On the Prize Background

History of the Grinnell Prize

The Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize, or the Grinnell Prize, directly reflects Grinnell’s historic mission to educate men and women “who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

Grinnell was founded in 1846 by a group of transplanted New Englanders with strong Congregational and social-reformer backgrounds. They organized as the Trustees of Iowa College — originally in Davenport, Iowa. In 1859 the trustees moved the College to newly settled Grinnell, Iowa, where their abolitionist sentiments were more welcome. At the time, Grinnell was an important stop on the Underground Railroad that secretly transported slaves to freedom.

Grinnell’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins 1912, Chester Davis 1911, Paul Appleby 1913, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan 1911, and Florence Stewart Kerr 1912 became influential New Deal administrators.

Today, Grinnell’s commitment to social justice continues through a strong philosophy of self governance and personal responsibility, as well as programs and initiatives that encourage students to learn about the world beyond the campus and effect positive social change.

For example, Grinnell’s Social Justice Action Group works towards peace, justice, and positive social change with efforts that fight hunger, promote volunteerism, and build understanding. The Wall Alumni Service Awards provide financial support for Grinnell alumni to engage in service projects, programs, and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of others. Under Grinnell’s Expanding Knowledge Initiative, the College has introduced curricular innovations in the areas of environmental challenges, human rights, and human dignity. The Liberal Arts in Prison Program, a collaborative effort by Grinnell students, faculty, and staff, engages incarcerated adults in courses in the liberal arts. 

With the creation of the Grinnell Prize, the College is extending its educational mission beyond the campus and alumni community to individuals anywhere who believe innovative social justice programs create a better world.

Through student internships and staff fellowships, student and staff members have the opportunity to work with the Prize winners and their organizations. Explore the Past Winners pages to learn more about these opportunities and Grinnellians' experiences working with these outstanding individuals and organizations.

President Kington elaborates on the Prize's creation and other innovations on his blog.

How is social justice defined?

The College does not have in mind one specific definition of social justice; instead, the College recognizes that there is more than one definition for social justice and it should be interpreted broadly. For purposes of administering the Prize, it would be up to the nominator (ideally, in collaboration with the nominee) to make the case as to how his or her nominee effects positive social change. Through thoughtful deliberation and consensus, the Prize Selection Committee will determine whether an individual is effecting positive social change in an innovative way that he or she should be recognized as a force for social justice.

Finally, one of the goals of the Grinnell Prize is to generate a robust discussion on this very topic. A symposium in September 2011 entitled, "What is social justice?," which preceded the October symposium and award ceremony with the 2011 Prize recipients focused specifically on the definition of social justice. When Prize recipients visit campus, they offer their unique definitions of social justice, shaped by their life experiences and perspective on the world.

How is the Grinnell Prize funded?

The Prize is funded with discretionary funds from the College's endowment. Targeted donations also support the Grinnell Prize program.

Does the Grinnell Prize impact student financial support?

No. The Prize effort in no way compromises the College's commitment to its students. The College continues to meet 100% of demonstrated need for domestic students, limits the loans students need to take out, and offers one of the highest discount rates and the lowest comprehensive fees of its peers. In fact, the Prize strengthens the educational experience of our students and draws attention to the College's unique dual focus of providing first-rate liberal arts education and highlighting social justice (see the FAQ, "Why was the Grinnell Prize created?"). There is an annual on-campus symposium and award ceremony to maximize Prize winners' interaction with the College community, and there are exciting opportunities to further partner with winners to offer student internships, teach short courses, or collaborate on course materials.

Is there a prize for students or alumni?

The Grinnell Prize is open to all individuals who meet the eligibility requirements and criteria, including students and alumni. There is also a grant specifically for alumni: the Joseph F. Wall '41 Sesquicentennial Service Award (the "Wall Service Award"). The Wall Service Award was established during the College's Sesquicentennial celebration in 1996 to highlight the College's tradition of 150 years of social commitment. The $30,000 awards are named in honor of the late professor of history who always inspired an ideal of service in his students. Any graduate of Grinnell College is eligible to apply for a Wall Service Award so long as the alumni applicant will act as a principal in the proposed project. Two grants are awarded each year.

