Grinnell’s collaborative environment a tremendous fit for Seehorn family

Feb. 15, 2024 — For John and Melissa Seehorn, a year of their daughter not attending Grinnell was how they began developing an admiration for the College. 

John recalls that Ellie Seehorn ’25 received her admission letter in mid-March 2020 on one of the “last normal days for a good while.” It arrived just a few weeks after he and his daughter had visited campus, and Ellie had come away “pretty awestruck” despite the temperature being zero (negative 27 degrees with wind chill). Ellie took advantage of the College’s COVID gap year option and spent 2020-21 working on a voter registration drive and with a local Congressperson, and with a nonprofit organization Project Transformation Tennessee.

John and Melissa Seehorn take a photo with their daughter, Ellie Seehorn ’25, center.
John and Melissa Seehorn take a photo with their daughter, Ellie Seehorn ’25, center, with Herrick Chapel in the background.

“The opportunity to take a gap year was a really positive experience for Ellie,” Melissa says. “When we’ve compared notes with our friends, Grinnell stood out for how forthcoming they were about their approach to the pandemic.” The Seehorns view the flexibility that the College offered the incoming class as emblematic of the institution. 

John and Melissa are now vice chairs of the Grinnell College Parents and Families Leadership Council. They will serve as co-chairs in 2024-25. Council members take part in outreach activities with families to welcome them into the Grinnell community and raise awareness of the philanthropic priorities of the College. The Seehorns are excited to be serving in a leadership capacity and describe the Council as an easy and low commitment way for parents to get involved. 

The Seehorns have lived in Franklin, Tennessee, for the last 22 years. The couple met in Savannah, Georgia, during John’s last active-duty military posting following West Point. John, who grew up in Tennessee, is an attorney with Bass, Berry, and Sims, focusing on real estate and financing. Melissa, originally from Florida and a former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home parent, has been taking her own gap year since their younger daughter, Caroline, matriculated to Georgia Tech. She plans to return to the workforce in the near future. 
Through their work with the Parents and Family Leadership Council, John and Melissa have gotten a look inside Grinnell. John points to getting to learn about the nuts and bolts of the College’s operations from presentations by Joe Bagnoli, vice president of enrollment, dean of admission and financial aid, on the admissions process. The College’s Investment Office has been helpful in walking Council members through the endowment. 

Melissa has appreciated getting to know President Anne F. Harris, as well as parents of students from all over the country. The biggest perk though, Melissa jokes, is that they still get to come to campus during Family Weekend. “Ellie’s told us, ‘No one’s parents come to Family Weekend by their third year,’” she says, “but we have to be there for the Council meetings.” 

The Seehorns direct their contributions to support a wide range of students and to align with Ellie’s interests, which include computer science and the College’s disability and accessibility initiatives. Ellie works in Accessibility and Disability Services. She also helped launch the Grinnell Middle School chapter of Girls Who Code, plays Ultimate Frisbee, and serves as a mentor in the computer science department. 

A self-taught coder, Ellie is double majoring in sociology and computer science with a particular interest in the ethics of computers and artificial intelligence. Her past summer research experiences include developing tactile graphics for blind people at the University of Washington and working on software-based individual education plans at Carnegie Mellon. 

Above all else, John and Melissa say they are pleased to be involved with and support the College because of Ellie’s experience. 

“We feel fortunate to give back to an organization and school that has been so incredibly good to our daughter,” John says. “Nothing brings you more happiness than seeing your kid happy.” One of the reasons Grinnell has been such a good fit, Melissa believes, is that overall, Grinnell tends to be a collaborative, rather than competitive, environment. 

“Grinnell has helped Ellie find her best self,” Melissa says. “She’s always wanted to be a world changer and Grinnell is full of world changers.” 

— by Anne Stein ’84

For your information

To learn more about the Parents and Families Leadership Council – and to support Grinnell and its world changers – contact Tina Popson ’97, associate director of parents and families program, at

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.