2020 Alumni Awards Citations

The Grinnell College Alumni Council has selected 13 exceptional Grinnellians to receive the 2020 Alumni Awards.

The Alumni Award recognizes individuals who embody Grinnell College’s mission of lifetime learning and service. Nominated by their classmates and peers, recipients have distinguished themselves by their service to their careers, their community, and/or the College.

With the cancellation of Reunion 2020, the College is creating different, but meaningful ways to honor the 13 Alumni Award recipients. The 2020 Alumni Award recipients will be featured in the Summer 2020 edition of the Grinnell Magazine. In addition, as reunions are rescheduled (whenever possible), the recipients will be honored at their class or cluster celebrations.

The 2020 Alumni Award recipients are:

Richard Booth ’54Richard Booth ’54

Grinnell College certainly runs in the family for our first award recipient. Richard Booth has eight family members who have attended Grinnell, the first of which graduated in 1872. His great-grandfather, David Norris, attended the College shortly following the Civil War. A short 139 years later, Richard’s granddaughter, Carolyn Booth ’11, graduated from Grinnell.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Richard moved to Marshalltown in 1940. A decade later he came to Grinnell to study economics and compete on the swim team. Shortly after graduation, he married Anne Chandler ’56 and then joined the United States Air Force, where he was trained as a jet pilot. In 1959, Richard started his career with Lennox Industries, gradually working his way up to executive vice president of administration at the corporate headquarters in Dallas, a position he held until retirement in 1992.

Richard not only made his mark in the business world, he also was a crucial contributor in expanding Grinnell’s facilities during his two decades on the Board of Trustees.

As longstanding chair of the Board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, Richard developed keen insight into many campus building and infrastructure projects. He was known for his trusted guidance and for providing knowledgeable and collaborative solutions for facility improvements and expansion. In 2002, he was elected a Life Trustee.

Richard also has served his class committees since 2004. In addition, he has served on numerous community organizations over the years, such as president of the Marshalltown School Board, chairman of the United Way Campaign, and a board member for the Employers Mutual Casualty Company.

Grinnell College is pleased to honor Richard Booth ’54 with an Alumni Award.

Joan Fuhrman Jones ’54Joan Fuhrman Jones ’54

In her artwork, Joan Fuhrman Jones has been known to under-paint many of her pieces with charcoal powder, pure pigment, and water, which often produces a random, textural pattern. She then studies it from all angles to see what emerges that might be worthy of further development – a technique sometimes used by Grinnell College students when deciding on a course of study.

Joan, however, knew she wanted to be an art major. Her education at Grinnell set the stage for 35 years of painting, focusing mainly on watercolors and pastels. She has achieved a distinguished place in the art community of California’s Central Coast, winning more than 75 awards and prizes. Her art has been featured in more than 100 juried shows and competitions.

But it wasn’t easy. In a 1998 newspaper interview, Joan said that she contends that “95 percent of artistic ability is a learned skill. Anyone who has the drive and interest can acquire the skill provided they are willing to pay their dues – to study and have 150 failures before they have one success.”

Joan put aside painting early in her career for public service roles, serving as a program supervisor for the YWCA, where she created many original and unique activities for teenagers and adults in four different cities, including her hometown of Davenport. She also worked in public relations for the American Red Cross Los Angeles chapter, where she organized blood drives, disaster preparedness, news reporting, and youth and adult volunteer training.

Ever extending her talents, Joan recently branched out into two other creative fields: video slideshow production and fashion-jewelry design.

Grinnell College is pleased to present an Alumni Award to Joan Fuhrman Jones ’54.

Barbara Hunt Moore '65Barbara Hunt Moore ’65

Loyalty is the first word that comes to mind when describing Barbara Hunt Moore, said a classmate who nominated her. “Very hard working” would quickly follow, along with “committed to excellence.”

Class connector, vigorous volunteer, and superb letter writer are additional often cited attributes of Barbara. She has rejoiced with the class of 1965 in their successes, sympathized with them during losses, and kept the class linked together through detailed, welcoming class letters. In all, she has written more than 70 class letters since becoming a class agent in 2001.

