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Why Grinnell?

Students come to Grinnell College for any number of reasons. We asked three current students to tell us theirs.

  • James Marlow ’16 is an art history and history double major from Staten Island, N.Y.
  • Lisa Oyolu ’17, a history major who’s also studying education, is from Houston, Texas.
  • Meghna Usharani Ravishankar ’17 is an independent major in global development and entrepreneurship from Bangalore, India.

How did Grinnell get to the top of your list of colleges?

James: Grinnell was at the top of my list the whole time. When I visited, I was struck by the social justice vibe, and the broad range of socioeconomic and cultural diversity made it a different liberal arts experience. The energy was progressive and collaborative and there was a passion that I just felt wasn’t present at other schools I’d visited. There’s this engagement present at all levels between the faculty and the students.

Lisa: I was considering two other small liberal arts schools and one of them I didn’t feel was rigorous enough. The other, I didn’t think that I would melt into as well socially. So Grinnell became the choice.

Meghna: I was considering a big research university in Canada and Grinnell — basically two ends of the spectrum — and I hadn’t visited either one. I knew that the university had huge classes and a huge campus and a huge student body. It’s okay to say there’s 200 people in a class, but I didn’t understand what it felt like to be in a class like that. On the other hand, I knew what it was like to be in a class of 15 people or eight and have personal, meaningful relationships with the person who’s teaching. That was one big plus for Grinnell, that I knew it would be easy for me to settle in and thrive academically.

When you were making up your mind to go to Grinnell, what would have made it easier?

James: Knowing how amazing the programming is. I’m on the concerts committee and we have a budget of about $100,000 per year. What I really appreciate is the acts that we book don’t necessarily have an audience in mainstream venues, so we try to support outsider music. I think Grinnell’s social justice mission even permeates student controlled entertainment programming. That demonstrates one of the strongest distinctive aspects of Grinnell’s community.

Lisa: Students have a voice in what happens on campus. They’re not just bystanders who let things happen to them for their four years here.

Meghna: If I had been able to visit, I would have understood what the atmosphere was like. I was able to get a little bit from videos and the website. I wanted to know what it was like to be a part of this school.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

Meghna: Some people don’t believe me when I say I had a great discussion the other day, that it was so cool and I got a kick out of it. It’s a really great time, but people need to know that they’re gonna be on their toes.

James: You never stop learning here. It’s not like class is over and you stop. In the dining hall, in meetings, selecting programming on campus, all that stuff. That’s one of the great things here: I feel like I’m learning the entire day here. It’s a continuous process and I feel it’s been really wonderful.

Lisa: Be prepared for change. As you come to a new place and interact with different people who have different experiences and come from different backgrounds, your perspective after the first semester of college might not be the same one you had at the beginning of the semester.


Causes with Effect

In a recent list of most liberal college campuses, Grinnell came in fourth, reflecting its long-standing, politically liberal reputation. Yet over time, both conservative and non-partisan, cause-related groups have also made their voices heard.

Rosenfield Professor of Political Science H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., who has observed Grinnell campus politics for more than 40 years, says that while “there’s a liberal tinge to most of the student organizations, the liberalism is not focused on politics but on causes. The central theme is helping people.”

Yes, There Are Conservatives

“Young Republicans have been active at times,” Moyer observes, “as have the Campus Democrats. We have conservative students but they tend to be moderate to liberal Republicans who identify less with the national Republican party than they might have 40 years ago.”

2014 graduate Sam Mulopulos is among those self-described conservatives who thrived on campus. “When I first came to Grinnell, I fell in love with the place and its people. In fact, because of my contrarian learning style, Grinnell probably made me more conservative or at least led me to more fully develop my conservative ideology.

“People often joke that the only people in the closet at Grinnell are the Republicans,” Mulopulos says. He started a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in fall 2013. “I believe a group like YAL has a tremendous role in promoting political diversity and social justice. The goal was to provide a forum for conservative students to ‘come out’ and cogently speak about their beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, and free markets.”

Don’t See What You Like? Start Your Own

A new club — the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network — like YAL, a chapter of a national organization, was co-founded in 2014–15 by Isaac Andino ’17 and Jenny Chi ’17. “Roosevelt is committed to progressive change, especially focusing on the local level since we feel that is where students can have the most direct change,” Andino explains.

