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Bakopoulos Receives 2016 Creative Writing Fellowship

Dean BakopoulosIn the first grant announcement of its 50th anniversary year, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded individual creative writing fellowships of $25,000 each to 37 fiction and creative nonfiction writers including Dean Bakopoulos, writer-in-residence at Grinnell College.  

Since its establishment in 1965, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion in grants in every state and U.S. jurisdiction, the only arts funder in the nation to do so.

The NEA selected Bakopoulos from among 1,763 eligible applicants evaluated by 23 readers and panelists. This is his second NEA fellowship, a rare accomplishment.

Through its creative writing fellowships program, the NEA gives writers the time and space to create, revise, conduct research, and connect with readers. Fellows must wait 10 years before applying for a second fellowship. Bakopoulos won an award for fiction in 2006; the 2016 award is for creative nonfiction.

"Since its inception, the creative writing fellowship program has awarded more than $45 million to a diverse group of more than 3,000 writers, many of them emerging writers at the start of their careers," said NEA Director of Literature Amy Stolls. "These 37 extraordinary new fellows, including Dean Bakopoulos, provide more evidence of the NEA’s track record of discovering and supporting excellent writers."

"I’m so grateful to the NEA for recognizing my work for a second time," Bakopoulos said. "This is an important boost for me on many levels, not just financially, but also emotionally. I’m finishing a difficult and somewhat perplexing book, and this fellowship has given me the courage to keep working, to finish the manuscript I was very close to throwing away.

"The nonfiction manuscript, titled 'Undoings,' is a book-length meditation on the way things fall apart, and how we, as individuals, as families, as artists, often become undone by our own obsessions and our own pasts. I wrestle with many demons and blessings in that book: marriage, divorce and parenthood; my own family's history as war refugees and the long shadows cast by war trauma; as well as everything from country music to fast food to the role of religion in clinical depression. Right now, it's a mess of a book, and this fellowship gives me the time to give it the focus it needs." 

Bakopoulos, who teaches fiction and creative nonfiction courses at Grinnell, is the author of three novels — Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, My American Unhappiness, and Summerlong. The film version of his first novel, co-written by Bakopoulos, wraps shooting this month and stars James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jeffrey Wahlberg. The film version of Summerlong, also adapted by Bakopoulos, is in the works. In addition to his two NEA awards, Bakopoulos is the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The NEA’s creative writing fellowships program is arguably the most egalitarian grant program in its field. Applications are free and open to the public; fellows are selected through an anonymous review process in which the sole criterion is artistic excellence. The judging panel varies year to year and is always diverse with regard to geography, ethnicity, gender, age, and life experience.

Since 1990, 81 of the 138 American recipients of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were previous NEA creative writing fellows.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAFall15.

Rebecca Wong ’17 Earns Honorable Mention for Udall Scholarship

Rebecca Wong ’17 has earned honorable mention for the Udall Scholarship, which recognizes second- and third-year undergraduate students for their outstanding leadership, public service, and commitment to environmental issues, American Indian healthcare, or tribal policy.

Wong, who aspires to work in renewable energy engineering, is one of 49 students nationwide to receive this honor.

A leader in environmental justice groups on campus, Wong serves as vice president of the Food Recovery Network and chief leader of the IOWATER water-monitoring group. She also plays violin in the Grinnell Symphony Orchestra and is general manager for Grinnell Outdoor Recreation Program.

"This honor has shown me that I am on the right path," Wong said, "and I will continue to strive to create a world where humans can maintain and improve their standard of living without irreversible detrimental effects to the environment."

The Udall Scholarship honors the legacies of Morris Udall and Stewart Udall, whose careers had a significant impact on American Indian self-governance, health care, and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources.

Melissa Hardy ’16 Awarded Goldwater Scholarship

Melissa Hardy ’16 has received the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship for up to $7,500 toward tuition and other expenses for the academic year. 

A senior chemistry and French double major from Billings, Montana, Hardy is using the scholarship to fund her senior year at Grinnell. After graduating from Grinnell in May 2016, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and lead synthetic organic chemistry research in either academia or industry.

