English / Martha Andresen
“After all, is there a bigger question in life than, ‘Am I going to be
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
“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,”
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.
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
“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
Watching her young charges grow and develop—as both athletes and
people—has been the most gratifying aspect of her time at Pomona, she
“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
“The students knew they could always call me to talk about anything they
Community & Multicultural Programs / Clarence
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
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
“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
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
“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
-- profiles by Paul Sterman '84