Juli Vajda

Juli Vajda `24.
Juli Vajda `24.
Brisa Zielina
ET Ourn

If you are looking for Juli Vajda `24 on campus, you will likely find her setting volleyballs in the Darby Gymnasium or watching the flowers bloom while she studies in the Burling Library. She finds comfort in these places and the people within them. Vajda has also expanded her network with off-campus work and research in the Grinnell community and abroad. Through athletics, academics and community outreach, place has played a central role in Vajda’s experience at Grinnell.  

Hailing from Boca Raton, Florida, volley all was the reason Vajda pursued an education 1,500 miles away from her hometown. She found out about Grinnell through her club coach and traveled to tour the College before she was an official student.  

“I had lunch with the volleyball team, and it was awesome. I felt really comfortable,” Vajda said.  

She also watched a Grinnell volleyball game, during which she appreciated the trust that the coaches displayed in the players.  

Despite her anticipation to join the team, Vajda’s first-year volleyball season was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also sidelined from an in-person academic experience, instead learning from virtual professors even while she lived on campus. 

Bored by virtual learning, Vajda decided to apply for the Grinnell-in-London program “as an opportunity to get out” of Iowa. She was accepted into the program as a second year. Vajda took classes on the politics of border-making and multiculturalism while also doing ethnographic research. Aside from academics, Vajda learned how to cook for herself. She described this as a “pivotal experience.”  

“I haven’t stepped away from food since,” Vajda added.  

During a summer trip to Peru, she independently researched the intersection between food and ancient Incan identity. Her interest in food and culture solidified her decision to major in anthropology. She initially intended to major in psychology but realized that the discipline “was completely removed of the cultural aspect” that she enjoyed studying within anthropology courses.  

Returning to Grinnell for her third year, Vajda was voted one of the captains of the volleyball team. As a captain, she aspired to be someone that she and others could look up to. 

“Volleyball has made me tap into my leadership potential,” Vajda said.  

She also tapped into her leadership potential through her work in the community. Vajda coached a traveling club volleyball team of middle and high schoolers within the community. She took online classes to become a certified substitute teacher. At the same time, Vajda taught Sunday school at Grinnell United Church of Christ.  

“I learned so much from them,” Vajda said of her Sunday school students. “They made me laugh so much.”  

She has enjoyed being seen as a community member, saying that she appreciates when people recognize her as “their daughter’s volleyball coach or their son’s Sunday school teacher” rather than just a college student.  

Her work with children in the community prompted her to pursue a concentration in education. She was also a research assistant to Paul Hutchinson, professor of education. 

“It was cool to see how the writing process works on a high level and that he trusted me with his data,” Vajda said.  

She became most involved in the Grinnell community through her work with the Grinnell Farm to Table/Local Foods Connection nonprofit. Vajda learned of Tommy Hexter `21 and his nonprofit through his parents, whom she attended a Bible study with. 

“We offer an online farmer’s market which is making a sustainable economy with local foods. We also bring surplus food to local food insecure families,” Vajda said.

I had this urge, I think my soul needed to be in the mountains.

— Juli Vajda `24


She explained that the nonprofit’s operations got her to “see a different side of Grinnell.” She initially thought that she would use her anthropological education to spark change across the globe, but soon realized that “the issues were literally right here, I just had to cross Sixth Avenue.”  

Currently, Vajda is focused on finishing her senior thesis. She said she would consider this to be her biggest success at Grinnell once she completes it. Vajda explained that she is studying “the production of locality in the Global Kitchen and subsequent global living room.”  

Vajda plans to work as an administratorfor a summer camp in Colorado and then start full-time work as a science teacher at the Pali Institute, an outdoor education program in California.  

“I had this urge, I think my soul needed to be in the mountains,” Vajda said.  

She sees this position and her anthropology major as similar since they both foster communication and connectivity between her and others.  

In the next five years, she hopes to be “as self-sufficient as possible” and plans to grow her own food. She aspires to go to graduate school for anthropology once her “soul is fed” by her work outdoors.  


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