At Grinnell, Hardy has served as a mentor to students in introductory chemistry courses. She also was invited to present her research at two research symposia in October: the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium at Rice University in Houston, Texas; and the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Symposium in Arlington, Virginia, sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Mike FitzpatrickSenior biological chemistry major Mike Fitzpatrick ’16 earned honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship. A resident of Village of Lakewood, Illinois, he plans to attend graduate school to earn doctoral degrees in medicine and neuroscience.   

Congress established the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Program to encourage excellence in science and mathematics for American undergraduate students with excellent academic records and outstanding potential. Grinnell College students are frequent recipients of Goldwater honors, with six students being named Goldwater Scholars and five students receiving honorable mentions since 2010.

Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15 awarded Hearst Journalism Fellowship

Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15Silvia Elena Foster-Frau ’15 has received the Hearst Journalism Fellowship, a two-year digital media journalism fellowship awarded to four to six aspiring journalists each year.

For the first year of her fellowship, Foster-Frau will be reporting for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group. She currently is reporting for the Greenwich Time newspaper in Greenwich, Connecticut, but will transition to The Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the second part of her internship. She aspires to be a feature writer for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, or The New York Times.

Foster-Frau's work already has made an impact. Her story about a homeless family in Greenwich inspired the community to rally together, setting up a fund of more than $4,000 and finding the family a home. A story she wrote about a transgender teen from Greenwich was picked up by the Associated Press and published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, and Hartford Courant, among others.

A 2010 graduate of Galesburg High School in Galesburg, Illinois, Foster-Frau took a gap year in Mexico before enrolling in Grinnell College in 2011. She was an English major and leader in publications on campus. She served as the writing editor for The Grinnell Review and co-host of KDIC Radio Show "The Prairie's Edge." During her fourth year at Grinnell, she was a senior interviewer for the Office of Admission.

The Hearst Fellowship is a two-year program focusing on multimedia journalism funded by the Hearst Corporation, which owns many top metro papers nationwide. Fellows work 12-month rotations at two of Hearst's top newspapers, ensuring they will gain experience in a variety of news and media environments.

Five Grinnell Graduates Honored with Fulbright Awards

Four 2015 Grinnell College graduates and a 2011 graduate have been awarded prestigious Fulbright grants to support travel, teaching and research internationally.

The Fulbright Program, the flagship international education exchange program of the U.S. Department of State, provides recent graduates the opportunity to travel abroad to study, conduct research and teach English. Since its inception in 1946, more than 44,000 students have benefited from the Fulbright experience.

Grinnell has consistently produced a high number of Fulbright recipients. Earlier this year, Grinnell was once again named to the U.S. Department of State's list of colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright students. Grinnell has been named to this list every year since it was first issued in 2004.

"Grinnellians have always been excellent fits for the Fulbright program," says Steve Gump, director of global fellowships and awards and administrator of the Fulbright program at Grinnell. "Students come to Grinnell to learn about themselves and their potentials for making a difference in the world. They are keen to continue this learning as cultural ambassadors abroad, so the Fulbright goal of increasing mutual understanding through international exchange is a natural extension of their Grinnell experiences."

The 2015 graduates who have received Fulbright awards are:

Aaron MardisAaron Mardis, a mathematics major from Keokuk, Iowa, has received an English teaching assistantship in Montenegro, a small Balkan country once part of the former Yugoslavia that became independent in 2006.

After his Fulbright year, Mardis hopes to continue teaching mathematics in the United States, incorporating both the teaching practices and cultural inclusivity that he experiences while teaching abroad.

Jordan MeyersJordan Meyers, an English major from McMinnville, Oregon, has received a Fulbright research grant to travel to China to conduct medical science research.

After his Fulbright year, Meyers plans to work in the healthcare field before enrolling in medical school.

Lena Parkhurst, a Spanish and English double major from Batavia, Illinois, has received a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Brazil. She is excited to work in Brazil’s university setting, where she will be instructing future English teachers.