“We are currently focusing our efforts on sustainability via socially responsible investing, investigating the college's endowment holdings in fossil fuel and defense companies and ways to possibly reduce our exposure/support to them,” Andino says. “We founded this organization because we felt it was a good fit with the values of Grinnell and was broad enough that it could be directed at any number of pressing issues. Other organizations on campus focus on one specific issue, while Roosevelt could be used as a general umbrella to address issues in the future.”

RISE Grinnell, led by Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, also addresses progressive issues. “The goal of RISE Grinnell is to organize and participate in activism across a broad spectrum of progressive issues,” Metz-Lerman says. “Although we shy away from the term social justice, that is exactly what we stand for — issues that threaten justice, peace, love, and equality.”

A Focus on Issues

For those interested in targeting more specific issues, the Grinnell in Latin America Solidarity Society (GLASS) organization may have appeal.

For Jason Camey ’16, the focus on Latin American issues through GLASS came after a trip to Guatemala, through a co-curricular grant, where he and other Grinnell students witnessed “how U.S. foreign policy affected people in the country.

“The goal we established for the GLASS was to start talking about issues and getting people connected with partner organizations in Latin America,” Camey says.

“Grinnell is a community filled with amazingly brilliant students who aren't just citizens of the U.S. but of the world, and I think more and more students are realizing worldwide issues are something we also have to look at. Many of my peers are unaware of how our foreign policy affects people directly. I think if more people knew then they'd raise questions, they'd think a little more critically, they'd approach foreign policy with more caution, pointing out how these policies affect people.”

From broad to specific, local to international, progressive to conservative, there is always room for more campus political organizations, asserts Mulopulos. “What a boring place the world would be if we all agreed on every issue all the time? Where is the intellectual challenge in that? The ultimate goal as humans is to make the world a better, safer, healthier, and more prosperous place for everyone.”

Isaac Andino ’17, a political science major, is from Miami Springs, Fla. Jenny Chi ’17 is majoring in political science and economics and is from West Hills, Calif. Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, a political science major, is from Roslindale, Mass. Jason Camey ’16 is majoring in Spanish and political science.

Faulconer Gallery Unveils Bequest of Works by Toulouse-Lautrec and Others

Saxoleine, poster by Jules Cheret, 1896

Jules Cheret, Saxoleine Pétrole de Sureté, 1896

Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery has received a bequest of 14 posters and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, and others from the estate of William M. Moore. The collection is named The Lenny Seidenman Collection, Bequest of William M. Moore, in memory of Nina Seidenman ’71. It honors both Moore’s deceased wife, who attended Grinnell College for two years and remembered her time with great pride, and his father-in-law, Lenny Seidenman, who collected the art while doing Jewish relief work in Paris just after World War II.

The collection includes:

  • Three posters, including the iconic Divan Japonais, and seven lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec
  • A poster by Bonnard
  • Three posters by Jules Chéret
  • A large theatrical poster by Bécon.  

The works are now on view in the Print and Drawing Study Room on the lower level of Burling Library.

In making the offer of the collection, Moore wrote: “It has fallen to me to try to keep the collection intact by finding an eventual home for it, somewhere that would appreciate these incredible images when I am no longer able to enjoy them….”  The quality of the works and the connection with a Grinnell alumna, along with the family’s deep connection to education, made this bequest a wonderful addition to the Faulconer Gallery art collection.

Both Moore and Seidenman taught at Milton Academy, a private school in Milton, Massachusetts. Moore was raised in Vermont and Seidenman grew up in Europe, where her father was executive vice-president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, working in France, Italy, and other countries to relocate Jewish refugees.

“The Lenny Seidenman Collection adds wonderful posters and prints from the late nineteenth century to our works on paper collection. These posters and prints will be of interest to students and faculty in art, French, theatre, history, gender and women’s studies, and to our wider audience,” says Faulconer Gallery director Lesley Wright. “Moore first approached us about adding the bequest to his will in 2013; we are only sorry that he passed away shortly after we met — much sooner than we expected. We are honored to have the collection at Grinnell.”

The Print and Drawing Study Room is open Monday to Friday from 1–5 p.m.

Agents of Change

Campus committees abound at Grinnell and are among the numerous ways for students to leave their footprint. High student participation in campus committees may be an obvious result of self-governance.

“Self-government” and “a democratic student community” were concepts invoked by the College’s founders, notes Chris Jones, College archivist. Student representation on campus committees was regularly documented in the early 1900s.

So, the work of student involvement in the inner workings of the Grinnell campus is indeed a well-established practice. Some committees are elected; some are appointed; some are show-interest-and-you-are-in.

