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Generation Grinnell

A close-knit, multi-generational alumni network isn’t typically something students look for when searching for the perfect college experience. But for Sara Lowenburg ’13, the opportunity to connect with a network of Grinnellians has been a hallmark of her education and post-graduate success.

The daughter of Grinnellian Jane Mauldin ’76, Lowenburg was impressed by the level of professor-student interactions during her visit as a prospective student. “I remember sitting in on Professor Purcell’s Civil War class, and it was awesome,” Lowenburg says. “The professor was engaging and the students were really into it and had a lot of thoughtful contributions. I could tell that the professors had relationships with students and I didn’t see that everywhere I visited.”

This initial experience with Sarah Purcell ’92, professor of history and a Grinnell alumna, later led Lowenburg to a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) on how the Civil War has been commemorated. This project enabled her to work closely with Purcell and a small group of other students, doing highly in-depth, critical research. The MAP culminated in the students curating an exhibit about Civil War era Grinnell.

“I loved the experience of doing a MAP, because it allowed me to hone my research skills and because it was a very intensive project. It was great to have a lot of control over what was exhibited and to see what the school was like during a very different era,” Lowenburg says.

After graduating, Lowenburg participated in an internship with the Museum at Eldridge Street in New York City, an opportunity offered by Grinnell alumna Hanna Griff-Sleven ’81. “She was genuinely interested in what I thought, and I could not have asked for a better colleague. I secured the internship for the summer after I graduated from Grinnell, and by September 1st, I had a full-time job,” Lowenburg says. She currently works for the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

With a Grinnellian mother, a rewarding MAP experience with a Grinnellian professor, and an internship with a Grinnell alumna, Lowenburg has been able to experience the intense connection many past and present Grinnellians feel toward each other.

“The network of Grinnell is pretty special. I feel very connected and very well taken care of.”

Adhikaar Means Rights

In 2005, Luna Ranjit ’00 co-founded Adhikaar, a non-profit organization dedicated to human rights and social justice issues faced by more than 40,000 Nepali immigrants in New York City. She knew the depth and range of needs of the Nepali people long before the devastating April earthquake shook her home country. 

As executive director of Adhikaar, which is Nepali for rights, Ranjit says, “We plan as much as we can, but as a convenient walk-in community center, we deal with different issues every day. We work on workers’ rights, access to healthcare, immigration rights, fair pay, and citizenship.”

Helping Nepalis after the earthquake

The earthquake in Nepal brought a flood of requests from immigrants trying to get in touch with their families, which the agency helped to facilitate. “The walk-in traffic has increased significantly. We provided a space where people could talk and feel supported,” Ranjit says.

The traffic also increased because of Adhikaar’s quick action to gain temporary protected status for Nepalis who were trying to immigrate, so they could use available services to also assist family members still in their native land.

During this hectic period, Ranjit worked closely with state legislators, New York Gov. Cuomo’s office, and with the state’s Congressional leadership to secure the temporary status. “Building relationships over the past 10 years came in handy. Adhikaar was one of the leading organizations in this tough battle,” Ranjit says.

“We are so happy that officials came together to make it happen so quickly. It’s been an insane few months but with very positive outcomes and major victories.”

Social justice is life’s work

During the last 10 years, Ranjit has seen the needs grow among Nepali immigrants, from individuals to multigenerational families. Many of them are now U.S. citizens.

“The field of social justice is definitely my life’s work, whether it’s at Adhikaar or other causes.”

Ranjit earned a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton after graduating from Grinnell with an economics major and global development studies concentration. Prior to founding Adhikaar, she worked with Asian and South Asian communities in Washington, D.C. 

Alma mater at Adhikaar

“Grinnell has played an important role in Adhikaar,” Ranjit says, recalling that a $500 check from Professor Mark Montgomery in 2005 “meant that we could stop talking about creating an organization and actually doing it.

“I had a ‘backpack office’ until I received that check. Then I received the check which meant we could rent space and be more visible. 

“Other members of the Grinnell faculty have also continued to support us over the years. There has always been a standing offer to help in any way.

“We’ve had Grinnell interns and volunteers, hosted students on break tours, and had a Grinnell grad on staff,” Ranjit recalls. “Grinnell’s preparation in writing has also been invaluable in my responsibilities for grantswriting.”

