Courses Tailored Toward Leadership & Innovation

The Wilson Center sponsors courses that complement the existing curriculum of majors and concentrations, as well as provides course offerings in areas of student demand consistent with our mission but with no departmental home.

Wilson gives special attention to connecting our students with professionals, particularly alumni, who serve as leaders and innovators in their fields and can offer inspiration, mentorship, and valuable lessons. Our courses also feature opportunities for discovery-mode, practice-based or experiential learning.

Each year, Wilson offers a core repertoire of courses, including our highly popular Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni. Wilson also sponsors a number of short courses with diverse and varying foci, often taught by our accomplished alumni. Lastly, Wilson sponsors enhancements to existing courses to add opportunities for leadership and innovation to the existing curriculum.

Fall 2018 Courses

Women in Leadership

Sept. 17 - Oct. 3

What makes a leader? Is it the title or the person’s effectiveness? How does gender influence leadership success? What about race, ethnicity, culture, and organizational context? This course will consider different theories on leadership and apply these to exploring women – including Aung San Suu Kyi – in leadership positions in different countries and roles.

Kathryn Mohrman '67

Instructor: Kathryn Mohrman '67

Kathryn Mohrman is a Trustee of Grinnell College. She has served as a Professor in public policy analysis at several institutions and as the President of Colorado College.

The Start up Ecosystem: Entrepreneurs and Investors

Sept. 3 – Sept. 26

This course will expose students to the startup ecosystem by understanding how entrepreneurs and investors behave both on an individual and collective level. Through this course, we will examine the following: growth in startups, startup ideas & team formation, financing entrepreneurial ventures, international startup markets, and more. The course will benefit students who are considering starting a business, joining a startup, and/or are aspiring investors.

Hemant Bhardwaj '07

Instructor: Hemant Bhardwaj ’07

Hemant Managing Partner at Taurus ventures, investing in people and technologies across the United States & Southeast Asia.

SPARK Social Innovation Challenge

Oct. 1 –Dec. 10

This course provides a series of workshops to support participants in the SPARK Community-Based Social Innovation Challenge and others who are looking to build their skills in researching and effectively presenting solutions to social problems. Fall and spring versions have distinct content. The SPARK Challenge pairs Grinnell organizations and students to address poverty related challenges faced by the larger Grinnell community. The challenge concludes in the spring with a pitch contest in which one proposal can earn up to $15,000 in implementation funding.


Instructor: Prof. Monty Roper

Leading Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Aug. 30 –Dec. 21

This coursetakes a case-study approach to understanding leadership and management of innovations, or generating solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems, using case studies by alumni innovators. We start, of course, with Grinnell's most famous entrepreneur, Robert Noyce. This course covers a broad range of fields, bringing in new case studies each year. Many of the alumni from whom we draw case studies will visit class. Prerequisites: 1 course in the social studies division.

Prof. Doug Caulkins

Instructor: Prof. Doug Caulkins

Spring 2018 Courses

Winning Campaigns to Strengthen Organizations and Build Movements

Using the groundbreaking legislative victories by domestic workers (2010) and nail salon workers (2015) in New York State, and other contemporary campaigns, the course will look at the nuts and bolts of a successful campaign and its impact on creating a collaborative ecosystem that can help strengthen individual organizations and build a larger movement to implement and sustain campaign victories. Students will have hands-on experience, choosing an issue of their interest and collectively designing a campaign.

headshot of Luna RanjitInstructor: Luna Ranjit ’00

In 2005, Ranjit founded Adhikaar to promote human rights and effective social justice work in Nepali-speaking communities in New York City and the United States. Adhikaar works to best understand and address the needs of the growing Nepali immigrant communities through community-based participatory action research. With this data, Ranjit has been able to inform and work collaboratively with other organizations, service providers, and government agencies. Some of Adhikaar's most recent and visible work is the campaign to pass legislation to improve working conditions for domestic and nail salon workers in New York City, which gained national attention and has inspired similar legislative efforts across the country. Ranjit's essential role in that campaign exemplifies her skill in collaborating across constituencies to improve the lives of US Nepali-speaking and immigrant communities as a whole.

Ranjit graduated from Grinnell with her bachelor of arts in economics and global development studies in 2000. In 2006, she received the Joseph F. Wall '41 Alumni Service Award, which is awarded to two Grinnell College alumni to either jump start or complete a project that shows creativity and commitment to effecting positive social change. In 2016, she was awarded the Grinnell Prize, a $100,000 award that honors individuals who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.

