A Strong Start: Recent Graduates Pursue Fascinating Careers Around the Globe
Where do you go with a Pomona degree? These 12 recent graduates are carrying their rigorous liberal arts education into invigorating real-world roles around the globe. It’s not just the challenging classes, accessible faculty, strong resources and opportunities for undergraduate research and internships that set Pomona apart. Students also have access to an expanded Career Development Office that helps Sagehens start finding their road map from their first year here. Consider these career stories:
Dr. Gerardo Lopez-Mena ’04
Dr. Gerardo Lopez-Mena ’04, son of immigrants, was born and raised in the blue-collar L.A. suburb of El Monte. He graduated from Pomona with a degree in chemistry, but says he couldn’t have made it without mentors, including Professor Roberto Garza-Lopez who encouraged him to do research and made him co-author of a scientific paper. Today Lopez-Mena is completing his residency at The Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, and plans to eventually return to El Monte to work to improve health care in that underserved community. “I’ve been blessed to have mentors throughout my life. So when there was someone telling me ‘no,’ I had more people telling me ‘yes.’ I had mentors who saw something in me even at times when I didn’t see it in myself.”
Brennen Byrne ’12
Set on an English major, Brennen Byrne ’12 only signed up for computer science class to take care of a math requirement. But he quickly got hooked on writing code. “I realized I would be able to write things that would build whole businesses and products. The creative potential really drew me in.” Byrne added a second major in computer science, a decision reinforced by conversations with his advisor, English Professor Arden Reed. “We spent a lot of time talking about the intersection of my interests. He made so much of my English education relevant to the computer science I was learning.” Byrne caught the tech bug, and started working with Jesse Pollak ’15 and Mark Hudnall ’13. The trio soon moved to the Bay Area where they kicked off their startup company Clef, a mobile app that eliminates the need for passwords by identifying users based on their smart phones.
Emelia Asiedu ’11
Emelia Asiedu ’11 was a theatre major at Pomona, where she received support to pursue a Summer Undergraduate Research Project, returning to her homeland of Ghana to study ways to revive that nation’s theatre in the midst of many Western influences and competition from film. Her goal at the time was to come home after graduation and “try to set up the kind of system that helps to promote Ghanaian theatre and to make people more aware of it.” Today she is doing just that as co-founder and director of Accra Theatre Workshop in that nation’s capital. Launched two years ago, the young theatre company supports new work and new artists, giving them a platform to present their work, receive feedback and polish it to be presented to a small audience before moving on to a bigger stage. “This is right up my alley,” she says.
Alexandra “Zan” Gutowski ’13
Alexandra “Zan” Gutowski ’13 studied Arabic for several years at Pomona and even spent a semester in Jordan during her junior year. With the help of some of the staff at Pomona’s Career Development Office, Gutowski applied for Georgetown University’s Qatar Scholarship, which allows U.S. college graduates to study Arabic at Qatar University in the Persian Gulf nation. Her acceptance letter came just in time for Commencement, where she graduated as an international relations major. Gutowski says her classes at Pomona stoked her passion for foreign affairs, with Professor David Elliott a key influence. “I’m truly indebted to him, not just for shaping me into someone who could pursue foreign policy as a career but as someone who always wants to keep learning.”
Dan Hickstein ’07
Undaunted by its reputation as “the hardest class” on campus, Dan Hickstein ’07 decided to take Organic Chemistry his sophomore year with Professor Dan O’Leary. “I wanted to see what all the hype was about,” he says. “O'Leary had an infectious love of chemistry and explained everything in a way that I found very intuitive.” Soon, he was majoring in chemistry and, as a senior Hickstein landed a prestigious Churchill scholarship to study at Cambridge University, where he earned a masters in physics. Now in a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he uses lasers to make slow-motion movies of molecules undergoing chemical reactions, with potential applications for new solar power technologies. Amid his work, the outdoors enthusiast also found time to write a guide to Colorado’s mountain biking trails.
MD Xiaoye Ma ’11
MD Xiaoye Ma ’11, an economics and media studies double major, is a strategic business analyst at 5.11 Tactical, a company that designs and manufactures tactical gear for the FBI, bulletproof vests, uniforms and other gear for the military, police and firefighters. Prior to this role, he was an analyst with Deloitte Consulting, and Ma says his work at Pomona prepared him well for the rigors of his career. “Consulting is about problem solving; at Pomona, we deal with that on a daily basis.” His experience with critical thinking and lively debates from his Pomona classes helped him get a seat at the table working with executive leadership and spearheading a business intelligence unit. In a room where decisions are made, a confident voice is everything: “That kind of mindset to speak for yourself in an intimate setting was developed in the classroom.”