Benefits to students

“Through the Rosenfield Committee, I'm involved in the process of bringing fantastic speakers to campus to talk about issues of human rights and international relations,” says Nipun Basrur ’15, a chemistry major. “I have the opportunity to meet and interact with these speakers and to plan events and symposiums on topics that I personally care about — an incredibly rare opportunity for undergraduate students.”

Basrur is also a member of the Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) for chemistry. Each academic department has its own SEPC. Basrur says, “I'm able to build a closer relationship with other majors and faculty and learn more about the planning and working of an academic department — which will be helpful if I choose to continue in academia in the future.”

Roni Finkelstein ’15 says, “I have learned so much about event planning, college operations, and networking from being involved in campus committees. I've also had invaluable enlightening conversations with accomplished scholars and professionals. My involvement with campus committees has shaped my perspective on my own career path.”

Last year, Finkelstein was involved in the Budget Planning Committee as Student Government Association treasurer. She currently serves on the Grinnell Prize Advisory Committee, the Rosenfield Program Committee, and the SEPC for history.

“I reach out to my social networks to gather opinions about what other students would like to see happen and share those opinions with staff and faculty,” Finkelstein says. “By gathering student opinion, committees become more effective in their missions to enrich campus life.”

Benefits to campus

Sarah Purcell ’92, professor of history and director of the Rosenfield Program, also knows well the benefits students gain from campus service. As a student, she served on the committee for the program she now directs.

“Everything in the Rosenfield Program involves students. It’s impossible to imagine doing this work without them,” Purcell says. “Students are the majority on the committee, are full voting members, and have input from ideas to planning to execution.”

Three students talking together in a committee

Grinnell’s committee work culture “is self-gov in practice,” she says. “Sharing committee responsibilities helps students to gain experience. Committee work is a great way to get to know Grinnell and build skills such as workplace etiquette. It’s definitely a resume builder, especially if the student has taken an active role and can talk about specific projects and their part in them.”

Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean for the Center for Careers, Life and Service, views student committee involvement as both a leadership and a learning experience.

“Students at Grinnell have uncommon opportunities to be involved in academic departments, standing committees, and task forces that directly impact the student experience. I tell students to take the role seriously. ‘You are a student whose voice is being heard so be an active participant in the process.’”

Peltz also sees a direct tie to self-governance. “Student participation is an expectation here, more so than at other places. Grinnell’s commitment to self-governance is the foundation on which committee decisions are made — from SEPCs where students play a role in recruitment and hiring of faculty to participating on Board of Trustees’ committees*. Students’ active involvement serves us better as a campus community.”

*The Student Government Association’s president and two vice-presidents regularly attend and participate on Board of Trustee committees.

Benefits for all

Basrur agrees: “When you give passionate and intelligent students the resources to plan events or student policies, our campus can only benefit.”

Nipun Basrur ’15, a chemistry major, is from Bangalore, India. Roni Finkelstein ’15, a history major, is from Tenafly, New Jersey.

Study Spaces

The best place to study is the one that makes you comfortable and productive. Depending on your habits and your personality, your needs may be highly specific. Fortunately, Grinnell has a wide spectrum of study spaces to suit everyone’s needs, so we’ll be ready for you once you enroll.

Close to Home

If you just want to get away — but not too far — your residence hall lounge will keep you close enough to your mini fridge to access your string cheese and hummus, but far enough away that you’re “getting out.”

Silence is Golden

Group talking beneath the oval lighting ring.If you need silence when you study — not quiet, but serene, stifling silence — head to the fourth floor of Burling Library. You get the comforting, but not overpowering, smell of aging books and the sound of silence.

The “jungle gyms” are two-level structures on the first floor of Burling that give you two options. Do you want to feel safe, nestled inside the lower level, or do you want to survey your academic domain from atop one of these green-carpeted structures?

The Laurel Leaf Lounge in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center is a great place to study if you like it quiet but need white noise. The fireplace, flying-saucer-like hanging light, and cushioned furniture give the room the feel of a lodge inside a turret.

Social Silence

There’s always the possibility you could score an empty classroom after hours for yourself or a study group. The Alumni Recitation Hall is your best bet for availability, but Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center, the Rosenfield Center, and some of the smaller buildings offer a lot of options, too.

There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the Noyce Science Center that lend themselves to individual or group study. The most popular, though, is the elbow — technically the Ahrens atrium — at the southwest corner of Noyce. The space walks the line between private and public, and the huge panes of glass let in the low winter sun.

