Melinda Pettigrew ’92

A popular professor, researcher, and administrator at Yale University, Melinda Pettigrew ’92 says much of her focus was influenced by her time at Grinnell.

“I really loved Grinnell,” she says. “The teaching was excellent and … along with the importance of service, [those] are two things I’ve carried with me. I felt that Grinnell students were there because they were interested in learning. I try to instill that in my students. I want to see what gets them excited and not look at education as a commodity and being all about grades.”

Besides teaching and administration, Pettigrew is a molecular epidemiologist. “We look at who gets sick, when, and where,” she says. “We use genome sequencing to identify and track specific strains of bacteria, and we use that information to identify sources of infection and outbreaks. These data help us determine the best methods of prevention and control.”

Pettigrew has also been chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at Yale School of Public Health, working on fair and equitable promotion, appointment, and hiring practices. On July 1, Pettigrew took over as interim dean of the public health school. She’s embracing it as another opportunity to try things.

Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 and Sarah Beisner ’22

As a Holocaust survivor, Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 possesses a great deal of resilience. When she was admitted to Grinnell College, she had just three years of formal education.

“I was barely 17 when Grinnell took a chance on me,” says Biniaz. “They gave me a full scholarship, and I’ve always been very grateful to the College for giving me the opportunity and allowing me to move forward with my life. I was helped, and I wanted to help others.”

She recently established the Celina Karp Biniaz ’52 Model of Resilience Award to support a graduating senior who has overcome obstacles to obtain an education. Award recipients pursue a teaching career or other work devoted to the education and welfare of young people.

Sarah Beisner ’22 is the first recipient of the award. Like the prize’s namesake, she has a compelling life story with a demonstrated desire to give back and work for the common good. Beisner is a paralegal at Children’s Rights, a nonprofit law firm in New York City that works on behalf of children in foster care and juvenile detention whose rights have been violated.

“Celina Biniaz is such a special woman who has lived a special life, so to be the first to get the award in her name, I don’t have the words to put to it,” Beisner says. “It makes me doubly committed to the work I want to do.”


Sim Wimbush ’08

As the daughter of a Korean mother and African American father, Sim Wimbush ’08 enjoyed the best of two cultural and culinary worlds.

“I got a lot of exposure to soul food through church — black-eyed peas, collards, mac and cheese, smothered pork chops, and chicken. Then my mother would try her hand at making those things,” Wimbush says. “She’d often ‘Koreanify’ soul food, which would mean adding ingredients like ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, or Asian chives that she grew in her garden.”

While working as executive director of Virginia Housing Alliance, Wimbush began thinking of starting a food truck to indulge her love of cooking. In November 2019, she launched her food truck, Seoul 2 Soul. For two years, Wimbush featured a Korean-soul food menu that reflected her roots and incorporated both meat and vegan meals.

The combination of the pandemic, a full-time job, and not being able to find someone to run the business when she wasn’t around made her decide to sell the truck and switch her food focus.

She’s now working on getting two of her fusion recipes onto store shelves. She’s also creating a cookbook and has started a new position as disability policy engagement director with Anthem, an insurance company.

Margo Gray ’05

Margo Gray ’05 knows the importance of positive affirmations. The increased cultural polarization they have witnessed in the world lately motivated them to create a unique way to connect with Grinnell’s LGBTQIA+ students to let them know they are supported well beyond the boundaries of the College’s campus.

In the past, Gray has assembled and sent LGBTQIA+ themed care packages to students as a part of the Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care package project. This year, Gray created Team Rainbow to broaden their efforts. An additional 18 alums joined Gray to contribute.
“I think about what I would have needed as a student,” Gray says. “It’s nice to have your identity affirmed, particularly after the 2016 election when people with marginalized identities were feeling more besieged.”

Gray was especially excited about themed care packages they made, from a “Gay Dungeons and Dragons” theme to Gray’s personal favorite, “Gay and Tired,” that included slippers, Sleepytime Tea, and a sequined unicorn pillow. In every care package, Gray included a letter with their contact information along with stories about their time as a student.

“I want students to know that there is a network of alumni who will support them, and I encourage them to reach out to us,” Gray says.

Alumni Awards 2022

The Grinnell College Alumni Council selected 13 remarkable Grinnellians to receive Alumni Awards during Alumni Assembly at Reunion. Nominated by their classmates and peers, this year’s recipients distinguished themselves by embodying the College’s mission of lifetime learning and service.

Alumni Award Honorees

Front row (l-r):

  • Alan Cohen ’72
  • Samuel Sellers ’00
  • Rhonda Stuart ’86
  • Jim Lowry ’61
  • Ron Gault ’62

Back row (l-r):

  • Katherine “Kit” Wall ’77
  • Jodie Levin-Epstein ’72
  • Karmi Anna Mattson ’97
  • Kate Stephan Villers ’61
  • Sherry Davis Gupta ’88
  • Dick Knapp ’76

Not pictured:

  • Rebecca Quirk ‘86
  • Julian Zebot ’00


Darrell Scott ’87

Darrell Scott ’87 never dreamed that he’d be a basketball coach. The Gary, Indiana, native played ball at Grinnell College, but armed with a chemistry degree and a desire to teach, he figured his hoops days were behind him.