Jordan Pedraza ’09
For Googler Jordan Pedraza ’09, the sociology major proved to be the perfect outlet for her “love of research and my desire to think big to empower underserved groups.” She was sold after a class freshman year with Professor Hung Cam Thai, who also turned out to be a vital mentor. “He’s always been my champion.” Summer fellowships helped Pedraza hone her skills as a researcher, but she says she also learned key career lessons outside the classroom, finding her knack for creativity and teamwork by performing with the College Choir and Jazz Band. Pomona encouraged her to “find meaningful intersections” across her interests, a perspective she draws on today in her work at Google Education, heading up partnerships and initiatives with educators to use technology to improve learning in schools around the world.
Jessica Harris ’11
Jessica Harris ’11, a dance major, came back to Pomona in 2010 to finish her degree after eight years as a professional dancer with the Shen Wei Dance Arts Company, where she helped choreograph performances for major events such as the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Her senior year she discovered her passion for interactive performance through a project on flash mobs in a class with Professor Anthony Shay, who Harris points to as an important inspiration. “He encouraged me to pursue original research,” she says, “and to trust myself in new territory.” After graduation, Harris spent a year at the College as a visiting guest artist, working with students to choreograph a series of works. She is now in a master’s program at the Gallatin School at New York University, focusing on how interactive dance and movement can be used to build connections within communities.
David Wang ’09
Asian Studies major David Wang ’09 filmed small documentaries on China with help from a Pomona stipend. He then landed a Fulbright grant to study youth culture in Xi’an, China, making a video about a group of graffiti artists. “Following your curiosity and acting on it has proven to be the most fulfilling and rewarding lesson I got from Pomona.” From his research on youth, David founded a community workshop for young people to build bamboo bicycles in Beijing. Wang also works for China Youthology, a research firm that uses ethnography to help clients such as Nike and Mercedes-Benz understand China’s youth culture. “I was able to get this job largely because of the Chinese language skills I developed at Pomona,” says Wang, adding. “The social frameworks I learned about at Pomona are the basis for how I begin thinking about every research question I get from our clients.”
Lt. Francine Segovia ’04
U.S. Navy Reserve research psychologist Lt. Francine Segovia ’04, a magna cum laude psychology and Spanish major, works at the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies with repatriated prisoners of war, assisting survivors recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is part of a team of scientists and medical specialists examining how optimism and resilience may boost the health of extreme trauma victims. Segovia will return to active-duty service at the U.S. Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and attributes her research skills to experience she gained while at Pomona, including her participation in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). “The critical thinking skills graduates from an institution like Pomona possess have a direct impact on all your work moving forward. These skills have helped me tremendously as I navigated my career.”
Zach Brown ’07
Growing up, Zach Brown ’07 found a love for nature exploring the vast wilderness around his home in small-town Alaska. Years later, it was his frequent trips with Pomona’s On the Loose outdoors club that helped him rediscover his fascination with the wild. After graduation, the chemistry major spent a year as a research assistant studying seabirds from the Arctic with Biology Professor Nina Karnovsky, who got him “hooked” on biological research. “[She’s] immensely successful at getting students out into the field for exciting research, which inspires their love of science and the natural world.” Finishing a Ph.D. in environmental science at Stanford, Brown is launching a nonprofit field school for ecology with several of his fellow grad students, based on a remote island near his hometown. He hopes Inian Islands Institute will give students inspiring field experiences like the ones that helped draw him into his career.
Celia Neustadt ’12
Celia Neustadt ’12 found her calling in an internship doing community research for a prisoner reentry program in the city of Pomona. During her senior year she received a grant designed to promote leadership in social change. After graduation, the sociology major returned to her hometown of Baltimore and used the grant to launch the Inner Harbor Project, aimed at giving a voice to young people of color who felt excluded by businesses and police in the city’s popular downtown tourist district. Neustadt recruited teens from Baltimore City high schools to do research in their communities to shed light on the problem. Their proposals to reduce tensions and create more inclusive public spaces were incorporated into the city’s master plan. Carrying on her work, Neustadt still checks in with mentors such as Professor Gilda Ochoa throughout the year: “The guidance they give me is truly irreplaceable.’”