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Writing Mentors FAQ

What is the Writing Mentors program?

The Writing Mentors are upperclass peer mentors who help students improve their writing in particular courses. Chosen by the professor in the course, the Mentors attend most or all of the class sessions and hold group and/or individualized sessions in which they coach students through the writing process.

How are the Mentors chosen?

Faculty members, in collaboration with the Writing Lab, choose the Mentor they want. The Writing Mentors Program seeks a diverse pool of Mentors.

Decoding Diversity

Lester Alemán ’07 became an advocate and a leader while a Posse Scholar at Grinnell College. He also worked as a program director for nearly four years at the Posse Foundation in Los Angeles. So it’s only fitting he had a chance showcase those skills while discussing the often controversial topic of diversity at the first-ever TEDxGrinnell event.

We talked with Lester about his TEDxGrinnell experience and time as a Grinnell student.  

What was it like giving a TEDxGrinnell talk?

Lester Alemen, left, talks to TEDx attendeesDelivering a TED Talk is, by far, one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career. I’m honored that Grinnell College thought of me as someone who is a subject-matter expert in the field of diversity initiatives. My speech delivered a dose of obvious. But what’s more striking to me is that no matter how obvious diversity is in this country, we — as a nation— still resist it. I wrote my talk not only for the sociology majors of the country, but for people who need a reminder of what truly shapes this nation, and how we continuously perpetuate our lack of acceptance. “It’s not okay” somehow became my tag line. So when I think of how many people kept repeating that after my talk, I think I drove a message home. Now the work rests in the hands of those who listened.

Thinking back as a student, what is the most striking way you were affected by the culture shift from your home in Los Angeles to Grinnell?

Attending Grinnell College allowed me to understand the fabric of our social landscape. It also taught me to be very vocal and persuasive in the pursuit of social change. Going from an urban environment to a rural setting taught me to be adaptable. Those four years really shaped my vision for how I live my professional life.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would share with prospective Grinnellians?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer any prospective student is that Grinnell College is not the college for just anyone. Grinnell not only offers the unique opportunity to learn about the unique world we are all a part of, it offers the opportunity for you to truly become an agent of change. If change isn’t what you were made to do — then this isn’t the school for you. If change is what you live for, then welcome.

What’s the most important way Grinnell College assisted you in becoming the leader you are today?

There were caring adults who wanted nothing more than to see me thrive — and knew exactly how to help facilitate that growth. That was new for me. They taught me the most important thing a leader needs in this world: true and active compassion. 

  • Taking a course with Kesho Scott, associate professor of sociology and American studies, is a must for anyone that appreciates witty, insightful banter — the kind that gives you an eye-opening dose of what we are doing to each other in this world.
  • Karla Erickson, associate professor of sociology, taught me that only I could dictate my path and pushed me to make tough decisions as my major adviser.
  • Kara Lycke was a soundboard for the frustration I felt the more I learned about the injustices in our education system.
  • Judy Hunter had the patience to really teach me how to put my feelings and thoughts into words at the Writing Lab.
  • Katherine McClelland helped me overcome my fear of math so I could pass my statistics class.
  • The late Howard Burkle indulged all my life questions — and my appetite, I should add — as my Posse Mentor.
  • Charlie Duke gave my Posse a home away from home when Howard could no longer do that.

Alemán currently works at NBCUniversal in the Page Program, Talent Development Group.

Helping Troubled Kids

Less than a year after graduating, Seth Gustafson ’14 was invited back to Grinnell’s campus to share his experiences with Professor Emeritus Doug Caulkins’ Creative Careers class. Gustafson was one of two 2014 graduates brought back to share their experiences and advice on finding a first job after college.

Gustafson works at The Pavilion Behavioral Health System, a mental health hospital in central Illinois, and does research in cognitive psychology at the Beckman Institute for Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.

Work and research

Gustafson provides therapeutic services to adolescents and adults through individual and group therapy sessions and acts as a first respondent to crises at the hospital. “At Grinnell you don’t just memorize the textbook and spit that information back,” he says. “I use my writing and critical thinking skills every day in my job.”

A regular part of his job is therapeutic crisis intervention in response to the sometimes violent outbursts of the residents. “They’re behaviorally challenged kids with mental illnesses in a residential program,” he says. “A lot of times, they gang up on either the staff or other kids. You need to think on your feet to do the best thing in a given situation.”

Gustafson learned a lot from running his first group therapy session. “You have to build rapport, and if they don’t respect you, they won’t listen,” he says. At the same time, he says, you have to establish boundaries.

In addition to his work at The Pavilion, Gustafson also does research at the University of Illinois. He has been involved in two projects there, both using virtual reality. The first studied the effect of urban versus rural settings on creativity. The second was to examine perception and reaction times of older adults crossing the street.


In his courses, Caulkins discusses both entrepreneurship and intrepreneurship, the latter of which Gustafson has embraced. Intrapreneurship involves following the principles of entrepreneurship within a larger corporation. To that end, Gustafson is currently working to bring used exercise equipment to The Pavilion. “They had a workout area at Rosecrance where I interned,” he says, “and I wanted to see if I could bring that to The Pavilion.” Initially, he started bringing some of his own equipment to see whether anyone would seize on the opportunity. Now he is developing a partnership with a Division I football program to bring used equipment to The Pavilion.

Getting the most out of Grinnell

Gustafson spoke about the importance of taking advantage of internship opportunities and Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs). “It’s important to build experience before you get out,” he says. Gustafson attributes both his MAP and a summer internship with helping him secure his job after graduation. He took an unpaid internship at Rosecrance, a mental health/substance abuse counseling agency in Rockford, Ill., during the summer of his third year. Thanks to funding from the College, Gustafson was able to complete the internship without having to dig into his own pockets.

In addition to MAPs and internships, Gustafson encouraged current students to make use of the resources available to them on campus — specifically the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) and the Writing Lab. “The CLS would help me with my resume and cover letter. Then I’d go to writing lab and they’d help adjust the language,” he says. “That’s what got me my interviews.”


Program Preps Students for Grinnell

A pre-orientation program is helping put new Grinnellians at ease — a week before classes begin — through tours, workshops, and social events.

“It has helped lower my stress,” says Dasaan McCrimmon, a first-year student from Philadelphia, Pa.

The five-day program introduces students to the campus and college resources. Each student is paired with a student mentor.

David Chang, a first-year from San Diego, Calif., lauds the program. “Being in PCPOP with other students from across the nation, and a lot of them being students of color and minority students, I think that’s great,” he says. “It’s great to know people and know where things are.”

Jocelyn Acosta is a mentor and third-year sociology and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies major from El Monte, Calif. “It’s an awesome program,” she says. “It’s important for students to have one-on-one attention.”

PCPOP participants have fun while exploring campus. Some of their activities include:

  • Scavenger hunt and campus tour
  • Dinner with President Raynard S. Kington
  • Leadership Panel with Student Government Association (SGA)
  • Ice Cream Social
  • Visits to the writing, reading, and math labs
  • Discussion about wellness and financial management

Joan Mohan, director of the Reading Lab, makes students feel comfortable seeking help. She shows them resources about time management and discusses good reading and study habits.

“How did you ever learn anything in your life?” she asks. “It takes time. It takes practice, repetition, perseverance, a little bit of patience, a little bit of bravery, and, me nagging along.”

The program is organized by the Office of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership (OIEL).

Jocelyn Acosta ’16 sociology and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies major from El Monte, Calif. Dasaan McCrimmon, a first-year student from Philadelphia, Pa. David Chang, a first-year student San Diego, Calif.