Student Journeys Enriched through Alumni Generosity

The exceptional liberal arts education that Grinnell College provides gives life to ideas and has a lasting impact. The Grinnell student experience has been supported by donors in many shapes and forms for generations, upholding Grinnell’s long tradition of access. Students benefit from several distinct aspects of giving during their four-year journeys. To illustrate how this generosity corresponds to an educational journey, we put together a map to show how a hypothetical student might be supported through alumni giving. We then asked alums who made such gifts to share what inspired them to give to their alma mater.

The theoretical student was awarded a need-based scholarship after being admitted to Grinnell. Andrés Chang is one of numerous donors who contribute to these scholarships.

“Strangers decided to fund my education (with no guarantee of success), and the confidence they instilled in me inspires me to also pay it forward to others who advance global change.”
Andrés Chang ’05, Washington, DC

A long-distance runner for the cross country and track teams, the student received support from the Annette Campbell Maxson ’86 Athletics Fund.

“Due to our family’s financial situation when I was starting college, I was unsure if I would be able to attend the college of my choice. Grinnell’s financial aid package allowed me to attend and experience an amazing educational opportunity. It is my hope that with my donation, others will have the same opportunity.”
Annette Maxson ’86, Bainbridge Island, Washington

The model student received a summer internship offer, but it was unpaid. Fortunately, they were able to accept because of financial assistance from the Jay Dick ’93 and Charles Salvetti Fund for Dreamers and Doers — one of many internship funds set up by alums.

“My husband and I give to Grinnell because current students need every opportunity to learn and understand the world. I benefited from the experiences obtained as a student; so now it is my responsibility to help those currently attending the College to make sure they have every opportunity to succeed. I know Grinnellians go on to achieve great things that make the world a better place.”
Jay Dick ’93, Alexandria, Virginia

As a strong advocate for the College’s LGBTQIA+ community, the student was awarded the Ihrig-Morrison Endowed Scholarship.

“My Grinnell experience fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life. Every day, I draw on what Grinnell gave me — lessons, ethics, and relationships. This was only possible by the generosity of others whom I will never know. Now I have the privilege to support this for future Grinnellians. That is why I give.”
Scott Ihrig ’94, San Francisco, California

The student took part in numerous student organizations while on campus, including being involved with Black Student Union (BSU). Laika Lewis is among the alums who support BSU (formerly called Concerned Black Students).

“I’m inspired to give and engage with Grinnell as an alum to serve the next generation of students as they shape into Grinnellians who highly impact and challenge society and the global community. The footprint of Grinnell is seen throughout all corners of the world and that is a legacy I will continue to support.”
Laika Lewis ’17, Rochester, Minnesota

As a physics major, the student was excited to engage in summer research with a faculty member before their senior year. They were named a Carol and Tom Cech Research Scholar, which provided a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) research stipend, an academic year scholarship, and travel funding for an off-campus research presentation.

“It’s mostly about giving back. Carol and I had a great science education at Grinnell, and we want to help make sure that future students have the same opportunity.”
Tom Cech ’70, Boulder, Colorado

Honoring Kesho Scott

The day Kesho Scott DSS ’21 found out about a gift Dianne Jones ’74 made in her honor could not have been more perfect or more coincidental in its timing.

A Detroit resident, Jones established the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund to carry forward Scott’s name and legacy in perpetuity. Scott, a Grinnell senior faculty member, happened to be in Detroit with plans to visit Jones the same day that Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Beronda Montgomery called to inform her about the fund.

“Kesho was getting ready to leave her sister’s house to come here when she got the news,” Jones says. “It was serendipitously beautiful. It just couldn’t have worked out better.”

Administered by the Office of Intercultural Affairs, the fund will be used for programs, activities, and travel that support Black students’ leadership and identity development. The gift also will assist with community-building programs and events for Black students, faculty, and staff. The announcement of the fund, which is open to all donors, will be formally celebrated during Multicultural Reunion in November.

“The creation of the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund will have a resounding impact on Black Grinnellians,” says Vrinda Varia, assistant chief diversity officer for Intercultural Student Life. “One of the things I value so much about this fund is how intentional it is. Dianne was so thoughtful about partnering and learning about student and administrative need as she considered the development of this fund.”

A sociology major at Grinnell, Jones spent a good deal of time at the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center (BCC), which was founded in 1969, a year before she arrived at the College.