Finance Is Cool

While growing up in Islamabad, boys were encouraged to become engineers and girls to be physicians, recalls Ahsan Rahim ’11. “Everything else was just a waste of time, according to my family.” That’s why he intended to major in physics and math at Grinnell and study engineering through a joint program at Dartmouth College before going to graduate school in engineering.

But as an excuse to live in New York City, he couldn’t resist doing a summer internship in alternative investments for TIAA-CREF through the Grinnellink internship program. The experience surprised him. “I realized I liked the unpredictability of the financial markets.” Even so, he dutifully followed through with his plan to study engineering.

Trying out engineering

While spending his junior year at Dartmouth “in the cold hills of New Hampshire,” he thought often about how much he preferred the chaos of the trading floor to the order of the instructional machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering. The following summer in New York, he interned in market risk for securitized products with Deutsche Bank. For him, the experience confirmed that “finance is cool.” He decided to return to Grinnell with a new major: economics.

Until recently, Rahim worked as a portfolio analyst at AllianceBernstein in New York. In September 2015, he started his M.B.A. studies at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Storytelling with numbers

“Finance isn’t just about numbers and getting the right answers on math problems,” Rahim says about his work. “Finance is as much about the stories as the numbers, and there are often no right answers.”    

Take the Japanese auto market, for example. Maybe you see it has a bad day. “People think, ‘Oh, a big part of the auto market is Japanese cars, so demand for cars must be falling, so any supplying car maker will suffer, even a small U.S. auto-parts maker that only supplies U.S. car makers.’ But if you understand the story — that the yen had one poor day, but it was just a one-time event — then you may decide to buy when others are selling.” Emotions and feelings create a story and influence reality; that’s what keeps him hooked.

He credits the interdisciplinary approach at Grinnell with helping him value the interrelation of information, stories, and knowledge. While math skills are a part of his decision-making, principles from sociology and psychology help him factor in the ways fear, greed, and groupthink can dominate fundamentals and logic.

Rahim leads a multidimensional life outside of work and school — a pattern established at Grinnell. “In Islamabad, nobody cared about cocurricular activities; their future was based on their exam results.” But he quickly realized there was more than academics at Grinnell. Besides working on campus 15 hours a week — washing dishes in the dining hall, grading students’ work in calculus, and working in the art gallery — Rahim also volunteered at Grinnell Community Daycare, served as vice president of Mortar Board, was president and founder of the Muslim Student Association, played club and intramural soccer, and served on various committees.

Does he second-guess his decision not to be an engineer? Not at all. If not for his experience at Dartmouth, he wouldn’t have known for sure that he didn’t want to be an engineer.

“I had to try it out first. That’s the investor in me that always wants to be diversified.”

Intrigued by Rahims mention of the engineering programs at Grinnell? You can take advantage of our formal 3-2 agreements with some of the top engineering schools in America, or, like Rahim, you can request to make arrangements with another institution.
 

Grinnell Prize Honors Social Justice Innovators

The power of words and language to effect positive change in individuals and societies is the focus of the 2015 Grinnell Prize, the largest monetary award presented by a U.S. college recognizing achievements in social justice.

Grinnell College has selected two winners of the $100,000 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize this year:

Each prizewinner will receive $50,000 as an individual and $50,000 for her organization.

Grinnell President Raynard S. Kington will present the prizes at an awards ceremony at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Herrick Chapel, 1128 Park St., Grinnell. Ahenkorah and Vertkin will talk about their work during the ceremony, which is free and open to the public.

Deborah Ahenkorah, Golden Baobab

Ahenkorah, 28, founded Golden Baobab in 2008 in Accra, Ghana, to encourage the creation, production and distribution of high-quality, culturally relevant children's literature by Africans for Africans. The first arts and literary organization to win a Grinnell Prize, Golden Baobab nurtures emerging African writers and illustrators through annual awards (with cash prizes), as well as workshops to provide resources and develop talent. The organization has formed its own literary agency and publishing company. Ahenkorah was nominated for the Grinnell Prize by her sister, Eunice, a 2013 graduate of Grinnell College.

 

Maria Vertkin, Found in Translation

Vertkin, 29, started Found in Translation in 2011 in Boston to support and train homeless and low-income bilingual women to start careers as professional medical interpreters. The organization attacks the twin challenges of economic disadvantages faced by minority women, as well as racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities in health care. From 20 to 30 women graduate from the program each year, earning a certificate in medical interpretation and receiving career placement services.