The Kistle Science Library in the Noyce Science Center is open to more than just science majors. Its four meeting rooms are excellent for group work, and the mezzanine offers privacy and a view.

Public Productivity

Students studying at outdoor tables.If you want to be social while pretending to work, the Spencer Grill in the Rosenfield Center is where you want to go. Coffee and snacks fuel either inspired creative and academic conversations or debates over whose classes are harder. If you actually want to get work done, wear your headphones loud and proud.

If you want to add a little nature into your Nietzsche, just head outside. Mac Field and central campus have the most space, but the South Campus “beaches” — the green spaces that extend inward from dorms — have the best combination of sun and shade.

Too Comfortable

You already thought of this one: in your room. Even with a roommate, you’ve got your own space, your own things, and those sheets that still smell like home. Be careful, though. Plop yourself down on your bed and you may end up snoring rather than studying.

Off Campus

You don’t have to study on campus. One of the most popular alternatives, especially on the weekends, is Saints Rest Coffee House, a few blocks away. It’s a great place to take that short story you need to hammer out in one sitting, and the excellent coffee, friendly staff, and mellow atmosphere don’t hurt. Just be sure to take along your headphones if you don’t find coffee shop sounds conducive to studying.

Grinnell has no shortage of study spots, and there are plenty we haven’t mentioned. Whether you end up with a routine space or bounce all over campus, you’ll find somewhere that works for you.

Map App

College campuses are constantly changing, but students only see a brief window of this change. A building might be the centerpiece of an institution, but a few years after it has been razed, it resides largely in the minds of alumni and in the College’s archives.

Eric Mistry ’14 is not willing to let the memories of campus past rest. Instead, he created an app for iOS and Android that makes Grinnell’s campus history accessible to all.

Mistry’s Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) uses images, maps, and information from the College’s archives to paint a picture of Grinnell’s campus over time.

The app offers both a guided tour of the current campus and a historical tour in which sites of former buildings are superimposed on an aerial view of the College, courtesy of Google Maps.

Initially, Mistry planned to make an e-book documenting the College from 1996 — when the last official history ends — to the present. Instead, he decided to more fully embrace the emerging field of digital humanities. Digital humanities applies computer science to humanities subjects. Instead of writing a paper or an e-book, Mistry created an interactive experience.

Prior to undertaking this project, Mistry took a design course as part of his technology studies concentration, but the history major had no experience building mobile apps. With online lessons from Codeacademy and some assistance from members of the Grinnell AppDev team who lived down the hall, Mistry was able to create an app on Intel’s XDK platform.

At the same time as Mistry was using online resources to teach himself how to build mobile apps, he was searching through the card catalog in the basement of Burling Library. Although he acknowledged the irony of relying on an analog resource for this digital project, he admitted that electronic searches lacked a crucial ability: serendipity. “I would search through these boxes I found with the card catalog search,” he said, “and find things I never would have thought to look up.”

Mistry prefers to be on the border of analog and digital, old and new, drawing from both to create something better than either. Referencing a long since demolished campus building that he fixated on during this project, he said, “We weren’t able to save Blair Hall, and we probably won’t be able to build anything like it again. I love it when you can improve on something that’s already there and when you can get something that looks old but works like it’s new.”

He’s taken that philosophy beyond the digital, too. Mistry, a hall wellness coordinator, was a member of the the board of directors for the new wellness lounge in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center. The project improved an existing space, which now functions at a new, higher level.

For more information about Mistry and his mobile app, visit his blog.

TourGrinnell app on a phone, with research images from the archives

Remy’s Route

Remy Ferber’s love affair with Grinnell College began at night.

The beautiful, modern buildings mixed with distinguished, historic ones impressed her as she toured the campus with her father.

“I kind of fell in love with the school then and there,” says Ferber ‘14, a fourth-year art history and political science major. “It was a small school that would challenge me, and it was an opportunity to explore a new part of the country with a diverse group of people.”

That moment put Ferber on the path to join an esteemed group known as Grinnellians.

Excellence, service, leadership

The 21-year-old from Concord, Mass., says her four years here have taught her that Grinnellians are committed to excellence, service, and leadership.

“What I love about Grinnellians — students, faculty and staff — is we’re constantly setting the bar higher,” she says. “Not to make a statement about what we can achieve, but in legitimately trying to make a difference.”

Challenging and transformative opportunities abound at Grinnell — inside and outside of the classroom.

Like so many other Grinnell students, Ferber devised her own research plans to guide major projects.  