She also served on the Alumni Council from 2011 to 2017 and was a member of the Grinnell-in-Washington D.C. planning committee. As a member of the past two reunion planning committees, Barbara had a major hand in editing the 50th reunion memory book.

Writing and editing have played a role in her professional life as well, dating back to her student days on the S&B. Barbara worked as an editor at three Chicago educational publishing companies before embarking on a 40-plus year career in leadership and management positions at the International City/County Management Association, a professional organization for appointed chief administrators in local government. She began as a copy editor, progressed to senior editor for graduate-level textbooks in public administration, and later became head of the association’s publishing and information resources department.

If it sounds like Barbara has sailed through life after Grinnell, you would be partially correct. In 2004, she took a sailing sabbatical with her husband, cruising the East Coast for four months in a 37-foot sailboat.

Grinnell College congratulates Barbara Hunt Moore ’65 for receiving an Alumni Award.

Dorothy Dosse Metzler ’66Dorothy Dosse Metzler ’66

The outdoors often became a classroom for Dorothy Dosse Metzler.

When a 2,300-acre South Carolina greenway was getting ready to open, Dorothy approached the namesake of the greenway, Anne Springs Close, and explained how the preserve could become an outdoor classroom for school children. She even offered to train the teachers to use it. Anne agreed and for the next decade Dorothy proudly served as the environmental educator, publishing articles in teachers’ journals, designing exhibits, and developing curriculum for use in the outdoors.

A biology major at Grinnell, Dorothy had been an educator, naturalist, and change maker for the past five decades. In 1967, she began teaching middle school science classes. After a break to begin raising a family, she returned to teaching in the emerging field of environmental education.

She started as a volunteer at Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining, New York, organized a training program for guides, and subsequently became a member of the staff. She also launched Hudson Watch, a summer program for science teachers to do a field investigation of blue crabs in the Hudson River.

Dorothy also was an adjunct professor in a graduate program in arts administration at Winthrop University. After her retirement in 2013, she continued to lead nature walks, helped teach a Master Naturalists class, and tutored elementary school students in math and reading at a predominantly Spanish-speaking school.

Dorothy also gave back to Grinnell through her service on her 50th reunion class committee and an Asa Turner Society member.

For her devotion to environmental education Dorothy Dosse Metzler ’66 was presented with an Alumni Award prior to her passing in November 2020. Her husband, Dick Metzler ’65, gave the award to Dorothy on their 54th wedding anniversary, Aug. 20, 2020.

Delabian Rice-Thurston ’66Delabian Rice-Thurston ’66

Delabian Rice-Thurston’s dedication, commitment, and passion for higher learning is commendable and inspiring.

As a political science student at Grinnell, Delabian questioned why black female students were given single rooms instead of being assigned roommates as freshmen, which was the custom for white students. Her inquiry led to the College changing its policy in 1965 to allow black women to have roommates.

After graduation, Delabian worked as a city planner in Toledo, Ohio, and Washington D.C. She believed that city planning itself was a form of activism. If a city performed well, then marginalized citizens’ lives would be lifted up.

In 1984, Delabian began a 17-year tenure as the executive director of Parents United D.C. Public Schools, a parent organization advocating for funding for Washington D.C. schools. She reiterated that the school system can deliver strong academic programs when adequately funded. She attended PTA meetings all over the city to encourage parents to be advocates for education.

Classmate and fellow District of Columbian, George Moose ’66, said Delabian quickly learned that engaging in local politics in D.C. is not for sissies. While she became the object of much criticism from embarrassed politicians and school administrators, there were several noble victories along the way, such as the successful effort to force the school system to nearly double its per student spending.

Parents United’s lawsuits in association with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights demanded enforcement of the district’s fire codes, which led to the capital improvements program that has renovated and rebuilt countless D.C. public schools. Delabian feels useful when she walks by those renovated schools. Additionally, Parents United’s lawsuits for health care in D.C. public schools led to the mandate for athletic trainers at all DCPS athletic events, which has been a national model for protecting student-athletes.

