Fall 2023 /Harvest/

Stray Thoughts: Doing By Learning

A class taught by Professor Shahriar Shahriari.

A class taught by Professor Shahriar Shahriari.

I’m not much for college slogans that aren’t old and in Latin, but there’s one that stands out to me: Learn by Doing.

While California’s polytechnic universities have taken up that mantra, many Pomona College alumni, it seems to me, take the opposite approach: They do by learning.

Again and again, I encounter people who have taken an intense academic interest and turned it into a related but less-than-obvious entrepreneurial path. In this issue, we explore a few of those in the realms of food and drink.

Consider Kim Selkoe ’97, who has a Ph.D. in marine ecology, and Doug Bush ’94, who earned a master’s degree in animal science. They each sell seafood for a living, applying their knowledge to expand the sustainable seafood industry along the coast of Southern California.

Like Selkoe and Bush, Cathy Corison ’75 was a biology major at Pomona. After an extracurricular wine-tasting class, she headed to UC Davis and earned a master’s degree in viticulture and enology. She has been a lauded Napa Valley winemaker for decades, but Corison still can be found out among her vines, pruning by hand and nurturing the grapes that produce the noted cabernet sauvignons of Corison Winery.

Sana Javeri Kadri ’16 made an even greater entrepreneurial leap. An art major at Pomona, she landed on a Forbes 30 Under 30 list five years after graduating as the founder and CEO of Diaspora Co., a spice importer. With a focus on reinventing the ancient spice trade, providing fair prices for farmers—and an absolutely stunning Instagram—Javeri Kadri has melded several of the academic interests she pursued during her days on campus.

There is no business major at Pomona, of course. But the training in critical thinking, research, organizational skills and a certain get-right-to-it quality often lay the groundwork for starting a business—which after all is a fundamentally creative endeavor.

Many other Pomona alumni work in the world of food, including some focused on providing for more basic needs than the rather epicurean businesses we feature in this issue. One who leaps to mind is Yi Li ’16, a former McKinsey & Co. engagement manager who is co-founder and CEO of FarmWorks Agriculture in Kenya. FarmWorks is a startup that aims to address food security and climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa. It provides training in regenerative agriculture, technology and market access to more than 5,000 small-scale Kenyan farmers. FarmWorks’ ambitions, however, are not small. The company recently raised more than $4 million in impact and venture capital to strengthen its data analytics capabilities and to learn to use AI to enhance production and influence planting and lending decisions.

Back to this issue, though. It’s meant to be on the lighter side, and we hope it will leave you ready to raise a glass and enjoy a good meal.