Learning in the Field
Pomona students at the 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls at Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Sometimes, if you want to study rocks, you have to go to the mountains. If you want to understand how human behavior affects grunion, there’s no better way to find out than to spend a night at the beach. Maybe you want to know more about child psychology or health care or Chicano muralists.
There’s a lot you can learn in the classroom and the lab, but if you want a hands-on experience or a different perspective, you have to go out in the field.
The Los Angeles area offers rich and diverse possibilities for students in every discipline. Anchored by a vital, evolving city with opportunities for community-based research and internships in areas that include health care, economics, public policy, arts and media, the region also offers vast natural resources—from deserts to mountains to beaches. Intellectually and politically, California is at the center of discussions (and action) about issues like the environment, globalization, diversity, immigration and technology. Our students don’t want to wait until graduate school to tackle those challenges—and at Pomona they don’t have to.
The Draper Center for Community Partnerships
“We have a wealth of resources at Pomona College and partnering with the community is one way to share them,” says Maria Tucker, director of the Draper Center for Community Partnerships. Communitybased research and learning, educational outreach and other types of community engagement are supported by the Center through a range of programs.
“The Draper Center aims to create academically grounded opportunities for students to experience a mutually beneficial exchange with community members and organizations,” says Tomás Summers Sandoval, faculty coordinator for the Center and assistant professor of history and Chicano/Latino Studies. “It’s about civics: learning what it means to be a responsible, educated citizen in the world.”
A recent collaboration between the Theatre and Dance Department and Fremont Middle School led to the creation of The Theatre for Young Audiences, a year-long course culminating in a production at Pomona in the spring. College students are involved in every aspect of the program, from designing the curriculum to working with middle school students on the final production.
Politics, mathematics, environmental science and Chicano/Latino Studies are among other departments that offer courses with community-based research components. Students in Politics of Environmental Justice, a course taught by Professor of Politics Rick Worthington, conduct collaborative projects with groups in the Los Angeles area, such as the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Pomona students also participate in educational outreach to local schools through America Reads, Pomona Partners, College Bound, and in the four-week long Pomona Academy for Youth Success (PAYS), a free summer college prep program for local high school students.
Community engagement initiatives include connecting students to one-time volunteer activities and organizing spring and fall Alternabreaks, opportunities for community service during mid-term breaks. “The students not only came up with the idea for Alternabreak, but figured out how to make it work,” says Tucker. “That’s a hallmark of Pomona, and what we love about our students--they take initiative, they’re smart, and they’re independent.”
Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP)
“Carbon markets are really exciting,” says senior Samuel Meehan, an intern for EcoSecurities in Claremont, a leading company in the business of developing and trading carbon credits throughout the world. “It’s a window into green financing, which is going to be one of my generation’s callings. It’s also a cutting-edge financial market that I wanted to get involved with. EcoSecurities has three interns from Pomona and has hired a couple of graduates.”
Researching carbon credits, staffing community health clinics and getting post-game locker room quotes from the Clippers are just a few of the remarkable experiences of the many students who participate annually in the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP). Taking full advantage of Pomona’s location, the College makes internships available during the academic year in a wide range of non-profit, for-profit and public settings, some of them right at the College’s doorstep, others at places like the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, the Museum of Tolerance, Bravo Television, The Trust for Public Land and City of Hope Cancer Center. Because so many internships are unpaid positions, Pomona pays an hourly wage to all PCIP participants, so that every interested student can afford to take part.
Public Policy Internships
Public policy analysis majors have a chance to put theory into practice by participating in an internship program, in which they spend about 16 hours a week working in courtrooms, health clinics, community organizations and other private and public settings that have a link to public policy.
“The internship is the capstone of our program,” says David Menefee-Libey, professor of politics and coordinator of the program in public policy analysis. “It gives students an opportunity to try out a professional job and to see how that experience is related to what they’ve learned in the classroom.”
Some students discover new interests, while others find that the experience solidifies their plans for careers or graduate school. David McDevitt, who interned with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in Pomona, gathered data on prosecution patterns that he also used for his thesis.
Other students have worked for public schools, advocacy groups, consulting firms and even in Washington, D.C., where Nora Becker interned full time in the office of then U.S. Senator Barack Obama.
Taking a Field Trip
Students in Robert Gaines’ geology classes spend almost as much time in the field as they do in the classroom, taking day trips to local canyons and mountains, going on longer excursions to the Owens Valley, Mojave Desert and remote western Utah, and on departmental outings to Big Sur, Canyonlands and Lower Calf Creek Falls. For Gaines, there is no better way to understand the Earth’s geology than to be able to stand at the rim of a canyon carved out by a massive flood during the Ice Age or climb up to the gnarled trees that cling to the top of the White Mountains near Mono Lake.
“The ancient bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains are the oldest, continuous living organisms on Earth,” says the associate professor of geology, who describes himself as both a scientist and “historian of the Earth.” “When you’re standing at 10,000 feet among these trees that are older than Rome, you can see 200 miles along the crest of the Sierra Nevadas at a landscape that is geologically very young. It helps put things into perspective.”
Gaines estimates that he spends more than 150 hours a year out in the field with students from his upper-division courses, and another 80 hours with intermediate classes. In the fall, he heads out of state with his students from his sedimentology class to spend a week in a remote (no gas stations for 50 miles) area of western Utah, where there are pristine records of the Ice Age. “Earth’s history is written largely in sedimentary rock,” says Gaines, who specializes in the study of paleontology and sedimentary geology. “It’s our record of how mountains were built and worn down, of ancient life and climates.”
Most field trips are within a day’s drive and take advantage of the resources found in the local mountains and deserts, as well as the beaches and coastal areas. “We’re so lucky to be in this geographic location,” says Gaines. “It’s really remarkable. One of the things I like to do on the first day of my Earth History class is take students to San Antonio Canyon—in only 15 minutes we’re at 4,000 feet. Before they open a textbook, I want them to start to think about things from the point of view of early geologists who were trying to figure out fundamental principles. It’s a fun way to teach, and I hope an effective way to learn.”
Gaines isn’t necessarily looking for absolute answers when he takes students into the field. “Geology is a science that requires a lot of nuance. Even the methods you use are diverse—from looking at satellite images to see how mountains are being formed to analyzing the chemistry of a sample under an electron microscope. What is appealing to me is that questions are so enormous—encompassing the depths of time and the scale of the planet."