she says.

And for the first Thanksgiving in her new job, she took the whole weekend off. “It was a revelation,” she says.

Lesson 4

You Can Mourn Losses Even as You Make Positive Changes.

Illustration: Serene woman with eyes closedIn January 2020, after 11 years of working at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University, Emily Ferrigno DiLeo ’97 made the leap to a new role with a pop music sound archive at a state university in Ohio. It was a big move; to take the job, she moved her whole family — her husband and young twins — hundreds of miles across the country.

To say that timing was not exactly fortuitous was an understatement.

Within six weeks, her job went remote, the preschool her kids attended closed its doors, and her efforts to forge new friendships got put on hold. And she realized that the workplace she’d uprooted her entire life for was toxic. “I couldn’t hold all those things,” she says. “It was breaking me. I just couldn’t do it,” she says. Something needed to change.

Her next move? “I did things the typical ‘me’ way,” she says, which meant planning meticulously for her transition. She gathered with a handful of her colleagues to discuss the book Designing Your Life. She hired a career coach, she began networking, and she stashed as much money as she could into a savings account.

Ultimately, she left the academic library world in favor of a remote contract position in user experience research with the media company Thomson Reuters. The role allows her to use the research skills she built in her previous positions while tripling her previous academic salary. “I can hire a cleaner,” she says with no small amount of joy. “I can pay for the expensive preschool that my kids go to, since the other one closed.”

Still, she admits that the transition, while positive in many ways, hasn’t always been easy. “Academics feel passionately about the thing they study; it’s personal — it’s your identity. So if my identity isn’t pop music, what is it?” She misses campus, too — a space and community that’s possible to build a life around.

Even if all the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet, she more fully understands what she values and what she wants. And she sees more opportunities on the horizon. Remote work offers the possibility of moving closer to her sister and mom in Dallas, and side gigs might fill gaps she feels in her sense of identity.

There may be no perfect job or perfect time to change, but that doesn’t mean you need to stand still, says DiLeo. “If you want to make a pivot,” she says, “just start pivoting.”

“If you want to make a pivot, just start pivoting.”

– Emily Ferrigno Dileo ’97

Lesson 5

You Can Change Your Priorities — Then Pursue Them With Joy.

Over the course of a thriving career in industry — highlights included developing the MIME protocol that allows users to send email attachments, launching successful startups, and running a research program at IBM — Nathaniel Borenstein ’80 and D.Sc. ’13 focused on any number of different things: impact, intellectual challenge, money.

But a brutal and life-altering 2020 changed everything. His oldest daughter, Shana, died unexpectedly. His son-in-law, Mike, died after fighting brain cancer for 13 years. And he faced a massive, high-risk heart surgery of his own. “My family was swamped in grief,” he says.

Borenstein himself was so uncertain about the outcome of his potential surgery that he put his affairs in order. But when he joined a clinical trial, he had what he calls “a medical miracle.” Not only did surgery become unnecessary; it left him feeling healthier than he’d ever felt in his life. “It felt like I had been given a second chance,” he says.

Illustration: man with flowers bursting forth from the top of his headWhile he could have retired early, he decided instead to seek a new job that allowed him to focus on something new: fun. He recently joined the University of Michigan’s School of Information, where he’ll teach, work with graduate students, and finish a book he’s been working on.

As an extrovert, he’s thrilled about the opportunities to work with young people, rather than sitting behind a screen. He sees opportunities to make the most of the skills he’s gained over nearly a half-century of work by mentoring and guiding the next generation of innovators.

Without economic pressures or worries about building a career, he can enjoy the role in a way that has often been difficult in the past. “The world seems almost as full of possibilities for me now as it did when I graduated from Grinnell in 1980,” he says. “For the first time in years, I feel like my best days may still be ahead of me.”

Tell us about your own career “Great Awakening.”

Adapt, Change, Think Differently

As students, faculty, and staff returned to campus in August 2021, eager for a “normal” year — or as normal as it gets given that the coronavirus pandemic is still with us — the ways in which the dramatic changes and challenges of the past 18 months affected our community have become more apparent. While initially the behind-the-scenes work was primarily done to help keep everyone as safe and as engaged as possible, it soon became obvious that some of these changes will continue to be of benefit to Grinnell in the long run. Here is a quick look at some of the actions of the past year and a half and their impacts.

students in cloth masks and face shields talk in class

Keeping the focus on people

Imagining disaster scenarios and how to respond to them “is not always seen as an optimistic role,” says Heather Cox, director of emergency management and risk mitigation. Her attention to plans, exercises, and improvements helped Grinnell address the many different challenges presented by the pandemic.

She compares the effort to leading a band. She doesn’t have to know every note the saxophone plays, but she knows when it’s supposed to play.

In spring 2020, the focus was on getting students home safely and effectively teaching and working remotely. Over time, though, Grinnell's response evolved. For the 2020–21 school year, the focus shifted to allow some students back on campus for 7.5-week terms, while many others continued learning from a distance.

For Cox, who’d started working at Grinnell a little over a year before the pandemic, the experience has caused her to rethink her approach to emergency response. “Trying to have a cookie-cutter operations plan doesn’t work for Grinnell,” she says. What was more useful was identifying people with the skills needed, regardless of job titles. “People got to partner differently,” she adds. “They built new relationships. Hierarchies came down. Silos came down.”

Going forward, Cox knows Grinnell is better prepared. One thing that hasn’t changed: “The focus on people is what the College does very well.”

Dining gets creative

The staff in Dining Services may well have experienced the most changes to operations during the pandemic. The critical nature of food service demanded that they be creative in order to keep students and staff safe.

Their methods of serving food changed several times: from “grab-and-go” meals to meal delivery outside students’ residence halls to masked and socially distanced students picking up food inside the Marketplace.

Dining staff prepare boxed servings of food for clients

Changes occurred behind the scenes, too. Before vaccines were available, they reorganized their staff so that they worked in teams — nine or 10 people per team. The team approach allowed for more physical space between workers since fewer staff members were working at any one time. If one person on a team tested positive, another team could step in and take over while the first team quarantined, which happened once.

During the 2020–21 school year when fewer students were on campus, cooking for 10–12% of the typical number of students was a major change. Scott Turley, executive chef, says, “I think it pushed us to put together menus that could carry out well and still be very edible after they’ve been in the container for maybe as long as a half hour or so. It also pushed us to change the way we think about production, because the cooks were used to cooking loads of food as fast as we can go.”

Helping faculty and students go virtual

For Grinnell, the pivot to teaching fully online in spring 2020 and throughout 2020–21 posed significant pedagogical and technological challenges to academic continuity — especially for faculty and students unused to an online learning environment.

“The transition was ultimately successful, but not without struggle,” says Mo Pelzel, director of academic technology and head of the Digital Liberal Arts Collaborative (DLAC), a unit within the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

DLAC staff ran virtual workshops and town halls for faculty to discuss the nitty gritty of online teaching, such as how to engage students, design assignments, estimate workloads, and more. Training was also offered for the College’s learning management system and other platforms and applications. DLAC partnered with other departments, such as Information Technology Services, to make new software applications available for faculty and students to use online.

“We encouraged faculty and students to adopt an approach of technological simplicity and minimalism,” Pelzel says.

During the pandemic, faculty and students increased their digital literacies and skills out of necessity, but Pelzel also sees a silver lining. Some of the positive gains can be carried forward. “We can become more thoughtful about incorporating digital and online practices into teaching and learning.”

For example, he says, online conversations can be a helpful addition to classroom experiences because they “can allow for more composed and reflective discourse and give students who may be more shy in the classroom a better opportunity to make their voice heard.”

Maintaining connections

Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) staff love helping foster alumni ties, so when in-person events were wiped off the calendar during the pandemic, they got creative about helping people feel connected to Grinnell.

The public phase of Grinnell’s largest fundraising campaign launched in October 2019, just a few months before the virus started its march around the world. Staff had to radically rethink the campaign strategy and shift conversations online. To keep Grinnellians feeling connected, they created a series of videos in which individual alumni told their own powerful stories about the impact Grinnell has had on their lives.

Major events such as Alumni Reunion and Alumni College were completely rethought and then went virtual. In some cases, participation rose. Alumni College usually attracts about 100 people in person. Online in 2020-21, more than 1,100 people participated in some part of it.

DAR also hosted a few new events virtually, such as a trivia tournament, an alumni geography bee, and an alumni spelling bee. The virtual spelling bee attracted 65 alumni participants in the preliminary round. The championship round, with 15 alumni spellers, was livestreamed. “It was a nail-biter!” says Jaci Thiede, vice president of development and alumni relations. All three events will become annual online events.

“Virtual works for a lot of people,” Thiede says. She anticipates DAR will continue using virtual events as a way of keeping Grinnellians connected.

Addressing financial needs and recruiting

Investing in Students

$3.7 million
awarded through grants

$2.5 million
financial aid awarded to meet new financial need

$2.5 million
allocated to support technology

“Our staff had to quickly adapt to an entirely new way of approaching their work,” says Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. “Admission relies heavily on in-person interaction and relationship development, and we had to find ways to achieve this through virtual encounters.”

Financial aid staff helped distribute special aid, including a COVID-19 Response Grant of $2,500 for every eligible student, in response to the pandemic. A total of $3.7 million was awarded through these grants and an additional $2.5 million in financial aid was awarded to meet new financial need among student families that was not covered by the Response Grant. Additionally, 50% of work-study awards were replaced with grants ($1 million), and more than $2.5 million was allocated to support technology, designated funds for emergency use, and to offset new living expenses for students who returned home unexpectedly. In total, the College invested more than $10 million in unscheduled financial aid to help students and their families weather the initial storm of the pandemic.

When it became clear that the pandemic comet would have a long tail, the College decided to eliminate student loans for new and continuing students eligible for need-based financial aid, replacing loans with grants and scholarships. This no-loan initiative, endorsed by Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees, became effective Fall 2021 for all new and continuing students eligible for need-based financial aid. The no-loan initiative will allow most Grinnell students to graduate debt-free and has implications far beyond the pandemic.

To engage prospective students who could no longer visit campus in person, the admission and financial aid staff developed a comprehensive suite of virtual materials targeting every phase of the college search process. This included on-demand content like videos highlighting student life, academics, and the town of Grinnell as well as virtual, interactive content such as staff-led information sessions, interviews, and high school visits; live virtual tours led by current students; and virtual half-day programs that mirrored large-scale on-campus visit programming. A test-optional admission practice was adopted for two years in response to test center closures. The sum of these efforts and the agile response of everyone in the enrollment division was remarkable.

Fall 2021 saw a record-breaking number of first-year applications (10,513) and the lowest admit rate in the College’s history (10.5%). The 2021 enrolling class, in addition to representing a variety of interests and talents, comes from 31 different countries and 47 U.S. states; and students who identify as Black, indigenous, and other people of color make up 27% of the new class.