After her Fulbright year, Parkhurst plans to continue exploring her interests in education and international relations.

Sarah WeitekampSarah Weitekamp, a Russian and history double major from Raymond, Illinois, has received a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Russia.

After her Fulbright year, Weitekamp plans to attend law school.  

A 2011 Grinnell graduate also received a Fulbright award:

Christopher WilsonChristopher Wilson, an English major from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was awarded an English teaching assistantship in Spain. Since his graduation from Grinnell in 2011, Wilson has worked extensively in law and education. Following his Fulbright year, Wilson will continue working in K–12 education, with plans to complete a graduate degree in education policy or leadership within the next five years.


Striking a Balance

In their first year at Grinnell, twins Vrishali Sinha ’19 and Vidushi Sihna ’19 led women’s golf to its third consecutive conference title. For added emphasis, they finished one-two individually at the Midwest Conference tournament in October.

The Sinhas’ games were “on” from the start of the season. In their very first competitive rounds for Grinnell, Vrishali and Vidushi shot the second and third best scores in program history at 74 and 76, respectively. Grinnell team scoring records fell three times in the first three tournaments.

The twins’ first-year success was not entirely unexpected. Both Sinhas have practically lived on the links since they were 10. As teens they were among the best women players in the Indian Golf Union, the governing body for amateur golf in all of India.

Vrishali and Vidushi had always planned to attend college together, but some were surprised that they would opt for Division III golf at Grinnell. The choice initially stunned their lifelong golf coach in India.

“Our coach wanted us to go Division I,” Vrishali says.

“When he found out Grinnell was Division III, he was like, ‘Why?’” Vidushi says.

Wanted a Balance

The Sinhas’ father fielded the incoming appeals from Division I programs, but Vrishali says, “I have a lot of friends who went to Division I and they did not have a really good experience. We were always certain that we wanted to go Division III so we didn’t even consider the Division I and II offers.”

“We are really uncertain whether we want to turn professional or not,” Vidushi adds. “You sacrifice your academics if you go Division I.” 

So, does that mean academics were always their first consideration in choosing a college?

“I wouldn’t say first,” they say in unison, laughing at the common occurrence in their conversation.

“… but we wanted a balance,” Vidushi finishes.

Coaches Influential

One of the Sinha sisters sets up a shot while the other watchesGrinnell golf coaches David Arseneault and Jennie Jackson can attest to the importance of tools like Skype and FaceTime in communicating with student-athletes, especially when prospective students live more than 8,000 miles away.

“We were in contact with a few coaches, and out of all of them we liked Coach A. and Jenny the most,” Vrishali says. “I think that influenced our decision to come to Grinnell a lot.”

The Sinhas also talked with teammate-to-be Lauren Yi ’18 to find out about life at Grinnell from a student perspective, Vidushi says.

“For me, golf and academics are at par, but at a Division I, academics become secondary,” Vrishali says. “People who I know (in Division I) have to choose an easier major so that they can balance out the study and travel.”

“Also, there is just the one tutorial requirement here,” Vidushi says. “I want to do a double major, and I think it’s much better that way.”

Liberal Arts Options

The Sinhas are a year away from declaring majors, and when asked what they might presently choose, they answer together: “Econ.”  

“I want to double major in studio art and econ,” Vidushi says. “There are a lot of artists in our family. My mom’s an artist, my brother paints, I paint.”

“Oh, no,” Vrishali says about the possibility of two majors. “I’m fine with one.”

Both sisters say they’ll probably return to India after college, but for now they are comfortable keeping long-term plans open-ended.

“That is also why we came to a liberal arts college,” Vrishali says, “because you have so many options here. I’m taking an intro to psych course and that’s pretty interesting, so I might do something related to psychology, or stick with econ, I’m not sure.”

Responding to Change

The Sinhas seem relatively undaunted by all they’ve experienced in a few short months, including the differences in American golf courses, the stateside approach to team play, and an academic system that requires a new way of doing things.