“It was home. It was the place where Black students could go and be who we were,” Jones says. “It was really our safe haven. Lots of things happened behind those closed doors, but what happened in the house stayed in the house. It was the place that really kept us all sane in the 1970s.”

Now retired, Jones worked as vice president of human resources at Xerox. She also has been an active volunteer for her alma mater. Jones has served on the Alumni Council, as a planning member for the 2014 Black Alumni Reunion, and as a member of the Multicultural Reunion Committee. Jones first met Scott during a committee gathering on campus in 2014. “But it felt we had known each other forever,” Jones says. “Sometimes you don’t meet a stranger, you meet a kindred spirit.”

An award-winning writer and internationally renowned diversity trainer and consultant, Scott has taught at Grinnell since 1986. She was the first African American woman to receive tenure at the College. Scott, who served as an associate professor of American studies and sociology, moved into senior faculty status in 2020.

In over two decades of developing her unlearning-racism work, Scott has led hundreds of professional and community-based workshops, been a keynote speaker for national conferences, and been a participant on several dozen national and local radio debates, discussions, and public service announcements. Scott was awarded the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women in 2008 and inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame in 2016.

“Her resumé speaks for herself,” Jones says. “She’s an amazing person. I don’t how Grinnell got her or how Grinnell kept her. But I do know Grinnell needs to honor her. She has many gifts, and public speaking is one of them. She wraps you up immediately. Her candor — let me put it that way — is part of who she is. What comes up, comes out. You can accept it or reject it. It just is. She is a force to be reckoned with.”

Scott says she was shocked and touched by her friend’s gesture and elated that the fund will help Black students build community and develop leadership.

“One of the positive sides of the diversity movement of the past 35 years is that we have been able to mobilize as people of color to put a headlight on some of the ways institutions have not met our needs,” Scott says. “One of the downsides of the diversity movement is we have been reticent to recognize the roots of resistance in the African American experience.” She adds that among the reasons she is honored about this fund bearing her name “is that leadership development and community development of African Americans is very important to Dianne and very important to me.”

Varia says the fund carries Scott’s spirit forward “perfectly,” because it does what she’s done for so many members of the Grinnell community.

“It opens doors and it opens eyes,” Varia says. “This fund makes opportunities for self-exploration, community development, and leadership skill-building possible in new ways for our students and helps us highlight these opportunities in our co-curricular efforts.”

Grinnellians interested in making a gift to the Dr. Kesho Scott Fund for Leadership and Community Development can visit (click “other” and type in the fund name) or call the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 866-850-1846.


New Scholarship Fund Honoring Gurira Family Will Support Students From Africa

Photo: Christina Cutlip ’83 (left) with her uncle and aunt, Rogers and Josephine Gurira

Early in his teaching career at Grinnell, Rogers Gurira was pleasantly surprised by an after-class exchange with a student. After scoring 19 out of 20 on her lab report, Susan Duffey Campbell ’78 asked him what she could do to improve in class.

“I loved teaching chemistry at Grinnell College because the students appreciated being challenged,” Gurira says while laughing at the memory. “I had a lot of pre-med students and ones who went on to graduate school in chemistry. They were very hardworking and just a joy to teach.”

Almost a half century later, Rogers and his wife, Josephine Gurira, received another pleasant surprise, this time from their niece. Grinnell College Board of Trustees member Christina Cutlip ’83 and her husband, Mark Cutlip, made a lead gift to establish The Gurira Family Scholarship Fund.

Natives of Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia until 1980), Rogers was a chemistry professor at the College from 1973 to 1983, while Josephine was evening supervisor at Burling Library. Christina came from Zimbabwe and lived with them while she attended Grinnell.

“If it wasn’t for my aunt and uncle, I wouldn’t have known that Grinnell existed,” Cutlip says. “Part of the idea behind the scholarship was to honor them because I know what attending Grinnell has done for me. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you.’ But I also wanted to make sure that people like me — students coming from Africa — get the opportunity that I had. That was the impetus.”

The scholarship will be awarded to students with financial need, with preference given to international students from Africa.

“There is so much need in Africa,” Cutlip says. “It’s important to get some of those students to experience Grinnell. The education they would get here is different. It is a much more global outlook. My hope is they would eventually go back to Africa. But even if they don’t go back, they will leave here with a global mindset.”