“Our team exhibited tremendous commitment, flexibility, work ethic, and positive attitudes over the past year and a half,” says Bagnoli. “It was clear that everyone cared deeply about our prospective students throughout this pandemic and wanted to help them through an unprecedented college search and application process.”

Bolstering community and community health

With many students no longer on campus, the Office of Student Affairs had to quickly adjust and reimagine much of its work to ensure the needs of students were met as they adapted to online learning or radically altered in-person classes — often in learning environments that were far from optimal.

“For a student-facing division dedicated to engaging students and their learning outside the classroom, the pandemic presented many opportunities to consider how we do that,” says Sarah Moschenross, vice president of student affairs. “It was definitely odd not to have all of our students on campus, but our work felt more relevant than ever. We worked in close partnership with our academic and professional colleagues in considering the student experience and how we would approach the year, collectively, for the College.”

professor in face mask addresses student in lecture room in front of black board

Student affairs established a student advisory group to work with the office in partnership as they made decisions affecting students. That group worked alongside staff and faculty to innovate, prioritize equity, and think through every decision and possible unintended consequences. Staff also worked to move their cocurriculum online to continue providing academic support, developing identity, and creating a sense of belonging and connection in a virtual world.

The Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice kept the food pantry and lending library afloat while also finding ways for students to worship together virtually and eventually in person and socially distanced. The student involvement team pivoted to virtual program offerings to provide students social time together after classes. The intercultural affairs team kept important and established groups like the Black Womxn’s Group and Men of Color Empowered and Engaged together by meeting virtually and continued to bring programming to the community throughout the pandemic. New Student Orientation and Parent Orientation were both moved to an online format, as well as a number of webinars that helped the office reach more students, parents, and families than it could have in person on campus.

Many team members also remained on the ground every day with students, faculty, and staff, including the Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) team, campus safety, and residential life. For that to happen, the office needed to quickly rewrite protocols with a public health lens and to create procedures for establishing and operating a testing clinic to monitor for COVID-19 exposure in the campus community before vaccinations were widely available.

Mental health counselors and nurses remained available and continued to see students throughout the pandemic, though most did so in a virtual format that was quickly introduced when students had to leave campus. They also expanded access by partnering with Virtual Care, which allowed students living domestically to have 24/7 access to physicians and mental health experts no matter where they were located.

“I think it has to be said that the staff gave all of themselves to this endeavor,” says Moschenross.

masked and gowned graduates celebrate commencement

Strengthening ties with neighbors

The Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement worked collaboratively with partners on campus and in town to help ensure the collective resources of the community were leveraged toward the common goal of providing relief and support for the city of Grinnell.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, our office began pulling together other local funders in the community to meet weekly and get a sense of what everyone was being asked for and how we could coordinate to best support emerging community needs,” says Monica Chavez-Silva, vice president of community engagement and strategic planning.

To provide assistance to medical workers in the community, the College contributed to UnityPoint Health Grinnell Regional Medical Center’s Health Care Heroes Fund and also helped provide safe housing options for health care workers in houses that students were no longer occupying.

Reaching out directly to residents of Grinnell with food assistance programs was also a priority. At the beginning of the pandemic, local volunteers and organizations including Grinnell College formed the Grinnell Food Coalition to address immediate food insecurity. The coalition created free vouchers that could be used to pay for food at any local grocery store. In addition to the approximately $324,000 worth of grocery vouchers distributed to community members, more than 100 volunteers handed out nearly 7,300 boxes of food (with an estimated $275,000 value) to families free of charge. In total, nearly $600,000 worth of food was distributed at no cost to recipients.

As the College continues with an in-person school year after such a long period of separation and hardship, the Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement continues to collaborate with partners to support the community. The new #GrinnTogether initiative hopes to encourage the community to come together with kindness and empathy to rebuild social ties following the incredible challenges of the past year. An event calendar, directories, and a list of community resources can be found at GrinnTogether. [Ed. link removed as the site has been removed from the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. July, 27, 2022]

two participants at front of empty classroom record lecture for students

Lessons learned

While the pandemic created myriad problems and challenges for the College and the community of Grinnell, it also created unexpected opportunities for Grinnellians to step up and make a difference.

Whether it was assisting students in developing the skills needed to learn in a new format, encouraging and supporting faculty who reinvented their teaching methods, or helping community members stay healthy and connected, College leadership, faculty, staff, and students took action that helped address the pandemic’s immediate challenges. And, true to form, they did so with purpose, passion, and a tireless dedication that kept our academic community not only moving but evolving and growing in ways that will impact the College for generations to come.


If These Walls Could Talk

Whether you lived in a “house,” a “dorm,” or a “residence hall,” the place you lived was intrinsic to your Grinnell experience. From debates — is it called a water fountain, a water cooler, a drinking fountain, or a bubbler? — to meaningful, late-night lounge conversations about identity and society, as much discussion and learning took place in the residential spaces of the College as the academic ones.

In the Spring 2021 issue, we asked readers to share their experiences in residence halls that helped them see the world in a new way, and we received dozens of responses. Here are some of our favorites. 

Love Stories

Freshman year someone left me a love note on the whiteboard outside my room. I never found out who wrote it. It was really beautiful.
— Erin Barlow Haggerty ’95

Back in the ’60s, before the cellphone era, the only phones in the dorms were in the hallway on each floor. Whoever answered the phone would find the person that the caller wanted to talk to. If they were not available, you would write down the message on the message board. Abbreviations were used. The two most common messages: BCWCB (Boy Called, Will Call Back) and BCNM (Boy Called, No Message).
— Judith Hand Demarest ’64

I lost my virginity in a dorm room (Loose Second North) and I got engaged in a dorm room (Gates Second). (Same person. We got married in Herrick.) Met my first lesbian in the dorms. (She was one of my groomspeople when we got married.)
— Kerry Bart ’94

Coming of Age

Week one of first year, Main Third. I was studying on the floor in the hallway when about five cross country runners appeared, completely naked, save for their running shoes. Turns out, they were stopping by to say hi to a fellow third-year student. I had heard about people streaking, but just walking about naked? Blew my rural, southern mind. I remember thinking it was so awesome people were so comfortable just being their authentic self, and it was accepted, no judgment.
Jackie Graves ’10

I remember getting ready to take my MCAT, and people were having a party right outside my window on the loggia. I was getting annoyed and anxious, but I went out and told them I was about to take a big test the next day and could they move to a different spot. They said yes and started grabbing their things to move. I went back to bed. Then I found in the morning they wrote me good luck sticky notes. It was such a good example of how these little confrontation moments with your neighbor don’t have to be scary and can lead to more connection and support — if only you have the courage and courtesy to ask.
Sarah Stayer Mills ’06

I loved that we could request international roommates. My roommate was from Pakistan, which was great, as it enabled me to make friends with a wonderful and diverse group of students. I didn’t love having to eat at the cafeteria, but they were wonderfully accommodating when during the month of fasting (I was a practicing Baha’i at the time), they allowed us to come and eat breakfast before dawn. That year the Baha’i fast also coincided with Ramadan, so many of my Pakistani friends joined me, and it was a wonderful thing to share.
Lara Chho ’95

My freshman year I was on Read Second, the first year that South Campus housed men (1969). Things were so different! We had weekly maid service to clean our rooms and change the beds, and most evenings of the week there was sit-down dinner service in the Quad, with student servers bringing platters of food to the tables. For dinner men were required to wear ties and women skirts or dresses. We did wear ties, but usually just looped an old tie around our necks, coupled with a T-shirt. Also, there was no ID check at the dining hall entrance, so if you had friends in town, you could just take them to meals.
— Michael Breed ’73

Back in the ’60s, North Campus housed men, and South Campus housed women. Women could have male visitors on Sunday afternoons with doors left open and “three feet on the floor.” You had to yell “man on the floor” when bringing someone in, because women tended to wander around en dishabille.
— Shirley Neuhaus Hoops ’64

Younker coed bathrooms, of which there was only one on each wing. So as to even out the onus of having to walk aaaalllllll the way from North to South or vice versa, we collectively agreed to switch every week which was the men’s bathroom and which was the women’s. I just remember sleepy Monday mornings were often jumpstarted when a naked other-gendered person entered the (gang) shower area.
— Alison Gode-von Aesch Rhoades ’87

With coed restrooms — the breakdown of gendered social norms was interesting — like the first time as a very female-identifying person one is in the restroom brushing one’s teeth and a very male-identifying person comes in to brush his teeth. (Also, people turned many of the main rooms coed even if they weren’t officially.)
— Rachel Liberatore ’01

students sit on their beds, one bed lofted at an angle to the other


When I came back from London, I got a loggia room on a floor with several of my friends (Cleveland Second, spring 1986). We were all juniors, so we had singles, but we would often just collapse in the hall and yabber. Also, my dad sent me back to school with a small black-and-white television, and I kept it in the hall. People would plunk down and watch it. I worked at Quad, and one day I came home from working lunch and found lots of people circling the TV. The space shuttle had just exploded.
— Pamela Hope Feinstein ’87

I remember just hanging out in the hallway with other dorm residents of all ages. We had quote boards to keep track of all the hysterical things we said. I learned about Danny Elfman, kimchi, and how to feed piranhas.
— Julie Whiston ’97

Grinnell’s dorm life was better than I had hoped and way more boring than I expected.
My first year on Loose First, my roommate and I were sitting in the hallway in pajamas talking with a small group of other people. There’d been an all-campus party of some sort, and people were still up talking. A fourth-year student walked up, looked at us, and said, “Oh my god! That’s so great that you guys are roommates and you have matching pajamas.” We hadn’t realized it until she said something.
— Glenden B. Brown ’91

Quote boards! Some of my favorite memories were etched in multicolored marker reminding us how clever/drunk/funny we all were. A bad day would disappear with a quick read of the hall quote board!
— Rachel Bly ’93


In my first year (fall 1994) on Loose Third, someone convinced the floor that if you mixed tempera paint with liquid dish detergent then you could paint on the walls and it would just wash off. So we painted fabulous murals all over the hallways... only to discover 9 months later that while the paint washed off, the stain was very much there. We spent a lot of time scrubbing, and then we just paid the FM [facilities management] fee. But it was a great floor activity!
— Rachel Weiss ’98

My second-year roommate had a still in the Haines basement. He made rum, and he hoped that the feds would find out and confiscate the dorm. If he had spent half the time on his chem labs that he did on studying his alcohol, he probably wouldn’t have failed out of Grinnell.
— Stephen Hardwick ’89

My junior year I moved into my girlfriend’s dorm room and my single became a party pad. We covered the walls completely with magic marker art. Despite somebody volunteering to take my room the following year, buildings and grounds (B&G) fined me $200 for the special paint needed to forever seal back the magic marker masterpiece of Haines Pit.
— Leslie Ragan ’85

I remember my first year when the junior women on my floor in Gates pranked the male basketball players, who I think all lived in Smith, by switching all their underwear around — so everyone came home to some other dude’s underwear in his dresser. I learned that if you have funny friends, you should probably lock your doors during basketball practice.
— Leslie Boyadjian Stanton ’05

Whether you lived in a “house,” a “dorm,” or a “residence hall,” the place you lived was intrinsic to your Grinnell experience. From debates — is it called a water fountain, a water cooler, a drinking fountain, or a bubbler? — to meaningful, late-night lounge conversations about identity and society, as much discussion and learning took place in the residential spaces of the College as the academic ones. 

