Trivia Togetherness

Feb. 19, 2021 — Trivia nights have been a fun staple for Grinnell College alumni at regional events around the country for years but moving it to a virtual format during the pandemic took some tinkering.

Shannon Boyle ’05 and Jen Sultz ’88, members of the Grinnell-in-Chicago Regional Planning Committee, willingly took on the role of trivia hosts and de-facto format experimenters.

Jen Sultz ’88
    Jen Sultz ’88

The Chicago regional network was the first group to try virtual trivia. Sultz says it was a forgiving crowd “so the first time we were able to feel our way through it and figure it out.” Three trivia nights later, a winning format has been developed and a good time has been had by many current and former Chicago-area Grinnellians.

Alums are placed onto teams and given five themed trivia questions at a time. The teams then go into breakout sessions to discuss the questions and come up with a list of answers. There are usually 30 trivia questions in all. The hosts then tally up the right responses. This model was so successful it has been replicated at virtual trivia events in other cities and will be the format for the Grinnell College Alumni Virtual National Trivia Tournament Feb. 23-March 11.

“It’s not a competitive situation and nobody is put on the spot because you are working with a team,” Sultz says. “It is fun and a low-pressure way to meet other alums. We have a returning crowd now, but I hope we continue to get new people as well.”

Shannon Boyle ’05
    Shannon Boyle ’05

Boyle says the teams have really gotten into the spirit of the events and there even have been a few hilarious moments where contestants playfully attempt to correct answers that they disagree with. A few times a Google investigation has occurred, Boyle says while laughing. “It only gets heated in a way that’s so Grinnell. We care a lot about the minutia.”

Sultz, development director at Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, and Boyle, a residential real estate agent at Coldwell Banker, have both served on the regional planning committee since 2011.

Boyle says it’s been enjoyable to collaborate with Sultz in coming up with questions and hosting the trivia nights. Sultz agrees the duo make a terrific team and balance each other’s personalities well.

“Jen and Shannon do a fantastic job of hosting these evenings,” says Anne Stein ’84, a co-regional coordinator for the Chicago regional network. “The questions they come up with are a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to meet Grinnellians from every era.”

Sultz says one thing that makes the trivia nights interesting is some questions tie into Grinnell and Chicago. There’s always a trivia category about the College and one about Chicago along with several other topics. One category last time was about buildings on Grinnell’s campus and who they are named after. For instance, Boyle learned that Norris Hall, was named after S.W. “Fritz” Norris 1896 who founded the Scarlet & Black and that the namesakes of Dibble Hall and Cleveland Hall were married.

“Hosting trivia has given me an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Grinnell,” Boyle says. “These are random tidbits of history that I now know.”

“That’s true for Chicago too,” Sultz adds. “I learn things every time. It’s fun to put categories together and then learn from each other’s questions.”

There’s a wide range of trivia participants, which is something the committee shoots for in all its events. Boyle says some trivia contestants have lived in Chicago the majority of their lives while others moved to Chicago after Grinnell or grew up in the city but now live elsewhere. It’s also an event where alumni from so many different class years can come together, Sultz says.

“I just always really enjoy both attending events and organizing events,” she adds. “Over the years, the committee has always tried to come up with a good mix of different types of events and it’s been a really nice way to stay connected to the community.”

Sultz, who also serves as a Grinnell College class agent, has planned theatre events in the past while Boyle organized the Chicago group volunteer event for Grinnell’s Global Day of Service. They also have worked together to plan a family event at a local nature preserve.

“Grinnell has a strong alumni community who really have a strong desire to actively stay connected with the College and with each other whether or not they actually attended Grinnell at the same time,” Boyle says. “It’s a pleasure and privilege to be a part of that.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

For information about Grinnell’s regional networks or having a regional trivia event, contact Ashley Renstrom-Schaefer, associate director of alumni relations, at or 641-269-9317.

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