Rogers came to the United States on the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU), a program started by President John F. Kennedy.

Josephine received a scholarship to study in the United States from the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church.

“The scholarship that Mark and Christina set up is very touching to us because we can relate,” Rogers says. “We are what we are today because of that type of assistance.”

Cutlip majored in economics at Grinnell but took a variety of courses in biology, chemistry, art, music, and sociology as well. She recently retired as the senior managing director for the institutional financial services division of TIAA.

There is so much need in Africa. It’s important to get some of those students to experience Grinnell. The education they would get here is different. It is a much more global outlook. My hope is they would eventually go back to Africa. But even if they don’t go back, they will leave here with a global mindset.”

— Christina Cutlip ’83

“As you could imagine, coming from Zimbabwe to Iowa at age 17 and being away from home for the first time was hard, so it was good I had family that surrounded me,” Cutlip says. “It was easy to plug into the community because my aunt and uncle already knew people. People

in Grinnell didn’t know my name for a while. I was known as Josephine and Rogers’ niece. The community relationships helped me get an internship at what is now Wells Fargo bank. That’s what got me interested in finance and working for a financial services company.”

Rogers and Josephine have four children, two of which, Chiwoniso and Danai, were born in Grinnell. Danai is an award-winning playwright and actress. She portrayed Okoye in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and

Michonne in The Walking Dead and was a presenter this year at the Academy Awards. Her brother, Taremedzwa Gurira ’94, would later return to Grinnell for college.

The family returned to Zimbabwe in 1983. Rogers spent the next 25 years teaching chemistry at the University of Zimbabwe. He later spent 10 years teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, before retiring in 2021. Josephine became head of public services of the University of Zimbabwe and the deputy university librarian. She later worked as an adjunct librarian at Bowie State and UW-Platteville, where she retired in 2020.

“My experience at Grinnell’s library was wonderful,” Josephine says. “I still get letters from former students. I started working in the evenings because we had young children. I would go in when Rogers came home at 5 p.m. and worked at the reference desk until the library closed at 1 a.m. The students would say thank you for being a friendly face at the library.”

Cutlip recalls tagging along to the kids’ ballgames and music performances.
“Rogers and Josephine are very passionate about Grinnell, and the time they spent here left a mark on them and their kids,” Cutlip says. “The College took a chance on them in the 1970s. That demonstrated how ahead of the curve Grinnell was. It didn’t matter that they were from Africa or were of color. This is the place the family loved the most. They felt most at peace when they were at Grinnell.”

Gift Paves Way for Students to Audition Career Aspirations

An English major at Grinnell College, Betsy Wolcott ’75 estimates she’s had 40 different jobs — some simultaneously — since she graduated.

“I figured it out as I went,” she says. “The one that has carried through is I do psychic readings and medical intuitive healings. Obviously, that’s not something you can learn at a college. But what you can learn at a college is who you are and what you want to do.”

A regular donor to Grinnell, it occurred to Wolcott a few years back that because she had experienced a nontraditional career path, she would like to help others do the same. Thus, the idea was born for the Betsy Wolcott ’75 Fund for Social Change and Career Exploration.

“The CLS [Center for Careers, Life, and Service] is incredibly open and helpful about making connections,” Wolcott says. “We figured out what was the best way to help students experience things that they couldn’t necessarily get on campus. I’m a firm believer you have no idea what you like until you try it. Go figure it out first to see if it’s really what you want to do.”

Wolcott wants to encourage donations to the fund from like-minded alumni or parents.

The fund awarded grants to 17 students over the past three summers. It has provided funding to students interning in ovarian cancer research, graphic design, and interfaith sustainable development, among other fields.

In 2022, Luca Blankenship ’23 interned with Rebel Bread in Denver. With an interest in food and film, he learned how to be a professional baker and produced a comprehensive educational video. Meanwhile Nick El Hajj ’24 completed an internship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper.

“I would not have been where I am today without the constant shower of support I have received from people generous and caring enough to invest in my life experience,” El Hajj says. “I will carry the priceless skills the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette taught me and the memories I made in the beautiful city of Pittsburgh forever. I hope Betsy knows that her contribution has made an impact and helped change the life of a wide-eyed and passionate aspiring journalist.”

A Denver native with active parents and four siblings, Wolcott wanted to go to college somewhere where she wouldn’t be known as someone’s daughter or sister. “I got permission to be who I was at Grinnell,” she says.

