Home » The Wilson Center

The Wilson Center

Calendar Customer Code: 

Spark Tank Kickoff

The kickoff event for the Spark Tank Innovation competition will be held in Alumni Recitation Hall, Room 102 from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

Community members will present social justice issues to be addressed by teams of students.

This competition will start on Sept. 13 and will end on Feb. 2 when teams will present their proposals to a live audience and a panel of judges for a prize of up to $15,000 to fund their work in the Grinnell community.​

Lunch will be provided at the kickoff event. 

Sponsored by the Donald L. & Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Pioneer Weekend 2.0: A Three Day Innovation Competition

Friday, April 8, 2016 - 6:00pm to Sunday, April 10, 2016 - 3:00pm

Pioneer Weekend 2.0 is the second iteration of a three day innovation competition, sponsored by the Wilson Program.
Student innovators from different backgrounds work together in teams of 3­-6 people and complete a prototype of an idea that they come up with at the event.
Pioneer Weekend encourages hands-on experiences, innovation and leadership skills, and aspiring student entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas might be viable.
See more...

Pioneer Weekend 2.0: A Three Day Innovation Competition

What the heck is it?

Pioneer Weekend 2.0 is the second iteration of a three day innovation competition, sponsored by the Wilson Program.

Student innovators from different backgrounds work together in teams of 3­–6 people and complete a prototype of an idea that they come up with at the event.

Pioneer Weekend encourages hands-on experiences, innovation and leadership skills, and aspiring student entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas might be viable.

When is it?

Friday though Sunday, April 8–­10, 2016.

Register by Wednesday, April 6. Space is limited and spots are filling fast!

Why Should I attend?

Cash Prizes! $500 1st team; $300 2nd team; $100 3rd team.

Education: With a whole weekend dedicated to letting your creative juices flow, Pioneer Weekend is a perfect opportunity to work on a new platform, learn a new programming language, or just experiment. Step outside of your comfort zone! Pioneer Weekend is all about learning through the act of creating.

Networking: We all know it's not just about the idea — it's about the team. Pioneer Weekend attracts the community's best makers and doers and is a great way to find someone you can actually launch a startup with. Walk away with a cool story that could lead to a job or a potential company.

Fun and Friendship: This isn't just a happy hour. It’s a happy weekend! By spending a weekend working on solving real-world problems, you will build long-lasting relationships.

What to Expect

Beginning with open mic pitches on Friday, students will bring in their best ideas and inspire others to join their team.

Saturday, teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing Lean Startup methodologies, and building a minimal viable product. Mentoring sessions are provided by distinguished professionals.

On Sunday afternoon, teams present their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts. Prizes are awarded.


Student teams will be mentored and judged by distinguished alumni that are part of the Wilson Program Leadership Council.

Sam Perlman '90: Economic Developer

Friday, April 29, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:45pm
ARH 302 - Auditorium
Sam Perlman
Alum Year: 
Wilson Program Speaker Series - Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni

Sam Perlman ’90, Music / Undeclared concentration in Russian cultural studies

Economic Development Manager for the Door County Economic Development Corporation. Prior to joining the DCEDC staff, he was the program director of the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek. Before moving to Door County, Sam lived in Chicago and New York City, working in sales and marketing in the music business and dreaming of great fortune in the dot-com world. 
He is a past member and President of the Grinnell Alumni Council and also a former ex-officio member of the College’s Board of Trustees. He received the Alumni Award at his 25th reunion in 2015

Erin Owen '94 & Dan Weeks '80: Chinese and American Studies; After College

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:45pm
ARH 302 - Auditorium
Erin Owens '94 & Dan Weeks '80
Wilson Program Speaker Series- Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni

Erin Owen ’94, Chinese Studies

Performance Breakthrough Coach For the past two decades. Drawing on prior professional experience ranging from organizational consulting to leadership coaching, Erin has consulted with and coached hundreds of entrepreneurs, business leaders and private individuals from more than 10 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia, to more effectively run their businesses and lead healthier, happier, more productive lives.

Dan Weeks ’80, American Studies

Editorial Director, Editor The Iowan magazine at Pioneer Communications, Inc. He’s since worked as a staff and freelance magazine feature and profile writer, photographer, editor, and editorial manager, first for small regional magazines, then for the Better Homes and Gardens family of magazines but also for The Grinnell Magazine and, currently, The Iowan magazine. He’s written or edited more than a dozen books, including the Discovery Channel bestseller Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours, a collection of sea stories from Bering Sea crab fisherman, and A Hand to Guide Me, an anthology of essays on mentorship by American luminaries

Mona Ghadiri '11, Debbie Malina '83 & Andrés Chang: The World of Medicine and Information Technology

Friday, April 8, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:45pm
ARH 302 - Auditorium
Debbie Malina '83, Mona Ghadiri '11 & Andres Chang '05
Wilson Program Speaker Series - Creative Careers:Learning from Alumni

Mona Ghadiri ’11, Anthropology and History

Project manager for Raytheon doing cyber security software project management. On the side, she works with BUMP, a non-profit design studio that has created the Open Socket, an adjustable below the elbow prosthetic that allows an individual to be fit with a prosthetic limb in a half hour for under $400. A traditional prosthetic limb costs upward of $6,000.

