Exploring the common good (while having a common good time) on Grinnell president’s tour

March 16, 2023 — Like many alums living outside of Iowa, Summer White ’18 had not yet had the chance to meet Grinnell President Anne F. Harris in person.  

White and 137 other Washington D.C. area Grinnellians got the opportunity during a stop in our nation’s capital last month as part of Harris’ 11-city 2023 event series.

“Alums were excited to meet her, and I got the impression they felt like she is very Grinnell,” White says. “She is overall aligned on our values and shared vision for the College and the impact we want it to make for our country and world.”

A wide shot of the stage of the Seattle Presidential event President Harris is joined by two alumni on stage. A large projection of white text on red says "An evening with President Anne. F. Harris."
The Museum of Pop Culture was the venue for the presidential tour stop in Seattle on March 2. A total of 86 alumni, parents, and friends of the College attend the event 

Harris was named Grinnell’s 14th president in July 2020, succeeding President Raynard S. Kington, after initially coming to Grinnell in 2019 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. Whereas Kington was introduced to alums at a series of events around the country shortly after he became president, the pandemic prevented a similar occurrence for Harris.

This event series is an exciting opportunity to introduce Harris and provide an in-person chance for alumni, parents, and friends to meet her and join in the conversation about the College’s present and future.

“At every event, I’ve heard alums say some version of ‘she’s great. I’m excited to see what she does for Grinnell,’” says Nino Parker ’07, senior associate director of alumni and donor relations, who coordinates the tour. 

Connecting Grinnellians for the Common Good: An evening with President Anne F. Harris began Jan. 10 in San Francisco. Events have since been held in Des Moines, Washington D.C., Portland, and Seattle. Next up is Boston and Minneapolis. The Boston event April 10 will be held at the District Hall while the Twin Cities event April 12 will take place at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

President Anne F. Harris chats with two young alumni at the 2023 Des Moines Presidential Tour reception.
Anne Harris has a conversation with Ames residents Zachary Brennan ’20 and Cassandra Staib ’21 during the Connecting Grinnellians for the Common Good tour stop in Des Moines.

An event in Chicago will be held in late April. New York City is the destination in May, and the tour makes stops in San Diego and Los Angeles in June. Additional cities will be added to the tour for the second half of 2023 and the first half of 2024. Plans also are underway for a virtual version of event, which will be held May 25.   

At the in-person events, the festivities begin with a 6 p.m. reception that has served as a time for Grinnellians to connect or re-connect with each other as well as College faculty and staff on the tour. Heavy hors d’oeuvres are served, and beer, wine, and soft drinks are available at the bar.  

The program for the evening, which starts at 6:45 p.m., is a conversation between Harris and the event hosts followed by Harris taking questions from the audience. The event wraps up with desserts, coffee, and more networking.

“I have had an incredible time connecting with alumni, parents, and friends at each of the events,” Harris says. “A central theme of this event series is discussing how the College can continue to create conditions of possibilities for Grinnellians to serve the common good. Alumni and parent engagement is a dynamic and enduring part of fulfilling our mission, and it’s been truly exciting to hear ideas and feedback from alums about the College’s role and response to the crucial issues before us as a society and a world. I am eagerly anticipating the remaining six stops on the tour to continue these important conversations.”  

President Harris was joined on stage by hosts Marlú Abarca '14, left, and Steve Sandquist ’95 for a Q&A session
President Harris was joined on stage by hosts Marlú Abarca '14, left, and Steve Sandquist ’95 for the Des Moines event on Feb. 1.

Each event is being hosted by two alums. In many cities, a graduate within the last 10 years is one of the hosts. White liked welcoming and interacting with Grinnellians during the Washington D.C. event. “I enjoyed having a chance to talk with President Harris 1 on 1,” she says. “And my role enabled me more easily to start introductions with alums who I hadn’t yet had a chance to meet.”

White said it was nice to hear about what’s going on in Grinnell and get sense of what students are thinking about. Other questions from the audience have included inquiries about the student transportation options, support for international students, and the building of Renfrow Hall/Civic Engagement Quad – a new residence hall and community collective spaces in downtown Grinnell.

Parker noted at every event Harris talks about how she values civic trust. 

“She starts NSO (new student orientation) welcoming all first-years with a quote from the political philosopher Danielle Allen: ‘democracy depends on trustful talk between strangers,’” Parker says. “She goes on to tell them that Grinnell College and civic trust depend on trustful talk between strangers. That’s what is needed to gain trust. Gaining and sustaining trust among all of the constituents of the Grinnell community is vital, and I think that intention has extended to President Harris’ tour. We are pleased the tour has been a success in building civic trust and is leading to more connection with the College. We’re looking forward to bringing the event series to more cities and having a virtual component.” 

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

View the cities and dates for the next few months in the President Anne. F Harris event series and see ways to get more connected with Grinnell College.

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