Wolcott was on the College’s first volleyball team. “There weren’t tryouts or uniforms; there was barely gym practice time,” she says. Nonetheless, a volleyball coach and referee later became two of the 40 jobs Wolcott took on. She recently made a gift to Grinnell’s current volleyball team in support of a course-embedded trip the squad will take to the Netherlands and Belgium in May.

Wolcott also has been an active volunteer for the College, serving two stints as the class of 1975 class agent and helping plan several reunions.

“As a class agent, I like hearing what Grinnellians are doing,” she says. “I’m totally aware that our world needs all the help it can get. I think it’s people like Grinnellians who are going to make the difference. They are smart, active, not afraid to speak their minds, and not afraid to say if the way we have been doing it doesn’t work, let’s try something different.” 

Alumna’s Gift Encourages Women, BIPOC Students to Major in Computer Science

Sarah Luebke SproehnleSarah Luebke Sproehnle ’00 was initially intimidated by the whole concept of computer science.

When she was a first-year student at Grinnell, Sproehnle’s adviser, Professor Henry Walker, encouraged her to try a computer science class. Her computer knowledge was basically nonexistent at the time.

“I didn’t even know how to type all that well,” Sproehnle recalls. “I took the class anyway, and we had a lot of fun. But I was still intimidated. Some of my classmates had fathers who worked at IBM or they themselves had put together computers. Nonetheless, Dr. Walker and [Professor of Computer Science] Sam Rebelsky encouraged me to take a few more classes. I got inspired that first year. I am sure I wouldn’t have a computer science degree if not for Grinnell.

“I had a friend who knew computers,” Sproehnle adds. “Eventually I had him help me buy all the parts online to put one together. I needed to know how these things worked. When I built my first computer and it powered on, I was elated.”

Sproehnle went on to have tremendous success working in training, system functions, and customer success for startup tech companies. Along the way, she lamented the lack of women and people of color in the industry. She wondered if the intimidation factor she experienced decades earlier was still a barrier.

“When I became a manager within the software industry, I couldn’t find women to hire,” she says. “I would be able to find women for administrative positions or finance, but as far as computer science positions, it was few and far between.” Sproehnle wants to help change that by encouraging more women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) individuals to go into the computer science field.

Sproehnle made a $500,000 gift earlier this year to establish the Luebke-Sproehnle Faculty Scholar in Computer Science. The gift will provide support for a faculty member in the computer science department and for programs that benefit the department and its students, with preference to efforts that encourage and support women, members of the BIPOC community, or individuals with other identities that have been historically underrepresented in computer science.

It’s been more than two decades since the last time a donor established a faculty scholar gift at Grinnell. Sproehnle is the first Grinnellian to set up a faculty scholar gift designated to a specific academic department.

“When I became a manager within the software industry, I couldn’t find women to hire. I would be able to find women for administrative positions or finance, but as far as computer science positions, it was few and far between.” — Sarah Sproehnle

She worked with Elaine Marzluff, Breid-McFarland Professor of Science, and interim dean of the College at the time, who suggested that the scholar award go to a tenure or tenure-track faculty member for three to five years before rotating to another professor. Beronda Montgomery, who took over as dean of the College and vice president for academic affairs in July, will administer the new fund.

“I’d like to thank Sarah for her generosity and foresight in addressing how Grinnell can strengthen our efforts to support women and BIPOC Grinnellians’ entrance into and success in the field of computer science,” Montgomery says. “While our computer science faculty and Center for Careers, Life, and Service partners work diligently to break misconceptions about the field, this faculty scholar award is a significant tool in recruiting and retaining diverse computer science faculty, who in turn could become important role models and mentors for current and future students.”

Sproehnle graduated from Grinnell in three years. She knew she didn’t want to be a programmer, so Rebelsky encouraged her to consider teaching. At age 21, she became a corporate trainer. In 2010, she joined Cloudera, a new data management company with few employees.

“They decided to take a chance on me to build out training and customer success,” she says. “That company ended up growing to over a thousand employees. It went public. I was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It was so amazing. Everything just snowballed from that first idea to go into teaching people.”

Now a Portland, Oregon, resident, Sproehnle returned to Grinnell in June for the first time in 22 years to attend Reunion. She has remained in touch with Rebelsky and his wife, Michelle, over the years. She still recalls babysitting for them as a student.

