About the Prize

History of the Grinnell Prize

The Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize, or the Grinnell Prize, directly reflects Grinnell’s historic mission to educate men and women “who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

Grinnell was founded in 1846 by a group of transplanted New Englanders with strong Congregational beliefs who were dedicated to social reform. They organized as the Trustees of Iowa College — originally in Davenport, Iowa. In 1859 the trustees moved the College to newly settled Grinnell, Iowa, where their abolitionist sentiments were more welcome. At the time, Grinnell was an important stop on the Underground Railroad that secretly transported slaves to freedom.

Grinnell’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins 1912, Chester Davis 1911, Paul Appleby 1913, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan 1911, and Florence Stewart Kerr 1912 became influential New Deal administrators.

Today, Grinnell’s commitment to social justice continues through a strong philosophy of self governance and personal responsibility, as well as programs and initiatives that encourage students to learn about the world beyond the campus and effect positive social change.

Grinnell College students may specifically explore their civic aspirations through a campus-wide ecosystem of service and social innovation opportunities. For example, students may volunteer in the local community, participate in a community based learning class or social innovation challenge, take on a service learning work-study job, identify a study abroad opportunity that includes a service component, join a service or advocacy focused student group, coordinate a political activity, lead an alternative break trip, or serve as a mentor to other students on campus. It is our hope that through intentional exploration and reflection, all of our students graduate with a civic focus that is meaningfully integrated into their personal and professional life.

With the creation of the Grinnell Prize, the College extended its educational mission beyond the campus and alumni community to individuals anywhere who believe innovative social justice programs create a better world.

Through student internships and staff fellowships, student and staff members have the opportunity to work with the Prize winners and their organizations. Explore the Past Winners pages to learn more about these opportunities and Grinnellians' experiences working with these outstanding individuals and organizations.