Professor of Mathematics Stephan Garcia has been awarded the inaugural Mary P. Dolciani Prize for Excellence in Research from the American Mathematical Society. He was recognized for his outstanding record of research in operator theory, complex analysis, matrix theory and number theory, for high-quality scholarship with a diverse set of undergraduates and for his service to the profession. The award recognizes a mathematician from a department that does not grant a Ph.D. who has an active research program in mathematics and a distinguished record of scholarship.
Former Pomona College President David W. Oxtoby has been named the new president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A chemist by training, Oxtoby was elected a member of the academy in 2012. Founded in 1780, the academy honors and brings together members from across a wide range of disciplines to pursue nonpartisan research and provide critical insight on issues of importance to the nation and the world. The list of Oxtoby’s predecessors at the helm of the academy includes former U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams; the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Theodore William Richards; and the co-founder of the Polaroid Company, Edwin Herbert Land.
For each major play produced at the College, the Theatre Department has a promotional banner made to be hoisted above the entrance to Seaver Theatre for a few weeks prior to opening night. But where does that banner go once the play is over? That was what Suzanne Reed, the department’s costume shop manager, wondered—so she asked. The answer turned out to be: the trash can. So Reed outlined a recycling idea. What if she transformed each banner into tote bags for some of the play’s principals as a parting memento of their performance? And that’s just what she’s done following the last few plays, the most recent being last fall’s production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. To make the recycling process complete, the chain sewn into the bottom of the banner to give it weight is now returned to the banner company to be used again in a future banner.
In a rite of passage, first-year students at Pomona begin their lives on campus with a Critical Inquiry seminar. These seminars focus on developing writing skills as students collaborate with peers, professors and student mentors to refine their drafts. The familiar five-paragraph format and the strict word counts of admissions essays are left behind. Here’s a look at a few of the new courses offered last fall:
Lessons from the Mouse
Professor of Art Lisa Auerbach had never been to Disneyland until a birthday celebration a few years ago. She found herself surprised and curious. “Disneyland felt to me like a subject that everyone already has a relationship with, whether you’re a local person here who knows someone who works there, or you grew up going there, or you’re an international student who has grown up with Disney movies. I don’t think there is a place it hasn’t touched,” she says. “It provides for me the opportunity to make Disneyland into this lens to look at other kinds of things. We can use Disneyland to look at, for example, race and gender and pop culture. Or we can use Disneyland as an example when we talk about labor.” Labor issues were in the news this summer as Disneyland workers pressed for a “living wage.” Gender issues were at the forefront too, as the Pirates of the Caribbean ride reopened after an update that removed a banner at an auction scene that had read, “Take a wench for a bride.” Yet for all the complicated ways in which nostalgia, utopia, commerce and reality converge in Anaheim, “there is a magical ‘there’ there,” Auerbach says. And yes, there is a field trip.
The Politics of Protest
The Women’s March. The Arab Spring. The Tea Party protests. Tiananmen Square. And of course, the Civil Rights Movement. “There’s always something going on somewhere in the world,” says Professor of Politics Erica Dobbs, a new faculty member teaching her first ID1, based on a first-year seminar she taught at Swarthmore College. “Every year, there’s been an ideological mix,” Dobbs says, noting that many of her previous students had participated in protests. Some of the questions considered include what makes a protest a success or a failure, the role of historical memory and whether social media is a positive. “Social media and the internet have changed the game when it comes to mobilization, but at the end of the day the powers that be are still more concerned about people taking to the streets than taking to their keyboards,” Dobbs says.
Math + Art: A Secret Affair
Mathematics Professor Gizem Karaali wants to put to rest the idea that everyone is either a math person or an art person. A sculpture of the symbol for pi sits on her desk. On her whiteboard are two colorful designs that turn out to be geometric art by her husband and 9-year-old daughter. The textbook is a $49 coffee-table book, Mathematics and Art: A Cultural History, by Lynn Gamwell, including work by the artist M.C. Escher, with his stairways and tessellations. “We find his work fascinating because it’s visually interesting, but also mathematically, what’s happening?” Karaali says. The course also explores concepts such as proportion, infinity and symmetry in other less-expected artists, in some cases considering their mathematical context for the first time.
Governing Climate Change
Acknowledging climate change is one thing. Figuring out what to do about it is another. Professor of Politics Richard Worthington takes on the complex topic of how local, state, national and international governmental groups are addressing climate change, with a particular focus on climate justice. “Climate justice is really built off the idea of environmental justice, this aspiration that people have basically equal access to environmental benefits and amenities and equal protection against environmental hazards,” he says, noting that the countries that have done the most to create the problem, such as the U.S. and China, aren’t the ones most affected. Geography makes a big difference, Worthington points out. For example, he says, “small islands, with sea level rise, are going to be hit harder.”