Hip Hop Education, Praxis & Action: The Cypher Paradigm

This course examines the power of the Hip Hop Elements (MCing, DJing, graffiti, breakdancing, beatboxing, beatmaking, archiving) as a framework for teaching, learning and empowering activism agency. Grounded in Hip Hop culture and critical pedagogy, students will develop an analytic lens that will be used to "close read" the world and respond to social justice issues on both artistic and educational platforms. The course will highlight artist educators/artist activists who span the stage, the studio, and the classroom as case studies drawn from around the world. It will include opportunities for art creation and performance.

Samuel Sellers '00 poses in front of a corrugated steel door with graffiti saying "Solidarity Forever"Instructor: Samuel Sellers ’00 (aka Rabbi Darkside)

Rabbi Darkside (né Samuel Sellers) is a Hip Hop MC/DJ/Beatboxer/Educator, first appearing on wax and in NYC Public School classrooms in the year 2000. His movements and music aim to incite empathy and empowerment through social justice education and creative freedom. His prowess as a multi-elemental artist has led to 15 international tours, cultural exchanges, collaborations with a wide array of classic and respected artists, an album that topped CMJ Hip Hop charts, headlining the Blue Note Jazz Festival and winning every NYC freestyle battle in the new millennium. You can find him on MTV’s “Made,” Okayplayer, New York Times, the Today Show, CBS Early Show, HipHopDX, 2DopeBoyz, Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and the Village Voice. Darkside is currently a professor at The New School (NYC) and CEO of independent record label Say Word Entertainment.

Human Centered Design for Global Social Transformation

Join social entrepreneur and societal engineer Megan Goering ‘08 to build your awareness, skillset, and practice in Human Centered Design, a set of tools for bringing big ideas into reality in a way that works for real people. Every student will leave with a framework for quickly moving big ideas from concept stage to implementation in creating more creative, strategic, egalitarian and co-active campaigns and new products and programs for social change. This course is sponsored by the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Megan Goering '08Instructor: Megan Goering '08

CEO/Founder at Human Centered Innovation. Goering is a social entrepreneur and societal engineer who teaches, trains, and consults on prototyping and strategic innovation.

Leadership in a Future of Automation and Income Inequality

:Leadership in a Future of Automation and Income Inequality. Explore how we can contribute to and guide our global society in an almost certain future of widespread automation, job displacement, and accelerated inequality in the distribution of key resources. Hear from entrepreneurs, historians of the industrial revolution, and futurists. Students will leave with a framework and direct experiences with leadership models that allow for transformative activism in a time of grave uncertainty and certain change. Sponsored by the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Joe MellinInstructor: Joe Mellin

Mellin currently is building developer tools at a tech startup called Microsoft. He has co-founded multiple job creation ventures, raised capital, built teams, and learned a variety of things the hard way.

Nonviolent Action for Social and Religious Change

This course examines the often surprising intersections between violence and nonviolence in and around religious traditions. We will focus on Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, as we engage theories of violence, nonviolence and social change. The course will be framed historically, critically, and practically at the intersection of religious identity, peace studies and postcolonial critique. Together we will debate questions of terrorism, anticolonial and anti-racist revolution, militant nonviolence and the embodied practice of conflict transformation.

Srdja PopovicInstructors: Assoc. Prof. Dobe & Srdja Popovic

Popovic is a Serbian political activist who led a movement that helped topple Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He is currently the executive director of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies.

ANT-202 ST: Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Organizations

The concepts of ecological, economic, and social sustainability in organizations will be examined in detail. Similarly, we will examine the expanding practice of corporate social responsibility, which was pioneered by Howard Bowen, President of Grinnell College from 1955 to 1963. We will find these practices of sustainability and social responsibility require leadership and innovation, practices embedded in Grinnell culture.

Caulkins DougInstructor: Doug Caulkins

Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Emeritus Director of the Donald L. Wilson Program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership


Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni

Alumni with significant careers in the humanities, social sciences and sciences return to campus to talk about the ways that they shaped their successes and learned from their failures after graduation. Leadership and career-focused readings together with discussions with 18 or more alumni will help students think creatively about their possible futures. The second goal of this course is to help create a multi-generational network or community of Grinnell alumni, faculty, and current students in order to enhance our potential for changing the world to promoting the stewardship of Grinnell College.

Caulkins DougInstructor: Doug Caulkins

Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Emeritus Director of the Donald L. Wilson Program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership


Past Courses

Past courses sponsored by the Wilson Center >>