Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2

Contents

FEATURE
Lives of a Saint

SPECIAL SECTION
Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

DEPARTMENTS
-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
-Bookshelf-
Getting On
Threshholding
George Moore
-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

ALUMNI VOICES
-Parlor Talk-
Traditions
-Family Tree-
Allen-Lee-Kingman-McDonald
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
Inside-Out
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress



 

In Clarence "Motts" Thomas's view, one of the best ways to enhance Pomona's reputation in surrounding communities is to reach out and help improve the communities themselves. And as the College's director of community outreach and multicultural programs, Thomas has a significant role in helping to achieve that goal.
   "You always suspect that the perception out there is that Pomona is a rich, elitist, selfish institution," says Thomas. "As I look at it, there's nothing wrong with being rich; there's nothing wrong with being academically elite; but there are a lot of things wrong with the perception that we're selfish. If that perception is out there, how can we reshape that? How can we let people know who we really are?"
   With the help of Pomona students and colleagues, Thomas has found several ways. Through a program called Pomona Partners, developed from a student's idea, the College has mentoring partnerships with Fremont Middle and Garey High schools in the city of Pomona. The College also participates with Claremont schools in a federal outreach effort called America Reads, a tutoring program that seeks to ensure that children can read independently and well by the third grade. Pomona also is part of an ambitious educational program called College Bound, which helps to prepare students to attend four-year colleges and universities.
   Thomas credits College President Peter Stanley with helping to broaden Pomona's interaction with the communities beyond the Sixth Street gates.
   "I think much of this has to go to Peter's vision," Thomas says. In the mid-1990s, "Peter had an idea that now was the time, with Pomona's resources, to become a better partner in the surrounding communities. It was really very timely, because there was a hue and cry at the time over Proposition 209," California's anti-affirmative action measure, and there was concern about ensuring access to higher education for a diverse population of students. In local communities, Thomas says, someone needed to step forward.
   "If not Pomona, then who?" he asks.
   Pomona was the first of The Claremont Colleges to join America Reads, a 1996 Clinton administration initiative in which tutors are paid to help teach reading in elementary schools. With the help of Pat Coye, financial aid director, and Kathleen Hacker, who was then a volunteer coordinator for Claremont schools and now is assistant to the dean of the college at Pomona, Thomas found a handful of students willing to join the program. Training was arranged, but some of the students lacked transportation to get to the schools where they were to tutor. Local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs pitched in to provide Dial-a-Ride vouchers, and the program got under way.
   Claremont pupils in America Reads were tested before, during and after the tutoring, and those receiving help were found to be reaping substantial benefits. They were not just reading at grade level by the end of their involvement, but beyond. Soon, the other four undergraduate colleges in the Claremont Consortium joined the program.
   Thomas wanted the children to keep the books they read, but money for purchases was not provided by the Department of Education, which paid the tutors. With the help of the Kiwanis Club and a separate grant, the program has been able to pay for books through the end of this school year. After that, it may have to fall back on the resources it started with, which Thomas says amounted to "students and enthusiasm. When we started these programs, we didn't have any money. It was just scurry, scurry, work, work, talk, talk."
   In Pomona Partners, students from the College serve as tutors and mentors to youths at Fremont Middle School in South Pomona, and at times to Garey High School students as well. The program was started on the initiative of a Pomona student, Lorig Charkoudian '95. On a typical Friday, Thomas says, about 15 Sagehens will be at Fremont, often coordinating their efforts with teachers so that they tutor the adolescents on subjects they are studying in class. A Pomona trustee, Ranney E. Draper '60, has provided financial aid that has helped expand the program's offerings.
   "We take them to museums, we take them to classical music concerts, we take them to plays, we take them anyplace where we think we can excite their enthusiasm for higher education," says Thomas. Corporate and foundation grants also help fund the program, which now is largely run by student coordinators. "It's a pretty popular program with students on campus because of the one-to-one relationships that they develop with a lot of these kids," says Thomas.
   Not every Fremont student participates. Standards are set so that students realize they must work hard to be admitted, and about 80 are in the program now. "There's a bar there," says Thomas. "It says in the back of their minds that 'Through education, I have access.' I think that's the time-honored way in the United States that disenfranchised people have gained access, and that's what we're fostering.
   "We don't know if any of the kids in the Pomona Partners program will ever get to Pomona College," he adds, "but that's not the point. The point is to show them the possibilities, to have them make reasonable choices and to have reasonable expectations. We want them to understand, for instance, that gangs are not their only choice."
   College Bound is the most ambitious and longest-ranging outreach program in which Pomona is involved. It was started in Los Angeles about 10 years ago by a mother, Johnnie Savoy, and her husband, Andy, after they had trouble getting their son into college. She established a partnership with Loyola Marymount University to supplement the education of young people, many of them from the South Central part of the city, who may have felt that higher education was beyond their reach, and to help prepare them for college.