Jenny Anger, associate professor of art and art history, described Ferber’s research at Grinnell and abroad as “meticulously detailed and thoughtful.” 

“Remy’s consummate professionalism surpasses that of many who have already collected many more credentials than she,” says Anger.

Graduation approaches

As graduation approaches, Ferber is excited about a project that will culminate four years of interdisciplinary research, Art as an Agent of Diplomacy: The Anglo-American Example, her Mentored Advanced Project (MAP). The paper explores the use of the visual arts as propaganda in American cultural diplomacy since the Cold War, and mentions potential reforms based on the success of the British Council.

“This is what a Grinnell education is all about — providing the means for you to jump in and be able to manage independent research,” she says.

Recently, Ferber and Jennelle Nystrom ’14, a fourth-year computer science and art history major, co-founded the Grinnell+ Leadership Program. The organization brings together student leaders, online and on-campus to discuss leadership issues. Alums can join the online forum.

Ferber, who laughingly refers to German Expressionist painters as “friends” of hers, has leveraged her art knowledge and leadership skills on a variety of high-profile summer internships at the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Art Museums, and Christie’s. Internships, externships, off-campus study and course-embedded travel very much make the world Grinnell’s “campus.”

Intense New Englander

With a self-described “New England intensity,” Ferber has relished serving on a staggering number of groups and committees, including her role as the Student Government Association’s vice president of academic affairs.

The position enables her to work with College leaders to consider Grinnell’s future in ways she otherwise might not have.

Even with graduation looming, Ferber is certain her attachment to Grinnell won’t end.

“I love Grinnell, and I’m dedicated to this school,” she says. “Students have access to a customized education here in a way that is very unique to this particular institution.”


Remy Ferber ’14 is an art history and political science major from Concord, Mass.

Forest of Lights

When they started working on their Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), Ben Doehr ’15 and Caleb Sponheim ’15 had no idea how moved some observers would be, by a display of lights, triggered by the viewers’ very presence.

Like so many Grinnell students, Doehr and Sponheim employed creativity, critical thinking, and individualized study in an attention-grabbing project supported by the College’s unique programs.

The pair shares an easygoing friendship, an enthusiastic collaboration, and a wry sense of humor. Last semester at Grinnell-in-London, they shared a flat, where the concepts for their current projects first germinated.

Roberts Theatre aglow

Roberts Theatre aglow with lights

Caleb wanted to create a forest of lights in Roberts Theatre. He and Ben wanted people to be able to interact with the light display from the stage.

From concept to the March 2014 installation, their vision remained the same. Participants entered the darkened theatre, where Caleb led them to a line of dimly glowing light bulbs suspended at face height over the lip of the stage. As soft music played in the background accompanied by the sounds of crickets and flowing water, Caleb explained that the lights knew the participants were there, and that if they got close enough to them, the lights would respond.

Interactive music

When a participant reached out, nearly touching one of the hanging light bulbs, the bulb would brighten as a musical note rang through the theatre and a cluster of other light bulbs hanging at various heights over the seats would brighten before fading back into the darkness. Light sensors drove the display; when either of two cameras that monitored the space sensed a change in ambient light — brighter or darker — the lights would respond.

The faces of the participants, lit up with wonder and joy, were as compelling to watch as the twinkling bulbs in the theatre.

Caleb says, “People brought things in. They projected their emotions on the space.” It was the human element that brought the design to life.

First of three projects

Interacting with light

If you were to pigeon-hole the work, you could call it an art installation. It is the first of three projects, which all are part of a theatre MAP.

Interestingly, Ben and Caleb don’t have a theatre major between them.

Doehr is double-majoring in chemistry and economics; Sponheim majors in psychology.

The project gave them a chance to stretch, a common occurrence on a campus with such diverse academic and extracurricular offerings. “This is a good creative outlet for both of us,” says Caleb. “It helps break up a schedule of highly analytic thinking.”

The pair is planning two more installations in Roberts Theatre:

  • Dark, which will open in mid-April, and
  • Dance, which will open in early May.

Each will offer a unique sensory experience and will allow for different ways to participate in the experience and interact with the space. Ben and Caleb didn’t disclose any details about their future installations, but if they’re anything like Light, they will be more than installations. They’ll be experiences.

There's Something About Grinnell

Rewarding experiences inside the classroom and beyond. The opportunity to focus on learning that matters most to you. The excitement of firsthand research and a vibrant, supportive learning community with global outcomes...

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