Aiyana Rockwell

Aiyana Rockwell `24.
Aiyana Rockwell `24.
Meilynn Smith
ET Ourn

Aiyana Rockwell `24 has participated in many things at Grinnell. Not only is she an economics major, policy studies and education double-concentrator and an athlete for the women’s basketball and track teams, she has also served as a research assistant, admissions tour guide, and co-president of Student Athletes for Social Change (SALSC). Despite her many involvements, Rockwell said she still has a couple more items on her bucket list, hoping to attend an improv show and Bob’s Underground open mic night before she graduates. 

Originally coming to Grinnell as a physics major, Rockwell said she ended up finding her niche in economics. 

“Economics is a very interdisciplinary field, and I think it has a lot to offer in terms of job prospects down the line,” she said. “My advisor is Professor McGavock and I love her, she’s great. She’s just been super supportive and has led me down this path of humanistic economic research.” 

She said she found the policy studies and education concentrations complemented her major well, and helped to balance out her economics and math classes. Taking an introductory-level class with associate education professor Stephanie Jones, Rockwell said her final project propelled her towards an education policy pathway. 

In her second year at Grinnell, Rockwell worked with associate education professor Cori Jakubiak to serve as a pedagogical partner. 

Rockwell said that in other pedagogical partner programs in liberal arts colleges in the United States, students serve as consultants for faculty for course development or to observe their teaching styles in the classroom to evaluate if it is effective. However, with Jakubiak, Rockwell said she served as a research assistant and a course assistant, both giving feedback and researching how pedagogical partners operate in other institutions. 

She has also worked with religious studies professor Caleb Elfenbein to implement a pedagogical partners program in Grinnell, and is currently working on a grant proposal for funding. 

“It is cool to see all of my work since second year kind of coming to a head and hopefully being able to get this grant accepted and start this program here,” Rockwell said. 

When you’re collaborating with community stakeholders, you’re showing that students want to be involved.

— Aiyana Rockwell `24

In addition to researching educational tools, Rockwell spent the summer after her second year as an AmeriCorps member at Davis Elementary school in the town of Grinnell. There, she helped rising third graders with their reading comprehension and interviewed educators to inform her policy research. 

“I think my favorite summer was probably two summers ago. It was just a lot of fun,” she said. “I think it cemented my passion for education policy.” 

That following summer, Rockwell spent five weeks in Milwaukee helping with a research project. There, she said she interviewed residents of a culturally rich area and mapped the floor plans of their houses, eventually creating a website to track the stories they found about the people and places. 

Approaching the research with an open mind and no preconceived research questions, Rockwell said she “let what these people were saying sort of mold the story that we were going to tell of them.”

“The biggest takeaway from that experience is just the humanistic approaches to research,” she said. “Because of my academic background with economics and policy studies, you go in with a question or this idea in mind or hypothesis, and that’s not what that was.” 

Outside of academics, Rockwell has dedicated much of her time to the women’s basketball and track teams. Rockwell came to Grinnell on the basketball team, and said one of her favorite memories was when the team beat Ripon College, a previously undefeated team that season, in her second year. 

Additionally, “those little moments,” like studying together or eating meals in DHall, which the team calls “long d,” are the memories Rockwell said she will remember off the court. 

The biggest takeaway from that experience is just the humanistic approaches to research.

— Aiyana Rockwell `24

In her second year, she decided to join track for sprints and discus. “I think the track team has been incredibly supportive and welcoming of this group of women’s basketball players—there’s a few of us that transition into track in the outdoor season—and I love the track team, they’re great and a really good time,” she said. 

Complimenting her involvement in sports teams, Rockwell is the current president of SALSC this semester — as her other co-president graduated early — and has also served as the social media and outreach coordinator for the group. 

“The mission of SALSC is to make getting involved in the Grinnell community a lot more accessible,” she said, especially for athletes who dedicate a lot of their time to their sport. Over the course of the year, the group facilitates outreach opportunities and hosts events such as a student-admin forum and a Sexual Assault and Awareness Walk. 

“What I always tell first years, and when I gave tours, is that it’s really important to understand the context you’re in,” Rockwell said. “I think there’s something to be said for people going out and getting involved and understanding where they’re going, because even in my second year I was like yeah, I go to school in Iowa, but I’m not indebted to this place.” 

But with programs like SALSC, she said, “when you’re collaborating with community stakeholders, you’re showing that students want to be involved.” 

After graduation, Rockwell will be attending graduate school at Carnegie Mellon in their Master of Science Public Policy and Management program with a year-long fellowship in D.C. 

“At the end of the day, education involves everything,” Rockwell said. “So many things intersect with education policy, so at any point if I’m working for a nonprofit or a think tank in D.C., it’s going to involve some sort of education policy.” 

Although she said she is very invested in education policy, she has room to explore other areas in her program such as law and justice, urban policy and housing policy. 

“I’m totally open to exploring and seeing where it takes me,” she said.  

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  • J

    Juliane BarnesMay 14, 2024 at 10:36 pm

    Props to Claire Giannosa on this excellent writeup. Props to Aiyana Rockwell for being the most amazing young woman in the whole universe.

  • M

    Mike KovachMay 8, 2024 at 5:27 pm

    Wonderful article, you have made your family and all of us proud of your many accomplishments.
    Uncle Mike

  • D

    Diane WestMay 6, 2024 at 11:20 am

    Wow! Impressive. You give me hope for this country’s future. It will take strong women like you.
    On a personal note I’m so very proud of you!
    This made my heart happy!
    Aunt Diane (Barnes)