On the Nomination Process

Can I submit a nomination in a language other than English?

At this time, no. While we welcome nominees from all over the world, the College requires that nominations and any subsequent materials be submitted in English.

Can I submit my nomination by email or fax?

No. All nominations must be submitted online.

May I revise a submitted nomination essay?

Due to the volume of nominations received, no nomination essays can be revised once they have been submitted. The College recommends that you draft and review your essay offline, and then copy and paste the essay into the online form when you are ready to submit the nomination. If an individual is nominated more than once by the same nominator, only the first nomination submission will be considered.

I'm not sure whether my nominee meets all the criteria. Can I speak with someone at the College before submitting a nomination?

No. Due to the volume of nominations received, the College cannot provide personal consultations with nominators. Please review the Prize FAQs and the nomination instructions, which will assist you in focusing your nomination essay and outline the nomination criteria. If there is any doubt, proceed to nominate the individual.

My nomination essay is longer than 750 words. Is that a problem?

You will not be able to submit your nomination if the essay is longer than 750 words. Please edit the essay to conform with the 750-word limit. To be competitive, the nomination essay should be focused and concise.

Are there any restrictions on who can nominate?

Members of the Selection Committee and the Grinnell Prize program staff may not submit a nomination. Also, individuals may not nominate themselves (no self-nominations). There are no other restrictions. This means the nominator can be a relative, a board member of the individual’s organization, or affiliated with the College (e.g., a student). Ideally, the nominator should be someone who is well acquainted or personally familiar with the nominee’s work, and can attest to the nominee’s qualifications. Nominators should be available for possible follow-up questions throughout the selection process.

I nominated someone for a previous Grinnell Prize. May I nominate the same person for this year's Grinnell Prize?

Yes, so long as your nominee meets the current criteria for the Grinnell Prize. Please note that the criteria may be slightly different from year to year.

I was nominated for a past Grinnell Prize. Are previous nominees welcome to reapply this year?

Yes, absolutely, so long as you meet the current criteria. For the Prize's inaugural year, 2011, the College was very impressed with the quality of nominations, and would have happily awarded more Prizes but for the limit of up to three $100,000 prizes. If you are interested in reapplying, please remember to work with someone who knows you and your work well to submit the nomination on your behalf. Self-nominations are not accepted. 

May I nominate more than one individual in a single nomination?

Yes, you may submit up to a maximum of two individuals who are working collaboratively on an innovative effort. Each of the individuals must independently meet the Prize criteria and eligibility, and an effort should be made to elaborate on the collaborative or synergistic aspect of their relationship.

May I submit more than one nomination per Prize year?

Yes, you may submit as many nominations as there are individuals that meet the criteria and eligibility requirements; however, each nomination is limited to two individuals.

Will an individual be disqualified or gain an advantage if more than one nomination is submitted on their behalf?

No, the individual will not be disqualified. Multiple people may submit a nomination for the same individual (or the same two individuals jointly). The individual, however, will not gain an advantage; multiple nominations submitted on behalf of the same individual will not strengthen the individual’s chance of being chosen to receive the Prize. The College prefers one well-informed nomination (per individual or team of two) that addresses each of the Prize’s criteria rather than multiple nominations of uninformed, inaccurate, or inferior quality.

May I collaborate with others to nominate an individual (or team of two individuals)?

Yes, of course! You may also collaborate with your nominee. On the nomination submission form, however, please enter the contact information of the person that will be the main contact with the College.

In submitting my nomination, can I collaborate with the individual or individuals (up to two) being nominated?

Yes! The College encourages nominators to collaborate with their nominee(s) to put forth a strong, well-informed nomination.

Must I inform the individual that I have nominated him or her for the Grinnell Prize?