“They recognized that I sometimes needed family and supported me on a personal level,” Sproenhle says. “My dad [David Luebke] had a really serious heart issue while I was at Grinnell.” She made sure to include Luebke’s name in the faculty scholar title as a tribute to her father. “He supported me financially through college. I thought it was important to recognize that.”

Rebelsky recalls that Sproehnle was an enthusiastic and industrious student.

“It’s a joy to see our students do well in work and life,” Rebelsky says. “It was nice to see Sarah receive the responsibility she deserves at each place she’s gone and to see her grow as a person. I’m impressed with how thoughtful she is. And I’m glad that her experience at Grinnell inspired her to give back.”

Paying It Forward

From continued friendships to family memories made at Reunions, Grinnell College has remained a central part of the lives of Patrick Palsgrove ’95 and Jenny Matson Palsgrove ’95.

The Illinois couple has fond memories from their student days of hanging out in the loggias, forming community connections, and studying abroad.

“Grinnell College became such a part of our lives and who we have become,” Patrick says. “Over the years I didn’t think twice about giving. I was a financial aid recipient, so I wanted to pay it forward.”

When they separately made $5 gifts a month after graduation in 1995, Patrick and Jenny didn’t realize it would be the start of 27 straight years of annual giving to Grinnell College. The Palsgroves have mainly supported the unrestricted Pioneer Fund but in recent years have also made gifts for scholarships and financial aid.

“As our kids get older and closer to college age, we’re becoming more aware of how much more college costs than when we attended,” Patrick says. “We think being able to give in a small way to help someone go to their dream school or to realize their dream is important.”

Grinnell became a dream school for the Palsgroves even though there was some hesitation at first because of the seemingly remote location. Jenny grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and was seeking a liberal arts school within driving distance. She was won over after visiting campus. Patrick hailed from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but had family in Iowa, so he had a little familiarity with Grinnell before applying.

Jenny studied psychology and took part in the Grinnell-in-London program while Patrick majored in biology, “although one of my favorite classes was archeology,” he says. He studied abroad in Costa Rica. The two became friends as second-year students but did not date. They remained in touch after graduation. At one point, Patrick’s brother lived a few blocks away from Jenny in the Chicago area. Eventually the relationship grew, and they got married in 2005.

Today, Patrick is a physician assistant of orthopedic surgery at NorthShore University Health System. Jenny works with nonprofit agencies mainly as a fundraiser, including grant writing and event planning. They have two children, Aidan (15) and Zachary (11).

When they can get time off, the Palsgrove family enjoys traveling.

“Our two big trips have been Japan and Costa Rica,” Jenny says. “We’ve also been all over the United States. We do a lot of hiking since Patrick grew up in Colorado, including visiting many national and state parks. We also love going to the beach.”

They return to Grinnell for reunions, to meet friends, or when traveling through Iowa to or from Colorado. Jenny vividly recalls memories of Aidan and Zachary riding scooters on campus.

“Grinnell has remained in the forefront,” Jenny says. “I was wearing a Grinnell College sweatshirt when we went to breakfast the other day. A Grinnellian walked in, saw my shirt, and we did a cheer for Grinnell. It’s fun to have these chance meetings with fellow alums.”

Academics Reach Downtown

Dick Knapp ’76 purposely chose to attend Grinnell for a drastic change from the urban environment of New York City where he grew up.

“The open spaces and rural layout of Grinnell was my salvation, but I still needed to put my feet on streets, and Grinnell’s compact business district was all I needed in those halcyon days half a century ago,” Knapp says.

During his student days, Knapp would bank at the Merchants’ National Bank building, enjoy the genuine soda fountain counter at Cunningham Drug, study at the Romanesque-style Stewart Library, and join classmates at 4 a.m., after finishing their papers, for fresh donuts from the Danish Maid bakery.

Over the past 15 years, Knapp has acquired, renovated, and re-tenanted eight downtown properties that have helped meld Grinnell College with downtown Grinnell. His latest contribution will help lead to the first academic building downtown.

Knapp has made a lead gift commitment to support a film and media center near the northwest corner of Broad Street and Fifth Avenue. The Knapp Film and Media Center will be housed in a 100-year-old former auto garage that was most recently used by St. Mary’s Catholic Church. OPN Architects was chosen for the building’s design work.

