↑ Return to Staff & Board

Meet Imagine Grinnell: Liz Queathem

Get to know the staff and board of Imagine Grinnell! This week, we are featuring Liz Queathem, president of Imagine Grinnell.

Photo on 12-11-15 at 3.40 PM

Years with Imagine Grinnell: 12 years


Are you a Grinnell Native?  Where did you grow up, and how long have you lived in Grinnell?

I grew up in Tillamook, Oregon, a coastal Oregon town half the size of Grinnell. It’s very green, as it receives 80-120 inches of rain per year! The main employers are the logging industry and the Tillamook Cheese Factory, so our sports teams were the Tillamook Cheesemakers. We usually played the Seaside Seagulls for homecoming, so our homecoming floats generally involved a piece of cheese beating up a seagull.


What is your educational background?

I received my bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, then my Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. My husband, Vince Eckhart, and I then carried out post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley for 3 years before moving to Grinnell to take positions at the College.


What is your favorite thing about Grinnell?

This is a tough question. I feel like I have the best job in the world, because I love teaching at the College, but the first thing that came to mind was actually Imagine Grinnell! I also love the Center for Prairie Studies, Arbor Lake Park, Rock Creek State Park, and the Krumm Preserve. I like the neighborhoods with mature shade trees and backyard vegetable gardens, and I really appreciate being able to source much of my food locally and sustainably. Saints Rest, Relish, Prairie Canary, Lonnski’s, the A & M Cafe, the Grinnell Area Arts Council – this list is going to get really long, so I should probably stop!


What attracted you to working with Imagine Grinnell?

As a biologist, I have always been interested in the natural world and the environment, so when we moved to Grinnell I spent a lot of time with my kids at Arbor Lake. When I heard that then Executive Director Mark Hudson had gotten a grant to do watershed work at Arbor Lake, I was very excited to join the Board and help with those efforts. Now I teach kids every summer through Grinnell Parks and Rec’s Nature in the Parks program and use the interpretive signs that we designed and installed as part of that grant.


Tell us a little about your career.

In graduate school I was trained as a vertebrate functional morphologist – someone who studies how vertebrate animals are built and how they work mechanically and physiologically. I had a National Science Foundation post-graduate fellowship to work in a biomechanics lab at U. C. Berkeley that had funding from the Department of Defense to study locomotor mechanics in animals such as cockroaches and crabs, for use in robotics. Since coming to Grinnell, my research interests have shifted more to human biomechanics, physiology, and psychology – especially how we exercise in different environments, and how we feel about and interact with the natural world more generally.


What is your favorite part of working with Imagine Grinnell?

It’s very satisfying to get to work on projects that improve the community and see the fruits of your labors mature. I have really enjoyed hands-on work like installing Hudson Prairie at Arbor Lake Park and the natural playscape at Summer Street Park. The effort to help more home and business owners install solar panels has also been very rewarding. Projects that take a long time are especially exciting to complete – we worked with the City of Grinnell and other partners grant-writing for probably 10 years before the funding finally came through for the bike trail underpass on Highway 6.


If you could improve any one thing about Grinnell, what would you change and why?

As a transplanted Westerner, occasionally I can’t help feeling that we might be a bit, um, topographically challenged here in Iowa – I do sometimes miss mountains and the Pacific Ocean. But if we had those features here, they might detract from the majestic sky of the prairie landscape, so maybe it’s just as well I can’t wave my magic wand and cause them to appear. I think that what we lack in topographical drama is more than made up for by the extremes of climate and weather! Our thunderstorms and snowstorms are gorgeous.


Any memorable moments from your time with Imagine Grinnell?

Many! I remember some of the early 2nd Saturday running/biking events back when Rob Clower was Executive Director. We had them EVERY 2nd Saturday, so sometimes we were out there in mid-winter when it was very, very cold. I have also really enjoyed seeing seeing so many members of the community come out and work on the Summer Street playscape, down at Arbor Lake, and on the Community Garden at Miller Park.


If asked “why should I become a member of Imagine Grinnell?” what would you tell them?

One of the great blessings of living in a community like Grinnell is that you have the ability to make it a better place if you pitch in. If there are projects that you would like to see happen, joining Imagine Grinnell is a great way to make them a reality!