In the Spring 2021 issue, we asked readers to share their experiences in residence halls that helped them see the world in a new way, and we received dozens of responses. Here are some of our favorites. For more, visit magazine.grinnell.edu 

First-Year Tutorial Is the Linchpin

Old black-and-white photo of Barry Clotfelter at desk One of the things that has made Grinnell College distinctive, particularly since the early 1970s, is the freedom students have to chart their own path through the curriculum. Beginning in 1971, Grinnell adopted a “no requirements” curriculum that eliminated general education and distribution requirements except for one, a new course now called the First-Year Tutorial.

“I would have been satisfied and pleased if this curriculum had lasted for 10 years,” says Beryl Clotfelter, professor emeritus of physics and lead proponent of the proposal. “I didn’t think it was going to be a long time. And I’m really shocked it’s gone 50 years.”

A New Curriculum for a New Era


In the late 1960s, changes were afoot at Grinnell. The faculty were concerned about the student experience as well as the curriculum and its staying relevant. Clotfelter, who was deeply interested in curriculum issues at Grinnell, helped develop a new science course for nonmajors. He and other faculty who tried to develop such courses discovered that they just didn’t work. The faculty were dissatisfied and so were the students.

That experience was in part what led Clotfelter to draft a proposal for a “no requirements” curriculum, which he submitted to the faculty for consideration in February 1970. Other proposals were submitted as well, but no final decisions were made that spring. The shootings at Kent State and Grinnell’s decision to close the College early that year shifted everyone’s attention to larger concerns.

That fall, Grinnell’s faculty held weekly meetings to discuss three curriculum proposals: the current curriculum with modifications, one that relied on divisional requirements, and one with no requirements. Week after week, the faculty made motions, raised new issues, and discussed some more.

During the Oct. 5 faculty meeting, the “no requirements” proposal lost in a written vote, 42 to 45. One of the concerns about it was that faculty advising would become more difficult without required courses. Under the existing curriculum and its 50-plus required credits, advising first- and second-year students consisted mainly of scheduling and helping them get the requirements “out of the way.”

Another wrinkle to academic advising was the arbitrary way students were assigned to faculty — by the dorm students lived in. (Clotfelter notes that it took him a couple of years of having all women advisees before he realized he’d been assigned to a women’s dorm.) As a result, students and their advisers didn’t necessarily have any interests in common, making it harder to connect. Under Clotfelter’s proposal, faculty advisers “would be expected to get to know each advisee well enough to genuinely advise,” he wrote in his 2003 history. That would take time and energy on top of an already busy schedule.

How could faculty be encouraged to know their advisees better and make more meaningful connections? A small group of students found the answer.

Students Made Themselves Heard

For this part of the story, let’s start with Ric MacDowell ’68, who returned to Grinnell to work as assistant to Joe Wall ’41, then dean of the College. During the 1969–70 school year, MacDowell persuaded President Glenn Leggett to let him work with students to develop their leadership skills.

MacDowell knew very well the positive changes students could make. He had served as Student Government Association president his senior year and helped change the single-sex residence halls into co-educational halls, in part by arguing that “students could govern themselves in the dorm.”

R foreground: Barry ZigasIn late 1969, MacDowell began organizing dinners with students he’d identified as “people who seemed like they were going to be leaders.” They met in a private dining room in the basement of the Forum. Barry Zigas ’73 was among them.

Zigas graduated from high school in 1968 at age 17 and then made an unusual choice for the time — he took a gap year. Given that young men were subject to the draft and the very real possibility of combat service in Vietnam, it was also a reasonable choice.

During his gap year, Zigas worked and traveled across the United States and Europe. By August 1969, after a year away from studying, Zigas was “raring to go,” ready for the college experience he’d been anticipating — learning what he wanted to learn and interacting with his professors.

His initial experience did not live up to his expectations. “It seemed a lot like a fifth year of high school,” he says.

So when MacDowell invited Zigas to participate in conversations about students’ rights and what would make the College better, he was primed.

A group of students, including Zigas and Anne Walter ’73, decided to focus on the first-year experience. They looked at how it could be improved and become a more satisfying transition from high school. They surveyed two or three dozen other colleges about the details of their students’ first year. One survey response, Zigas recalls, included the description of a “freshman tutorial of some kind.”

It was like they’d struck gold.

“We felt that the tutorial was an instrumental way to introduce students to academic life at a college and help them make a cleaner break with high school, and to enable them to engage more closely with their fellow students and the faculty,” Zigas says.

They drafted a proposal for a tutorial that would be limited in size, be taught by all faculty, involve a significant amount of writing, and make the tutorial leader the students’ adviser until they chose one for their major.

One of the faculty members with whom they shared their proposal during the spring of 1970 was Alan Jones ’50, professor of history. For several years Jones had been concerned about the experience of firstyear students. He was interested in students’ opinions, so it’s likely that he read with care the work produced by the student committee.

Jones had long been aware of the tutorial system as practiced in Oxford and Cambridge. In 1960–61, he shared an office with George Drake ’56, who was serving as a sabbatical replacement for the year. Drake had just returned from Oxford where he’d been a student in the tutorial system and sang its praises to Jones.

Tutorial Makes It All Work

In October 1970, one week after the “no” vote on Clotfelter’s proposal, Jones distributed a memo to the faculty, letting them know that he intended to introduce a new motion: “Each student is required to complete the Freshman Tutorial Program.” The three-page memo detailed how the new program would work and the rationale for it, including the attributes identified in the student proposal.

“Another justification for a tutorial program,” Jones wrote, “is that it is pedagogically innovative. … It offers immediately to freshmen a different kind of learning experience, one that is particularly appropriate to the kind of college we have become in recent years.”

When Jones presented the tutorial idea at a faculty meeting, Walter recalls the excitement of the back-and-forth discussion. “I remember feeling … the thrill [that] we had hit upon something that resonated with most of the faculty,” she says.

One part of the tutorial that she thought appealed to students “was the improved advising, the idea of really getting to know a faculty member. Well, I’m not sure that we wanted more advice, but I think we really wanted to know a faculty member well.”

Clotfelter amended his proposal, adding a tutorial provision, thus addressing two of the faculty’s biggest concerns about a “no requirements” curriculum — that they could teach writing skills and provide good advising in a curriculum without required courses. The tutorial proposal was fine-tuned over the next few weeks; and on Nov. 16, 1970, the faculty voted on Clotfelter’s proposal: 48 for and 12 against, with four abstentions.

In Clotfelter’s opinion, “the feature of the no-requirements curriculum which has been most important in its continued success is the tutorial as a device to bring students and advisers together.”

Tutorial Can Resonate for Years

Since fall 1971, the tutorial has been a significant part of the first-year student’s experience at Grinnell. It’s an excellent introduction to college-level writing and thinking by a faculty adviser who gets to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, yet it’s also evolved and become even more resonant. Community building, for example, is an intentional part of the class.

For many students and alumni, the impact of the tutorial has reverberated well beyond the classroom. A few alumni from different decades shared their experiences:

Literature and Spirituality: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, with Saadi Simawe (deceased)

It was hugely impactful for me — I was coming from a small-town public school with no access to advanced literature courses and felt way out of my league at Grinnell. Simawe liked my work and it meant the world to me. It made me feel like I belonged there.

Kendra Engels ’06, Minneapolis

Wild Lands: The History and Philosophy of Their Use, with Karl DeLong

[It] consisted of lots of memorable trips to the bio preserve (A flock of hundreds of blue winged teal on the water, their colors glinting in the sun! An honest-to-god “Monarch Tree” completely alive with monarchs gathering for the fall migration!) that still are vivid in my memories 47 years later.

I was a Blue Ridge Mountains gal and initially sneered at the flat, “empty” prairie landscape as “ugly.” I don’t remember what I learned specifically from that tutorial, but it sparked a lifelong love and appreciation for the subtle beauties of a prairie landscape.

Becky Leach ’78, Aurelia, Iowa

Karl DeLong

The Ethics of Research in Psychology, with David Lopatto

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation was part of the syllabus and it rocked my world. It had never even occurred to me that animal rights was even a thing (small-town kid from an extended farming family). It really reshaped my entire worldview of nonhuman life.

Rob Killion ’90, Tempe, Arizona

Personality and Politics: Case Studies of American Presidents and Their Secretaries of State, with Wayne Moyer

My mother thought it sounded like the most dull class imaginable, but it was my top choice. We met in a private room over dinner.

One memory was my introduction to critical thinking. After reading our first assigned book (my first scholarly monograph) and discussing it for at least four sessions, Moyer asked, “So, what is wrong with this book?”

I was honestly shocked to think that there could be anything “wrong” with a book that we had studied so carefully and in such detail. I realized that “learning” was going to be different now that I was at Grinnell. As a poli sci prof myself now, I love asking my students the same question.

Kimberly Lanegran ’87, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hope, with Al Lacson

Going into Grinnell, social studies was my second least-favorite subject (after P.E.). In my tutorial, I learned that history is more than just memorizing facts and figures, people and places, and dates. There’s this thing called social history, and I found that I enjoyed it.

Though I’m now a programmer/web developer, I think what I learned as a history major really parallels and applies to programming. In history, there’s no one “right” interpretation, but there are better and bad ways to interpret history. In programming, there’s almost always no one way to solve a problem, but there are definitely better and bad ways. You have to think and use judgment in both history interpretation and programming. In analyzing sources, you have to be able to identify potential bias, context, and quality. In programming, when looking at potential solutions to a problem online, you have to do the same.

Doug Dobrzynski ’13, Chicago

Share Your Experiences: How did the individually advised curriculum and/or the tutorial affect your life?

A New Required Course: For many years, Grinnell has promoted its First-Year Tutorial as the only required class outside of a student’s major, so it’s a big deal that in May 2021 the faculty approved a second required course for all first-year students. See Strategy Session, page 5, for more information.


Grinnell College: 1846 TO 2021 - 175th Anniversary Quiz

175 Years (white on black logo) What’s the right gift for a 175th anniversary? Grinnellians know the correct answer is TRIVIA!

Let’s see how well you know your alma mater beyond the years you spent on campus: Take our 24-question quiz, and don't forget the bonus question. Note that some questions have more than one correct answer.