“It has ideal dimensions — a 10,000-square-foot rectilinear box with a soaring barrel roof on top,” Knapp says. “The current concept is placing the building’s entrance to the north side, next to a proposed outdoor pavilion for public functions on additional land the College owns.”

So how do media film and media studies fit into Knapp’s portfolio of interests? That answer in part dates to his student days.

“Weekend movies at Alumni Recitation Hall’s auditorium were the cultural heart of the Grinnell experience for my generation,” Knapp says. “Bless Georgia Dentel [former director of performing arts programs at Grinnell College] for her impeccable taste, ranging from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Battle of Algiers.”

Additionally, Knapp’s two children grew up during the golden age of television. Film, media, and literature shaped their career choices. Both happily live in Los Angeles now; one is a screenwriter who got a master’s at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and the other is on his way to earning a master’s in writing.

Grinnell College faculty recently approved a new concentration in film and media studies.

“The importance of this building to Grinnell College’s new film and media studies concentration and its students cannot be overstated,” says Nicky Tavares, assistant professor of film and media studies. “The College envisions an interdisciplinary film and media studies program in the fine arts rounded out by the wider liberal arts experience and aims to set itself apart from peer institutions with an emphasis on film and media production, grounded in theory. Creating spaces that support all five phases of moving image production — development, preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution — is critical to the success of the program.”

Knapp was a history major at Grinnell and has described himself as a “late bloomer in terms of settling into an adult-like career groove.” Real estate became that career as Knapp developed and renovated large apartment communities in metro Washington, D.C., neighborhoods.

“Real estate is multidisciplinary, well-suited to Grinnell liberal arts generalists comfortable with both science and the humanities, humility and conviction, and most of all reading and writing,” he says.

An interest in affordable housing led to Knapp leaving private practice four years ago and founding Indelible Housing, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit engaged in the acquisition, renovation, and preservation of distressed, project-based Section 8 housing occupied by low-income families and the elderly or disabled. Among Indelible Housing’s current projects are renovations to the Center Street Apartments in Grinnell.

While in town for his 30th reunion in 2006, Knapp contracted to purchase the vacant Cunningham’s Drug Store and then he renovated it, refurbishing its iconic, backlit pylon sign and leasing it to the College for its first downtown bookstore.

“I was struck at the time by the contrast between a struggling downtown and thriving College,” Knapp says. “The campus was completing the Joe Rosenfield Center’s elaborate dining facilities, grill, and lounges, as well as an athletic complex with an underground connection to a natatorium. Meanwhile, the adjacent downtown business district — seemingly walled off from the campus — was suffering from numerous storefront vacancies, the result of retail consolidation, declining agricultural income, young people flocking to Des Moines and Iowa City, and the lack of downtown housing.”

Knapp has played a significant role in the College’s development of a “zone of confluence” — a name coined in 2013 to evoke the stronger bridge between the campus and downtown that has increased the social and economic vitality of downtown while encouraging pedestrian traffic in both directions. The Knapp Film and Media Center will extend this bridge and could anchor an emerging arts district on Broad Street.

“Dick Knapp’s financial partnership is helping to strengthen the vital bond between campus and downtown; the presence of the film and media studies program in this space will foster discovery and connection both,” says Jaci A. Thiede, vice president of development and alumni relations. “It is so exciting to think about the many ways this new facility will enhance opportunities and experiences for both the College and town.”

How a treasured friendship turned into a biology professorship

Students in Leslie Gregg-Jolly’s First-Year Tutorial course, What Makes You You?, are exploring identity formation. To demonstrate the role of relationships, Gregg-Jolly is incorporating a real-life example into the tutorial about a friendship formed in the mid-1970s.

John Chambers ’77 and Doug Johnson ’77 got to know each other during swim team practice at Grinnell. Those bonding experiences have stayed with Chambers more than 45 years later and played a role in his decision to endow a biology professorship in honor of Johnson.

Gregg-Jolly was recently named the inaugural Douglas D. Johnson ’77 Professor of Biology.

“The idea that they had such a meaningful friendship — and the impact it had on John’s life even though Doug died so young — is extremely meaningful to me,” Gregg-Jolly says. “I teach good, conscientious students who are great about focusing on learning in my classes. I also want them to pay attention to the people they are with. I think forming relationships is a really critical part of their experience in college. This has been a tool I can emphasize due to John’s generosity.”