Grinnell Prize Week Offers New Events

The award winners also will participate in Grinnell Prize Week from Oct. 26-29. They will meet with students, faculty and staff to discuss their approaches to social justice, sources of inspiration and success in overcoming obstacles. This year, for the first time, the week includes an art exhibition and the Spark Tank Innovation Challenge.

Current Styles in African Illustration

Colorful open-air market scene Xanele Puren, South Africa, Reproduced with permission from the 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators

"Current Styles in African Illustration" will open Monday, Oct. 26, in Burling Gallery on the lower level of Burling Library.

It will highlight distinguished and contemporary children's illustration in Africa by showcasing submissions to the inaugural Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators, which honors current and distinctive African illustrators from throughout the continent.

An opening reception for Ahenkorah of Golden Baobab and the exhibition will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. Oct. 26 in Burling Gallery.

The exhibition, presented by the Faulconer Gallery in conjunction with the staff of Golden Baobab, will run through Dec. 18. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends.

The Spark Tank Innovation Challenge 2015

Spark Tank Challenge - logoThe Spark Tank Innovation Challenge has paired Grinnell College students with educators in the Grinnell-Newburg School District to form 17 teams seeking innovative ways to address challenges in the public schools. Each team has been working to address a challenge by devising a solution that is innovative, practical, and beneficial.

Some of the challenges, identified by local educators and the Grinnell Schools Task Force, include:

  • Developing non-traditional methods of holding students accountable for their actions;
  • Making lunchtime a positive experience; and
  • Increasing underrepresented populations in STEM fields.

Student teams selected as finalists will have three minutes to pitch their innovations to the judges in a live event. The event, inspired by the "Shark Tank" TV show, is free and open to the public and will start at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, in Roberts Theatre, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

The judges — 2015 prizewinners and two local educators — will select three winning teams that will share a total of $22,500 in prize money to carry out their innovative projects. Each team also will receive a $250 cash prize.

Nominations Due Nov. 9 for 2016 Grinnell Prize

The College is accepting nominations for the 2016 Grinnell Prize through Nov. 9. No affiliation with Grinnell College is required.

Established by Grinnell College in 2010, the Innovator for Social Justice Prize honors individuals demonstrating leadership in their fields and showing creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in bringing about positive social change.

Grinnell College presented the first prizes in 2011. Since then, 12 prizes with a total value of $1.2 million have been awarded, including the two for 2015.

Actor and Author Peter Coyote '64 Returns to Grinnell

Peter Coyote '64, an Emmy Award-winning narrator and accomplished actor and author, will return to Grinnell to give a lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, in room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center. A dessert reception in the second-floor lobby of the Joe Rosenfield Center will follow. 

Coyote will reference his own life in his lecture titled "Intention: The Only Force on Earth We Can Control."

After graduating in 1964, Coyote lived in the counter-culture of the 1960s and ’70s before starting his film career at 39. He has appeared in more than 120 films, including leading roles in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and A Walk to Remember. Coyote is well-known for his voice-over work, and has done numerous documentaries and TV specials, including Ken Burns' The National Parks, The Dust Bowl, the highly acclaimed The Roosevelts, and the forthcoming Viet Nam.

In 2011, Coyote, a practicing Zen Buddhist for 40 years, was ordained as a priest and received Transmission from his teacher granting him autonomy and the right to ordain priests and establish his own lineage.  His new memoir The Rainman's Third Cure: An Irregular Education published earlier this year expands on Sleeping Where I Fall (1999), also a memoir, telling of his life and adventures during the 1960s.

As a student at Grinnell, Coyote was one of the organizers of a group of students known as the “Grinnell 14” who traveled to Washington, D.C., during the Cuban Missile Crisis, fasting and picketing for three days, protesting the resumption of nuclear testing, and supporting President Kennedy’s “peace race.”

President Kennedy invited the group into the White House (the first time protesters had ever been so recognized) and they met with the U.S. National Security Adviser McGeorge “Mac” Bundy. This meeting received national media attention and the Grinnell group photocopied the coverage and sent it to colleges across the United States, contributing to, if not precipitating, the first mass student demonstration of 25,000 in Washington in February of 1962.

Well-known for his life-long engagement in political, environmental, and social causes, Coyote received a Grinnell College Alumni Award in 2014.

