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Volume 41. No. 2.
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Faculty retirees

English / Martha Andresen
"Only Connect"

“After all, is there a bigger question in life than, ‘Am I going to be OK?’”

With that, Pomona English Professor Martha Andresen boils the David Auburn play Proof down to its essence. The Pulitzer Prize-winning work, she tells her Literary Interpretation class, illuminates the idea of “uncertainty.” Life is filled with things that can’t be controlled, and that can be terrifying.

And yet, as she deftly steers this seminar group through the final scene of the 2001 play, the professor and her young charges agree that Catherine, the grieving and frightened young woman at the heart of Proof, ultimately feels liberated by the mystery of what lies ahead in life. It lines the future with hope.

The most eloquent—and elegant—of teachers, Andresen has been doing this ever since arriving at Pomona in 1972: engaging students with her enthusiasm and scholarship, and enlightening them with her compassionate insights. She has become, quite simply, one of the most beloved teachers in Pomona’s history.

Want proof? Andresen has been voted a winner of the College’s Wig Distinguished Teaching Award seven times—the maximum number possible in the course of her 34-year career.
“She’s incredible,” says junior Libby Banks. “Professor Andresen has so much passion for what she teaches, and she’s so encouraging of what students have to offer. She always honors what we have to say in class.”

Specializing in Shakespeare, Andresen has captivated throngs of students over the years with her ability to distill and dramatize the riches of literature: the evocative language, the theatrical firepower, the timeless and transcendent themes. “Only connect”—the famed epigraph to E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End—are the words Andresen says have always served as her teaching mantra. She has strived to make literature matter beyond the classroom, to see that her students connect novels, plays and poems to their own lives and the world they live in.

“My goal has always been that vibrant connection—as a scholar to the text and then of my students to the text,” Andresen says, “and then the connection of all of us, in a community of learning, to one another.”

The Minnesota native, named the Carnegie California Professor of the Year in 1992, has also made student performance a central part of her teaching. In her Shakespeare classes, groups of students create one act of an assigned play, and then the students give life to their character interpretations in a festive day of performances at the end of the term.

After Andresen retires from full-time service at Pomona, she has a number of projects on hand, including writing a book about Shakespeare plays. That volume, she says, may serve as a companion book for a series for public television she is co-creating with Pomona College Trustee David Ward ’67, an acclaimed screenwriter, director and producer. She promises to continue speaking at Pomona alumni theatre events and tours.

Reflecting on the beginning of her career at the College with a smile, Andresen adds that coming to Pomona began a teaching journey of great fulfillment.

“When I walked into that first classroom, in this beautiful campus with these marvelous students, it was one of the greatest gifts. Pomona gave me the freedom to develop my own technique, my own style, and my own rapport with the students.”

Linguistics & Cognitive Science / René Coppieters
“A True Intellectual”

René Coppieters’ early education reads like something out of a European novel. Raised in a rural area in southern Belgium, the youth was kept home from school along with his three siblings and instead given free reign over his dad’s personal treasure trove of books, piled high with French classics and history tomes.

“There was no supervision at all—I just read whatever I felt like reading,” recalls Coppieters, who relished the chance to tear through a storehouse of literary treats. “I was isolated in the middle of the woods, and I had this great library.”

The pleasure and excitement of learning is a gift he has passed on to his Pomona students.
A genial man who sweetens his conversation with frequent bursts of laughter, he is known for his innovative and entertaining teaching style. In his French classes, for example, he has had students sing songs, write plays and stage them, and apply various creative touches to phonetics and translation exercises.

“His students just loved his French 105 classes,” says French Professor Monique Saigal of her longtime friend and colleague who has been at Pomona since 1976. “He does things differently.”

“He is a true intellectual, but he’s also someone who is very human,” adds Saigal.
After obtaining a couple of degrees in Belgium, Coppieters came to the United States, earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University—and was promptly snapped up as a faculty member by Pomona. Coppieters teaches linguistics and romance languages and literatures.

One of his proudest and most prominent achievements was creating, along with Pomona professors Jay Atlas and Karen Kossuth, the College’s own linguistics department in 1999. Coppieters was the first chair of the Linguistics and Cognitive Science Department. “Such a department is central to a liberal arts education,” he says.

With his bushy salt-and-pepper beard, Coppieters can look like a Talmudic scholar one minute and a spritely seafarer the next. Which is appropriate, since he says the time is now ripe to transition from teaching into travel.