Johnson majored in biology at Grinnell and was particularly interested in the fields of human anatomy, physiology, morphology, and molecular biology of animals. Sadly, his career in those areas was cut short. In 1981, while attending graduate school at Wake Forest University, Johnson died in a hiking accident in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“I think Doug would have been very pleased with Dr. Gregg- Jolly’s appointment because she will carry on the tradition of facilitating learning in cell and molecular biology,” Chambers says. “I’m delighted she will be helping students who — as Doug once did — are attempting to launch their careers in science or in medicine.”

A molecular biologist and geneticist who studies DNA damage and repair in bacterial systems, Gregg-Jolly has taught at Grinnell for the past 28 years and serves as chair of the College’s biological chemistry major. She has mentored nearly 40 Grinnell student research assistants, co-authoring papers with many of them. She says the funding associated with the professorship will help her build community among biological chemistry majors.

Gregg-Jolly was one of six Grinnell College faculty members ( joining Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, John Fennell, Leslie Lyons, Elizabeth Prevost, and Hâle Utar) that were honored at the College’s 2021 Installation Ceremony for Named Chairs and Professorships on Sept. 30 at Herrick Chapel. Chambers attended, as did Johnson’s brother, several friends, and fellow swim team members. A recording of the installation event can be viewed online.

“The ceremony was not only to honor the career of Professor Gregg-Jolly but also to honor the memory of Doug Johnson,” Chambers says. “It was a fine tribute to them both.”

Johnson and Chambers competed on the swim team together under coach Ray Obermiller. Both lettered all four years, and they served as cocaptains during the 1975–76 and 1976–77 seasons.

“We had a very strong team, and it became stronger as our time at Grinnell went on,” Chambers recalls. “Our senior year we won the conference championship. It was the first time in a decade that Grinnell had won the championship, and it was the start of many more conference victories for Coach Obermiller.”

Chambers, who retired as chairman of Standard & Poor’s sovereign rating committee in 2017, returned that year to Grinnell to attend three molecular biology classes and talk with biology faculty members. He saw firsthand how faculty members are encouraging and supporting students interested in health-related careers. This fall, Chambers will speak to Gregg- Jolly’s First-Year Tutorial class. She’s using his visit to demonstrate how liberal arts skills can contribute to successful careers.

“Academics are at the core of what Grinnell is all about,” Gregg-Jolly says. “This was a gift in recognition of the impact that academics and relationships with faculty have on our students. It’s such a lovely thing to create for a friend. It’s an incredible honor to be the recipient.”

John Cambers, Leslie Gregg-Jolly, and Myriam Fernandez De Heredia on campus


Leslie Gregg-Jolly, center, the inaugural Douglas Johnson '77 Professor of Biology, celebrates with John Chambers '77 and Myriam Fernandez de Heredia, who established the professorship in memory of John's classmate Doug Johnson '77.

Young alums pledge $50,000 to support entrepreneurship

As students, Ham Serunjogi ’16 (at right in the image above) and Maijid Moujaled ’14 wanted to get as much practical entrepreneurial experience as they could.

That’s one reason the co-founders of the Chipper Cash payment platform were part of the team that launched Pioneer Weekend, an annual student innovation and pitch competition now hosted by the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Recently, the alumni took their engagement to a new level when they announced a $50,000 pledge to start the Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled Fund for Entrepreneurship in support of Pioneer Weekend and other Wilson Center entrepreneurial endeavors.

“We know other students have similar dreams of entrepreneurship but might not have as many avenues to pursue those or meet others who have similar goals,” Serunjogi says. “We felt the most Grinnellian thing for us to do is be part of a solution, so the student experience could be more robust. Maijid and I believe entrepreneurship is a means to grow society. It’s socioeconomic development. Creating a gift that was oriented to supporting students in Grinnell who have similar philosophies was near and dear to our hearts.”

Serunjogi is from Uganda. Moujaled comes from Ghana. In 2016, on a road trip through California, they brainstormed how they could leverage technology to make a positive impact in Africa. They launched Chipper Cash two years later. The free application allows users to send money from one country to another and one mobile money service to another, at no charge.

The platform has more than 3 million users and processes about 80,000 transactions per day. Chipper is backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and counts Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana as an investor. Among the nearly 200 Chipper staff are some 10 to 20 Grinnellians serving as full-time employees or summer interns.

