From the Perspective of a Trilobite

Interim Dean of the College Bob Gaines holds a fossil of elrathia kingii, more  commonly known as a trilobite.

Interim Dean of the College Bob Gaines holds a fossil of elrathia kingii, more commonly known as a trilobite.

Interim Dean of the College and Professor of Geology Bob Gaines threw a geological twist into the College’s opening convocation on the first day of the fall 2019 semester by presenting a very small but very old gift to each member of the entering class. The gift—a 504-million-year-old fossil trilobite from the Wheeler Shale in western Utah, was both a memento of the students’ first day of classes at Pomona and a focal point for his welcoming speech, which focused on time, on both the geological scale and the human scale of the four-year college journey upon which each of the new members of the Class of 2023 has now embarked.

“What you hold,” Gaines explained, “is an animal half a billion years old. In Earth terms, this beast is a mere youngster. It appeared after 89 percent of Earth’s history had already elapsed. The last 500-plus million years—which constitute the entire history of complex life on Earth, represent only the most recent 11 percent of Earth’s history and a far, far lesser proportion of the history of our universe.”

After tracing the very long journey each of those tiny fossils had taken through ancient seabeds, rock formations, geological uplifts and ice ages to the present day, he quipped: “So, this is the perspective from which I speak when I remind you that four years is actually a relatively brief expanse of time.”

On the Fringe

On the first day of her Devising Theatre class last spring, when Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Jessie Mills proposed the idea of developing a student-produced play as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, five of her students leapt at the opportunity. The festival—an open-access celebration of theatre in L.A.—brings hundreds of new plays to professional theatres each summer. And so, for one week in June at the Broadwater Black Box theatre, Ally Center ’21, Roei Cohen ’21, Alex Collado ’20, Noah Plasse ’21 and Abdullah Shahid ’19 brought to life onstage their own serio-comedy, titled How to Adult. Recent graduates Rachel Tils ’19 and Jonathan Wilson ’19 were also involved as directors.

The students not only had to create their own play; they also had to produce it, including negotiating a contract with a venue for dates and times and setting up and breaking down their own sets. “Creating and producing this work is truly at the center of the liberal arts,” says Mills. “These students pulled from a myriad of sources, experiences and materials to collaboratively synthesize their ideas into one cohesive vision.”

Award-Winning Food

fishTry not to drool when you read the menu that won Pomona College chefs Amanda Castillo, John Hames, Marvin Love and Angel Villa a silver medal in a recent national cooking competition.

First course: branzino with kohlrabi slaw, ginger-scented maitake fish broth and tempura snap peas.

Second course: pork belly and shrimp with herb-roasted mashed potatoes, tomato purée and roasted corn.

Third course: vegan almond cake with caramelized peaches, bionda ganache, raspberry sauce and cashew and popcorn brittle.

Buffet course: Korean spiced tri-tip with moong bean pancakes, pickled cauliflower and jasmine rice.

The event was the team competition sponsored by the American Culinary Federation during its 25th Annual Chef Culinary Conference at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, last June.

Generationally Speaking

Esther Brimmer with her father, Andrew Brimmer, at the 1983 commencement exercises.

Esther Brimmer with her father, Andrew Brimmer, at the 1983 commencement exercises.

Last May, when foreign policy expert and former member of the Obama administration Esther Brimmer ’83 stepped up to the podium in Marston Quad as the featured speaker for the 2019 commencement exercises, she was following in some big footsteps—her father’s. Andrew Brimmer, then governor of the Federal Reserve, was Pomona’s featured commencement speaker in 1983, the year his daughter graduated from Pomona. In her address, Esther Brimmer recalled her father’s advice to her: “Run with the swift. … Whatever you do, you should try to learn from the best.”



Esther receives an honorary degree at Pomona’s 2019 Commencement

Esther receives an honorary degree at Pomona’s 2019 Commencement

Beyond Writing

Pomona College’s Writing Center isn’t just about writing any more.

Last summer, the center received a $250,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to expand its mission to support oral and visual communication as well. The two-year grant will fund programs in which students can hone not only their writing skills but also their speaking ability and their competency in dealing with visual communications in an increasingly image-driven world.

“Through the new center, we propose a transformative reconceptualization of how we understand literacy and how we teach key forms of communication in the 21st century,” says Kara Wittman, director of college writing and assistant professor of English. “Flexibility, thoughtfulness and deliberateness in all these areas will ensure that all Pomona graduates leave the College able to write and speak effectively, advocate compellingly and have an impact on the real-world issues they care about.”

