Grinnell College’s mission is, in part, to graduate individuals “who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.” 

Community-based learning initiatives operate under the assumption that civic engagement activities not only address issues affecting the common good, but they also serve as a platform for interdisciplinary, transformational learning. The courses and activities supported by the College allow students to become active participants in their education while making a difference and learning about unique aspects of the larger Iowa community. The activities deepen students' understanding of what they are learning while teaching related, transferable professional, civic, and personal skills. Moreover, the activities allow students to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of real world problem-solving and thus to understand the multidisciplinary value of a liberal arts education.

In addition to taking community-based learning courses, our students volunteer with over 80 different community partners throughout Central Iowa.  They are employed by the College through the Service Learning Work-Study program to work for local non-profit organizations. Through the College’s annual Spark Tank Innovation Challenge, they compete in teams with community partners for funding to solve locally identified justice issues. They participate in internships, short courses, and workshops with winners of the Grinnell College Innovator in Social Justice Prize and they lead alternative break service projects throughout the United States.

To learn more about these and other opportunities at Grinnell, see Service and Social Innovation.

Examples of Community-Based Learning at Grinnell

  • Computer Science Professor Sam Rebelsky's Team Software Development for Community Organizations (CSC 322) class allows students to develop software packages for local non-profits over the course of multiple semesters.  See more at Coding for a Cause.
  • The Grinnell Caucus Project (SST 295) class was designed by Political Science Professor Barb Trish. Students engaged in an intensive examination of the Iowa caucuses and the campaigns leading up to them. Students attended candidate events, site visits to campaign headquarters, party headquarters, media outlets, paid vendors, consultants, state ethics and campaign finance boards.  See more at The Grinnell Caucus Project
  • Spark Tank Innovation Challenge. See more about Spark Tank Innovation Challenge 2016-17.
  • Blank Park Zoo volunteers and service learning work-study students work with zoo keepers to create innovative enrichment items for the animal enclosures. See more at Students Win Blank Park Zoo's Roar Award.
  • Grinnell Prize Week offers the various avenues for students, faculty, staff and alumni to learn from social innovators from around the world.
  • The Liberal Arts in Prison Program gives students the opportunity to lead courses for incarcerated individuals that supplement the College’s credit bearing programs.



The grants support local projects designed to enhance the quality of life in Grinnell

Grinnell College is the winner of Ashoka U’s 2018 Innovation Award for Community Partnership for its SPARK Community-Based Innovation Challenge in an international competition.