He and his wife, Sarah Dart—also a linguist—have a few vineyards of land they own in the countryside of southern France, and the couple will try their hand at making their own wine.
They’re also building a log cabin on a plot they purchased in northern Idaho. Moose, elk and deer roam freely there, says Coppieters who hopes to soon be living in their midst.
“It’s paradise.”

Physical Education / Penny Dean ’77
Going the Distance

For a woman who displayed the focus and drive of Penny Dean ’77—who as a 23 year old swam across the English Channel faster than anybody in history—achieving career success was never really a question. It was just a question of which career.

In the end, the legal field’s loss was Pomona College’s gain.

The College hired Dean to coach the women’s swim team in 1978, just a year after she graduated from Pomona. The young woman had applied to law school and was accepted, but decided to delay admission to give the coaching gig a try.

The pull of Pomona’s pool was too strong, and Dean stayed nearly 30 years—plus the four years she starred on the College’s swim squad before stewarding it.

“I started working as a coach, and I loved it,” says Dean, who also launched the second women’s water polo program at any college in the nation—and who spent about 20 years coaching that team in addition to the swim team. “I loved working at Pomona.”
Dean’s legendary exploits in long-distance swimming have been well-chronicled—she still holds a number of long-distance swim records, though she hasn’t swam competitively in more than two decades because of the toll the training finally took on her body.

With her at the helm, Pomona-Pitzer swim teams were perennial title winners in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and her clubs finished in the top three at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III national championships seven times.
Brian LeDuc, who was hired by Dean as an assistant and is now the men’s and women’s swim coach, says, “Penny is the most knowledgeable coach that I have ever met when it comes to training distance swimmers. She had an ability to spot the slightest flaw in a swimmer’s stroke—and she always knew how to fix it.”

The author of three non-fiction books about swimming, Dean—who says she loved working with beginners in her physical education classes—was also the longtime head coach of the U.S. National Team for Open Water Swimming.

Watching her young charges grow and develop—as both athletes and people—has been the most gratifying aspect of her time at Pomona, she notes.

“I wanted each kid to succeed and learn to believe in themselves,” says Dean, who lives in Phoenix, N.Y., with her seven-year-old daughter, Katrina, whom she adopted from Russia, and Claudia Klaver, her married partner.

“The students knew they could always call me to talk about anything they needed to.”

Community & Multicultural Programs / Clarence “Motts” Thomas
Reaching Out

In the mid-1990s, then-Pomona College President Peter Stanley was looking for a leader to establish and coordinate College-wide outreach programs. He turned to a trusted colleague who he knew could tackle such a challenge: Clarence “Motts” Thomas, the College’s former football coach.

Thomas, who has coached on the high school, college and professional levels, arrived at Pomona in 1981 and guided the gridiron team for the next eight years. Inheriting a club that was an annual league doormat, he managed to produce a consistently competitive Sagehen squad.

Thomas shifted into the field of student services and became the associate dean of students and dean of campus life in 1991 before eventually being tapped by Stanley as director of community programs. In coordinating Pomona’s ambitious outreach efforts for students in surrounding communities, he has had a dramatic impact on countless young lives, Stanley says.

“With little fanfare, Motts identified and built relationships with a variety of really substantial programs, especially America Reads and College Bound,” Stanley notes, “and made Pomona their valued ally in motivating and equipping disadvantaged young people to succeed in high school and find their way to four-year colleges.”

He adds of his friend: “In my life, there is no one I admire more than Motts. He is a rich, wonderful, authentic human being.”

Others who know the personable Maryland native—a standout football player at Morgan State University in Baltimore—echo Stanley’s praise, including Gregg Popovich, former coach of the Pomona’s men’s basketball team.

“Motts understands the big picture and does his work with dignity and care,” says Popovich, who now leads the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association.
Thomas says the College’s outreach programs have also provided invaluable teaching and mentoring opportunities for Pomona students, who might not otherwise have had the chance to work with such student populations. Many have been inspired and gratified by the experience, he notes.

He also points to the value of the Summer Scholars program, which serves promising high school students from socioeconomic and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented at colleges like Pomona. Nearly 100 students participate in the month-long session on campus for three consecutive summers, living in the residence halls the second and third years.
“It’s unbelievably rewarding the feeling you get when you meet with the parents and the families of these students—they’re extremely grateful,” Thomas says. “They express so much appreciation to me for selecting their children for the program and for helping them get through the program over the three years.
“For paying attention to their children.”

“The work here has been so fulfilling,” adds the still-solidly built former football player, who plans to settle in a scenic area of Vancouver with his wife, Catherine, after leaving Pomona. “It has been a great ride.”
-- profiles by Paul Sterman '84

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