Statistics in the Real World
In a playful twist on the old Trident commercial, the full title of Mathematics Professor Jo Hardin’s updated ID1 seminar includes the phrase, “9 out of 10 Seniors Recommend This First-Year Seminar.” The class focuses on both good and dubious uses of statistics in politics, the media and scientific studies, with particular attention to the 2016 presidential election. “Every year I have a couple of students who take it because they think the seniors recommended it,” Hardin says. “I think to myself, ‘You’re the person who should be in the class.’”
Alida Schefers ’21 usually makes the first contact with her professors to let them know she uses a wheelchair and may need accommodations. Last year, however, it was Professor of Geology Linda Reinen who contacted Schefers, inviting her to visit the classroom where Reinen’s Intro to Geohazards class would take place and talk over plans for the class field trip. Since then, the bond between Schefers and Reinen has strengthened, and the classroom experience has changed for the better—for all of Reinen’s students.
In her revamped classroom, the most important rock samples now sit at the end of narrow tables with spacious and cleared aisles that ensure a wheelchair user can move with ease. A stream table (a tall table that demonstrates stream erosion) has a camera with a bird’s-eye view. The video is played back on a large screen for all students to see the action without having to crowd around.
Reinen’s changes may seem minor, but they make the classroom accessible in a major way. It was these changes that the International Association for Geoscience Diversity (IAGD) took note of when the group honored Reinen with the 2018 Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research (IGER) Award, given to instructors who promote or implement inclusive instruction and research that supports active engagement by students with disabilities.
“If everyone were mindful of a missed opportunity for a disabled student and took the time to advocate on their behalf, then the changes would be immense,” Schefers says. “One of my favorite sayings is: ‘If everyone did a little, no one would have to do a lot.’”
Driving back to campus from L.A. late one night, computer science major Eberto Andre Ruiz ’19 felt himself drifting off at the wheel. Worried, he grasped for a solution.
“I’m like, ‘Man, this is not safe,’ so I told Siri to set a timer for every five minutes,” he says. “I woke up the next morning and thought, ‘I’ve got to make an app for this.’”
Enter the 5C Hackathon—a one-night coding competition. In early November, Ruiz joined classmates Peter Nyberg ’19, Thomas Kelleher ’19 and Brook Solomon ’19 to built a prototype called Olert, with the O reminiscent of a steering wheel.
“Basically we were interested in doing something that was ‘Tech for Good,’ an idea in some way applicable to the real world,” Nyberg says. “This is something that takes lives.”
Using a camera and eye-tracking software, they built a system that would vibrate the steering wheel if the program detected signs of drowsiness in the driver’s eyes.
One after another, checking out some of the 20 projects submitted after the Hackathon, students from the 5Cs sat down and gripped the makeshift steering wheel the team fashioned with the leather cover from the steering wheel of Ruiz’s Nissan Altima. Sure enough, they felt it vibrate when their eyes closed.
As a result, Olert took the Hackathon’s top prize for the best “Tech for Good” project.
In the midterm elections of 2014, according to a Tufts University survey, only 17 percent of Pomona College students cast a vote. Four years later, a group of concerned Pomona students turned to an online voting support site to give those numbers a boost.
Student leaders Michaela Shelton ’21 and Lucas Carmel ’19 led the outreach effort, encouraging their fellow students to sign up with TurboVote, an online tool that helps users take the first steps to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot.
“A recent Pew study revealed that about 75 percent of nonvoters are not voting due to logistical concerns, confusion,” says Carmel. “Where to get a stamp? How to request an absentee ballot? Where’s their polling place? The same thing is true for college kids—but if you’re concrete with people and help them with the process, you can eliminate many of those barriers.”
President G. Gabrielle Starr joined in encouraging students to get out and vote, not only on our own campus but across the nation. In an op-ed titled “Dear College Students: My grandmother waited 70 years for the right to vote. Don’t ignore this chance,” published in The Washington Post in late October, Starr told the story of her grandmother, Ethel Starr, who was nearly 70 when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. “As a child in the 1970s and ’80s, I always knew when it was Election Day,” she wrote. “My grandma got dressed in her Sunday best, put on her black shoes, hoisted her hard, black pocketbook, adjusted her hat and waited by the door for my father to drive her to the polls. She never missed an election. …”
“Do something no one else can do for you,” Starr concluded. “The students I’ve worked with know I love a good dare. And I send one back. I dare you.”
