For Eliza Honan ’14, the social responsibility that permeates a Grinnell education led to an independent major. As she pursued her studies, she worked to make local food more affordable and accessible.

Honan declared an independent major in sustainable development in her third year to focus more directly on social responsibility. “I wanted to expand my options,” she says. “I wanted to take policy and environmental studies. I wanted to look at issues through a broader lens.”

“I had to ask myself, ‘What set of classes would give me an education in the area in which I was most interested?’”

She found that combination. She finished her bachelor’s degree program in sustainable development in spring 2014.

Individualized study

Eliza HonanGrinnell is known for its work to help students develop closely mentored, rigorous degree programs that meet their needs. Just one class is required of all students — the First Year Tutorial in which students study a topic in depth while focusing on developing skills in writing, critical reading, oral communication and information literacy. Individual majors have their own requirements, and independent majors come with additional supervision and coursework.

For Honan, that flexibility was a selling point for Grinnell.  “If you can’t find what you want, you can put together a major,” she says.

Honan found that exploring is also very Grinnellian. “Some of my best experiences here happened when I was most willing to step outside my comfort zone and try something completely new,” she notes.

Honan became active in a range of activities, helping lead Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, a local food co-op, and a student garden. She also took time to write for the student newspaper, the Scarlet & Black, and was active in Grinnell’s strong Ultimate Frisbee program.


Working with advisers Jon Andelson, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Prairie Studies, and J. Montgomery “Monty” Roper, associate professor of anthropology, Honan has studied “food hubs,” which can be physical locations or even websites that connect people to local foods.

“In her senior thesis, she has been exploring issues of local food in Grinnell – how available it is, how available it is specifically to low-income families, and how producers, businesses, and consumers might join forces to increase the availability of local food in Grinnell,” Andelson says.

Honan said the accessibility of Grinnell’s world-class professors helps students meet their goals. “A benefit of being at Grinnell is that professors are really open to exploration,” she said.

Eliza Honan ’14 of St. Paul, Minn., was an independent major in sustainable development.


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