Send your bonus answers to The Grinnell Magazine with “Quiz” in the subject line for a chance to win a Grinnell prize package.

  1. What was the College’s original name?
    1. Grinnell University
    2. Mears College
    3. Iowa College
    4. Goodnow College
Students studying in a dormitory in 1919

Students studying in a dormitory in 1919

  1. Which College president was responsible for the construction of North and South Campus residence halls, with the intention of making Grinnell “the best men’s college for men and the best women’s college for women in the country”?
    1. George Gates
    2. John Nollen
    3. George Magoun
    4. John H. T. Main
  2. In what eastern Iowa town did the College get its start after James J. Hill ceremoniously laid a silver dollar before those assembled and sounded a call to action to “take care of that dollar” for the new College?
    1. Dubuque
    2. Davenport
    3. Bettendorf
    4. Iowa City
  3. In the College’s first few decades, which of the following did it not initiate?
    1. A school of art
    2. A preparatory academy
    3. A conservatory of music
    4. A ladies’ course
Jesse Macy seated at a desk in the front of a lecture room

Jesse Macy achieved national prominence

  1. As a professor at Grinnell, Jesse Macy, class of 1870, helped develop this field of study and introduced some of the first courses in the country:
    1. Applied Christianity
    2. Social gospel
    3. Political science
    4. Sociology
  2. Grinnell student-athletes have participated, while students, in the following Olympics:
    1. 1924
    2. 1968
    3. 1992
    4. 2016
  3. In the 19th century, the College dominated these three sports:
    1. Baseball
    2. Basketball
    3. Football
    4. Track
  4. Before Title IX and the development of women’s intercollegiate sports teams, a handful of female athletes participated on Grinnell men’s teams, including one woman in 1963 who competed against men in the Midwest Conference in …
    1. Golf
    2. Tennis
    3. Cross country
    4. Baseball
  5. Beginning in the 1960s, Grinnell became known for the quality of the musical acts it brought to campus with the help of the student concerts committee. Which of the following performed at Grinnell?
    1. Duke Ellington
    2. Jefferson Airplane
    3. Bruce Springsteen
    4. The Police
  6. Compelling speakers have visited campus to share their expertise on everything from agriculture to zoology. Politicians have included:
    1. Geraldine Ferraro, 1984 Democratic, vice presidential nominee
    2. Former President Ronald Reagan
    3. U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.)
    4. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Martin Luther King Jr. preacing from a podium in Darby Gymnasium in front of a packed crowd

Martin Luther King Jr. in Darby Gymnasium (Photo by Robert Hodierne ’68)

  1. From Grinnell’s earliest days, social reform has been part of the mindset. Many successful reformers have come to campus to spark excitement about service, including:
    1. Harriet Beecher Stowe
    2. Martin Luther King Jr.
    3. Jane Addams
    4. Malala Yousafzai
The Grinnell Prize medallion
  1. President Raynard S. Kington, who served from 2010 to 2020, tapped into Grinnellians’ desire to serve by establishing the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The prize has been awarded to organizations that:
    1. Champion African children’s literature
    2. Respond to natural disasters
    3. Advocate for human rights
    4. Create sustainable agricultural technology
  2. Grinnell’s first, homegrown study-abroad program, in which two Grinnell faculty taught Grinnell students, was in:
    1. London
    2. Paris
    3. Rome
    4. Cairo
Students in Berlin

Students in Berlin (Photo by Misha Gelnarova ’18)

  1. Grinnell students have many options for global learning, including this most recent option, developed by the Institute for Global Engagement:
    1. Course-embedded travel
    2. The Global Learning Program
    3. Alternative Language Study Option
    4. Grinnell-in-Washington
  2. Since the 1850s, Grinnell’s curriculum has changed from a set of all required classical courses to an individually advised curriculum with few requirements outside the major. Identify a currently required course:
    1. College Writing
    2. Humanities 101
    3. First-Year Tutorial
    4. Historical Studies
Students at the base of a metal sculpture on campus, one holding a pole

Students participate in hands-on activities during New Student Orientation in 2012

  1. In the early 1990s, Grinnell began rethinking how it taught certain subjects, especially to students who were underrepresented in those fields. In 2011, this ongoing program was recognized by the Obama administration:
    1. Grinnell Science Project
    2. Grinnell Math and Statistics Project
    3. Grinnell Humanities Project
    4. Grinnell Social Sciences Project
Classroom at the Newton Correctional Facility

Classroom at the Newton Correctional Facility

  1. Initiated in 2003, Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program currently provides to incarcerated students at the Newton Correctional Facility:
    1. An occasional workshop in creative writing
    2. An occasional course taught by student volunteers
    3. Regularly scheduled courses for credit, taught by Grinnell faculty
    4. Tutoring support from Grinnell student volunteers
  2. Grinnell students like to contribute to the common good, and the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) can help them find and create positions, including:
    1. Local volunteer opportunities
    2. Community-engaged courses
    3. Service-learning work-study positions
    4. Postgraduate service jobs
Advising students is a core part of the CLS mission

Advising students is a core part of the CLS mission

  1. In 2013, Mark Peltz, Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, implemented a novel approach at the CLS to help students prepare for meaningful careers. The program now includes this component:
    1. A career adviser for each incoming first-year or transfer student
    2. Industry-focused advising and programming through seven distinct Career Communities
    3. Grant funding to send students to professional conferences
    4. Grant funding to help students purchase interview attire
The Noyce Sience Center elbow light up at sunset

Noyce Science Center “Elbow”

  1. President Russell K. Osgood, who served from 1998 to 2010, presided over a significant increase in enrollment, faculty size, and new and renovated buildings, including:
    1. East Campus residence halls
    2. Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center
    3. Bucksbaum Center for the Arts
    4. Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center
Exterior of Darby Gym from 8th Ave.

Darby Gymnasium, 1950 (Photo courtesy of the Grinnell College archives)

  1. Darby Gymnasium, formerly a separate building on the north side of Eighth Avenue, is now part of this building:
    1. Harris Center
    2. Physical Education Complex
    3. Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center
    4. Rand Gymnasium
Students in suits and gowns dancing

Students dancing at the Fall Waltz in 1986 (Photo courtesy of the Grinnell College archives)

  1. Dressing up in fancy clothes or costumes and going to a dance on campus was a tradition that began with the all-female Colonial Ball, first held in 1909. The fancy-dress dance tradition continues in the 21st century under what name?
    1. Mardi Gras
    2. Waltz
    3. Grinnell Ball
    4. Winter Wonderland
  2. In a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), students work closely with a faculty member on a research or creative project that integrates the knowledge and skills they gained at Grinnell. Over the past several years, what percentage of students completed a MAP?
    1. 2%
    2. 20%
    3. 40%
    4. 100%
Educational building and wind turbine at Conard Environmental Research Center

Conard Environmental Research Area

  1. A contemporary visitor to the 365-acre Conard Environmental Research Area, about 11 miles southwest of Grinnell, will find:
    1. Rows and rows of corn and soybeans, as far as the eye can see
    2. Restored native tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, woodlands, and wetlands
    3. An LEED-certified environmental education center with classroom, laboratory, and greenhouse
    4. Grinnell College’s farm

Bonus Question

Black and white photo showing the exterior of ARH within the atrium of the HSSC

What buildings on campus, familiar to all alumni, recently were renovated and are now part of the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC)?

Send your bonus answer to magazine[at]grinnell[dot]edu with “Quiz” in the subject line for a chance to win a Grinnell prize package.

Gates Rawson Tower across the expanse of Mac and Ward Fields

How did you do on the 175th Anniversary Quiz? Check your answers below.

  1. C. Iowa College
  2. D. Main
  3. B. Davenport
  4. A. art school
  5. C. political science
  6. A., B., and D. F. Morgan Taylor 1926 took gold for the 400-meter hurdles in Paris in the 1924 games, setting a record in the process. Norris Stubbs ’72 ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes for the Bahamas in 1968 in Mexico City. Joshua Tibatemwa ’19 represented his native Uganda in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He swam the 50-meter freestyle.
  7. A., C., and D. All for men. Baseball was the first organized sport.
  8. A. In her first year at Grinnell, Julie Litchfield (now Tallman) ’66 shot a 94 and led her male teammates to a double dual victory over Cornell and Coe, which forfeited. She only played one match with the men’s team, as it was ruled that Grinnell had violated a conference bylaw that competition be limited to male athletes only. The terms “athletes” and “scholar-athletes” were in the bylaws, so John Pfitsch, director of athletics, and coach Larry Crawford assumed that women were eligible.
  9. All of them. Each played at least once.
  10. C. and D. Chisholm in 1980, Eisenhower in 1965.
  11. B. and C. King in 1967 and Addams in 1898 as Rand Series speaker and in 1924 as Commencement speaker.
  12. All of them.
  13. A. Grinnell-in-London began in fall 1974 with 17 students.
  14. B. The Global Learning Program, specifically for first-year students, offers an interdisciplinary course that’s team-taught by two professors who take students abroad during spring break or shortly after the spring semester.
  15. C. Humanities and Historical Studies were required courses until 1970.
  16. A. Grinnell Science Project, launched in 1993, was honored with a 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, administered by the National Science Foundation.
  17. C. and D. Students in the program can earn up to 60 credits from Grinnell College.
  18. All of them.
  19. All of them.
  20. A., B., and D. Bucksbaum was initiated by President Pamela Ferguson but completed during Osgood’s tenure.
  21. C. The Bear Center brings together all of Grinnell’s sports in one large complex and replaced both Darby and the physical education complex. Their facilities could no longer meet the College’s needs. Rosenfield Center, which houses the Marketplace Dining Hall and Spencer Grill and is the main campus center, was built on roughly the same site as Darby.
  22. B. Waltz is the current name and seems to have appeared in 1976 after more than a decade without such an event. Mardi Gras was a costume ball held from 1947 to 1962.
  23. C. 40%
  24. B. and C. CERA is a field station used for research, class field trips, and quiet enjoyment of Iowa’s natural beauty.


Grinnell’s Poll Position

Ethan Pannell ’21 was a poll junkie long before he arrived at Grinnell. He had taken a statistics class in high school that required students to track data from the news and politics website POLITICO. He and his dad frequently pored over the stories and data from the polling data analysis site FiveThirtyEight during the 2016 election season.

So when Pannell learned during his sophomore year at Grinnell that the College had teamed up with respected pollster J. Ann Selzer to develop the Grinnell College National Poll (GCNP), he could hardly believe his good fortune. A political science major with a statistics concentration, he signed up for a short course, Political Polling: Analyzing the Grinnell College National Poll, to learn more about how to study the data collected. And in 2020 he developed a battery of queries for the GCNP linked to the idea of the American dream. More than 1,000 people answered the questions.

