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:
- Deborah Ahenkorah, cofounder and executive director of Golden Baobab
- Maria Vertkin, creator and executive director of Found in Translation
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
"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
The 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.