   The students in College Bound, in grades 4 through 12, receive tutoring in subjects such as reading and comprehension, writing skills and critical thinking, algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus, biology, chemistry, physics and languages. They also attend classes on Saturdays. While the children are in class, their parents attend lectures and seminars related to the college experience and their roles in it.
   The rigorous program's results have been extraordinary. About 99 percent of students who've gone through College Bound have been accepted at four-year colleges and universities, most with offers of scholarships, and nearly 100 have graduated. About 350 College Bound graduates are now students in higher education. The Vons supermarket chain recently paid tribute to Johnnie Savoy, who is College Bound's director and CEO, with a half-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times.
   Pomona joined the College Bound program in 1997 and works with students in the inland region between Pasadena and San Bernardino. "When we started, Pomona was a place for the program to grow," Thomas says. "We provided services in kind: buildings, classrooms, anything to allow this program to come to the campus and help nurture it and make it thrive. I was visiting churches and schools, talking about the program that was going to be starting up here."
   At the beginning, Thomas says, "We felt that in four years, if we've got 85 kids, we've done a good job. And if we get some into Pomona at the end of four or five years, we've done a great job. Well, we now have 150 kids, and five or six have been accepted at Pomona, and we have three of those students here now. That was beyond our wildest dreams when we started talking about this."
   A grant pays for Pomona students to tutor College Bound participants, who are mostly African American or Latino, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in math, Spanish and sciences. Some Pomona students also serve as classroom teachers. Saturday classes in the past had been taught only by certified Los Angeles and San Bernardino County teachers, who receive a small stipend, but Thomas sought a way to "get some of our best and brightest, and put them into the teaching role." He asked faculty members for recommendations, and a couple of high-achieving Pomona seniors agreed to serve as teachers. They received training and orientation assistance, then were given a chance to teach Saturday classes, running the curriculum themselves. Now, more are interested. "It's working fabulously well," says Thomas. "Now, my plan is that the tutors will grow up to become Saturday teachers."
   Pomona's participation in America Reads, Pomona Partners and College Bound didn't come about by accident. Thomas says each program was carefully evaluated beforehand, largely because "we couldn't afford to fail. We just could not fail." Participating children benefit, but so does the College.
   In the case of College Bound, "Yes, we're being very altruistic," he says, "but the best form of altruism is when everybody is helped. And we're helped because we're developing this relationship with these families of extremely bright kids from the fourth grade onward. And these families, who probably would never think that their child could come to Pomona College, come to find that this is in fact a safe, warm, accepting place for their children. Down the road, if we are fortunate enough to have some of these kids feel that Pomona is the right place for them, we can accept them through the front door. These kids are qualified to go to schools like Pomona when they get through this program."
   Thomas recalls the first day students in College Bound and their parents visited Pomona. Stanley spoke to the group. "It gave you chills," he says, "because all these parents, who at the time largely were African American, who had never been to our campus before, just wanted one thing: to find a way to ensure the education of their kids. It was almost revivalish in a way. When Peter welcomed them to the campus, some of those parents got misty."
   Involvement in these outreach programs makes a deep impression on Thomas as well. "There's a really, really good feeling that comes from knowing that you've helped an individual, a family," he says. "I collect different kinds of little bears, and there was a kid in third grade who knew that, and he gave me a little plush bear. Because I went to volunteer in his classroom, he said 'Thank you,' and he gave me a bear. He's in fifth grade now, but the bear is still on the console of my car. The satisfaction I get from him giving me that little bear--it struck me in a way that is lasting."
   For many years, football seemed to be the focal point of Thomas's life. He was a player at Morgan State University in Baltimore in the '60s, and went on to coach in high school, college and the National Football League. He came to Pomona in 1982 as a physical education instructor and head football coach. But he had done graduate work in guidance and personnel services, and over time, he shifted into the field of student services. In 1991, he became Pomona's associate dean of students and dean of campus life, leaving in 1995 to become dean of students at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He returned to Pomona a year later to set up and coordinate the College's outreach programs.
   "Football," Thomas says now, "was what I did, never what I was."
   The problem, he says, is that "So many times, the world stamps you with some stereotype, like football coach, and if you're not careful, you can become whatever that stereotype is. Football was never all-encompassing to me. There was another world out there of literature and art and people and how they think, and that was exciting to me. I've been on the sideline in the NFL, with 90,000 people screaming, and that was great, but I don't need to be the focus of attention. I want our programs here to appear seamless, and if I'm invisible, that's terrific. The less visible I am, the better. The important thing is that we reach the goals we set in how we are going to help people."
   For the College, he says, involvement in programs such as America Reads, Pomona Partners and College Bound "has to do with taking on the responsibility to lead and to mold. We're saying to a large group of kids and families not often associated with Pomona College that this is an accessible place for you. We're also saying that we've established a bar of excellence. The bar is very high, and there's nothing wrong with that." --Michael Balchunas; Burf Kay also contributed to this article.