Delabian later taught social studies in D.C. schools in an effort to solve issues by working on the inside. At age 64, she started working on her Ph.D. at Howard University, investigating evidence that conditions endemic to states that reduce achievement for even the best students are not analyzed in the U.S.

For her deep conviction that education is the essential path, Grinnell College presents an Alumni Award to Delabian Rice-Thurston ’66.

Thomas Cech ’70Thomas Cech ’70

As the recipient of many prestigious awards – including the Nobel Prize – Tom Cech is no stranger to being commemorated for his groundbreaking work in the chemistry field and his dedication to educating the next generations.

In 1989, Tom shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Sidney Altman for their independent discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA. The discovery laid the foundation for advances in molecular genetics and gave rise to an expanding appreciation of the roles of RNA in biology.

Tom first discovered science in the fourth grade by collecting rocks and minerals and worrying about how they were formed. While a chemistry major at Grinnell, he got just as much enjoyment reading Homer’s Odyssey and studying constitutional history. Perhaps his best discovery at Grinnell came in an organic chemistry lab where he met his future wife.

A professor at the University of Colorado Boulder since 1978, Tom has published more than 350 research articles, and he’s given more than 600 talks. In 2000, Tom moved to Maryland as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. There he helped lead the design, construction and program of the Institute’s Janelia Research Campus on the banks of the Potomac River. He returned to Boulder in 2009 to become the founding director of the university’s interdisciplinary BioFrontiers Institute.
Thomas has given back to his alma mater in many ways, including serving as a Grinnell College trustee from 1998 to 2014. He and his wife, Carol Martinson Cech ’70, recently started a research scholarship program to ensure underrepresented biology, chemistry, biological chemistry, and physics majors at Grinnell will develop content knowledge and skill through summer research projects.

Grinnell College is delighted to present an Alumni Award to Thomas Cech ’70.

Merryll Penson ’70Merryll Penson ’70

Encourages, reaches out, steers, connects, teaches, shares, guides, and mentors; all of the above are words often used to describe Merryll Penson.

During her 32-year career, Merryll infused her spirit and technological savvy into libraries throughout the state of Georgia. In 1984, she was appointed director of the Schwob Memorial Library at Columbus State University, where she implemented the library’s first automated information system. She chaired the group that led to the development of GALILEO, Georgia’s virtual library that serves K-12, public libraries, and public and private academic libraries. This was pre-Google. The former university librarian for the University of Georgia called it “the most successful multi-agency collaboration in Georgia’s history.”

In 1997, Merryll became associate university librarian at the University of Georgia in Athens where she helped implement a common library management system connecting all public colleges and universities in Georgia. From 2000 until retirement she supervised 29 libraries as the executive director of library services for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. In this role, she collaborated to provide additional digital library services including the Digital Library of Georgia, the New Georgia Encyclopedia, and launched the BOR Affordable Learning Program, which has saved students more than $62 million by promoting the adoption of free and low-cost textbook alternatives.

Long before bringing change to the library world, Merryll did the same at Grinnell by spurring on Black cultural advancements. She helped form the Concerned Black Students and the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center (BCC). In fact, this alumna served as the first BCC house monitor. She said “the house provided an opportunity for us to talk about our issues. We didn’t always agree, but a lot of people were visionary and shared their ideas.”

She along with four 1969 alums that helped start the BCC were presented with the Diversity Champion Award during Grinnell’s second annual Multicultural Alumni Weekend in 2019.

Grinnell College is proud to present an Alumni Award to Merryll Penson ’70.

Joel Shapiro ’89Joel Shapiro ’89

Joel Shapiro is a well-known victims’ rights advocate who has devoted much of his professional life to making the world a more just place.

In his Portland, Oregon, law practice, Joel is on the cutting edge of representing survivors of domestic sex trafficking in state and federal court cases, including litigation against hotels and Backpage.com. He also co-founded and serves as executive director of the Trafficking Law Center, which provides pro bono legal services to trafficking victims and survivors, trains attorneys, and raises awareness and educates policy makers and the public to help combat human trafficking.

