2023 Alumni Awards Profiles

Emily Guenther ’07

Emily Guenther ’07

Reunion: 15th
Residence: Grinnell, Iowa
Grinnell major: English
Other degrees: Master of Arts in Education, Policy, and Leadership Studies from University of Iowa (2017)
Profession: Higher education

3 ways Emily embodies Grinnell College’s mission of lifetime learning and service

  1. Shortly after graduating from Grinnell, Emily transformed the Liberal Arts in Prison Program from a student volunteer-based club to a rigorous college program offering incarcerated students the chance to earn up to 60 Grinnell College credits. In 2009, the program offered its first course for college credit at Newton Correctional Facility. Since then, more than 30 Grinnell College professors have taught at least one full course through the program. In spring 2022, the program began offering college courses in the state’s only women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa. Fifty incarcerated students are currently enrolled; they take 3-4 college courses per semester.
  2. She has served as the program director since 2008. Students taking part in the program are more likely to remain engaged in education even after they are released from prison, and qualitative data suggests that recidivism among program participants is very low.
  3. Emily has participated in the Consortium of Liberal Arts in Prison, a group of universities offering liberal arts programming in prisons all over the country, since it began in 2008. More recently, she has taken a leadership role within Iowa, helping create and lead the Iowa Consortium for Higher Education in Prison, a collaborative organization of several state agencies and college partners.

Something you probably didn’t know about Emily

As a Grinnell College student, Emily took part in Alternate Break, Javanese Gamelan, and the KDIC radio station. 

Emily Guenther ’07 walks out of an Iowa Prison

Bonus Emily Fun Facts

  • Emily is vice chair of the Iowa Consortium for Higher Education in Prison.
  • Emily has served on the Grinnell-Newburg School Board since 2017.
  • Last year, Emily was awarded a $60,000 grant from Bard College and the Open Society University Network. The grant was used to support the hiring of Gabriel Ferguson ’22 to serve as a postbaccalaureate fellow; Ferguson provided academic support for courses offered at the Newton Correctional Facility and a pilot program at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women.

A quote about Emily

“As a leader, Emily’s passion is contagious, inspiring those around her with a purpose-driven enthusiasm for helping others. Her empathy is without limits, equaled only by her humility and willingness to make a positive difference in the world. She is the embodiment of what it means to have a charitable heart, and everyone should aspire to be like her. To me, she is a hero. … Before going to prison, I was a child who frequently cried tears of rage and sorrow. Thanks to Emily, I left prison a man crying tears of thankfulness, joy, and compassion. This transformation is one I’ve seen replicated in the countless testimonials of other former prisoners who have had the opportunity to be impacted by Emily’s mission.”

– Jason Darrah, Liberal Arts in Prison Program alum

Read more 2023 Alumni Award Recipient profiles.