“Academics here are tough, definitely,” Vidushi says. “The education system in India is a lot different from what it is here. Out there we just have …”

 “One exam…” Vrishali says.

“…twice a year,” Vidushi finishes.

“You have to do well on your exams because that is 100% of your grade,” Vrishali explains.

Dad Likes Decision

The biggest adjustment of all, however, was coming to a place the size of Grinnell from one of the largest population centers in the world.

“Delhi is huge,” Vrishali says. “It’s a lot colder in the interaction between people, which is more formal, like, just when it’s required or necessary. Out here the people are a lot more friendly.”

While their coach back home now has come around to approving of the twins’ decision to come to Grinnell, their father was never in doubt.

“Oh, he’s happy,” Vidushi says.

“My dad is so happy,” Vrishali says.

Vrishali Sinha ’19 and Vidushi Sinha ’19 attended The Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, Haryana, India. 


A Community of Care

If you talk to Grinnell students about their experiences on campus, it’s likely that the term “self-governance” will be mentioned more than once. The concept of “self-gov” is integral to the Grinnell experience, but what does it really mean?

When Dixon Romeo ’16 arrived on campus in 2012, he could see that not everyone agreed about what self-governance meant. Was it about being a responsible member of the community, or did it have to do with individual student rights? After nearly four years at Grinnell, Romeo has developed a clearer idea of what self-governance really is.

We Versus Me

“I think the longer you’re at Grinnell, the more you tend to lean toward the idea of community governance and away from the idea that self-gov means you can do whatever you want,” says Romeo.

For him, the “me-first” mentality is a big misunderstanding of the importance of self-gov on campus. Creating a culture of respect in which individuals look out for each other and think about how their actions might affect the community as a whole is an integral part of the learning that takes place during college. Offering a study break to a friend who looks stressed, sitting with someone who’s alone in the dining hall, or helping to solve a conflict on your dorm floor — all of these are ways that Grinnell students enact self-gov and create a community of care and respect.

In addition to these daily examples of self-gov, working in the Student Government Association (SGA) helped Romeo develop an even deeper understanding of self-gov. As SGA vice president, Romeo interacts with many different students, staff, and faculty and has realized the importance of self-governance on such a diverse campus.

“While you’re here in this community, you need to have an opportunity to learn, both by making mistakes and by doing great things,” Romeo says. “But you can’t do that if it’s everyone for themselves. We have these self-governing tenets in order to make this a safe space in which everyone can learn and develop into the kind of person they want to be.”

Self-Gov at Parties

One example — many campus parties and events are watched over by student security.

“The idea that we, as students, become responsible for one another, go through training and sacrifice our Friday and Saturday nights so that the rest of the community can have a fun time in a safe way, that’s pretty amazing,” Romeo says. “If something goes wrong or there’s a conflict or someone needs help, I think it’s really important that you’re able to turn to your peers for help, because it’s about responsibility rather than authority.”

Evolving Definitions of Self-Gov

Romeo also acknowledges that the nature of self-governance will be different for each generation of Grinnellians. The issues that were important for the community during the 1970s are not the same concerns of the current student body, and the way self-gov is manifested reflects that change.

“Issues of identity are at the forefront of our current culture,” Romeo explains. “Ten, or even 15 years ago, no one would stand up in a crowd and announce whether they prefer female, male, or any other pronouns, because that wasn’t a part of the conversation.”

Another misconception: Self-governance only applies to situations outside of the classroom. Romeo feels that students need to extend that thinking to their academic activities as well.

“Learning how to state your case, disagree respectfully, and struggle to really understand other people’s opinions in the classroom is a big part of self-gov and of the liberal arts as a whole,” Romeo says.

Dixon Romeo ’16 is an economics major from Chicago.


History in the Making

During Grinnell’s week-long fall break, 11 students in the Opera, Politics, and Society in Modern Europe course went to San Francisco with Kelly Maynard, assistant professor of history, to get an up-close look at how politics and culture influence the development of modern opera. Thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of trustee Craig Henderson ’63, who opened his home and opera connections to the class, students spoke with opera singers, saw orchestral rehearsals, met with opera critics, and got exclusive backstage glimpses into set design and media suites.

