By Joe Wlos
Clint Korver ’89, Chair of the Board of Trustees, is always thinking about the future. As a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, he has worked with companies on the cutting edge of technology for over a decade. Now, he is taking that forward thinking to Grinnell.
“I would love to see Grinnell be best in the world at something,” Korver said. “We have a number of choices of what that something is.”
This is a huge leap from what Korver was thinking in high school. Growing up in Iowa, he dreamed of attending a major research university on one of the coasts, such as Stanford or MIT. A trip to Grinnell, though, changed all of that.
“I had no intention of going to Grinnell when I was in high school,” Korver said. “To get my mother off my back, I visited Grinnell. She actually knew George Drake, who was president at the time. She thought very highly of him. Literally, I came down just to satisfy my mother, and I loved the experience.”
Grinnell was the only liberal arts school that Korver applied to, and after admission, he never looked back.
“Grinnell had all these intellectual possibilities and all of these opportunities for creative expression,” Korver said. “That was one of the things that stuck with me about Grinnell—all of the opportunities that are available to you as a student.”
Korver took advantage of everything that the school offered. While competing on the golf team for four years, he grew academically, taking classes in every division of the College.
“Even though I was a math major, I took just as many Russian Literature and philosophy courses as I did math courses. It was a traditional liberal arts thing,” he said.
Eventually, Korver ended up at Stanford, earning his masters and PhD. The skills that he learned at Grinnell complimented his knowledge of mathematics, ensuring his success in graduate school.
“I was somewhat concerned when I went in that my math background wouldn’t be as good as the math background of my colleagues from places like MIT or Caltech,” Korver said. “But it turns out that I had a huge advantage over these folks in the classes. It turns out that being able to write is a huge advantage in graduate school.”
The applied courses required more than numbers. Korver needed to explain his ideas, his assumptions, and his results, and his papers put him one step ahead of his peers.
“The more advanced the courses got, the more pronounced my advantage became,” he said.
After successfully completing his degrees, he needed to make a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. He knew that he wanted an “exciting and fulfilling” career, which would last well into his later years. He saw academia and entrepreneurship as his primary options. Eventually, he decided to focus on business and technology. However, the spirit of Grinnell never quite left him.
In 2008, Korver published the book “Ethics for the Real World.” He wanted to help readers form a framework for moral decisions in their lives, echoing Grinnell’s mission of social justice and self-governance. He lives up to his values—he resigned from a firm when he was asked to lie about the amount of investments in the company.
Now, Korver is a venture partner at Crescendo Ventures, where he focuses on software and technology-enabled services. However, his love of learning has never subsided. He is a part-time lecturer at Stanford University, and in 2011, he was elected chair of the Board of Trustees.
“I’m getting the best of both worlds. I couldn’t be more happy with where I am at the moment.”
Korver is focused on continuing Grinnell’s discussion of financial policies, and he is also interested in the future of the Internet and education. He called efforts by major universities to put courses online one of the “most exciting” developments in technology over the past year.
At Grinnell, he hopes to help the College find more areas that it can develop its teaching so that it can become one of the greatest learning centers in the world. He said that by leveraging its unique attributes, such as powerful personal instruction, Grinnell could lay the groundwork for further advancements in its academics. However, he believes that this needs to be a team effort.
“Trustees have a very limited role, not just in colleges, but in businesses, too,” Korver said, while explaining the need for cooperation and discussion between the administration, faculty and students.
But Korver’s passion can clearly help advance that conversation, giving Grinnell the energy and enthusiasm it needs to move forward.
“I love education. I love what it can do for people, in terms of unlocking their potential, and I love what it has done for me,” he said. “It is one of the most fun things to do.”