In 1990, Scott volunteered as a men’s assistant coach at South Suburban Community College in South Holland, Illinois. “I hadn’t coached before, but I needed to fill that competitive drive and since I couldn’t play, the only way to do it was coaching,” he says. Two years later, he became the school’s women’s coach.

In 2020, Scott retired after 28 seasons from the only head coaching job he’s ever held. That same year, he was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He brought six women’s teams to the national tournament, coached 12 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-Americans, was inducted into the NJCAA Region IV Hall of Fame in 2016, and reached a milestone 500th win in 2018.

What he loved most about coaching was the players. “Bringing in kids when people questioned their drive, commitment, and their dedication to the game and getting these young ladies to buy into a system and a team was incredibly rewarding,” he says.

Photo: Darrell Scott, center, is joined by his mother-in-law, Barbara Townsend, left, and his wife, Kimberly Townsend-Scott ’88, at a family dinner.

Sam Harris ’58

For Sam Harris ’58, watching the Russians attack Ukraine took him back to September 1939 when Nazi planes ripped apart his Polish village, changing his life forever. He was just 4 years old.

“It’s happening all over again,” Harris says. He survived the Nazi camps because his sisters hid him and stole food for him. Their love kept him alive.

As a Grinnellian, Harris was well-equipped for a lifetime of contributing to the greater good. Vocal Holocaust deniers inspired him to write a children’s book, Sammy: Child Survivor of the Holocaust, and he now speaks to groups of all ages about what he endured

He also worked tirelessly to build a world-class Holocaust museum in Skokie, Illinois. Today, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center draws tens of thousands of visitors every year — many of them schoolchildren — with the mission of preventing future genocides.

In March, Harris received the museum’s Survivor Legacy Award. More than 1,000 attended the awards banquet, including former President George W. Bush and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

“It’s a magnificent honor,” Harris says. COVID-19 concerns prevented him from attending but granddaughter Jessica Kreamer accepted the award for him.

“She wants to carry the torch,” Harris says. “This is what makes me happy.”

Valencia Alvarez ’20

Valencia Alvarez ’20For Valencia Alvarez ’20, the journey from her hometown of Yucaipa, California, to Grinnell was notable for several reasons. She was the first in her family to attend college, it was the first time she had traveled by plane, and Iowa was the farthest she’d ever been from home.

By the time Alvarez graduated, she was a Fulbright Scholar who had visited more than a half dozen countries to study immigration and global health issues through the College’s Institute for Global Engagement (IGE).

“As part of the Global Learning Program, we learned about education within migrant communities, talked to border patrol agents about security and policies, spoke to migrants about their experiences, and visited Greece and Germany at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis,” she says.

In September 2021, Alvarez traveled to Mexico to help students learn English and focus on empowering girls through soccer. Once that is completed, she will use a Stouffer Fellowship to earn her master’s in public health, then hopes to work as a public health provider helping immigrant and vulnerable communities.

“As long as you’re able to open your mind to the world, you’re able to learn a lot about yourself and the world in the process,” she says.

Heather Benning ’96

Heather Benning ’96 never thought she would be part of conversations that decided the course of the NCAA basketball tournament and other collegiate sports championships.

In a volunteering journey that started when she was soccer coach at Grinnell College 18 years prior, Benning was part of the team that guided the country’s largest collegiate amateur sports organization through the pandemic. A member of the NCAA board of governors and chair of the Division III Management Council, Benning helped tackle sport cancellations; return to competition; student-athlete eligibility; name, image, and likeness; and a bevy of other substantial issues.

It was exhilarating and exhausting.

“It was an excellent professional opportunity to be at the table during a crisis,” Benning says. “I got to hear how the pandemic was affecting different institutions and conferences and take part in unprecedented discussion about how to move forward with college sports during a pandemic.”

Benning has served as executive director of the Midwest Conference since March 2014. She oversees the administration of 18 varsity sports and is the conference’s chief administrator on financial, compliance, and operational matters.

“My volunteer roles with the NCAA helped me feel really grounded when I would have conversations in the Midwest Conference about what we were going to do as a league,” Benning says.

Five Generations Family

Sisters Nancy Welch Barnby ’61 and Jill Welch ’64 said they never felt under pressure to attend Grinnell College. It was just an expectation that they never questioned.

“When we started thinking about college, there was never a question of where my sister and I would apply,” Jill Welch says. “We slept and ate Grinnell from the time we knew what a college was.”

The Grinnell tradition began when Hazel Wilson 1906 married Carl Wright 1905. All four of their children (Margaret Wright Gleysteen ’32, Janet Wright Welch ’34, Catharine Wright Carns ’38 and James “Bob” Wright ’44) attended Grinnell. From this generation, all but one of Nancy and Jill’s aunts and uncles are also Grinnell alumni.

With the arrival of Lucy Hartley ’25, Jill’s granddaughter, on campus for fall 2021 classes, there are now five generations of Grinnellians in the family. When her great-aunt learned of Lucy’s college choice, she mailed a symbolic gift to her — Nancy’s Honor G sweater.

“When I decided on Grinnell, my grandmother was so excited,” Lucy recalls. “It was the height of the pandemic, so we were on Facetime. I was glad that I got to see the look on her face.”

Nancy Welch Barnby and Lucy Hartley