“It really helped me put everything that we learned in class into perspective,” says Austin Schilling ’17. “You can read about how people used to make sets or how people designed opera houses 200 years ago, but you can’t get a real feel for it without seeing how everything operates with your own eyes.”

Students saw two live opera productions, The Magic Flute and Lucia di Lammermoor, at the San Francisco Conservatory and the San Francisco Opera House. Some were surprised at how different it was from watching operas on-screen. “Seeing an opera live in front of you and getting to analyze it on the spot with your classmates gives you a completely new perspective,” says Sam Hengst ’18.

What students didn’t expect was the opportunity to meet with the director of the San Francisco Opera, David Gockley, who made time to meet with them during one of their tours. With half a semester of in-class study and a rigorous week of immersion in the world of opera under their belts, students were prepared to ask Gockley questions that helped them to discover the modern parallels to what they learned in class.

Students taking a close look at a wig in a room full of other wigs“We got to see firsthand that the history we’re studying in class is alive and functioning today and is still as rich and complex as it was 200 years ago,” says Elizabeth Allen ’16.

“I think my biggest take-away from this experience is that you need to look at things from many different angles,” says Hengst. “When we do readings, we’re so used to just thinking about things in one way, but on this trip we saw that the world of opera is complex, from the actors and singers to set design and the use of technology. It’s a network, and we couldn’t have gotten such a great understanding of that from just reading about it.”

Through learning about the many complicated components that go into an opera production, these students discovered aspects of opera that they had never expected to be interested in. Allen even discovered an area that may turn into a topic of future research — the way globalization and art collide in modern opera.

“Thinking about The Magic Flute, which is an 18th-century Viennese opera, translated into English in the 21st century by David Gockley, using set design that includes the aesthetics of contemporary Japanese ceramics … it’s something global and contemporary, but still rooted in the past,” Allen says. “Seeing that was a really pivotal experience for me, and I realized that that’s the way I want to look at things in the future.”

For Allen and the other students in the class, learning about the many factors that contribute to opera opened their eyes to viewing things differently and looking beneath the surface of a finished product, a skill that will benefit them no matter what field they go into.

Austin Schilling '17 is a mathematics and German double major from Evanston, Ill.

Sam Hengst '18 is a German major from Madison, Wis.

Elizabeth Allen '16 is from Santa Fe, N.M., and is an art history major.

Swimming the Channel

Delia Salomon in red and black jacket with Honor G logo on the upper left.

Delia Salomon ’14 wears Grinnell colors as she prepares to start her swim from Shakespeare Beach in Dover, England. Salomon swam the 500- and 1650-meter freestyle at Grinnell. She lettered all four years and earned academic all-conference honors three times.

Delia Salomon ’14 started her attempt to swim the English Channel from Dover, England, in the dark of night. In the daylight of hour 10, she was “quite shocked” to have France already in sight.

“I tried not to be looking toward France too much because that can play tricks on your mind,” Salomon says. “Once I realized how close I was, it was really exciting.

“The finish line was very stressful because the wind picked up,” she says. “I was trying to land on a rocky beach and not get completely smashed.”

A month after completing the most famous long-distance swim in the world, Salomon recalls her landing at Cap Gris Nez Sept. 7, 2015. “I felt a huge sense of relief,” she says. “And also disbelief.

“It still feels like a dream,” she says.

Salomon made the 21-mile crossing in 10 hours and 33 minutes — on the fast side of recorded times (from 6:55 to 28:55) and faster than she had anticipated, thanks to favorable currents and winds, she says.

Wanted a Rematch

It was her second try. She’d made an attempt in 2008 when she was 16 years old, but it was called off by bad weather after 11 hours.

“I’d read the book Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox when I was 15 and decided I wanted to do it,” Salomon says. “I guess I am just really stubborn, so once I was thwarted by the weather I wanted a rematch. I knew I had to finish it.”