Coyote's lecture is sponsored by the Center for Careers, Life, and Service; the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; the Office of Development and Alumni Relations; and the Peace and Conflict Studies Program.

Yesenia Ayala ’18 honored by White House

The White House recently recognized Yesenia Ayala ’18 for her courage and contributions to the Latino community in Iowa. She and 10 other young women were selected from more than 1,000 nominees as Champions of Change for empowering and inspiring members of their communities.

Ayala said later that the experience helped her go beyond her comfort zone to advocate for the community she loves and that needs support.

“Through my personal experience,” she added, “I was able to bring awareness to not only the local, state, but national community of the importance of mentoring and supporting students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how we can all come together as one to make the movement work.”

As a service learning work-study student at Grinnell, Ayala works for Al Exito — a nonprofit group that empowers Latino youth in nine Iowa cities. She coordinates programming and mentoring for middle and high school Latino students, facilitates family programming and events, and engages other Grinnell students in encouraging Latino students to stay in school and plan for college.

Ayala also has designed and led workshops to inform Latino youth and their parents about the U.S. education system, financial aid, essay writing, and the college applications process. These activities promote more family involvement at school, greater civic engagement, and an increase in the likelihood that young Latinos will graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

A native of Los Angeles, Ayala is majoring in sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She plans to pursue a law degree in civil rights upon graduation.

This fall, she continues to work with Al Exito to develop ways to incorporate teachers into the program, which Ayala hopes will expand statewide.  

Ayala’s Inspiration

Ayala talking with Auñón (who is in a NASA suit) at a gathering At a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, Ayala joined other Champions of Change in a panel discussion moderated by MTV video blogger Francesca Ramsey. Ramsey noted that it’s often tough to get Latino students and their families comfortable with the college application process when it’s a completely new experience for them. Then she asked Ayala: “What have you done as a leader to overcome some of those fears from students and parents that you’ve been working with?”

Ayala said she was inspired to do the work she is doing because she is a first-generation Latina college student who had a difficult journey from high school to college. She often shares her story at Al Exito events to inspire others.

“I was working fulltime at McDonald’s as a manager while in high school, I was going to high school in a very low-income community, and I was striving to get A’s,” she said. “I was also taking the responsibility and the role of helping my parents raise my siblings.”

Thanks to the encouragement of a high school English teacher, Ayala applied for a Posse Foundation scholarship, as did more than 2,100 students in LA. She was one of 112 selected, winning admission to Grinnell, where she receives a full-tuition scholarship and additional financial aid.

“In most Latino families and communities,” Ayala said, “it’s very difficult for parents to let their children aspire for higher education, because they come from a community where they don’t know anything about the U.S. education system. … So every time we conduct a workshop, it’s our opportunity to let our parents know, our community know, our students know that it may be difficult sometimes to break those boundaries, those cultural oppositions, but it’s okay to do it.  If you don’t take a risk, you never know how far you can go.”

Alumni Begin Year of Service

This August, a dozen Grinnell alumni began a year of service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national service-leadership program that unites people to work for peace with justice. The program is popular among Grinnellians, and Grinnellians are popular with the organization, as well. Holding more than 10% of the 104 positions, the Grinnellians represent the largest group of alumni from any college or university in this year’s cohort of volunteers.

After the week of intensive training and orientation on topics including anti-racism work, self-care and intercultural communication, the volunteers dispersed to 13 U.S. cities, each person committed to serve full-time for one year with a particular social justice organization, while practicing simple, sustainable living in household communities of four to seven people.

The Grinnell alumni are serving in a variety of positions — including case managers, program assistants, and academic associates — and in everything from marketing and communications to farm and gardens to academics. They will serve in six cities this year:

Chicago, Ill.
Hannah Bernard ’15, Chicago Community Loan Fund
Elaine Fang ’15, Lakeview Pantry
Eleni Irrera ’14, Free Spirit Media
Katherine Quinn ’15, Lincoln Park Community Shelter
Milwaukee, Wis.
Ankita Sarawagi ’15, Bread of Healing Clinic
Seattle, Wash.
Rebecca Carpenter ’15, Jewish Family Service
Tacoma, Wash.
Fatima Cervantes ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Brittany Hubler ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Twin Cities, Minn.
Jordan Schellinger ’15, Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity
Alex Sharfman ’15, Our Saviour's Community Services
Washington, D.C.
Georgina Haro ’15, La Clinica del Pueblo
Alexa Stevens ’15, Thurgood Marshall Academy

The LVC says they are “proud of the continued partnership with Grinnell College and congratulates these 12 Grinnellians as they begin their year of service!”

