2023 Alumni Awards

The Grinnell College Alumni Council has selected 14 outstanding Grinnellians to receive the 2023 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 14 recipients will be celebrated June 3 during Alumni Assembly at Reunion 2023. Registration for Reunion 2023 will open on Feb. 1. 

The 2023 Alumni Award recipients are:

  • Mary Knuth Otto ’63
  • Lorie Hill ’68
  • Susie Kaeser ’69
  • Bob Eckardt ’73
  • Irma McClaurin ’73
  • Rod Sinks ’81
  • Kristin Layng Szakos ’81
  • Rick Stuck ’82
  • Cameo Carlson ’93
  • Kartik Sheth ’93
  • Suyog Shrestha ’06
  • Emily Guenther ’07
  • Cynthia Dominguez ’12
  • Joy Sales ’13

Mary Knuth Otto ’63Mary Knuth Otto ’63

A dedicated educator, writer, and volunteer, Mary Knuth Otto has graciously served her alma mater in numerous capacities during the past four decades. She recognizes and values the life-changing role that Grinnell College has played in her life and the lives of countless others. She is the class agent for 1963 and has supported the planning of multiple class reunions. She also has been a respected admission volunteer, Alumni Council member, and alumni representative on the committee planning Anne F. Harris’ inauguration. A retired English teacher, Otto is now a community volunteer in Vermont.

Learn more about Mary

Lorie Hill ’68Lorie Hill ’68

Lorie Hill has chosen to live her life as an advocate for social justice. As a psychologist, psychotherapist, and social worker, Hill’s practice includes extensive work in violence prevention, anti-bias, and anti-racism training. She has led workshops and training conferences throughout the U.S. and abroad. Up until August, she commuted 60 miles each way to a California state men’s prison where she counseled inmates with mental health issues. Through her nonprofit organization, Providing Alternatives to Violence, Hill trained teachers and parents regarding how young people can resist the pressure to engage in retaliatory violence.

Learn more about Lorie

Susie Kaeser ’69Susie Kaeser ’69

Susie Kaeser has thrived in numerous capacities supporting public schools, achieving and sustaining racial inclusion in Cleveland Heights, and advocating for fair school finance in Ohio. From 1991 to 2008, Kaeser served as executive director of Reaching Heights, a community-based support organization for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public School. Under her leadership, Reaching Heights developed a district-wide tutoring program and raised funds to provide music-lesson scholarships for children. In retirement, Kaeser spent seven years researching and writing a history of the activists who created housing integration in Cleveland Heights, publishing the book Resisting Segregation in 2019. 

Learn more about Susie

Bob Eckardt ’73Bob Eckardt ’73

A leader in gerontology, community leadership, and philanthropy, Bob Eckardt has dedicated his lifework to improving the lives of the citizens of Cleveland. A 34-year tenure with the Cleveland Foundation included serving as executive vice president from 2010-2016 when he provided overall direction for annual grants totaling more than $85 million. As a researcher and scholar in the field of aging, Eckardt has made important contributions. He’s a tireless champion in identifying new and innovative ways of ensuring that older adults have the resources that they need to age well and live with dignity. 

Learn more about Bob

Irma McClaurin ’73Irma McClaurin ’73

In guiding institutions to facilitate the inclusive participation and leadership of Blacks, women, and other people of color, Irma McClaurin has been addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in significant ways long before DEI work became commonplace. Her career path has included service as past president of Shaw University, Chief Diversity Officer at Teach For America, Ford Foundation Program Officer and a variety of college faculty positions – including a return to teach as the first Black faculty in Grinnell’s Anthropology Department in the 1990s. Her consulting firm in North Carolina has worked with science museums, nonprofits, and city governments. The author of the award-winning Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics, McClaurin founded the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at UMass-Amherst in 2016.

Learn more about Irma

Rod Sinks ’81Rod Sinks ’81

Known for his leadership and vision, Rod Sinks has been deeply engaged in public service and environmental causes in the Bay Area of California. Sinks helped lead two high tech start-ups from infancy to successful businesses in engineering management roles. In 2011, he was elected to the first of two terms on the Cupertino City Council and served as the town’s mayor in 2015. He also helped found and was the first chair of the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, and he spent six years serving on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board. 

Learn more about Rod

Kristin Layng Szakos ’81Kristin Layng Szakos ’81

A fierce advocate for justice and equity, Kristin Layng Szakos has worked as a journalist, freelance writer, editor, and grant writer for almost 40 years. She was editor of the Appalachian Reader, a journal about citizen organizing and co-authored We Make Change, a guide for community organizers. In 2009, she was elected to the Charlottesville City Council and served two four-year terms. As a councilwoman, she developed a consensus around the removal of Charlottesville’s confederate monuments. Szakos also helped lead the counterprotests and the community work that followed the white supremacist “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville in 2017.