He remembers the moment that Peter Hanson, associate professor of political science and director of the Grinnell College National Poll, emailed the raw data to him. “It was incredibly exciting to see [the results] from a question I helped create,” Pannell says. Among other things, he learned that a significant portion of respondents were optimistic about achieving traditional aspects of the American dream, such as homeownership.

Hanson works with students Wini Austin ’21, Abby Hanson ’21, and Isabel Ambrosoli ’21.

Hanson works with students Wini Austin ’21, Abby Hanson ’21, and Isabel Ambrosoli ’21.

For Hanson, engagement like Pannell’s represent the very best of what the poll can offer: deep, individually tailored experiences that support meaningful student learning. “Giving students the chance to participate in the creation and analysis of our own poll is tremendously exciting,” he says. “I don’t know that there’s another undergraduate institution in the country that gives its students that opportunity. When you’re teaching political science and you have data fresh from the field? It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Grinnell President Anne F. Harris agrees that the poll is a powerful complement to the work that professors and students do in their classes. “The issues that the Grinnell College National Poll takes on are the issues that are discussed in our classrooms, from political power to racism to democracy,” she says. “The poll gives students the ability to see just how immediate and relevant those issues are, because they see how people are thinking about them in almost real time.”

Since former President Raynard S. Kington approved the launch of the poll in 2018, Grinnell has developed six polls, taught short courses with dozens of students, and supported student MAPs and faculty research with the poll. Through the poll, Grinnell College’s name has been prominently included in top-tier national media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

The benefits of the GCNP go beyond numbers, but there’s no doubt about it: The numbers are very, very good.

Putting the Pieces into Place

When Selzer and Grinnell worked together to create the GCNP, the timing felt particularly fortuitous. The Data Analysis and Scientific Inquiry Lab (DASIL) had been created to support rigorous data analysis. And the new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), which now houses DASIL, was intentionally designed to bring together humanities and social studies departments, supporting collaborations among faculty, students, and departments on initiatives like the Grinnell poll.

Visiting professor Ron Rapoport leads a discussion with students Max Hill ’20, Yuejun Chen ’20, and Patrick Min ’19 (left to right).

Visiting professor Ron Rapoport leads a discussion with students Max Hill ’20, Yuejun Chen ’20, and Patrick Min ’19 (left to right).

That paired well with other Grinnell strengths: a politically engaged student body and exceptional political science and mathematics faculty members. The College’s Iowa location made it a hotspot during presidential primaries and a prime hub for polling. Selzer’s company, just down Interstate 80 in West Des Moines, had a coveted A+ rating for accuracy and methodology from FiveThirtyEight.

Selzer saw an opportunity to raise Grinnell’s profile with a national poll. And she was delighted to work with a school whose values aligned with her own. “When I saw that Grinnell’s unofficial motto was ‘Ask hard questions, question easy answers,’ I got really excited,” she says. “What could a pollster want more than that?”

New Frontiers for Student Learning

Students who work with the poll data get insights about the country that go well beyond what they could learn from a textbook or the daily news.

For example, as part of a polling short course she took with Hanson, Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 analyzed data collected just before the 2018 elections about political activity.

At the moment of polling, the story of women’s political participation had taken center stage in the media. A handful of events, including the Women’s March after President Trump’s inauguration, an enthusiastic new group of women running for office, and predictions of a “blue wave” that ultimately came to pass, led many pundits to suggest that women’s interest in politics and voting had skyrocketed.

But Rawhouser-Mylet was less interested in the media narrative than what the numbers said. She pulled data from the GCNP to dig into the details. “We expected that we would see a difference — that women would be more politically active than men,” she recalls.

Their work found no statistically significant relationship between political activism and respondent’s gender — or party identification or race, for that matter. The initial hypothesis didn’t pan out — but Rawhouser-Mylet didn’t mind. “It made the analysis more interesting,” she says.

Selzer, who occasionally speaks to students taking polling short courses, says that counterintuitive results are common. “I ask [students] what their hunches are about the way [a poll] is going to turn out, and very often, their hunch doesn’t turn out,” she says. If the results they want don’t show up in the data, “they’ve got to be able to walk away,” she says.

From Hanson’s standpoint, these types of surprises — which he sees frequently in his classes — are golden teaching opportunities. “It’s a wonderful moment when you see somebody being awakened to the possibility that they have to re-evaluate the way they’ve been looking at the world, because the data doesn’t support the assumptions they’ve had,” he says. “Testing your own suppositions against the data teaches us all to have humility.”

The process of creating polls, collecting the data, and analyzing the numbers takes time and demands serious intellectual firepower. But it also leads to a more accurate understanding of the world. “The phrase that I use is research, knowledge, wisdom,” Selzer says. “You gather the best data you can, and you turn that data into knowledge. Then, what do you now know that you didn’t know before? You can turn that knowledge into wisdom by asking: What should I do with [this knowledge]?”

Ethan Pannell ’21 and Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 have both completed significant projects with the GCNP.Ethan Pannell ’21 and Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet ’21 have both completed significant projects with the GCNP.

Some students' work on the poll has already paid off in settings beyond Grinnell.

Max Hill ’20, now working on a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Michigan, took a survey design class while he was at Grinnell and did research with Hanson. The knowledge he gained from the process — which included the challenge of determining what he actually wanted to understand from the data — has helped him with his current statistics coursework. “Having a real-world experience with statistics reinforced key concepts so that I really understand them,” he says.

Fueling Faculty Research and Teaching

Students aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the poll’s unique value. Caleb Elfenbein, associate professor of history and religious studies and director of the Center for the Humanities, had attended some of the earliest meetings for the GCNP. He was curious how the poll might help him explore his interest in religion, community, and public life in new ways. He also wanted to learn about possibilities for working through the center to connect the humanities and humanistic social sciences at Grinnell to the poll.

He was drawn in by the idea that he could collaborate with polling experts to create questions in areas that were most interesting to him. In 2018, he worked with Hanson and Selzer to devise a series of questions about equality, religion, and what it means to be American.

The results illuminated a gap that was far greater than he might have initially imagined: 91% of respondents said that treating people equally was core to being American, which stood in stark contrast to existing data suggesting that approximately half of all Americans had doubts about whether Muslims truly could be Americans. The tension between those numbers led Hanson and Elfenbein to co-author an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Those statistics also served as a central framing device for Elfenbein’s recent book, Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us About America. The poll results succinctly illustrated a larger and more complex problem. It was an irresistible hook. “Numbers have currency,” Elfenbein says. “They can grab attention, offering the chance to then present data in a more humanistic fashion by focusing on stories behind the data.”

Since then, Elfenbein has created other questions for the poll and worked with Hanson to develop a course on creating polling questions. He is eager to widen the pool of students who use it to investigate ideas that animate them. “Political science and economics students see those connections,” he says. “My goal is to pull in more students from the humanities to think about how we can translate humanistic questions into questions that are appropriate for polls.”

students Julia Schafer and Farah Omer work with professor Caleb ElfenbeinGrinnell College students Julia Schafer ’18 and Farah Omer ’19 work with Caleb Elfenbein on a 2017 project mapping incidents of Islamophobia in the United States.

Faculty are finding ways to bring the poll’s data and details into their classrooms. Xavier Escandell, associate professor of anthropology and director of DASIL, says there are numerous ways that the poll can be integrated into Grinnell’s classes. “I regularly teach Introduction to Statistics,” he says. “The GCNP is an excellent tool for students to undertake serious statistical analyses and practice using data visualization tools. It’s great when students can use data that is so close to home.”

A Look Ahead

The past three years have offered students and faculty many ways to take part in aspects of the poll, but Hanson says they’re only beginning to tap into the possibilities. “We’ve experimented with different ways of involving both students and faculty, and we’ve learned a lot,” he says. “We also know we have a group of students excited about the poll and looking for opportunities to engage with it, so we want to generate as many of those opportunities as possible.”

Along with the many other opportunities that Grinnell offers to support student learning both in the classroom and beyond it — from internships and off-campus study to research and Mentored Advanced Projects — the poll is a distinctive “tool in the toolbox” for Grinnellians. “At Grinnell, we find that we often ask questions in a way that’s just a little different or has a slightly different emphasis than other polls,” Hanson says. “There’s a real richness there.”

And as the years tick by, the general public’s familiarity with the poll will only grow. Already, the recognition is significant. After Grinnell’s August 2020 poll, for example, the College garnered some 180 major media mentions, from NPR to Bloomberg to USA Today, resulting in widespread national awareness for Grinnell and its programs.

For President Harris, the even bigger goal is to use the poll to put Grinnell’s values into action and enhance its role as a laboratory for global democracy. “People get to see what we do, from coming up with questions to doing analysis,” she says. “The GCNP puts the core habits of a democracy — research, deliberation, and collaboration — into practice. The general public sees Grinnell College at work in its mission,” she says.

Govind Brahmanyapura and Razmeet Samra analyze data from the poll.Govind Brahmanyapura ’21 and Razmeet Samra ’20 analyze data from the poll.


The Pivot

Ahon Gooptu ’21 remembers the exact moment he found out he'd been awarded and an internship at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, a position he’d been trying to earn for two years.

Ahon Gooptu in three poses

“I was in choir in Sebring-Lewis Hall in the Bucksbaum Center in late February 2020. It was around 4:35 or so, and the note I received just said ‘Ahon — Steppenwolf internship,’” he recalls. “I took a moment and stepped outside, and I screamed to myself in the corridor. I couldn’t believe I got it! It definitely took a couple days for it to settle in and feel real.”

The euphoria was short-lived, however. Soon after receiving the news, Gooptu found out that Grinnell College was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting to remote education and sending students home. And just one month later, he learned that Steppenwolf was going to award only four virtual internships, rather than the dozen or so it normally sponsors.

“Participating in this [virtual] internship has really shaped my career path and how I approach networking. From now on I know there will be greater emphasis on communicating on a digital platform. The work has really improved my tech savviness, and I feel lucky to have had this opportunity.”

— Trinisa Fung ’23

“They said, ‘We don’t know what we are doing. We will let you know as soon as we can,’” he recalls. “It was my dream internship. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. And then getting the news that it might not happen? It was devastating.”

With encouragement from his CLS adviser, Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, who serves as director of the Arts, Media, and Communications Career Community, Gooptu reached out to Steppenwolf and expressed interest in one of the limited slots for the virtual internship. He was chosen as one of four interns and spent the summer of 2020 doing education and outreach for the company and helping it expand its national audience.

Gooptu helped high school students engage with working artists virtually and with teachers who would teach George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In addition, he completed a study guide for students to use while producing a radio version of the play.

“We did a lot of planning for the fall season,” he says. “Usually education, the area I was working in, is in charge of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, another wing geared to high school students in the Chicagoland area. But we expanded the program to students outside of Chicago for the first time, ultimately reaching more than 20,000 students in all 50 states and around the world.” (Watch Gooptu and other Grinnellians talk about how CLS is giving students a competitive edge in their future pursuits.)

