2020 Alumni Awards

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.

The 13 recipients will be celebrated May 30 during Alumni Assembly at Reunion 2020. Registration for Reunion 2020 will open on Feb. 3.

The 2020 Alumni Award recipients are:

Richard Booth ’54Richard Booth ’54

Part of a long line of Grinnellians, Richard Booth was a key force in expanding Grinnell College’s facilities during his two decades on the Board of Trustees. Booth served as a jet pilot in the Air Force before embarking on an impressive business career at Lennox Industries. He became a Trustee in 1982, serving with dedication, dependability, and excellence while also participating in many class and College activities.


Joan Fuhrman Jones ’54Joan Fuhrman Jones ’54

For the past 37 years, Joan Fuhrman Jones has been doing what she enjoys the most – painting. Focusing mainly on watercolors and pastels, Joan has won more than 75 awards and prizes, and her art has been featured in more than 100 juried shows and competitions. While she majored in art at Grinnell, Joan put aside painting early in her career for public service roles, serving as a program supervisor for the YWCA and working in public relations for the American Red Cross.


Barbara Hunt Moore '65Barbara Hunt Moore ’65

Barbara Hunt Moore has rejoiced with the class of 1965 in their successes, sympathized with them during losses, and kept the class linked together through detailed, friendly class letters. She has written 70 class letters since becoming a class agent in 2001. While leading the International City/County Management Association’s publishing and information resources department kept her busy, Barbara also has found time to give back to her class and alma mater by serving on the Alumni Council, participating in Grinnell-in-Washington D.C. regional events, and helping plan reunion activities.


Dorothy Dosse Metzler ’66Dorothy Dosse Metzler ’66

Dorothy Dosse Metzler has been planning, leading, and implementing change since she was a student at Grinnell. An educator and a naturalist, the outdoors often became her classroom. For example, she started Hudson Watch, a summer program for science teachers to do a field investigation of blue crabs in the Hudson River. Later as a South Carolina master naturalist, she transformed a greenway into an outdoor classroom for school children and developed programs about the human history of the area.


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

Delabian Rice-Thurston’s dedication, commitment, and passion for higher learning is commendable and inspiring. For 17 years, she served as the executive director of Parents United D.C. Public Schools, a parent organization advocating for adequate funds for Washington D.C. schools. She 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 the variances in performance of high-performing students in different states.


Thomas Cech ’70Thomas Cech ’70

The only Grinnellian to win a Nobel Prize, Thomas Cech’s exemplary career has included breakthrough research, decades of teaching, and 16 years serving as a Grinnell College Trustee. Thomas shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Sidney Altman for their discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA. He also served for a decade as president of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and has taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder since 1978. His research work has appeared in more than 350 publications.


Merryll Penson ’70Merryll Penson ’70

During her 32-year career, Merryll Penson infused her spirit and technological savvy into libraries throughout the state of Georgia. As executive director of library service for the University System of Georgia, she supervised 29 libraries and led a systemwide implementation of next generation library platforms. During her student days at Grinnell, Merryll played an important role in the foundation of Concerned Black Students (CBS) and the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center (BCC), including serving as the first BCC house monitor.


Joel Shapiro ’89Joel Shapiro ’89

Through his tireless work as an attorney and writing policy legislation, Joel Shapiro is at the forefront of addressing human trafficking in the U.S. At his law firm in Portland, he specializes in advocating for victims of sex trafficking, as well as consumer protection cases. While earlier working for an Oregon senator, he helped craft national trafficking legislation. Joel also is executive director of the Trafficking Law Center, which provides pro bono legal services to Oregon trafficking victims and survivors.


Julia Wulfkuhle ‘89Julia Wulfkuhle ’89

Julie Wulfkuhle has worked for more than 20 years to improve therapies for cancer at the National Institutes of Health and now as a research professor at George Mason University. She recently published a landmark scientific publication describing a revolutionary method to discover drugs that have the highest effectiveness for killing a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. A frequent mentor, Julia set up the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program for high school scientists from underrepresented minority groups.


David White ’90David White ’90

With a remarkable ability to listen to the concerns of all sides of complex issues, David White has thrived in his role as national executive director and chief negotiator of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. As a labor and entertainment attorney, he has promoted inclusiveness and the protection of worker rights. David also is a director for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and a Grinnell College Life Trustee. He chaired the Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2011.


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

Jacob Willig-Onwuachi gives his time generously and is known for his diplomacy, mentorship, and devotion to the Grinnell community. As an associate professor of physics at Grinnell for a dozen years, Jacob conducted collaborative research with undergraduate students in magnetic resonance imaging and medical physics. With a longstanding commitment to diversity, Jacob has been involved in numerous campus and community organizations, often leading by example. He is now a clinical professor of physics at Boston University.


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 identified cultural factors that held back East Africans from taking advantage of educational opportunities. Then he went to work on fixing the problems. He founded the Institute for East African Councils on Higher Education in Washington D.C., which has opened doors to higher education for immigrants and first-generation immigrant students of East African heritage. The Institute tailors scholars’ high school curriculum, and helps them complete college applications and interview effectively.


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

As the immigration and border affairs reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, Silvia Foster-Frau has brought attention to important issues while maintaining a humanitarian lens that is deeply aligned with the values of Grinnell College. During the 2017 Sutherland Springs church mass shooting, Silvia broke national stories and wrote heartfelt longform articles. Her extensive reporting on immigration has led her to become a sought-after expert and earned her respect from her peers, including winning the 2019 Texas AP Star Reporter of the Year.


— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Nominations for future Alumni Awards are accepted at any time. To nominate a fellow Grinnellian, visit the Alumni Awards page and complete the nomination form.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.