“It wasn’t our objective to hire Grinnellians; it has happened organically,” Serunjogi says. “It’s a result of knowing smart people we want to work with and who want to join us. That they happen to be Grinnellians makes it that much more special.”

Serunjogi and Moujaled met at Grinnell through the AppDev (Application Development) group Moujaled co-founded. Kevin Charette ’15 came up with the concept for a business pitch competition and asked AppDev members to help organize the event. Moujaled and Serunjogi were eager to assist.

The duo was overjoyed to learn Pioneer Weekend had not only continued after they graduated but evolved and flourished under the Wilson Center’s oversight. “We were incredibly thrilled that experience of entrepreneurship is alive, and we felt an obligation of sorts to support the program,” Serunjogi says. “It was an easy rallying point for us.”

Wilson Center director Monty Roper says the center has worked to further entrepreneurial learning experiences, including the addition of an incubator. While the new Fund for Entrepreneurship will help support those efforts financially, Roper is equally enthused about Serunjogi and Moujaled’s reconnection to the College.

“Their story and success are really powerful,” Roper says. “Their example as social-entrepreneurial ambassadors is really important to our students.”

Serunjogi hopes their pledge may encourage other young alumni to give. “If more people are aware that we, as recent graduates, are engaged in making Grinnell a stronger institution, then maybe it will inspire other young alums to get into the spirit of giving back,” he says. “Not everyone has to give $50,000. What’s more important is the act of giving back, regardless of the amount.”

Family Creates Internship Fund in Memory of Trustee G. Barry Huff ’73

G. Barry Huff ’73 had a decent enough summer job while he was a Grinnell College student. He worked for a company that built swing sets and playground equipment.

“It wasn’t an internship, and it wasn’t career-building,” says Becky Huff, Barry’s widow. “As a theatre major, Barry would have loved nothing more than to go spend the summer doing theatre. But he didn’t have that opportunity because he had to make money.”

Huff died in December 2018 in Minneapolis after a six-year battle with blood cancer. In deciding how to honor his legacy at Grinnell, the Huff family wanted to give current and future students opportunities that he was not able to experience.

The G. Barry Huff ’73 Endowed Internship Fund will award grants to students receiving need-based financial aid who are interning with an arts or nonprofit organization.

“Barry had a mission to give back to community, arts, and theatre organizations,” Becky Huff says. “Most of those organizations have unpaid internships. We know there are students — who are typically underrepresented — that would like the opportunity to either work at a nonprofit or pursue theatre. In some cases, these students may not have as many personal and family connections in the professional world, so gaining internship experience is even more important as they develop the skills and networks necessary for successful careers after Grinnell.”

After teaching high school English and theatre, Barry Huff returned to the College in 1975 to serve as an associate dean in the Office of the Dean of Students and to coach football and track. He had excelled in both sports as a student and was inducted into the Grinnell College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.

“The six years he spent working at Grinnell College gave him a chance to teach, coach, and do a bit of everything with students while working with fabulous colleagues,” Becky Huff says. “It helped him find his way and change the trajectory.”

Barry Huff went on to become an executive in the food industry, serving as president of Glory Foods, vice president of Hoopeston Foods, and a marketing manager at Pillsbury. Additionally, he held many leadership positions in a variety of nonprofit organizations such as the Guthrie Theater Foundation and the National Marrow Donor Program.

He also was an active alumni volunteer, serving on the Grinnell College Alumni Council and his class committee and participating in the Alumni in the Classroom program. In 2018, he received an Alumni Award and was elected to the College Board of Trustees.

“He was so honored to be a trustee,” Becky Huff says. “He enjoyed it so much, and it was unfortunate that it was such a short tenure.”

Her husband’s passion for supporting students — especially those with financial need and those who encounter other systematic and societal barriers — will continue through the Huff Internship Fund.

“Barry credited his Grinnell education and other experiences with the College as among the most important in shaping the course of his life, and he was proud to push for and support the College’s ongoing commitments to diversity, social justice, and access,” Becky Huff says.

“We know that there are entire sets of people that are underrepresented in the upper level of business, nonprofits, and generally across the board. 2020 was an example of the awakening in our communities. Barry had been championing the cause for many, many years. We really believe that helping students obtain equal access and get a leg up is part of our family’s mission.”