The efforts at Pomona seem to have succeeded in stimulating greater interest in voting, as TurboVote reports that about 40 percent of all Pomona students—703 to be exact—signed up for the service prior to Election Day.
At Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, the ambience was formal and there were plenty of suits. At the consulting firm Accenture, one of the leaders wore jeans and sneakers but kept a blazer handy. At another company across the bay, the highest-paid employees wore shorts. (That would be the Golden State Warriors.)
In the working world, clothes are a clue, but they might not tell the whole story. That’s just one of the lessons 12 Pomona College sophomores who identify as low-income or first-generation college students learned last fall in an innovative new program. Smart Start Career Fellows is designed to teach students about a working world unfamiliar to many of them. The program concluded in January with a three-day trip to the offices of seven Bay Area businesses.
One of the things Smart Start taught Leisan Garifullina ’20, an economics major from Russia, was the difference between business casual and business formal.
“I had this awkward situation last semester where I went to an information session—I think it was Citibank. I showed up in shorts and the nicest, nicest T-shirt that I had,” she says. Now, with the help of a stipend from the program, “I have business casual,” Garifullina says.
On the Bay Area trip, the students connected with new contacts as well as Pomona College alumni, visiting the offices of Kate Walker Brown ’07, an attorney at the National Center for Youth Law; Natalie Casey ’17, a software engineer at Salesforce; and Adam Rogers ’92, deputy editor at Wired magazine. The group also went to LumiGrow, a startup company that offers high-tech, energy-efficient horticultural lighting solutions, in addition to Goldman Sachs, Accenture and both the business offices of the NBA’s Warriors and a game that night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Created with grants from Accenture and John Gingrich ’91, a managing director at the firm, the Smart Start program began last fall with a series of two-hour Friday night dinner sessions where the students took part in self-assessment exercises and various networking, résumé and career-coaching sessions.
“Every single place we went to in San Francisco, you could ask yourself, ‘OK, could I see myself coming in here every single day for a long period of time, maybe two, three or 10 years?’” mused Shy Lavasani ’20, an economics major from Millbrae, California, whose family emigrated from Iran. “Could I see myself really enjoying this job? It just really helped me thinking about that at every single location, what I really want, what I really need. It gave me a clear direction in terms of what I want to do.”
No job seemed out of reach, except maybe one. “I don’t think any of us were considering pro basketball,” he says. “It’s always nice to dream.”
Rosalind Faulkner ‘19 is podcasting superlatives.
Earlier this year, Faulkner launched “The Most,” a SoundCloud podcast in which she interviews Pomona students who embody a particular characteristic the most of anyone on campus—the most quirky, the most flirty, the most existential. Students nominate potential interviewees on Faulkner’s Facebook page, and whoever receives the most votes joins her in her KSPC studio for a 15-minute breakdown of the chosen adjective and what it means to them.
Faulkner, who has been interested in podcasting since she created her first podcast during her study abroad in Morocco last year, wanted to use an interview format to explore the idea of social reputation. “So many people here have really big personalities or things that distinguish them in different ways,” Faulkner says, and boiling that nuanced personality down to a single label—like “the most existential”—seems limiting.
But though she expected many people to resist being defined by a lone adjective, most students have embraced their superlatives. “My original intention was to subvert it, but some people do genuinely think of themselves in these big ways,” Faulkner says. “At least two of the three were so thrilled to be chosen for these adjectives. They were so happy.”
Noor Dhingra ’20 likes to start her Fridays with a cup of coffee in the Claremont Village before wandering over to Claremont Depot, the gorgeous 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival train station where she catches the 8:42 Metrolink to Los Angeles.
Her roommate, Tulika Mohan ’20 takes a different approach. “I should be getting up at 7:45. I don’t,” Mohan laughs. “I usually end up getting up at 8:10, and then I run.”
Together, with headphones on or book in hand, they ride to one-day-a-week internships in L.A. subsidized by the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP), a program that provides a stipend that turns an unpaid internship into a paid one, along with an allowance for transportation—in this case, train tickets for Dhingra and Mohan.
Taking the train to L.A. for an internship during the school year takes time—students often start work at 10 to allow for the commute—but many say the train beats fighting traffic even if someone has access to a car.
“I just find it fun. You don’t feel like a student when you’re on the train, which is a really good feeling to have once a week,” Dhingra says. “You’re so used to seeing professors or students on campus, so it’s just nice being with people of different ages. I always hear conversations, and sometimes it turns into a story I write.”