No, you don’t have to, but you might want to consider letting the individual know so that you can work with the individual to put forth the strongest nomination possible. If you do not inform the individual of your nomination, there will be no contact between the College and the individual unless the individual is contacted to provide the College with additional information to continue with the selection process.

Will I be notified if my nominee is chosen to continue with the selection process? 

Nominees selected to continue with the process are contacted directly by the Prize Office to submit supplemental materials. Nominees may inform their nominators if they have been chosen to continue with the process. The Prize Office does not otherwise contact nominators or nominees. All nominators, however, will be notified when the winners are announced.

What additional information will the College be looking for if an individual is contacted to continue with the selection process?

Curriculum vitae or resume, letters of recommendation, photos or videos, and news articles, among other things. It is the nominee’s responsibility to provide the information the College is requesting. Failure to provide the requested information will automatically disqualify the nominee from further consideration.

Can I submit supplemental information along with my nomination?

You may, but such information will not be reviewed along with the nomination essay, and may never be reviewed if the nomination essay is not of sufficient strength to be chosen to continue with the selection process. The nomination essay should be to the point (reflective of the 750-word limit) and self-contained (thoughtfully addressing each question). The nominee will be contacted for additional information at a later time if he or she will be continuing with the selection process. If you would still like to submit supplemental information, please contact the Prize office for its preferred method of receipt.

Can I include hyperlinks or references to other documents in the nomination essay?

Initial review of nominations will consider the essay text only. Therefore, the nomination essay should be to the point (reflective of the 750-word limit) and self-contained (thoughtfully addressing each question). External references should be summarized in the body of the essay.

Does the nominee have to be associated with a non-profit organization?

No, the nominee can be associated with a for-profit organization or a governmental entity, and, in fact, need not be associated with any organization. While it is often the case that a nominee’s innovative work is done with the support and within the framework of an organization (often founded by the nominee), the Grinnell Prize is intended to recognize an outstanding individual, not an organization. For example, a visual artist, independent of any organization, can be a social justice innovator by exposing a societal problem in a creative way, thereby affecting the perception or opinion of other individuals and resulting in societal change.

Can I nominate an individual who works with a faith-based organization?

Yes. The individual’s innovation or organization, however, should not include proselytization or substantial lobbying.

I am interested in nominating two individuals for the Prize (they are partners). However, one of the partners died earlier this year. Should I nominate both individuals or should I nominate only the partner that is still alive?

The Prize cannot be awarded posthumously (one of the criteria is that the winner must be able to attend the award ceremony and symposium events on campus). Please nominate the other person individually.

On Criteria/Eligibility

What is an innovative contribution?

The innovation aspect of the Prize is an important criterion. The College is seeking individuals who are creative problem solvers. The innovation can be a product; it can be a process; it can be a novel use of old or new technology; it can create new opportunities; it can be a market-based solution; it can lead to a more sustainable or just solution to an existing problem. For instance, is the individual a pioneer in using a certain method or technique to solve a problem? Is the idea original? Is an old method being used in new ways? Is the approach more comprehensive than others working in the same field? Does it disrupt the status quo or create systemic change? The Prize Selection Committee will examine whether a contribution is innovative in the context of the individual’s approach, chosen field, and geographical location. A competitive nomination will articulate how the nominee is innovative and distinguishable from others doing similar work.

As an example of an innovative contribution, the 2012 Prize winners Jacob Wood and William McNulty created their organization Team Rubicon to address two problems at once: veterans' reintegration and disaster relief. By organizing returning veterans to volunteer in response to natural disasters across the United States and the world, Team Rubicon innovatively paired the seemingly unrelated issues of veterans' reentry and natural disasters to find new and creative solutions for both.

2012 Prize winners Jane Chen and Linus Liang created a technological innovation with huge implications for social justice. After being challenged to develop a low-cost infant warmer as a class assignment, Jane and Linus combined a unique phase change material and a user-centric design to create the Embrace Infant Warmer, which, at 1% the cost of a traditional incubator and specially designed for conditions in the developing world, has already been used for save the lives of thousands of infants.