More personal than in person

Other Grinnell students joined Gooptu in making the leap into the virtual world. And, in 2021, the College jumped into the fray, transforming traditionally in-person opportunities for externships, short-term job-shadowing and mentoring experiences, to virtual ones.

Coordinated by the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), the externship program at Grinnell had in previous years allowed students to meet with alumni who volunteered to spend three to five days mentoring them, bringing them to work, arranging informational interviews with colleagues, and giving them short-term projects. Many alumni even hosted students in their own homes, adding an even more personal connection to the experience.

“It is always a really good experience that the students benefit from immensely,” says Donna Miller, assistant dean and director of advising and exploration in the CLS. “Last year all these externships had to be canceled at the last minute. We didn’t want to just lose the program for another year, so we decided to see if virtual externships would work.”

Earlier this year, 22 alumni volunteered to host students virtually for an externship over spring break — a new twist on the program that could have a lasting impact.

“I had one prior externship experience three years ago in which I had a student come and live with me for a week and go with me to work in person,” says Dawn Benard Fritzell ’89, senior manager of strategic initiatives for the global procurement center of excellence at Kimberly-Clark. “Last year I signed up again and had been paired up with a student who was set to come last March. After it fell apart, we stayed in touch, and I was happy to make it work this year with her.”

That student, Jivyaa Vaidya ’23, had planned to travel to Appleton, Wisconsin, to stay with Fritzell at her home over the 2020 spring break and go to her workplace in person for her externship.

“I thought an internship would be most productive or fruitful when I was in the office meeting with people,” Vaidya says. “But this worked out for the best. Dawn is on a global team, so I met a lot of people virtually anyway.”

Vaidya sat in on virtual team meetings, during which Fritzell always shared her computer screen and her notes as she made them so Vaidya could see how she ran and organized the meeting. She observed one-on-one work and also met individually in virtual meetings with Fritzell’s colleagues in several areas of the business and in several countries.

“I tried to include her in conversations where there were participants from all over the world, and she got to see them rather than just hear them. Had it been in person, it would have just been a conference call rather than a video conference. So, it was actually more personal, even though it was not in person.”

Jivyaa Vaidya, Rachel Edwards Harvith, Dawn Benard Fritzell, Rochelle Gandour-Rood

(clockwise from top left) Jivyaa Vaidya ’23 Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02, Dawn Benard Fritzell ’89

Involved, Engaged, and 2,000 Miles Away

Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02 has hosted students at her home for externships three times since 2012 and had planned to do another in 2020. Kaitlin Michaels ’23, a student from the Chicago area studying the medical humanities, was set to come to Gandour-Rood’s home in the Tacoma, Washington, area for an externship at Tacoma Water, where Gandour- Rood works in community engagement and conservation.

“We had met twice, and she had sent me her list of interests. And I was already setting up informational meetings with my colleagues,” says Gandour-Rood. “She had done all the legwork; and right before she was set to come here, it began falling apart.”

In 2021, Gandour-Rood volunteered to host a student virtually and was again matched with Michaels for an externship that looked quite different.

“One of the things I value with the home stay is the less-structured evening time when I can talk with the students about their day and learn about who they are,” says Gandour- Rood. “So, we didn’t get that time together, or the time to do casual debriefings after a meeting. There was a conscious effort to put time on her calendar every day to talk.”

In the weeklong virtual externship, Michaels conducted several informational interviews with people about their roles in the company, attended various events, viewed presentations from staff members, worked on a small project researching ideas for public engagement, and presented the ideas to Gandour-Rood at the end of the week.

“In-person externships are valuable,” Michaels says. “But digital externships are important as well. I think continuing them would allow more students and hosts to participate, and it would mean even more opportunities for Grinnell students.”

Virtual Possibilities

While virtual internship programs are relatively new, they are not unheard of. The federal government has had such a program in place for several years, and many Grinnell students have already participated with great success.

Since 2009, the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) has offered eight-month virtual internships with various branches of the U.S. government in areas such as counterterrorism, human rights monitoring, and developing virtual programs.

Destiny Magnett ’22 participated in the VSFS program as an intern for the Religious and Ethnic Minorities Unit in the Middle East Bureau at the U.S. Agency for Development (USAID).

“I think continuing [virtual externships] would allow more students and hosts to participate, and it would mean even more opportunities for Grinnell students.”

— Kaitlin Michaels ’23

Among her many projects, Magnett worked with the team carrying out the June 2020 Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, created communications about the “Rebuilding Our Homes” initiative in Morocco, and worked to identify faith-based organizations for future USAID partnerships.

“The internship allows me the flexibility to work on projects on my own time around my class schedules, but also includes a few synchronous meetings each week that allow me to forge mentorships with my supervisors as well as meet the other interns on the team who are from colleges and universities around the country,” she said.

Trinisa Fung ’23 is virtually working a VSFS internship with the U.S. State Department consulate in Prague.

Trinisa Fung, Destiny Magnett ’22, Claire Pollard ’22

(l to r) Trinisa Fung ’23 Destiny Magnett ’22 Claire Pollard ’22

Fung fact-checks and creates presentations that her mentor shares with other researchers. One of her projects analyzed how foreign governments use social media and news outlets to present an image of themselves to the international community.

“Participating in this internship has really shaped my career path and how I approach networking,” she says. “From now on I know there will be greater emphasis on communicating on a digital platform. The work has really improved my tech savviness, and I feel lucky to have had this opportunity.”

Through the VSFS, Claire Pollard ’22 is interning virtually from her home in Champaign, Illinois, with Ron Packowitz, a diplomat with the U.S. State Department.

In addition to the VSFS internship, Pollard worked last summer in a remote internship with the Champaign legal department and Champaign United Way. When her current internship wraps up, she will begin an internship with

Ethan Cohen ’86 in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Chicago district office. This internship will be virtual at first and shift to in-person later.

Pollard says working virtually made it “easier to set up events in multiple states in the same day and connect with multiple people at one time. The lawyers I worked with last summer worked extra hard to make me feel included because they knew there was that extra barrier in place. People are more conscious of their interaction with interns, and I really appreciated that.

Changing Days, Changing Ways

Before she was hosting student externs at her home, Gandour-Rood was a Grinnell student who went through the extern program herself. While that in-person experience helped shape her career and who she is today, she believes that the virtual opportunities now available can just as effectively — and maybe more easily — have the same impact on today’s students.

“I was an extern in January 2000, over winter break,” she recalls. “I spent a week shadowing John Elmore ’90 in his middle school science classroom at the all-girls Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I stayed with a friend on Long Island; I took the

[Long Island Rail Road] and the No. 6 train to the school every blustery morning and home again in the cold, dark evenings. I learned not just about teaching, but about commuting, about school community, about social class, and about continuous professional learning.

“Being an extern is a chance to see what work life and adult life will be like when a student graduates. So, if going virtual is the truest way for students to learn what work is like now … then we should have the virtual option for the careers that can accommodate it.”

— Rochelle Gandour-Rood ’02

“I believe in the externship program because it worked for me as a student, and it still works for me as an alum. Now, it gives me a connection to campus — to hear what’s going on and what students are doing these days — and is my favorite way to give back to the College that did so much for me as a young adult.”

But as jobs and the workforce have changed over the years, Gandour-Rood says the programs that are meant to introduce students to the working world should adapt as well.

“More than anything, being an extern is a chance to see what work life and adult life will be like when a student graduates,” she says. “So, if going virtual is the truest way for students to learn what work is like now — or if it makes the externship more accessible to more students, and easier and more environmentally friendly without all the travel then we should have the virtual option for the careers that can accommodate it.”

With the first round of these virtual externships now complete, CLS is reviewing the program.

“We’re really hoping to expand our alumni participation, and doing so virtually would be less onerous for them,” Miller says. “We are still assessing how the virtual component worked this year, but we’re moving ahead and plan to do it again next year.”

Gooptu’s reflections on his Steppenwolf internship also capture where Grinnell is today and where the College, career mentoring, and society are headed.

“Everything changed,” he says. “But I felt at every step along the way that this was not just a temporary measure. I felt that we were laying the groundwork for how things would be in the future.”

One of the Most Influential Grinnellians

Grinnell College may well have been a different place without the long, dedicated service of Waldo “Wally” Walker.

The bulk of his career was spent in the administration, and he thoroughly enjoyed the work. He had several different titles over the years and at least once was in the running for the top job — president. He served several presidents, from Howard Bowen to Pamela Ferguson, loyally and thoughtfully.

Some of the work Walker did was thankless — like telling faculty and staff that their positions were eliminated due to budget cuts. Through it all, he supported the continuous improvement of Grinnell’s academic quality, because he valued the College as an institution and its role in Iowa and the country.

An Iowa boy who appreciated differences

Walker, who died in Grinnell on Aug. 28, 2020, at the age of 89, grew up in Fayette, a small farming town in northeast Iowa. He was close friends with Vera Stepp, a Black girl whose family ran a well-known produce farm. For a young white man from rural Iowa in the 1940s, that was surely unusual.

It was in the Army, however, where Walker had extended, significant interactions with people of color, especially Black people.

Black students studying in a house

Walker was a longtime supporter of Grinnell’s Black students.

He enlisted in 1953 after completing his bachelor’s degree at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. It was near the end of the Korean War, and his decision to enlist, rather than waiting to be drafted and possibly sent to Korea, paid off. He spent his two years at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he helped soldiers move to their next assignments.

Walker’s time in the Army was crucial to the development of his racial awareness and understanding of racial inequities, which became important to his work at Grinnell.

“Wally learned a lot about equality” by serving with Black soldiers, says Frank Thomas ’71, who was good friends with Walker. Walker talked with him about his time in the Army. “Wally had a great deal of respect for a master sergeant, who was Black,” Thomas says.

In his work with the master sergeant, Walker observed how Black soldiers, who were following all the rules and obeying orders, were nevertheless denied access in ways that were injurious to them. That awareness stayed with Walker throughout his life and work.

In November 1971, a few dozen members of Concerned Black Students occupied Burling Library and issued a manifesto demanding several changes to improve campus life for Black students and faculty. Walker was the lead negotiator on the College’s behalf.

Wally Walker in library with group of black students

A photo of him during negotiations shows what appears to be a casual pose, but Walker was actually trying to hide his nerves. Years later he told Thomas, “I was so nervous, confronting the students at that time, that I was visibly shaking.”

Walker became friends with a number of the students who occupied the library, including Barry Huff ’73 (deceased, see Family Creates Internship Fund in Memory of Trustee G. Barry Huff ’73), whom Walker frequently referred to as his “son.”

Trustee Shelley Floyd ’72, who was president of the Student Government Association that year and worked closely with Walker, says he was tough and wouldn’t abide law-breaking but he empathized with the Black students. He listened to their concerns.