Earlier in his career, Joel was instrumental in helping put the issue of domestic sex trafficking on the federal agenda, even though many people at that time thought the crimes were only happening overseas. When working as chief counsel for Oregon senator Ron Wyden, Joel helped craft national anti-trafficking legislation. He continues to fight for better laws each legislative session and has been successful in getting Oregon state funds for a specialized shelter to serve minors who are trafficking victims.

Joel has given protection and voices to victims who have endured tremendous trauma. One survivor said, “I can trust and confide in him without feeling re-victimized or re-traumatized. He’s made a positive impact on my life.”

A political science major at Grinnell, Joel has remained connected to his alma mater by attending events, being an externship host, and serving as a Grinnell Prize reviewer.

For leaving an indelible mark on the battle against human trafficking in the U.S., Grinnell College is delighted to present an Alumni Award to Joel Shapiro ’89.

Julia Wulfkuhle ‘89Julia Wulfkuhle ’89

The research performed by Julia Wulfkuhle has resulted in more effective treatments and outcomes for cancer patients.

A research professor in the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University, Julia is known for finding innovative methods to address breast cancer in a way that is personalized to each patient. It requires a bit of detective work looking for what protein markers will indicate successful treatment with a particular drug. Her research has identified several protein makers in breast tumors that aid in and improve the prediction of patient response to various targeted drugs, leading to a more efficient killing of the patient’s breast tumor and ultimately better chances for long-term survival.

Julia also has mentored and inspired many students over the course of her career. She helped to establish the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program at GMU for high school scientists, including underrepresented minority groups in the Washington D.C. metro area.

A Kansas native, Julia originally wanted to attend a large university. But a visit to Grinnell College with a childhood friend changed her viewpoint. An emeritus biology professor at Grinnell vividly recalls Julia’s curiosity, teamwork, and strong work ethic during her student days and her helpfulness as an alum. “She has done these things quietly – mostly under the radar – but has made a big difference for me, my students, and aspects of my career,” the professor says.

In 2003, Julia returned to Grinnell College to teach a seminar to students and faculty members about her research. She also has provided College faculty with speaking opportunities and used her network to connect them to a broader network of scientists.

For her landmark scientific research on cancer therapies, Grinnell College is proud to honor Julia Wulfkuhle ’89 with an Alumni Award.

David White ’90David White ’90

David White has brought stability and renewed effectiveness to one of the largest and most recognizable labor organizations in the country.

As national executive director and chief negotiator of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, David is protecting the rights of approximately 160,000 members worldwide who work in film, television, broadcast news, commercials, music, video games and emerging media. He leads a staff of 500, including the team that produces the Screen Actors Guild awards.

David also keeps an active volunteer calendar, including serving as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and USC’s Center for the Digital Future. A champion of inclusiveness, he also serves on the Industry Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. In 2017, the guild launched internships for students of color in Hollywood.

His high level of involvement as a Grinnell student may have been a precursor to what lied ahead. David was co-captain of the football team, served as chair of Concerned Black Students, worked as a student assistant at the preschool, and was involved in too many other groups and events too mention. In 1990, he won a prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford.

As an alum, David continued to serve the College in key positions, including two years on the Alumni Council and nine years on the Board of Trustees. He chaired the board from 2007 to 2011.

For fostering inclusiveness and the protection of workers’ rights, Grinnell College presents an Alumni Award to David White ’90.

Jacob Willig-Onwuachi ’95Jacob Willig-Onwuachi ’95

Jacob Willig-Onwuachi was described by a former colleague as an outstanding role model to students, an engaging colleague to his peers, and a model citizen of Grinnell College.

Now a clinical professor of physics at Boston University, Jacob taught physics at Grinnell College from 2006 to 2018 and conducted collaborative research with students in magnetic resonance imaging and medical physics. His research on MRI techniques and applications has helped make images more effective.

A physics major at Grinnell, Jacob also was a busy bee, serving as a tutor, vice president of the Student Government Association, and singing in the choir. His commitment to the Grinnell community has continued as an alum. He was a Grinnell Community Daycare board member and served on numerous faculty groups, including the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program Selection Committee, and the Student Health and Counseling Services Advisory Committee.

