Feven Getachew

Feven Getachew

Feven Getachew `24 did not prepare for the Iowa cold. When she arrived at the Des Moines airport from Ethiopia in January 2021, she said, “I thought, ‘Okay, I will just wear a hoodie and something underneath and that will be good enough.’”

Luckily, she said John Edwards, director of international admission, brought her plenty of extra winter gear. “I had no idea the cold would be this cold,” said Getachew.

Before Grinnell, Getachew attended high school at United World College Costa Rica and spent her summers at home.

Edwards visited her school and put Getachew in contact with Professor Leslie Gregg-Jolly, biology. Interested in biomedical research, Getachew said she asked Gregg-Jolly “a silly, probably easy question” and she responded quickly.

“I thought, this is amazing. I would love to be somewhere my professors actually have time to answer me,” said Getachew.

Despite applying early decision to Grinnell, she decided to take a gap semester during the fall due to COVID restrictions. In 2021, the College permitted international students to remain on campus for the full spring semester, and Getachew jumped at the chance.

“It was cool to see the snow, but it was empty and kind of scary” on campus, said Getachew. During her first semester, Getachew worked in the Dining Hall and lived in Clark Hall, where she met some of her closest friends. Together, they went sledding and built snowmen on MacEachron (Mac) Field.

After graduating, Getachew said she will miss their “late night conversations, staying up making ramen at midnight just talking about anything.”

At the end of her first year, Getachew said she worried about returning home for the summer due to the escalating civil war in Ethiopia. Learning this, Getachew’s First-Year Tutorial professor, Dr. Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, department chair of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, offered her a position as a research assistant.

That summer, Beauboeuf-Lafontant and Getachew conducted archival research on Edith Renfrow Smith, the first Black woman to graduate Grinnell College in 1937. They also organized the rededication of the Smith Gallery in the Joe Rosenfield `25 Campus Center.

“I was honestly disappointed that I didn’t know [about Smith]. I wished the school did more making sure that people know about her because it’s very inspiring,” said Getachew.

Throughout her research, Getachew said she kept wondering, “How could a place be home for you when it’s resisting against you?” Smith was the only Black student at Grinnell and it would be another 10 years after her graduation before any other Black students attended.

“Now there’s so many Black people, Black students here who work through that, and we have the support of each other.” After meeting with Smith, 107 at the time, Getachew said, “I think now I understand that she made Grinnell home because she worked towards it.”

Getachew now serves on the planning committee for the dedication of Renfrow Hall. She said she hopes she will be able to return to Grinnell for the ceremony next year.

Apart from research, Getachew is a sociology and biochemistry major, a member of Black Student Union, and a former co-leader of the African Caribbean Student Union. This year, she and Simon Taye `24 founded the Habesha Student Organization, which she said is “a space for Ethiopians and Eritreans to just get together in community.”

“The name itself is a name that doesn’t have an ethnic attachment to it so it makes it more inclusive,” said Getachew. She and Taye hoped to incorporate international and domestic Habesha students into the organization. “I kind of wish we had done it sooner, but we started something and I think that’s really awesome, and hopefully it will keep going.”

Getachew said she especially loves the International Student Organization’s Cultural Evening. “It’s one of my favorite times of the year, just seeing everyone dressed up, because we don’t get a chance to dress up all the time with our own cultural attire.” All in all, she said, “I just like any avenues where I can talk about Ethiopia and my experiences because you learn so much from it.”

After graduation, Getachew plans to work for two years at Boston Children’s Hospital conducting immunology research regarding allergy and asthma development. She hopes to eventually attend graduate school but said, “I’m also hoping I can have that time to reflect and think more about what I want to do.”

The highlight of Getachew’s Grinnell experience might be yet to come, though. For the first time ever, her family will visit the College. “I’m trying to pack everything in, like every hour we’ll have something to do,” she said. Getachew said she calls her family nearly twice a day, “so I’m just very excited and very grateful.”

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