From faculty member to dean, finding his best fit

In 1955, after his tour with the Army, Walker headed to grad school at the University of Iowa on the GI bill. He started teaching biology at Grinnell in 1958. His empathy for and understanding of students were qualities that stood out.

James Stauss, dean of the College, was on the lookout for faculty who understood students’ perspectives during the turbulent 1960s — an era of protests over civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War. He tapped Walker to become an associate dean, a new position.

Participants in caps and gownsAnother reason for the new position was that President Bowen had won a grant from the Hill Family Foundation to support a “junior liberal arts experience.”

Running that new program “was dumped in my lap,” Walker said.

Commencement 1977: (left to right) Louis “Studs” Terkel; R. Hal Dean ’38; President A. Richard Turner; Carolyn Swartz Bucksbaum ’51; Dean Waldo Walker; Garretson “Garry” Trudeau; Patricia A. McIlrath ’37.

He invited three other faculty members to join him in developing a reading list and exam. They met all summer, up to three hours per day, and “selected great books that we would assign to the students,” he said — books like Moby Dick, On the Origin of Species, and Madame Bovary. “That’s my major liberal arts training right there. I learned so much about the world then.”

The program lasted only three years, but “it was one of the most interesting educational experiments I was involved with,” Walker said.

The experience also may have given him a sense of how he could positively influence Grinnell on a broader scale.

“Wally could see the College’s potential, and he bought into it,” says George Drake ’56, president emeritus, whom Walker served as executive vice president. “He was loyal to Grinnell College and its ideal.”

In service to all, for the greater good of Grinnell

Student listening to tapes

The early 1970s brought tremendous changes to Grinnell’s academic experience. The faculty voted to abolish general education requirements and adopt the “no requirements” curriculum in the fall of 1970. One of those requirements had been a one-year humanities course that included significant writing instruction from expert faculty.

Walker worked tirelessly to enhance students resources, including a language lab pictured circa 1986

In its place, a new, one-semester course was created — the course now known as the First-Year Tutorial. It was taught by faculty across all disciplines, including professors who didn’t feel well prepared to teach writing.

Walker could clearly see the difficulties arising for professors and students. “[T]he reality is that many of the tutorial instructors have neither the expertise to teach composition skills, nor have they had the pedagogical experience in teaching these skills to aid students in correcting their writing problems,” he wrote in a 1973 memo.

He talked with Peter Connelly and Don Irving, professors of English, and developed a two-part proposal: 1) Faculty members would offer a selection of writing-intensive introductory courses requiring at least five papers, so that “students will be writing about something of substance in which they have more interest than they would in composition drills”; and 2) faculty who taught these courses or tutorials would be offered a one-week summer seminar on how to teach writing.

Despite the tight budgets of the time, Walker also offered to pay faculty for their time taking the seminar. He wanted to encourage them to participate in it, not mandate it.

Walker was a proactive dean, says Drake. He didn’t wait around for ideas.

About the same time, Walker was also quietly creating support for students and their writing. In the early days of the tutorial, “students were wandering around in despair,” about their writing said Mathilda Liberman, lecturer emerita in English.

Walker asked Liberman to meet with a few of the students one by one to discuss their writing problems, and soon the Writing Lab was born. Initially, Liberman was director with the assistance of a couple of resident advisers, but the work was crucial and the need was ongoing. Since Walker had a good command of the budget, he figured out a way to pay for it.

“Trying to squeeze in two or three extra positions at the College just to help students with writing was a big step,” Drake says.

Walker believed deeply in the Writing Lab, the Math Lab, and other support services for students. “Those things developed at a critical time,” Drake says.

Lasting impact

Grinnell’s academic rigor and reputation experienced major leaps during the Wally Walker years. Don Smith, professor emeritus of history, believes Walker is second only to Joe Rosenfield ’25 in terms of his importance to the College during the last 50 years. Walker’s longevity and institutional knowledge made him invaluable. His warm humor, ready smile, and ability to tell a good story made him well-liked.

During his 43-year career at Grinnell, his influence was expressed and felt in myriad ways — in his care for students, in his care for faculty and staff, and in his devotion to the College overall.

Share your stories about Wally Walker.

Walker with students in a biology lab with one student using the electron microscope

Walker with students George Herman ’69 and Susan Sleeper ’69 using an electron microscope

The Best Advice

Let Go

I still have a couple of letters from James Kissane ’52, English professor emeritus, from 2002, four years after I graduated. His replies to my messages about deciding to go to graduate school, in his distinctive bucolic and self-deprecating style, encouraged the pursuit of intellectual curiosity without guaranteed outcomes.

At that time, he was working on several writing projects; and though he did not know whether they would be published (Google tells me they were!), he described how satisfying and fulfilling the work was.

His words have new relevance for me. I’m working on a couple of writing projects. Though I have publication goals, I have no idea whether I’ll publish these or even finish them. In letting go of the goals, I can be fulfilled by the pursuit.

Almost twenty years later, his advice is still wise, still applicable. What moves me most is that this favorite venerable professor took time to write me after I left Grinnell.
 Amy Goldmacher ‘96

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Say It with Confidence

Elizabeth Dobbs in our Chaucer seminar, when we were learning to pronounce Middle English and we’d gotten the basics but were still struggling to apply them, suggested this: “If you’re not sure, just say it with confidence, and everyone else will think they had it wrong.”

As someone terrified to make a mistake in public, especially around words, around pronunciation, that resonated with me and has become a core part of how I approach situations in which I am uncertain.

Janice Lee Johnson ’95

Have Faith

In a Russian class taught by John Mohan, he told us that his favorite Russian word was something like “sredadehnraviolirvaht,” basically a verb meaning “To eat ravioli on Wednesdays.” I dutifully tried to figure out how to spell it as I wrote it in my notes. I remember that John paused, watched us all scribbling, then said something like, “Friends, I was just joking. But seriously just because someone is a professor or seems more educated than you are, don’t just take them at their word. Have faith that you are all smart folks.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot in my life.

Nieka Apell ’93

Find Solutions

I was in office hours with Professor Arnold Adelberg, showing him where I got stuck on page 7 of a proof in Linear Algebra.

Adelberg said, “Look, this is a 200-level class. There are no seven-page proofs in a 200-level class.”

I apply that observation all the time. Am I writing 150 lines of code to implement a session timer? Come on. Did it really take an hour to explain Occam’s razor? No. This is a normal dinner at home, why is it taking three hours to make? And so on.

If the effort of a solution seems really disproportionate to the problem, you probably picked the wrong solution.

Mark Schumann ’88

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Show What You Know

My first-semester political science class was the first time I had a huge exam that would count for like a third or half my grade (my high school didn’t do that), and I was totally freaking out about it.

Professor Keith Fitzgerald told me something that has framed so much of my communication in my adult life. He asked, “You’ve been reading all semester, right? And you understand the material, right? It seems so, since you participate in class. I’m going to ask you some questions. Your goal is to tell me what you’ve learned. Ideally, you’ll make your information sound like it’s answering my question, but mostly you need to show me you’re learning.”

This framed how I approached all the rest of my exams at Grinnell and then law school. And perhaps even more importantly, it’s how I frame all media interactions (and when I train people in media or public speaking). It’s always about telling what you know and making people think you’re answering their questions.

Jessica Roff ’93

Go For Size

I was at McNally’s, in the wine aisle with a friend, debating which to select. From behind, in an unmistakable voice, we hear, “Just buy the biggest one!”

It was Sheila Wilder from Cowles dining hall.

Ed Chung ’92

Drive the Profits

During finals week of my senior year, a member of the Board of Trustees, Nord Brue ’67, held a lunch and invited a few economics majors to join him. Nord talked about his career working for big corporations and being an entrepreneur. To paraphrase his advice: If you are part of driving the profits of an enterprise, you will always have a job; if you’re part of overhead, you will be susceptible to being laid off when things inevitably get bad. Having grown up in a household where layoffs happened frequently, this hit home.

Sean Bell ’97

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Look Into It

My dad was at his favorite lunch counter in Chicago, and the conversation turned to football. He mentioned to the man next to him that his son was planning to go to a small college — Ripon, in part, so he could play football. The man replied that Ripon was a fine school, but Grinnell, where he had gone, was a great school, and recommended that I look into it.

Advice from a stranger, to whom I’m forever grateful — as are my wife, Arlene (Stoller) ’53, and son, John ’76.

Alan Goldfarb ’52

Skip the Class

Professor Michael Cavanagh: “Learn German!”

The context was that I wanted to read Rainer Maria Rilke in German and didn’t have room in my schedule for the classes. He had to repeat himself before I realized he was telling me I didn’t NEED a frickin’ class to learn anything I wanted to learn. Formal education is not meant to funnel or constrain our curiosity.

Confession: I haven’t learned much German, and I haven’t read Rilke in it. Yet. But I wing free of formal structures with jubilation. And I remember it’s up to me to apply myself.

Dani Long ’00

Be Curious

Ilse Leitinger, sociology professor at Grinnell College in the early ’80s, was a lively lecturer.

I attended more than one class with her. One of her focuses in sociology was other cultures. To this day, I continue to be interested in different cultures, particularly in world music. During the summer of 1982, I was a guest in her house, met her daughter, Christine, and ex-husband.

Ilse shared some of her story: as a young woman, she survived World War II while living in Berlin, which was very heavily bombed.

Ilse taught me to ask questions, be curious. I got encouragement from her to be a lifelong student. She focused on women’s writing and thoughts. Thanks to Ilse, I am still interested in what women have to say. Actually, as I age, I am even more interested in what women are thinking. Thanks, Professor Leitinger!

Carol Baker ’83

Make It Up

First semester, first year, Kelly Herold had us practice our numbers in Russian by asking us to recite our phone numbers. When people were struggling, she laughed and said, “Just pretend I’m a guy at a party who you don’t actually want to give your real number to. Just make up a number!”

I totally made up numbers when I was hit on after college.

Aimee Hutton ’02

Ask Professor Brown

“Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Advice from Victoria Brown used daily (and not just when writing) and passed along to many others.

Elizabeth Smith-Tyko ’94

“You are your own best advocate.” From Victoria Brown after I’d waited a bit
too long outside her office.

Dave Bede ’94

Enjoy Every Phase

Camarin Bailey Madigan ’00 told me to “enjoy every phase” when I got engaged. It was fun to be dating, it was fun to be engaged, it is fun to be married — but enjoy each one for what it is. It’s still solid advice that I share with other newly engaged folks and remember as my life and family enter into new stages.

Linnea Ostling Rich ’99

Red heart pierced with arrow

Dating Advice

In 1971, Linnet C. Harlan ’72 told me that I should go out with Mark Nissen ’72. Here we are, almost 50 years later, and Mark and I are still together.

Mary Jo McKlveen Nissen ’72

Hey, Coach!

“Keep your knees bent,” Coach John Pfitsch told me.

John McDonald ’65

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Teaching Transformation

“We’re in new territory now, and we’ll make the best of it.”