LVC, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is open to persons from all spiritual traditions and welcomes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in all aspects of the organization. It supports volunteers as they explore the spiritual aspects of justice, community, and sustainability.

The Grinnell alumni earned degrees in a wide variety of areas: anthropology, art, biological chemistry, economics, French, psychology, philosophy, political science, Russian, sociology, and Spanish.

Bolstering the Arts

Chris Bulbulia ’10 came to Grinnell College as a Posse Foundation scholar interested in theatre. He wanted to become a professional actor, but a wealth of support and experience combined with intellectual flexibility honed at Grinnell opened up an even richer path of discovery.

Two short years after leaving Grinnell, Bulbulia had already climbed from post-graduate intern to a full-time development assistant at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. One night at the urging of a friend he journeyed across town to see Congressional Chorus perform its annual cabaret at the historic Atlas Performing Arts Center. It changed everything.

“I’d seen ballet and opera. I’d seen lots of shows at the Kennedy Center,” Bulbulia says. “But I saw this show and my jaw fell to the floor. I was like, whoa, what is this? There was such a range of genres — a cappella singing, bands and dancing, soloists and ensembles. It was a wonderful production.

“I fell in love with Congressional Chorus the first time I saw the cabaret,” Bulbulia says. “I feel very proud to be part of the organization today.”

Congressional Chorus and American Youth Chorus — its full name — is a family of five choruses devoted to American choral music. It performs a full slate of concerts and special appearances each year in Washington, D.C., including The White House and Capitol Hill occasions.

Bulbulia became a Congressional Chorus singer in 2013. He quickly transitioned to become the organization’s director of marketing, production, and development.

“We have a performance style for everyone,” Bulbulia says. “You’re not going to get the same thing every time you come to a show, which really lends to a dynamic season that people enjoy.”

Building relationships

Far from being overwhelmed by his multi-faceted job, Bulbulia is energized by the integration of functions he came to appreciate as a theatre major at Grinnell, as a freelance fundraiser for non-profit groups, and as an intern and employee at the Kennedy Center.

“There is a whole other side to the arts besides being a performer,” Bulbulia says. “I’ve come to understand that relationships need to be built in order to sustain organizations. This job incorporates all of the elements that allow Congressional Chorus to be healthy.”

Posse support

Bulbulia grew up in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He arrived at Grinnell as a Posse scholar through the College’s partnership with the Posse Foundation in his hometown. The Posse Foundation’s model is based on the idea that a small, diverse group of talented and carefully selected students can serve as a catalyst for individual and community development. It worked especially well for Bulbulia. 

“I had a great experience at Grinnell because of my Posse’s support system, and also because the Posse Foundation correctly decided that I would be a great fit for Grinnell,” he says.

Bulbulia’s activities at Grinnell included two years with the Grinnell Singers. His participation with the Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC) gave him insights into fundraising, allocations, and non-profit relationships.

Shortly after graduation, Bulbulia worked as an overhire stagehand in and around D.C. while “doing the struggling actor thing.” He even went to bartending school. The plan shifted, he says, when opportunities at the Kennedy Center refocused his attention on arts management.

“The arts are in need of people who can bolster the craft and provide good representation for artists themselves,” Bulbulia said. That includes helping artists make sound financial decisions and building their marketing and technical skills to assist in the creation of their best productions and performances.

Bringing people together

Bulbulia continues to work in support of community organizations such as Afromoda Dance Theater, City at Peace, D.C. Public Library’s Punk Archive, and Funk Parade. He is a member and officer in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which is dedicated to the principles of friendship, love, and charity.

He also manages events and partnerships for the city’s largest online music magazine, DCMusicDownload.com, which provides in-depth coverage of the local music scene and hosts major music events at prestigious venues like 9:30 Club, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Howard Theatre.

“I have strong commitment to community and to bringing people together through fellowship,” Bulbulia says. “That is why I’ve been a part of all these organizations — to help communities grow and enjoy life together.”

Families

We want to assure you the Center for Careers, Life, and Service is available to all students, first-year through seniors, as well as alumni, and to stress how important career preparation is to the success of your student.

It is never too early for students to take the initiative in preparing themselves for their first professional position, applying to graduate/professional school, or seeking post-graduate service.