The new Center for Speaking, Writing and the Image will be a leader among liberal arts colleges in supporting written, oral and visual literacies at a single site.

Fulbright Fellows

Nine Pomona College recipients of Fulbright fellowships boarded airplanes this fall, headed everywhere from Indonesia to Lithuania. Four others declined the award   to pursue other plans. Here’s the list of new Fulbright fellows, with their majors and destinations:

  • Natasha Anis ’19, English major, teaching in Indonesia
  • Ellena Basada ’16, English major. teaching in Germany
  • Sarah Binau ’19, cognitive science major, teaching in Brazil.
  • Tiffany Mi ’19, anthropology and French major, teaching in Spain
  • Andrew Nguy ’19, Asian studies major, studying contemporary tea culture in China
  • Jessica Phan ’19, molecular biology major, studying the chemistry of addiction in Portugal
  • Megan Rohn ’18, international relations major, teaching in Lithuania
  • Ivan Solomon ’19, international relations and Middle Eastern studies major, teaching in Morocco
  • Laura Zhang ’19, cognitive science major, teaching in Taiwan

Archiving Historic Costumes

Historic CostumesTucked away inside the costume shop of Pomona’s Seaver Theatre is a collection of more than 150 historic garments—mostly women’s clothing dating from the 1920s to the 1950s. They’ve been used over the years, and many have grown delicate with age.

That caught the attention of Michael Mao ’19, a history major and theatre minor with an interest in costume design. With Theatre Professor Sherry Linnell serving as his advisor, Mao decided to combine his fields of study with a research project that encompassed two summers, culminating in the creation of a digital archive of the garments.

Mao spent much of the first summer of his project, in 2017, researching the background of the garments and comparing them to historical catalogs and books about typical women’s fashion of the times. He also noted, whenever possible, important details such as style, fabric, construction and trim.

The next step was photography of the garments. Linnell wanted Mao to consider them as three-dimensional objects, much like sculptures. This posed a challenge for Mao, who enlisted the help of Instructional Technologist Jason Smith.

Smith helped him acquire the necessary equipment—a manual camera with a timer, kit light reflectors and lightboxes—and together they assembled a pop-up studio with white and black backdrops against which to photograph the clothing.

Each garment was photographed from the front, back and sides in quarter turns, with additional photographs for interesting details or trims. After taking the photos, Smith spent time editing them to ensure their visual quality.

The digital image database will serve as a lasting resource for theatre and dance students to continue to engage with these historic garments, even though many of them have grown too delicate to pull out in person.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Class of 2023

In keeping with recent tradition, on the mid-March day that the College sent out acceptance letters to a new class of Pomona students, the staff of Pomona’s Offices of Admissions and Financial Aid rang the Sumner Hall bell 23 times to celebrate the Class of 2023. Here are a few facts about the new group of Sagehens:

726 first-year students admitted to the College

26 transfer students admitted, including 10 from community colleges

49 U.S. states represented, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico

47 countries represented

57.9% of class are domestic students of color

13.5% of the class are international students

20.3% of the class are first-generation students

9 are military veterans, representing the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps

6 participated in the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS)

Pomona Partners Turns 25

Danny DeBare ’22 engages in a community-building exercise with Fremont Academy students.

Danny DeBare ’22 engages in a community-building exercise with Fremont Academy students.

Every Friday at 3 p.m., after the school bell signals the end of the school day, about 30 middle school students at Fremont Academy in the city of Pomona make their way to the cafeteria. The students are not ready to go home just yet—they’re sticking around for Pomona Partners.

Pomona Partners, the College’s longest-running community engagement program, turned 25 last fall. The program continues today through the Draper Center for Community Partnerships, with more than a dozen Pomona College students volunteering every semester to host a series of  activities and experiences with seventh- and eighth-graders.

This academic year, the focus is on critical environmental justice. Students also engage in conversations on other topics, like student activism as a result of school shootings, and share on-campus activities like games, videos, acting workshops, one-on-one interactions and group interactions, as well as two annual field trips, including one to the Pomona College campus.

Farm to Table at the Sagehen Café

farm-to-table specialIt’s Friday, and this week’s farm-to-table special at the Sagehen Café is a vegetable and mushroom risotto with organic beets, carrots, joi choi, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic and onions, most of it grown and harvested nearby at the Pomona College Organic Farm. For the past five years, the on-campus restaurant, housed in Pomona’s Smith Campus Center, has offered a Friday special made with fresh, organic ingredients from the student-run farm. If you want to try it, though, you may need to arrive early, because according to the café’s general manager, Cheryl Yarck, it usually sells out.


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