From Facebook to the Pioneer Fund: Grinnell mom finds multiple ways to give back

November 14, 2020Az Fuller ’22 doesn’t often bring up his mother’s role in the Grinnell parental social media universe.

“He’d probably prefer if I wasn’t involved, but he doesn’t seem to mind,” says Karen Fuller. “I don’t talk to him a lot about it.”

There’s no shortage of talk, however, on the Grinnell College Parents and Families Facebook group page. With 1,117 members, the group itself and the frequency of posts have grown rapidly during the last six months. While the overall discussion is mostly respectful, Fuller and fellow moderator David Pollack attempt to reign in topics that wander far from Grinnell or become overtly political in nature.

“I love to be part of a group that gets to have an animated discussion where you have everybody respectfully giving different views,” Fuller says. “But it can get toxic similar to our national conversation, and we have to occasionally remind parents to keep politics out of the group.”

Karen Fuller, middle, is pictured with her sons, Thomas, left, and Az at their home in Brooklyn.
Karen Fuller, middle, is pictured with her sons, Thomas, left, and Az at their home in Brooklyn.

Now a New York City resident, Karen grew up in college towns and is quite familiar with liberal arts colleges. Her mother still lives in Oberlin, Ohio, where she is retired as executive director of Oberlin Community Service, and her father at one point was Oberlin’s president. When Karen herself applied to colleges, she was accepted to Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, and University of California, Berkeley. Her dad encouraged her to choose Berkeley because it was nearly free of charge and Wesleyan was not.

“I thought many professors were amazing at Berkley, but there were introduction classes that were upwards of 500 students,” Fuller says. “I think I really wanted something different for my kids. Grinnell’s small class sizes appealed to me, and Az also had this preference when considering schools.”

After considering liberal arts schools in the northeast, Karen’s mother suggested Az take a look at Grinnell. He flew out on his own for a fall weekend visit.

“And when he came back, he was absolutely sold on it and had no interest in applying to any of the other schools,” Fuller says. “He had met the soccer coach Brian Jaworski. He also stayed with soccer players who noticed the small things. They knew the brand of shirt he wore, and he just felt accepted and completely connected to other students. And so it was a no brainer at that point.”

Grinnell checked many boxes for Karen as well, such as small class sizes, a strong alumni network, a high diversity and social mobility index, and a sizable international student population. Three years, later both Fullers are happy with the decision.

“The positives for me are that my son really values his relationships with his professors and advisor,” Karen says. “He feels very supported and very close to his professors. He also has a very strong community of friends he lives with, and they’re being very responsible. The open curriculum has given him the opportunity to explore a lot of different interests, including subjects from economics to fashion. He’s been able to tailor his classes to his own interests and so overall it’s really worked for him.”

A contributor to the College’s Pioneer Fund, Fuller says she is appreciative of what Grinnell has offered her son.

“The College has made it affordable for our family, and Az is very happy being part of the Grinnell community,” she says.

The Grinnell College Parents and Families Facebook group was launched in 2017 by Amit Tibrewal, father of Ishaan Tibrewal ’21. Since Amit lives in India, it wasn’t always convenient time zone wise to moderate the group, so he asked Fuller if she would be interested. She was an administrator for the class of 2022 Facebook group.

As the name suggests, the parents and families group is open to parents and family members of students along with some College staff members who are admitted as observers. The group recently has started organizing virtual events on Zoom in order for group members to better get to know each other. A Thanksgiving themed gathering was held Nov. 14 where participants introduced themselves and talked about the great things their kids are doing.

“I think I live vicariously through some of this because I love high-spirited discussions, which is a reason why I enjoy the group,” she says.

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Additional information about the Grinnell College Parents and Families Facebook group can be found on the group’s About section.

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