Debbie Malina ’83 Ph.D, English

Perspective Editor for the New England Journal of Medicine. From time to time, Debbie seeks opportunities to fit writing and teaching in around the edges of her editorial work. She wrote a few book reviews for NEJM early on and, more recently, published a Medicine and Society article on the similarities between the “accountability movements” in U.S. health care and K-12 education. In addition to teaching a session of the Journal’s annual courses for medical students and residents, she has taught a course at the Experimental College at Tufts University in medical ethics and narrative theory.

Andrés Chang ’05, Political Science

IT policy consultant. Also a volunteer supporter of Grinnell College and its students, Chang is passionate about sharing the lifetime benefits he received as a student at Grinnell. He has mentored students who come to Washington, D.C., for fall internships under the College’s Grinnellink D.C. program. He also has mentored students in the College’s expanded externship programs, most recently over the 2015 spring break.

Kun Hong Lu '95: Providing Local Services in Grinnell Since 2008

Friday, March 18, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:45pm
ARH 302 - Auditorium
Kun Hong Lu
Alum Year: 
Wilson Program Speaker Series - Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni

Psychotherapist. Kun moved back to Grinnell in 2006 and worked as a therapist at the Poweshiek County Mental Health Center.  She established her private practice, Kun-Hong Lu, PC, in 2008, and has been providing psychotherapy in this setting since.

Grinnell College Students Take on the Project Pengyou Leadership Summit

Xenophobia is not a new issue in our society and the Project Pengyou Leadership Summit is helping to end it. This year, the Wilson Program helped Grinnellians attend.

The nationally known leadership summit creates spaces and promotes movements to help end and fight the institutional xenophobia that has plagued our nation throughout history. It promotes collaboration, inclusion, and mutual understanding between Americans and Chinese citizens.

Why Go?

In the fall, three students approached the Wilson Program for funding to attend the summit, held at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, California.  

Sophie Wright ’17, a coach at this year’s summit, majors in English and Chinese, so she is able to find a direct correlation between her studies, the program, and Grinnell’s liberal ideologies.

Alethea Cook ’16, a Chinese and economics major and global development studies concentrator, says “I struggled to define myself and write my identity as a Taiwanese-American in Grinnell.” She grew up in a predominantly white small town and talks about how her racial and ethnic background influenced her interactions with peers. She uses her personal experiences as inspiration and hope.

Adam Dalton ’16, an economics and Chinese major, also found connection between his studies and his passions.

Lessons from the Summit

Wright says she “helped the fellows to conceptualize and to apply the material that they had learned as well as to empower them to […] be able to start their own Project Pengyou.”

She also talked about learning how to balance personal life from professional life, which is something many people continue to struggle with. This issue sparked Cooks’ interest in the program; her personal life has affected her professional life.

Cook says she learned that “there is much more to the movement than what [she] had previously thought.” She likes the idea of creating personal relationships with people in order to change the perceptions non-Asian people tend to have of Asian people. She says she was inspired to work on a “person-to-person basis.”

Dalton says he “had little training regarding effective, innovative, and sustainable leadership” before the summit. The Project Pengyou Leadership Summit, he says, facilitated his personal growth and will have lasting benefits for his ability to lead.

Cook, Dalton, and Wright had different experiences that resulted in rather similar outcomes. They all praised the program for teaching them the meaning of leadership and say they gained tools necessary to be effective leaders and innovators.

The Wilson Program encourages students to become leaders in academic and non-academic fields and to become innovators that create awareness and instill paths to a better, more accepting society.  In this case, that means making institutional changes that directly combat xenophobia and racism.

Project Pengyou 

Project Pengyou - Grinnell, Facebook Page

Grinnell Caucus Project

As a first-year Grinnell College student, Suha Gillani ’16 interned for Barack Obama’s campaign. But until taking a short course in January, she had no idea how distinctive and important Iowa is to the presidential selection process, and how the nature of Iowa and Iowans shape the caucuses.

Gillani, an international student from Pakistan, was one of 13 Grinnell students, including 2 from outside the United States, who got an up-close and personal view of presidential candidates campaigning across Iowa during the Grinnell Caucus Project.

