Miranda Thomas ’17

Participating in an externship while she was a Grinnell student helped Miranda Thomas ’17 confirm her interest in veterinary medicine. Now a veterinarian herself, Thomas returned to the externship program as a mentor last spring to help a current Grinnell student explore the field of veterinary medicine.

During externships, students participate in short-term job shadowing with Grinnell alumni over spring break. Externship experiences help students gain firsthand experience with potential career paths and make professional connections.

Thomas had been interested in veterinary medicine since middle school, and as a second-year student in 2015, the Center for Careers, Life, and Service matched her with Sara Mathews ’82, who owned and operated a small animal hospital in Florida.

Eight years later, Thomas served as a host, welcoming Regan Reedy ’26 to extern with her at an exotic animal veterinarian office.

“When I registered to host an externship student, it felt a bit ‘full circle’,” Thomas says. “I was able to explore this field during my time at Grinnell and then share that opportunity with my visiting student now that I am into my career. We were super busy with patients, coordinating with veterinary technicians and other doctors in the hospital, but also chatted about how I use my learning from Grinnell to problem solve and communicate clearly with pet owners and my coworkers.”

Gary Doernoefer ’79, Jed Melnick ’94, and Amy Gernon ’94

Recently, three Grinnell alumni with expertise in alternative dispute resolution joined other specialists in the field to offer hands-on training in mediation and conflict resolution skills to students. These on-campus interactions provided an insider’s look at career opportunities.
“Mediation is a much more useful and satisfying way to resolve a dispute,” says Gary Doernhoefer ’79. “In litigation it is winner take all, one side wins, one side loses. Mediation lends itself to more nuanced, creative outcomes that preserve relationships.”

A short class and career panel were organized by faculty and staff in Grinnell’s Peace and Conflict Studies concentration, which allows students across all majors to focus on the root causes of violence and conflict and study strategies for bridge-building.

Doernhoefer, Jed Melnick ’94, Amy Gernon ’94, and Alyson Carrel from Northwestern University presented a “Careers in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Mediation” panel discussion.

Melnick says students were exposed to “a set of skills related to communication taught against the backdrop of conflict resolution” that can help in every facet of their lives. “Active listening, empathy, creative problem solving, expanding the pie, are all skills that are valuable in friendships, relationships, business dealings, and life in general.” Melnick says. In addition, “they heard how those conflict resolution skills can be utilized in their careers in a variety of ways — whether they are in the field of conflict resolution or not.”

For more information about the mediation initiative, email Susan Kriegel.

Vanessa Harris ’76

Vanessa Harris ’76 received the prestigious Leaders for a New Chicago Award last summer for the profound impact that Harris’ organization, the Strategy for Access Foundation, has made in producing short videos celebrating and informing Chicago’s vast disability community.

As someone living with disabilities, both visible and invisible, Harris says that creative solutions have been a critical life skill.

“I’ve always been a problem solver because I’ve always had disabilities, and they lead me to come up with solutions that other people may not,” Harris says. “Many people with disabilities have to do the same thing because no one is looking out for them.”

Harris had been prepared to pursue a PhD in the mid-2010s, however the faculty member Harris had hoped to work with withdrew funding without notice. Soon after, Harris’ doctor said, “Vanessa, go and do something else for a few weeks. Do not think about this.” That something else turned out to be a documentary film class at the Hyde Park Arts Center. “And here I am 120 videos later,” Harris says.

Several Grinnell students and alumni have interned at Strategy for Access, including Elizabeth Zerez ’22 and Abby Lynch ’24. Harris is hopeful more Grinnellians might be interested in getting involved as interns, volunteers, board members, or in some other capacity.

Becca Rae-Tucker ’15

For many people, the only message they’ve ever seen frosted on a cake is “Happy Birthday.” But for Becca Rea-Tucker ’15, cakes are a medium for sharing political messages.

One scroll through Rea-Tucker’s Instagram, @thesweetfeminist, shows decadent desserts bedecked with political slogans and empowering messages for her followers, such as “I’m proud of you,” “Hello, I’m vegan,” and “Pro-abortion forever.”

Combining her cakes with her politics wasn’t always on Rea-Tucker’s agenda. She credits her interest in baking to her grandmother, from whom she first learned to bake. Rea-Tucker went on to hone her cooking skills while living in Food House at Grinnell.

A year after graduation, Rea-Tucker and a roommate started a food blog. “It was mostly just for me in the beginning, but then it snowballed, and very quickly got much bigger than I anticipated,” says Rea-Tucker. “I found a great community that way.”

In April, Rea-Tucker returned to campus to offer several baking presentations. During Baking with Becca, students joined her for a cake workshop in the Marcus Family Global Kitchen. Students decorated cakes with political messages, and Rea-Tucker talked about processing feelings through baking.

“I loved seeing so much enthusiasm for a feminist approach to baking,” she says.

Doane Chilcoat ’93

“What does ag science have to do with pandemic public health?” That’s what Doane Chilcoat ’93 found himself asking in 2020 amid news of COVID-19 outbreaks. As it turns out, the link between the two lay in Chilcoat’s area of expertise — molecular genetics.

“Genetic screening is pretty much the same in humans as it is in plants,” he says.

A Grinnell biology graduate, Chilcoat led a large research and development group at Corteva Agriscience in Johnston, Iowa. At the outset of the pandemic, Iowa’s PCR testing capacity was inadequate to effectively track the COVID-19 virus. Chilcoat and his colleagues wondered if Corteva’s expertise in largescale genetic screening could help meet the demand.

In April 2020, the Corteva team began to provide rapid, low-cost COVID-19 testing to MercyOne health facilities. A testing program run through Corteva also helped allow small cohorts of Grinnell students to return to campus.

