Recently, on a sunny September afternoon Jim Hess saw his worlds collide — sort of. Hess, the new director of alumni relations at Grinnell College, was in Washington, D.C., his former home, at a picnic for Grinnell alumni and students.
Hess has spent the last 18 years in the nation's capital working at George Washington University, most recently as executive director in the Office of University Events. He moved to Grinnell in June with his wife, Kirsten, and their 3-year-old daughter, Madeleine.
Hess says he is attracted to the energy he finds on college campuses. "I think part of it is, with students coming and going, there's always a certain newness to the institution," he says. "I've always enjoyed working with the students, and the faculty for that matter. ... It's an atmosphere that I've always enjoyed."
Before diving into any major projects, Hess says he wants to learn what makes Grinnell tick. "I'm going through the first year really trying to get to know Grinnell and the people in the community, people on campus, around the country, and around the world," Hess says. "The overall goal is to continue to improve the interaction and connection between the College and alumni. I wouldn't sit here and say, 'This is an area that needs work.' I want to take time and get a feel for things."
He says, however, that the alumni office might try to help sponsor more alumni picnics after getting such a great response from Grinnellians. Last summer there were five picnics, he says; this summer there were 16. "I think people really seem to enjoy themselves, seeing one another," he says.
Farther down the road, Hess says he is interested in trying to do more with alumni education programs such as Alumni College, which allows former students to study with each other and with professors during the days before Reunion. "There's room," he says, "for expansion of programs that have been very successful already."
That process of continued learning is also what drew Hess to Grinnell. "I definitely feel that Grinnell is a unique institution with its own unique culture, even among liberal arts colleges, and it was something that I very much wanted to be a part of," he says. "I genuinely feel that it is an institution that draws people who want to learn and [teaches them] how to learn. I talked to alumni at this event. And it's fascinating to see if they've graduated in '07 or in '57, they're still going at life as a learning experience. That seems to be a part of Grinnell."