During the weeklong, immersive class about the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, the students traversed 1,525 miles and visited a good portion of the state, attending presidential campaign events featuring one Democratic candidate, three Republican candidates, and a former president. The course wrapped up about 2 weeks before the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

Seeing Presidential Candidates Up Close

Before coming to Grinnell, the only political event Caleigh Ryan ’17 had attended was a huge Obama rally in Chicago. But during the course, she and her fellow students listened to Chris Christie give his stump speech in northwest Iowa, noted how Marco Rubio courted voters at a town hall in Ottumwa, and stood shivering in the snow to catch a glimpse of Donald Trump as he left a rally in the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset.

They watched Hillary Clinton, accompanied by singer Demi Lovato, reach out to young voters at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and saw former President Bill Clinton urge Fort Dodge voters to caucus for his wife because of her experience and achievements. 

The course gave Caitlin Scaife ’16 a new appreciation for Iowans’ role in selecting a president, a role that many non-Iowans scoff at and many Iowans take for granted.

“Before taking this course, I don’t think I ever fully realized how important Iowa is in the presidential selection process or how much work goes into the Iowa caucuses,” Scaife says. “This week we’ve met citizens who have gone to several candidate events in order to make their decision.”

Leaving Personal Politics Behind for a Week

To participate, Scaife and her classmates had to apply for admission and meet the prerequisite requirements: Political Parties and The Presidency courses, both taught by Barbara Trish, professor and chair of political science, who designed and taught the two-credit caucus course.  

The course textbook was What It Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer. The 1,000-page tome about the 1988 presidential election explores candidates from George Bush and Robert Dole to Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart.

The class was structured to get the students out to candidate events, says Trish, who insisted that her charges suspend their personal political beliefs for the duration. “But perhaps more important,” she says, “was to show them that if you dig beneath the surface a little, there’s fascinating work and other aspects of life to uncover related to the caucuses.”

Gaining Insights into Fundraising, Get-Out-the-Vote Efforts

Students also toured the State Capitol with State Rep. Chris Hall ’07, D-Sioux City, and met with Rep. Dave Maxwell, R-Gibson, who represents the Grinnell area. In addition, they talked with political party officials and business leaders.

The national sales manager of KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids discussed trends in political advertising. The vice president of marketing of Pizza Ranch, an Iowa-headquartered restaurant chain with a faith-based mission, explained the context for the key role its franchises play in hosting GOP candidates on the campaign trail.

They gained insights into fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts from the founder of Campaign Headquarters, a call center in Brooklyn, Iowa, that promotes conservative candidates, including Ted Cruz. And they explored the role of PACs in the Iowa caucuses with Rob Barron ’02, political director of NextGen Climate, which advocates policies to prevent climate disaster and to promote prosperity for all Americans.

Megan Settle ’16 documented the course in a series of three photo blogs that show firsthand what the students saw and experienced.

Appreciating How Iowans Participate in Democracy

The students’ main takeaway was an awareness of how tightly the caucuses revolve around Iowa trademark retail politics. Ryan was shocked to learn firsthand that it’s common to see Iowans talking face-to-face with presidential candidates in town halls with fewer than 100 people.

“I think most voters in the country have no idea what a different experience of democracy Iowans enjoy,” she says.

Yanling Xu ’16, an international student from China, noticed that the spectacle of candidates talking in such close proximity to voters revealed a commonality Iowans have with Grinnell students.

“Iowans are as passionate as we are about politics,” she says. “Their questions are sharp and interesting.”

Hearing the candidates speak about how vital Iowans are to the process was energizing and inspiring to Hannah Boggess ’18.

“Candidates and Iowans respect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status,” she says. “And it’s really incredible that we get to be a part of this unique and important piece of the political process.”

This course was funded by the Wilson Program whose mission is to nurture among our students a critical understanding of leadership and innovation as well as the skills associated with these.

Image of students in front of the Iowa State Capitol courtesy of Megan Settle.

Suha Gillani ’16 is a political science and economics major from Karachi, Pakistan.

Caleigh Ryan ’17 is an English major from Oak Park, Ill.

Caitlin Scaife ’16 is from Rochester, Minn., and is a political science and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies major.

Megan Settle ’16 is a political science and Spanish major from Raymore, Mo.

Yanling Xu ’16 is from Xiamen, China, and a political science major.

Hannah Boggess ’18 is a gender, women’s, and sexuality studies major from Minnetonka, Minn.

Leonard Kurz: Award Winning Philanthropist & Producer

Friday, March 11, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:45pm
ARH 302 - Auditorium
Leonard Kurz '75
Alum Year: 
Wilson Program Speaker Series - Creative Careers: Learning from Alumni

Leonard Kurz ’75, History

Mr. Kurz serves as a director and officer of the Kurz Family Foundation. Leonard is making a feature length documentary on Free the Children, is a co-producer of Maangamizi: The Ancient One, the first film from Tanzania to be considered for an Academy Award, and has been a script reader for Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Kurz is a founding member of the SUNY Chancellor’s Society and has received awards for his philanthropic work.