What came next was even more unprecedented than an agriscience company doing health care — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contacted the Corteva team. The foundation wanted to support programs that used automation and robotics to test at a high scale.

“The volume of molecular testing in agriculture biotech industry is greater than that in health care, historically,” Chilcoat explains. “So Corteva was more prepared for the massive scale of genetic testing that a pandemic response demanded.”

Eugenia Corrales ’87

By nearly any measure, Eugenia Corrales ’87 isn’t your typical CEO. By Silicon Valley standards, she’s an absolute rarity.

Female and Hispanic, Corrales was born and raised in Costa Rica. She has had leadership roles at tech giants Hewlett-Packard and Cisco, started and sold her own company, and has been called in to help several startups grow and flourish.

In recent years she’s been at the helm of Nefeli Networks, a California-based cloud network management company.

“The advantage of small companies is that you have a very big impact,” she says. “Every day you come in, it matters, and I really enjoy that. I like feeling that all that energy and effort I put in is impactful. I think I’ll do startups for the rest of my career.”

A physics major at Grinnell, Corrales cites her mentors Charlie Duke and Bob Cadmus, professors emeriti of physics. “They were wonderful teachers and they helped me prepare for graduate school,” says Corrales. She also credits her tutorial adviser, Roberta Atwell, professor emerita of education, as another important influence. “I’d go back to her when things were rough, and she would pump me up and help me take on the world.”

Bailey Dann ’17

After Bailey Dann ’17 graduated from Grinnell, she returned to Fort Hall, Idaho, intending to take the summer to plan next steps for pursuing a teaching career. But soon into this process, her phone rang. It was the principal of Chief Taghee Elementary, a Shoshone language dual-immersion charter school.

Dann, who is from the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, only knew a few Shoshone phrases yet agreed to work as a Shoshone language teacher.

“Our language has not been spoken in my family in the last four decades except in little bits and pieces here and there,” Dann says. “One of my gifts is language learning, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to gain fluency in Shoshone by learning from elders in our community.”

Currently, Dann is pursuing a master’s in linguistic anthropology from Idaho State University.

Her graduate thesis is focused on an accessible curriculum guide for Indigenous language teaching and planning.

“A guide like this doesn’t exist within my community,” she says. “I’m applying specific methods and theories that envelop the whole learner. A big part of my project is letting others know they are not alone. It is intensive work, but we are here. It takes an entire community to bring back a language.

Lisa Eshun-Wilson ’14

Lisa Eshun-Wilson ’14 envisions a radically transformed culture of scientific research and is thinking creatively about what it means to create a truly inclusive workspace.

Eshun-Wilson is a structural biologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Research Institute. For several years, she has worked with a technique known as cryogenic electron microscopy — cryo-EM for short — to determine the structure of biologically important proteins.

Along with her collaborator, Alba Torrents de la Peña, Eshun-Wilson used cryo-EM to resolve the structure of the surface protein of the hepatitis C virus, which facilitates the virus’s entry into host cells. Their discovery is a huge first step toward developing a structure-based vaccine for the virus, which afflicts more than 58 million people worldwide.

Eshun-Wilson is looking to entrepreneurship as an avenue to blend her research talents with her desire to transform the culture of science research.

If Eshun-Wilson must take an unconventional route to pursue the research she loves, she looks forward to the journey. “I am excited to work out something that fits my needs and my strengths and my values.” Whether that path exists already or not doesn’t matter. “I’ll create a new path,” she says.


Peter Willmert ’93

Peter Willmert ’93 took a winding road to Napa Valley in California, but the results have proved worth the journey. Willmert is CEO of Hudson Ranch and Vineyards, a working farm with a general store in Napa. The vineyards grow grapes for Hudson wines and other wineries.

“We manage all of that in a way which, hopefully, is thoughtful, sustainable, and in the pursuit of excellence,” Willmert says. “When you think about wine and how it’s different from so many other things you might consume, wine connects people to a place and a time in a way that very few other things do.”

After an early career in politics, Willmert realized he wasn’t interested in continuing campaigning. He decided to pursue a master’s in business administration at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School. Even though he saw major wine companies recruiting in the hallways of Kellogg, professors encouraged him not to be too quick to specialize. Their advice was to go and work for a “nuts and bolts” company for a few years.

The MBA and a stint at Johnson & Johnson “gave me a foundation across disciplines,” Willmert says. “It gave me a foundation to build upon, which is how I think about Grinnell, too.”


Marlú Abarca ’14

On Oct. 15, the final day of Latino Heritage Month, Marlú Abarca ’14 was inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame as part of its sixth class of honorees. During the ceremony, Abarca also received the Iowa LGBTQIA Leadership Award for outstanding and significant cultural, political, social, and economic contributions to the state.

“Since arriving in Iowa in 2010, I’ve organized, canvassed, marched, and protested, all to ensure that Iowa is better than the way that I’ve found it,” Abarca, who uses the pronouns they/them, said during the induction ceremony. Abarca has done that by “speaking my truth and using my voice.” It’s something they credit feeling empowered to do at Grinnell.

“We were in a culture of self-governance at Grinnell,” they say. “The student affairs staff was supportive of student autonomy and critical thinking. When I graduated, I felt empowered to speak my opinion — in a diplomatic way, of course. Grinnell helped me see, and now I can’t unsee, all the biases that exist and how they affect social and power dynamics.”

In 2016, Abarca was appointed to the state of Iowa’s Commission on Latino Affairs by then Gov. Terry Branstad. Abarca made a youth-empowering 2019 run for an at-large Des Moines City Council seat, and they organized the first bilingual satellite caucus site on the south side of Des Moines in 2020.