New anthropology travel fund allows students to examine foreign cultures

Sept. 25, 2019 — A new learning fund will give current and future Grinnell College anthropology students the chance to widen their perspectives by traveling internationally for research experience.

Paul Simmons ’79 and Michele Clark
    Michele Clark and
    Paul Simmons ’79

Paul Simmons ’79 and Michele Clark share a love for travel and seek out new experiences in different settings to learn more about different cultures. The Paul Simmons ’79 and Michele Clark International Research Learning Fund will allow Grinnellians to have similar experiences while they are students.

“It’s designed to improve the quality of students’ understanding of people, cultures, and civilizations, which in turn will improve the quality of their own lives academically and personally,” Simmons says.

Simmons and Clark started the fund, which will prioritize support for immersive and internationally based student learning and research in the field of anthropology, including mentored research, independent field work, and course-embedded travel. Students with a demonstrated financial need will be eligible for scholarships.

“When we started discussing it with Grinnell’s development staff, it dawned on us that the learning fund was something we could do that would make us happy while providing invaluable experiences for students,” Simmons says.

The couple live in Davis, California, and traveling has been a part of their lives since an early age.

“I have always had a love for traveling,” Clark says. “Before I went to law school, I traveled for six months across Africa. Part of it was on a three-month organized tour where we drove from North Africa down to Kenya, and then I spent three months traveling through the southern part of Africa on my own. I’ve always been fascinated with the experiences that you have from traveling. When Paul and I started dating, one of the things that we talked about was books. We both identified the same book as our favorite, which was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”

Originally from Tarkio, Missouri, Simmons was the first person at his high school to be a foreign exchange student. He visited Colombia, and reading books by Latin American authors gave him a local perspective.

Paul on campus during the late 1970's.
    Paul on campus during
    the late 1970s

Simmons later graduated from Grinnell with a degree in anthropology while developing an interest in how cultures govern themselves.

“I found it very interesting how communities, families, and villages approached governing,” he says. “That was sort of the spark for me intellectually.”

While a career in law wasn’t on Simmons’ radar during his time at Grinnell, he ended up going to law school at Cornell. He has been an attorney in California for more than 30 years, co-founding the law firm of Somach, Simmons & Dunn. His practice has been in the area of environmental law, specializing in water and natural resources.

Clark is executive director for a nonprofit organization called the Yolo Land Trust. She has been involved with nonprofit work for the last 20 years, after having been an attorney in private practice.

The couple have traveled throughout the Americas and Europe together, with a special fondness for Spain. Simmons says his anthropology background has come in handy while traveling and in his career. He hopes students who receive grants from the Paul Simmons ’79 and Michele Clark International Research Learning Fund will enjoy their experience at Grinnell as much as he did.

“An understanding of cultures – including your own – is both interesting and important in thinking about the world,” he says.

—by Lisa Shapiro

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