Learn more about Kristin

Rick Stuck ’82Rick Stuck ’82

Affectionally called “Grinnell’s biggest cheerleader” by his niece, Rick Stuck’s love for Grinnell College is infectious. Amid a successful career in finance and accounting, he served for more than two decades as a class fund director and spent six years on the Alumni Council. Believing that every young person he meets should have the Grinnell opportunity he had, Stuck routinely promoted Grinnell at college fairs. Before his retirement, he also relished hosting student externships at his home and office in Jackson, Wyoming. He has opened doors for numerous students on their career journeys. 

Learn more about Rick

Cameo Carlson ’93Cameo Carlson ’93

Cameo Carlson’s lifelong love of music – which Grinnellians in the 1990s first experienced by listening to her KDIC radio show – has grown into a renowned career in the music industry. With a background in radio, record labels, and artist management, Carlson is now the CEO of mtheory, a manager services company providing global marketing and strategic support for artist managers. In April 2022, Carlson spearheaded the Equal Access Development initiative to give artists and managers from underrepresented demographics the resources, training, and networking opportunities they are not always afforded in country music.

Learn more about Cameo

Kartik Sheth ’93Kartik Sheth ’93

A world-renowned astrophysicist, Kartik Sheth is passionate about innovation and finding impactful, resilient solutions to global challenges. As a program scientist at NASA’s headquarters, he directs and manages national science and technology research in astrophysics and Earth science. He also makes time for mentorship, helping Grinnell students apply for NASA internships and jobs. In 2021, Sheth was appointed to the White House’s Executive Office of President as the assistant director for research infrastructures and science equity. In this role, he chaired the national subcommittees on advanced manufacturing, physical sciences, and research and development infrastructures. 

Learn more about Kartik

Suyog Shrestha ’06Suyog Shrestha ’06

A particle physicist whose overarching goal is to understand the fundamental constituents of the universe, Suyog Shrestha is bringing his home country of Nepal into the fold of cutting-edge international scientific research. As a postdoctoral researcher at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), Shrestha worked with the Nepalese government on an agreement providing opportunities for participation by scientists, engineers, and technicians from Nepal in CERN research projects. He has also organized two Physics Without Frontiers programs in Nepal and co-founded Youth for Nepal, which raised money for renovated public schools and established computer literacy programs.

Learn more about Suyog

Emily Guenther ’07Emily Guenther ’07

With a strong belief in the power of a liberal arts education, Emily Guenther transformed the Liberal Arts in Prison Program from a student-run club to an accredited and respected institution within the College. As the program director since 2008, Grinnell has offered 108 courses for credit, serving 166 incarcerated students. Many formerly incarcerated students have talked, movingly, about how their experiences within the program demonstrated they were capable of navigating challenges, first in the classroom and then during reentry. Guenther is also vice chair of the Iowa Consortium for Higher Education in Prison.

Learn more about Emily

Pioneer Awards

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. Honorees offer inspiration as models for their demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of Grinnell in such a short time.

Cynthia Dominguez ’12Cynthia Dominguez ’12

Cynthia Dominguez’s generosity of spirit and genuine joy in connection is contagious. At Lakeview Pantry in Chicago, she was the nonprofit’s first in-house finance employee. She modernized financial processes and HR policies, and led diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Her current job as vice president of finance and operations at the Evanston Community Foundation allows Dominguez to flex her financial and administrative prowess and interweave her passion for diversity and inclusion throughout every aspect of her role. Additionally, Dominguez is a dedicated part of Grinnell’s women’s soccer alumni group, building relationships with students, alumni, and parents.

Learn more about Cynthia

Joy Sales ’13Joy Sales ’13

A community-engaged educator and scholar, Joy Sales is an assistant professor of Asian American studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She has been an active member in the Malaya Movement LA and supports Filipino student issues in the Cal State University system. While at Grinnell, Sales was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. She returned to campus in 2016 as a visiting assistant professor to share her research and expertise in Asian American activism. In 2018, she was awarded a highly competitive Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Sales’ volunteerism includes serving as a Grinnell-in-Los Angeles Regional Community co-coordinator. 

Learn more about Joy

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Nominations for future Alumni Awards are accepted at any time, though nominees are only considered when their class is celebrating a Reunion year. 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 and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.