Pomona College students quickly learn the wilderness is within easy reach and it’s full of experiential learning opportunities. For years, freshmen in Orientation Adventure, students from On the Loose (OTL) and various field-trip-oriented faculty members have been taking advantage of these opportunities to learn and explore in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree, the Channel Islands and other Southern California spots.
Now, Pomona’s new Outdoor Education Center (OEC) will be the organizing force behind recreation and learning in the College’s environs. The center, which has been in the planning stages for about two years, is a part of an initiative to “build local and global connections” in Campaign Pomona: Daring Minds. It has received a generous $600,000 gift from Lucila Arango ’88 and the Aramont Foundation to help fund the initial startup costs of the center and provide annual support.
“I came to Pomona from a high school with an active outdoor program and, as an undergrad, missed having that as part of my college experience,” says Arango, an avid biker, climber and hiker who has summitted Mt. Whitney and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
On a recent rock-climbing trip to France, Arango and her son had a chance meeting with another American climber who happened to be a recent Pomona graduate and told them about the heavy interest in outdoor activities among today’s Sagehens. “I wanted to help encourage that interest,” says Arango. “After many conversations with President Oxtoby, I was convinced that Pomona could create a first-class Outdoor Education Center.”
With almost 500 students participating in OTL trips each year, and the entire incoming class of first-year students taking part in Orientation Adventure, the cramped rooms in Walker Lounge could no longer support the demand for storage and meeting space. In its location in Pomona Hall, one of the College’s new residence halls, the OEC offers a large storage space for equipment, easy access for loading vehicles and a library of books and maps, as well as serving as an organizational center for OA, the student-led On the Loose outdoors club, and other campus groups and faculty who want to arrange field trips. It also is an educational center with workshops, new credited Physical Education classes and a new three-level Outdoor Leadership Series certification program.
“You progress through levels through your college career,” says Martin Crawford, senior coordinator for the OEC. “By level three, you are helping to arrange trips for the faculty and putting on workshops at the OEC.”
This organized approach to outdoor exploration and learning also will assist faculty with planning field trips and providing trained student guides. Astronomy Professor Bryan Penprase has gone on several trips in the past with professors and classes in other disciplines and is planning another for November, now with the OEC and Crawford involved. In a trip to the Mojave National Preserve, Penprase will bring his Earth’s Cosmic Origins class and lead a “star party” at night. Anthropology Professor Jennifer Perry will discuss prehistoric rock art, Geology Professor Bob Gaines will discuss the geological landscape and Crawford will lead a trip into a lava tube.
“It’s an amazing thing to mix classes of students and subjects, and take people out of the box a little bit and get them out of their usual classroom mode,” says Penprase. “I think both the professors and students find that refreshing, and the outdoor settings around here are so amazing.”