London Regional Network debuts as Grinnell’s first international alumni group

July 3, 2019 — Grinnell College alumni living in the London area will now have more opportunities to connect, socialize, and serve their community thanks to the formation of the London Regional Network.

Regional networks strive to promote the College’s spirit, mission, and vision, as well as build camaraderie among alumni, students, parents, and friends. The London Regional Network will be the 13th overall network, and the first one outside the United States.

“Over the last five years with the re-structuring and expansion of the regional networks program, it became clear that we wanted to have a full-fledged international location,” says Anna Halpin-Healy ’13, outgoing assistant director of alumni and donor relations for regional programs. “When we looked at concentration of alumni, London stood out. Combine that with our longstanding academic programs in London and our recent successful events there, and it was an obvious choice.”

There are 67 Grinnell College alums living in the London area and over 100 alumni live in the United Kingdom.

Each regional network is led by a planning committee, which coordinates events and volunteer engagement. Members of the London Regional Planning Committee are Julia Bottles ’08, Andy Brooks ’97, Philip Brown ’80, Daniel Malarkey ’08, Lea Marolt Sonnenschein ’15, and Gwen Varley ’11. Bottles and Malarkey are serving as co-coordinators.

“London is extremely cosmopolitan and a crossroads for the world,” Malarkey says. “The amount of museums and cultural institutions make London a wonderful place for learning. Part of the liberal arts philosophy is that students are life-long learners. A regional network will help us alums living in London continue this quest for learning and discovery, while in the process creating lifelong bonds.”

London area alumni, family members, and students enjoy the scenery and good company during the London summer social on June 23.
London area alumni, family members, and students enjoy the scenery and good company during the London summer social on June 23.

Making plans

To kick things off, a summer social was held June 23 at Doggett’s Coat and Badge in London. Participants enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres with fellow Grinnellians while soaking up the view of the River Thames. The next day the Planning Committee got to work on planning the year ahead. 

Various events were discussed that tie into what’s going on in London. Among the ideas was establishing a favorite pub where Grinnellians can gather.

“The committee has a good sense for the direction they would like to take for planning events in London,” says Ashley Renstrom-Schafer, Grinnell College associate director of alumni and donor relations, who is taking over regional programing responsibilities from Halpin-Healy. “They would like to have a few smaller, more intimate events but also have some larger events that are open to everyone, including any students studying in London.”

In addition to event planning, regional network planning committee members will take on volunteer management. The group wasted no time in this regard by taking part in the College’s Global Day of Service on June 8. Andy Brooks ’97 coordinated a project volunteering at Hackney Community Tree Nursery & Edible Forest Garden, which grows trees from seed and cuttings to plant in the neighborhood’s parks and social housing areas.

Growing globally 

The London Regional Network is another outcome of the College’s Global Grinnell focus. Grinnell aims to build opportunities that enable students to deepen their understanding of the world through a global curriculum and opportunities such as internationally-focused students and faculty research, course-embedded travel programs, and intensive language learning. Since being established in 2016, the Institute of Global Engagement (IGE) has served as the College’s international hub.

Grinnell offers courses in nine languages, and all 38 majors and interdisciplinary concentrations pursue international topics in depth. More than half of Grinnell students study abroad.

During the 2017-2018 school year, about 20 percent of Grinnell’s student population were international students, and they represented more than 50 countries. With Grinnell’s study body becoming more international, it makes sense that international alumni relations is becoming more of a focal point, Halpin-Healy says.

Grinnell College has had a longstanding academic program for students in London that takes place every fall. Grinnell-in-London students take a semester of rigorous, engaging courses that delve into Britain’s rich culture. Ross Haenfler, a Grinnell sociology professor, will teach several Grinnell-in-London courses this fall, such as Sport and Identity in Britain and The Politics of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

With the increased focus on global engagement, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) set up London events during the last couple of years. In fall 2017, a kickoff event was held in London to introduce staff from DAR and IGE. Mark Peltz, Daniel ’77 and Patricia Jipp ’80 Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, led a discussion about CLS at a London event in spring 2018. Shuchi Kapila, assistant vice president and senior information officer for IGE, was the featured speaker at a fall 2018 event.

“With events and engagement amongst Grinnellians rising in London, it was an ideal time to form a regional network,” said Adam Laug, Grinnell College director of development. “Similar to the U.S., there’s a strong interest on the part of Grinnell graduates in London to meet and better get to know fellow alums.”

An expanding Grinnellian network

That was certainly the case at the summer social, as the friendly setting allowed for in-depth conversations and connections among alums, some of whom were born in the United Kingdom while others moved there for work. Molly Stone ’20 attended before starting an internship in London the next day.

When Malarkey moved to London, he looked up alumni to see if they could help him launch his career in the art world. He sees the regional network as a place where new Londoners can turn to help them with making contacts or getting adjusted to life in a new country.

“If someone has moved to London, we want to make it easy to bring them into the Grinnell network,” he says.

That offer extends to other countries in Europe as well. All London Regional Network events will be open to Grinnell students and alumni who live in Europe. Interested alumni and students can get on the email list by contacting Renstrom-Schafer at In addition, a Grinnell-in-London WhatsApp group is active. Contact Bottles at to be added to the group.

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about Grinnell’s regional networks visit the network web page or contact Ashley Renstrom-Schafer, associate director of alumni and donor relations, at or 641-269-9317.

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