An advocate of educational opportunities for underrepresented students, Jacob took on a leadership role with the Grinnell Science Project and has mentored women and underrepresented minority students in the sciences. One student from Angola recalls how Jacob would stay up until 1 a.m. helping him prepare for an exam. “For me, this alumnus was more than a mentor or adviser. He was a like an older brother.”

Jacob also has been an advocate for early career faculty members in every academic discipline. He has gone out of his way to make sure newcomers feel connected. A young colleague said Jacob played an integral role in his success. “His tutelage and mentorship helped me strive for excellence in teaching and research. I will always remember the Grinnell sprit embodied in him.”

Grinnell College proudly presents this Alumni Award to Jacob Willig-Onwuachi ’95.

Pioneer Award

The Alumni Council also selected two Pioneer Award recipients. The Pioneer Award is a distinctive Alumni Award, which recognizes noteworthy alumni who have graduated from Grinnell College within the past ten years. These honorees offer inspiration as models for their demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of Grinnell in such a short time.

Matheos Mesfin ’14Matheos Mesfin ’14

Matheos Mesfin is not someone who lets students pursue the easy course of action. He pushes them again and again in a manner that strengthens their confidence to accomplish a goal they might have thought was beyond their reach.

Navigating the obstacle-strewn world of college admissions can be a daunting prospects for high school students. That’s why Matheos founded the Institute for East African Councils on Higher Education in Washington D.C. The Institute has opened doors to higher education for immigrants and first-generation immigrant students of East African heritage.

With a focus on college access, foreign languages, and professional development, the Institute tailors scholars’ high school curriculum and helps them complete college applications and interview effectively. As a result, more than 100 students have landed in four-year colleges and universities, including Grinnell College, Stanford, and MIT.

Matheos emigrated from Ethiopia in 2007 to join his mother in Washington D.C. Three years later, he was a Posse Scholarship recipient at Grinnell. Interacting with others from differing backgrounds at Grinnell helped shaped his views. “I had no idea that a school, in the middle of nowhere, would hold such an oasis of knowledge, experience, and fun,” he said.

Matheos identified cultural factors that held back East Africans from taking advantage of educational opportunities. At age 23, he created the Institute as a nonprofit organization. It has grown considerably during the past few years, and students have earned millions of dollars in college scholarships and grants.

For his efforts, Washingtonian Magazine named Matheos one of their 10 “Washingtonians of the Year” in 2018.

Grinnell College is pleased to add another accolade by presenting Matheos Mesfin ’14 with a Pioneer Award.

Silva Foster-Frau ’15Silvia Foster-Frau ’15

In closely documenting a rural Texas community’s grief and recovery following a mass shooting in 2017, our Silvia Foster-Frau brought to light important issues while maintaining a humanitarian lens.

Silvia previously worked as the immigration and border affairs reporter at the San Antonio Express-News. In February 2021, she joined The Washington Post as the multiculturalism reporter. She writes about the nation’s emergence as a predominantly multicultural society, exploring its changing racial, ethnic, and cultural demographics, and telling the stories of everyday Americans affected by and a part of such change.

After growing up in Galesburg, Illinois, she took a gap year to live in Mexico after high school through the Rotary Club’s youth exchange program. Then she packed her bags for Grinnell. While on campus, Silvia was co-chair of English department’s SEPC, co-editor of the Grinnell Review, and a senior interviewer in Admissions.

At the Express-News, she traveled to the border and internationally, breaking news and reporting enterprise pieces. Her extensive reporting on immigration in Texas led her to become a sought-after expert. In 2019, she co-hosted a workshop titled “Finding the Story: Immigration” at the Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference.

She also was the paper’s lead reporter on the 2017 Sutherland Springs church mass shooting and continued to cover the aftermath. In her spare time, Silvia was a Big Sister mentor, served as vice-president of the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists, and co-founded the Journalists Covering Trauma group.

For her exceptional reporting on immigration and other critical topics, Grinnell College is pleased to present this Pioneer Award to Silvia Foster-Frau ’15.