This was the first conversation Matthew Kluber, professor of studio art, had with his students at the beginning of the Fall 1 term.

He was, of course, correct. In March 2020, Grinnell College took the unprecedented step of sending students home from campus and reorganizing all classes to online or remote learning formats as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.

When the College made this move, its primary considerations were the safety of students, faculty, and staff, and limiting community spread of the virus. But even as students were packing their bags and leaving campus, the College also prioritized their ability to continue a Grinnell education — to have learning opportunities that encourage exploration and connect students with one another, with faculty, and with the world.

“In the first conversation I had with my class, we discussed and acknowledged that all of this was a new situation for me as well as them, and that we would get through it together,” Kluber says. “That was crucial, and the students were really on board and understanding. That made a big difference.”

Taking the leap

For many students who grew up with a computer within arm's reach, the concept of online learning was not unusual. But for many professors, whose focus on hands-on learning is part and parcel of what makes a Grinnell education unique, this was foreign territory.

“I had no prior experience teaching online other than using Blackboard (a web-based course-management system) for assignments,” says Joshua Sandquist, associate professor of biology. “I never even took a class online as a student. One of the things that makes the biology department unique is that we leverage the ‘doing’ of science early on. My first thought when the shift to online learning happened was, ‘Oh no, there goes our whole philosophy of teaching. Our program is built on learning by doing.’ But when the time came, I thought, ‘All right, this is the reality of the situation. What can I focus on to help them learn?’ And I realized you can design experiments without being in a lab, and you can analyze data even if you didn’t create it.”

The general consensus among faculty was that the situation was not ideal and posed many challenges, but it was necessary and would not prevent them from providing the best possible opportunities for students.

“I was filled with a lot of anxiety, just like our students,” says John Garrison, professor of English and program chair of peace and conflict studies. “I was worried about learning to teach online effectively and worried that what I did in the classroom could not be transferred to an online environment.

“Like a lot of faculty, I spent most of the summer trying out different tech platforms and interactive tools, thinking about how they might or might not translate to the classroom. I kind of came back to the basics of what worked really well in my in-person classes — getting students talking to each other and reading text aloud. I realized that could continue to happen without me learning a bunch of new tools.”

Making it work

Jennifer SnookEven professors who had experience teaching online found it challenging to provide the typical hands-on Grinnell experience.

Jennifer Snook, senior lecturer in sociology, spent the decade before she arrived at Grinnell in 2015 teaching both in-person and online courses through the University of Mississippi.

For Fall 1, Snook was planning to teach a tutorial, The Art of Craft: How Crafting Informs the Social World. Her idea was to incorporate Black voices and experiences in the class, explore how people perceive art versus craft, and interrogate how those ideas are influenced by class and gender. The plan was to order yarn from a Black yarn dyer and then invite her to speak to the class in person. Students would then sit together to crochet and ultimately “yarn bomb” campus in a community-building exercise. Then word came that her class would not meet on campus.

“Well, crap,” Snook thought. “There goes my entire schtick.”

The irony of a professor with years of experience teaching online having her plans for in-person interaction thwarted by returning to her area of expertise was not lost on Snook. But the challenges were not insurmountable.

Snook ordered the yarn as planned, then divided it into individual balls for each student. She filled small glass vials with dust from central campus, put one in the middle of each yarn ball, and mailed them to students along with a crochet hook.

“I wanted to give them a piece of the earth from this place to hold onto, to help them maintain that connection to this physical place,” she says. “When they finally do get to come to campus, they will have the tools to complete the yarn bomb as planned. It was important to me that this physical aspect remain a part of the class. There’s something about engaging in the world with your body that the digital screen just can’t replace.”

Studio art at home

Other professors have used the digital world to inspire and create real-world experiences and engagement over the past year.

Matthew Kluber’s Art 111: Introduction to Studio course has always taught students the tools of the trade through hands-on studio work. Shifting this to an online format required what he described as a “radical rethinking of the class.”

His students in Fall 1 were provided a “studio packet” containing many of the materials they would normally use — pencils, sketchbooks, assorted papers for different projects, rulers, drawing instruments, glue, and wire. Although the equipment was then in hand, every student was working from a different environment and facing different challenges that had to be taken into consideration.

“It worked a lot better than I anticipated,” Kluber says. “I learned my anticipation and nervousness over teaching in this unfamiliar way was worse than the reality of it. Once we got started I realized that, while it’s not the ideal scenario, it works pretty well. It just comes back to being able to talk about what you’re passionate about, which is the same thing you do in the classroom.”

Hannah Taylor ’21 works in the printmaking studio on a project for her fall term 2 advanced studio art class.

Hannah Taylor ’21 works in the printmaking studio on a project for her fall term 2 advanced studio art class.

Analog experiences in a digital world

When his classes first shifted to an online format last spring, Joshua Marshack, assistant professor of anthropology, focused heavily on the digital aspect required of the class.

“When it became obvious that we would have to shift to remote learning, I was first worried about the state of the world, and then I was concerned about how we were going to provide the same Grinnell experience virtually,” says Marshack.

Reflecting upon his initial foray into online teaching, Marshack determined he would shift his focus in future classes to using the digital realm to create analog experiences for his students.

He discovered he could do this without relying on complicated or flashy technologies. For instance, Marshack engaged Nick Lehane, a Brooklyn-based puppet artist and theater maker, to speak to his animal studies class. Lehane told a story titled “Chimpanzee” about a chimpanzee born in the wild who is raised in captivity and ends up in a laboratory. Marshack then asked the students to contemplate the last animal they had touched, how the animal experienced the world, and how it reacted to them. They then used household objects to create a simple puppet of their animal, to help them imagine the best and worst that the animal felt. Then they incorporated those feelings into the way they worked the puppet.

“It was really in their head and reflective,” Marshack says. “It’s an exercise that helped them understand other life forms on the planet and have deep empathy for them.”

Marshack, who is in his second year of teaching at Grinnell, also discovered that virtual field trips and visits with experts allowed both him and his students to develop a relationship with and an understanding of their educational home.

“Yes, we have the world at our fingertips, but it’s important to make people realize that Grinnell is special, too,” says Marshack. “I reached out to colleagues in Portugal, California, and Indiana to visit with the class, and that’s nice; but it doesn’t connect you with campus, with home, with Grinnell and all the resources available in those places.”

Marshack incorporated virtual field trips to the Grinnell College Museum of Art, the Des Moines Art Center, the Natural History Museum at the University of Iowa, the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, and other locations into his coursework, using the vast virtual world to introduce students to opportunities in their own backyards.

“It has really helped me connect to a lot of local resources,” he says. “And it has helped students feel a connection to the place in which they live. When this is over, they might want to do research or an internship at one of these locations that they might not have known existed.”

Emoji as a teaching tool

Like many professors with years of classroom teaching to their credit, Garrison has become adept at “reading the room” when addressing his students. Their immediate reactions — or glassed-over eyes — help him recognize whether his students are truly engaged or drifting off to sleep.

This ability allows Garrison to adjust lectures on the fly to ensure he is reaching as many students as possible. When he’s teaching online, however, these cues are far less obvious, or even nonexistent. Learning to read students’ reactions in this environment can be especially challenging.

“That was really hard for me, and I told my students that I was concerned about that,” says Garrison. “I asked them to use the chat function to provide emotional reactions — smiley faces, emoji, affirmations for fellow students — to help me understand what was working for them. It really helped me keep them engaged to the material, to me, and to each other. I have also gotten better at reading facial expressions, as that’s been my primary cue. It has been an area of unexpected growth for me. And for students learning to present online, it has been very beneficial for them and will be important in the future workplace.”

Erick Leggans teaching organic chemistry to a few spread-out students wearing PPE

Advanced organic chemistry, taught in Noyce Science Center by Assistant Professor Erick Leggans ’05, was one of a small number of classes meeting in person on campus during fall term 2.

Going forward

Even as professors and students are finally becoming comfortable with the radical changes to teaching and learning mandated by the pandemic, their focus is shifting to their eventual return to campus. The digital leap that began as a necessity now serves as a glimpse into the future of education.

“Nothing will ever be as good as the in-person classroom,” says Garrison. “But learning to present online has been very beneficial and will be important.”

Among the lessons learned or confirmed to be true for faculty: It's not always necessary to be physically present in a lab to design experiments or analyze data. Simple content delivery is sometimes better served up as a recording that can be paused and re-watched as needed. Small group meetings to discuss readings or other content can be easier to facilitate online than in person and often inspire more meaningful participation. Virtual visits to museums, historic sites, galleries, and elsewhere provide learning opportunities that might not exist otherwise due to location or cost.

While Grinnell faculty plan to incorporate such online opportunities into their future classes, they say their in-person instruction will change, too.

“When we do get back in the lab, I wonder if there might be some benefit to making it more like a cooking show,” Sandquist says. “You put a cake in the oven and then, ‘Oh, look, here is one that’s already done.’ What learning did they miss by not waiting for 30 minutes for that thing to bake? Perhaps we could use that time recovered for other pedagogical benefit, such as discussing the theory of the lab technique.

“I realize that some of what I try to do in the lab can be repetitive or boring, as it is just waiting for something to happen. I want students to know that this is part of the process, but there has to be a sweet spot, and maybe that will force us to find where that sweet spot is.”

And getting to that “sweet spot” has always been the goal, whether learning takes place at home, in the lab, in the classroom, or in the field. “We are learning to not only adapt to the constraints we have been given, but to use them to our advantage,” Marshack says. “It’s been challenging, but absolutely worthwhile. It perfectly demonstrates Grinnell’s spirit of creativity and commitment to experiential learning and the liberal arts.”

A Student's Perspective

Mathhew Kluber's studioNoa Goldman ’22, a third-year French and English double major, is taking classes from her home in Chicago.

When she was sent home in the middle of the spring 2020 semester, her first concern was not how she would manage a shift to online classes, but how other aspects of her Grinnell experience would be affected.

“I think for me and a lot of students, we were thinking more about our friends and people graduating whom we wouldn’t see,” she says. “It was tough to adjust to the idea of leaving our friends.”

And while she hoped to be back on campus for the fall term, she was still at home, adjusting to the reality of remote learning and making the best of her situation.

“It’s been going really well,” she says. “I think students have been very flexible about the situation; and professors have, for the most part, been flexible as well. It’s hard not being around people day to day, but I’ve found it to be as good as it possibly can be.

“For the most part, the people I know and have talked to agree that the quality of their education hasn’t diminished in any crazy way,” she adds. “People are still busy and working very hard. The professors are really reaching out, and that’s something Grinnell has done well. I certainly learned as much last semester as I had in prior semesters.”

Note: Goldman is a reporter for The Scarlet & Black and has, along with others, written about the effect remote learning has had on classes. Read her excellent article on Matthew Kluber’s art class in the Fall 1 period.