To see the innovative contributions of other Prize winners, please visit the past winners' pages.

What is a substantive contribution?

A competitive nomination will articulate and provide concrete evidence of the nominee’s impact in the community he or she is working in. Are there proven or measureable results? What was the degree of difficulty involved or obstacles encountered to achieve such results? Impact can be described in terms of quantity (e.g., number of people, villages, cities, countries affected) or quality (e.g., effect on underserved, vulnerable, or disadvantaged population). How does the nominee define success or determine whether his or her innovation is making a difference? What is the social benefit of the individual’s innovation? Has the innovation been put to practical use? The Prize is meant to recognize accomplishments to date, but it also recognizes the promise of more to come. Therefore, the Prize Selection Committee is looking for a proven record of results without excluding ongoing or newly launched initiatives.

The following types of statements provide concrete evidence of impact:

•The Embrace Infant Warmer has already been used to help hundreds of premature babies in India. The organization now plans to distribute the infant warmers in China and Somalia with the goal of saving the lives of almost one million babies over the next five years. (2012 co-winners Jane Chen and Linus Liang)

•Global Press Institute now has news desks in 25 countries and has trained and employed over 130 women as journalists. GPI stories are ready by over 5 million people in 160 countries annually. (2012 winner Cristi Hegranes)

•Team Rubicon has deployed over 100 teams of veterans to respond to disasters in nine countries and currently has over 1,000 veteran volunteers, with the eventual goal of engaging at least 10,000 veterans in their work.  (2012 co-winners Jacob Wood and William McNulty)

To see the innovative contributions of other Prize winners, please visit the past winners' pages.

What does a "force for social justice" mean?

This concept will likely overlap with the criteria of innovation and impact, but an individual may be a force for social justice when the individual’s innovation is further scalable or replicable. For example, can the innovation be expanded geographically or widely adopted in other settings? An individual may also be a force for social justice through their sheer persistence in solving a problem or because of their leadership qualities. As with innovation and impact, a competitive nomination will articulate why the nominator feels the individual is a force for social justice.

To get an idea of past individuals the College has deemed to be a “force for social justice,” please review past Prize winners' biographies.

Can I nominate an individual for a less recent innovation?

While less recent innovations will be considered, the College would also be interested in whether the individual continues to innovate.

Why does the Grinnell Prize recognize relatively "unknown" innovators?

Innovators are bringing about positive change in every community, but many are not recognized outside of their immediate community or field. These unrecognized innovators would benefit most from the Grinnell Prize. Telling the stories of these young innovators will highlight what is possible and inspire others to effect positive social change.

My nominee is well known and recognized in his or her community or field. Is my nominee still eligible?

Yes. All successful nominees should have some level of recognition within their community or field. The College is looking for innovators who may be well known and respected within their immediate community or field, but not with the wider public. If you are uncertain whether your potential nominee is well known outside his or her community or field, please proceed to submit a nomination.

My nominee has previously received a major award. Is he or she eligible?

Because the Prize program targets young innovators who are not recognized outside of their immediate community or field, candidates receiving significant awards for their innovation will be evaluated to determine the impact of those awards on their broader public recognition. If, since the receipt of a major award, the candidate contributes a new innovation unrelated to the award, the nominator should proceed to submit a nomination emphasizing the nominee’s most recent innovation.

My nominee may not be available for follow-up inquiries after the nomination is submitted. Will this affect the nominee's chances of winning?

It is the nominee’s responsibility to provide the information the College is requesting. Failure to provide the requested information will automatically disqualify the nominee from further consideration.

The individual I am thinking of nominating has a contractual (or other financial) relationship with the College. May I nominate this individual for the Prize?

Proceed to nominate the individual. Conflict of interest concerns will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Due to the volume of nominations received, the College cannot provide pre-nomination, individual determinations on conflict of interest concerns or otherwise offer personal consultations on possible nominations.