Winter 2020 /Behind Bars/

How to Become Dean of Pomona College

Pomona’s new vice president and dean of the college is a familiar face: Professor of Geology Robert Gaines. Here’s the path he followed to get here.

Robert Gaines

1Growing up in Alabama, the son of two history scholars, develop an abiding interest in ancient civilizations. Fall in love with things even older at age 5 when your mom brings you a fossil trilobite half a billion years old from a vacation in Utah.

2Discover in grade school that you can find fossils of sea creatures 80 million years old right behind your school. Carry that fascination with the geological record through high school to the College of William and Mary.

3In college, go on a road trip organized by a faculty mentor to the Grand Canyon and the White Mountains of California, including an unexpected detour to Utah where you encounter the source of your very first trilobite, the House Range.

4Go to the University of Cincinnati for your master’s in geology. Take a course with your future Ph.D. advisor, then on sabbatical from UC Riverside, and find her interest in studying ancient ecosystems through their fossils contagious.

5Following your mentor to California for doctoral studies, take your fascination with that first trilobite full circle when you decide to focus your Ph.D. thesis on the Cambrian ecosystems recorded in Utah’s House Range.

6As a teaching assistant at UC Riverside, find that you love teaching and get your first administrative experience when you’re hired as director of a program to train new science teaching assistants.

7Get hired for a one-year position as visiting assistant professor of geology at Pomona and fall in love with the place and its students. Apply for a tenure track position, and to your surprise, get your dream job.

8As an expert on the ecosystems and geology of the Cambrian explosion of life forms, travel the world and take part in some of the biggest paleontological discoveries of our time, from Canada to China.

9Serve as chair of the Geology Department and take leadership roles in college governance. Among other things, help create the position of chair of the faculty and co-chair the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

10Though you’re shocked to be asked, agree to lead the College’s academic program as interim dean for one year; then, persuaded by the pleasure of working with the faculty, agree to serve for three years.