Open-water swimming appeals to Salomon because there are many ways of defining success. “Sure, there are some who have the records for the fastest or the most or the first of some crossing,” she says, “but it can also be more than that. I just wanted to get across. I didn’t care how long it would take.”

Rules and Precautions

Salomon enlisted her own boat pilot to guide her crossing. Typically boat pilots are fishermen who are familiar with the channel and are in complete charge. The pilot chooses the day of the crossing and has final say on all safety matters: he has the authority to end the attempt.

“The days leading up to the swim are nerve-racking because you are on call and don't know exactly when you will be swimming,” Salomon says. “You have to be ready to go whenever your pilot says.”

An observer from the Channel Swimming Association made sure that official rules were followed. Salomon was not allowed contact with anyone in the boat during her timeouts. At 30-minute intervals she stopped to drink a “carb-protein-electrolyte mixture” of her own concoction. She managed to avoid two big challenges to channel swimmers — jellyfish and tanker ships. 

Physically and Mentally Challenging

Delia Salomon in celebratory tshirt

Salomon’s yearlong training for the crossing included help with open-water technique from Tim Hammond, Grinnell assistant swimming and diving coach. “Tim has always been super supportive of my open-water swimming,” she says.

Needing to be mentally and emotionally fit for the challenge, Salomon stayed motivated with the strong support of family, friends, and coaches. “I have been working for many years to learn how to deal with negative thoughts,” Salomon says. “I really struggled with it in college because I was so hard on myself after not finishing my first channel swim.”

Salomon credits Erin Hurley, head swimming and diving coach, for giving her perspective when she was a student. “She told me that I needed to start talking to myself the way I would talk to a friend,” Salomon says.

“During the swim there were actually very few times when I was feeling down or negative,” she says. “I really felt like I was focused and in the moment. It's great to actually see what I had been visualizing for so long finally come to fruition.”

Sense of Accomplishment

The second day after her crossing, Salomon swam. “It was hard, but I think it helped my muscles,” she says.  After three days, she felt “pretty normal” except for being “very scratched up” from the rocks.

“Before this I never thought that highly of my capabilities to accomplish things that are difficult,” Salomon says. “I learned that I do have some grit and that I can fight through tough situations whether those may be in my head or part of the outside world.

“I don't know that I would say that I did this to prove to myself that I could,” Salomon says, “but in the end I was like, yeah OK, you can do stuff like this if you want to.”          

Photo credits: The Salomon family

Help support reading at Grinnell High School by shopping at Pioneer Bookshop

Shoppers can help promote a love of reading among Grinnell High School students by making purchases at Grinnell College's Pioneer Bookshop during December, when 10 percent of all sales will be donated to the GHS library. 

"The Pioneer Bookshop wants to support reading by contributing to the Grinnell High School library through our Partners in Education program," said Cassie Wherry, manager of the College Bookstore and Pioneer Bookshop.  

Local shoppers raised $1,706 for the GHS library by making purchases at the Pioneer Bookshop in December 2014.  

 GHS Librarian Chelsey Kolpin said those funds enabled the library to buy books of high interest to students and to add and expand popular series collections. In addition, the donations helped the library launch an audiobook collection and expand its ebook collection. 

"Grinnell High School students and staff are pleased that the Pioneer Bookstore and Grinnell College have been so generous to donate funds to our library," Kolpin said. "In the past, these funds have greatly benefited our library and our students." 

Kolpin added that funds generated by bookshop sales this December will be used to expand the library's collection, including biographies and autobiographies, as well books featuring projects students can create in the library's makerspace area.  

Located in the historic downtown Grinnell at 823 Fourth Ave, the Pioneer Bookshop has books for all ages and interests, featuring children’s books and current best sellers. The staff specializes in recommending books for gifts and can quickly special order books not in stock. The Pioneer Bookshop also carries a special selection of toys as well as local team sportswear, stationery and cards. 

The Pioneer Bookshop is open:

  • Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and
  • Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Starting Monday, Dec. 14, the bookshop will have the following extended holiday hours: 

  • Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.,
  • Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and
  • Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. 

On Christmas Eve, the store will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.