Emma Schaefer

Emma’s Journey


Emma Schaefer


Multimedia Storytelling


Niwot, Colorado

Before I committed to Grinnell, I sat in on a Shakespeare class taught by Professor Jon Garrison, who would later become my adviser. He created such a welcoming environment, and I raised my hand in response to a question.

After I answered the question, he said, “That’s a future Grinnellian response right there — I hope you come!”

XC, Track, and Friends!

I was recruited to run here for cross country and track and field, and the friendships I’ve been able to build through being on those teams have been incredible. Each fall, the team goes to Uncle Bill’s Farm in town to pick out pumpkins, and then we go to carve them at our coach’s house. We go to local nature preserves such as Krumm and Uhlenhopp to run, and I also love running on the dirt roads outside of town with my teammates.


I’ve grown so much as a runner and as a person. One of my favorite memories is qualifying for the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championship in 2021. It was a goal that hadn’t seemed realistic when I first came to Grinnell. While I was there, one of my favorite memories was when my coach, Sarah Burnell, yelled to me during the qualifying race, “You belong here!” That was such a necessary reminder that I could do it.

It really goes to show that when we’re surrounded by people who truly believe in us, we can do the impossible! 

My coach, Sarah Burnell, and I smile in front of the camera after the meet. I have a medal on my neck
My favorite coaches and I hugging each other with the sunset in the background
My coaches and I stand at a track white line

Choosing My Major

Coming in, I thought I wanted to pursue astrophysics. After a physics course my first year, I realized that it just wasn’t for me. 

I felt overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do when I came to my adviser, Professor Garrison, at the beginning of my second year. He knew about my variety of other interests, from songwriting to documentary filmmaking, journalism, theater, and writing. And through my confusion and what felt like a jumble of interests, he saw the theme of storytelling. He asked, “Why don’t you make an independent major that will let you explore all of these interests through the lens of storytelling?”  

That was such a lightbulb moment for me. Creating and pursuing my independent major has allowed me to take classes in so many subjects to help me better understand how storytelling brings people together and inspires positive change.


After returning to campus for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I wanted to maximize my time with other Grinnellians instead of studying abroad. So, I took a course-embedded travel class called Social Justice and the Olympic Movement in the spring of 2022. For two weeks over spring break, we traveled as a class to Germany and Greece, visiting modern Olympic stadiums, World War II historical sites, and even ancient Olympia, where the first Olympic games took place.

Reflecting on how these stories in history affected us created a bridge to learn more about my classmates and for them to learn more about me. Going to these places led me to think about what it means to bear witness to history, and even though we hardly knew each other going into the trip, this experience helped my classmates and I become close in such a short amount of time. A few of these classmates are now some of my best friends at Grinnell.


Music and Community

I sing and play guitar at an open-mic on campus with my friend Abbie. We sing together and look at each other with lots of joy
I'm sitting for a guitar performance at the Drake library, in astorytime event in town for kids
We pose in celebration after filming my music video in a dimly lit building

I’ve played at student-run concerts organized by Freesound, our student music organization, as a singer-songwriter here on campus. I’ve also done a music-based sociology practicum (which is like an internship) in town with Erin Bustin, a professionally trained singer and arts manager. My sociology adviser, Professor Ross Haenfler, who also knew my interests, connected me with Erin.

I remember when I first met Erin, I was so excited to be around someone with such a passion and knowledge for music education. To help raise money for the non-profit, I created a campaign video and interviewed people in Studio E. It was life-changing to learn about the how music can bring a community together, and how important accessible music education can be to a community.

To quote one of the people I interviewed for the project (coincidentally one of our admission counselors here, Jon Edwards), “As long as you’re a musician, you’ll have friends for life.”

Hopes and Plans for the Future

Hero Image with Text

I’ve enjoyed having my close friends within a half mile radius all the time, and I know I will miss that after I graduate. During my last year of Grinnell, I’m trying to savor each moment as much as possible.

In terms of my career, currently, I’ve received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which is a $40,000 fellowship that allows me to study how music can inspire people to connect with the earth, their community, and their culture around the world! 

I'm sincerely grateful for everything Grinnell has provided me. If there's anything I’ve learned anything during my time at Grinnell, it’s to be open about how my interests can combine in unique ways. Grinnell has prepared me to pave a future that intertwines my love for music, stories, nature, and people.

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