Bookmark and Share
  • Text +
  • Text -

IT Building Will Be Named for Family of Jim C. Cowart '73, Pomona's First Computer Science Major

Creating his own academic program, Jim C. Cowart '73 majored in computer science long before Pomona College formally offered that major. While still a student, he helped teach Pomona's sole programming class. He even successfully lobbied for a foundation grant that allowed him and other tech-savvy students to set up their own computer mini-center in the Mudd-Blaisdell residence hall.

The J.C. Cowart Information Technology Building, with the Lincoln Building seen in the background.

Three decades later, Cowart is still taking the initiative for technology at Pomona College, this time by making the naming gift for the College's new information technology building. In a formal dedication May 2, the J.C. Cowart Information Technology Building was named for three J.C. Cowarts, including his wife, Janet C. Cowart '70, and their son, Jefferson C. Cowart '07.

“From his days as a student, Jim Cowart has been a leader in helping the College to stay at the forefront of technology,” said Pomona College President David W. Oxtoby. “The naming of this building for the Cowarts is a particularly fitting choice. Their generosity and foresight are deeply appreciated by the College community.”

Jim reports that he thrived in Pomona's close-knit residential atmosphere, and he believes it's important for students to have the opportunity to learn about information technology within the framework of a liberal arts education. "The liberal arts are all about context. If you don't have context, you can't really see how the whole works,” he said. "You can't understand why the thing is the way it is."

A principal in a private capital firm, Cowart said the family has long wanted to do something special for the College and the IT building presented the perfect opportunity, considering their long-time interest in the field. An added bonus: their computer-science-major son, Jefferson, works in the building.

"Pomona College has held a special place in our hearts for a long time," said Jim. “Janet and I met here and were married in Lebus Court, between Sumner Hall and Little Bridges. We are very happy that Jefferson chose Pomona as his college, too.”

Opened in January 2006, the 12,000-square-foot IT structure allows the College's entire ITS Department to be housed at one site, while also offering enhanced technological facilities for students, faculty and staff. Key features include a 24-hour student computer lab; spacious conference room equipped with an interactive whiteboard; and a classroom that can be set up with as many as 30 laptops for training sessions.

All this is a far cry from the tech offerings back in Jim's Pomona's days. In the early 1970s, the campus had one serious computer, the fabled IBM 360, which had some serious limitations by today's standards. Programs were created on punched cards that were fed into the computer.

Janet, a math major, frequently walked by the campuses’ main computer room in Millikan, but didn’t become involved with computers until after Pomona. She worked as a Fortran programmer in aerospace and investment management for 15 years.

With Jim Cowart and Gordon Sollars ‘74 taking the lead, a group of tech-savvy students pushed to get access to a terminal-sharing computer that did not require punched cards, making it possible for them to interact with the computer more rapidly (a big deal in those days). The Sloan Foundation was impressed enough to grant the College $10,000 to pursue the project. Cowart and his fellow students lived in a cluster of rooms in Mudd-Blaisdell, and from their cramped computer room they pursued not only their own projects, but also taught many of their fellow students about basic computing. "Their efforts certainly stand as one of the most unusual stories of student initiative in the history of the college," trumpeted the Spring of '72 issue of Pomona Today.

Cowart also found time as a student to do some work in the nascent field of computer-based voter research through the Claremont Institute of State and Local Government (now named the Rose Institute), studying voter demographics during the Sam Yorty-Tom Bradley Los Angeles mayoral race, and the 1972 California Republican Primary. Cowart helped correlate U.S. Census data to voter precinct data, which could help campaigns target expenditures and visits to areas rich with swing voters. His senior project also involved the application of computers to electoral politics.

After Pomona, Cowart took his computer skills to Washington, where he helped create an automated system that sped up the process of roll call voting in the U.S. Congress. But Cowart became frustrated with the windy ways of government, and soon he was off to Harvard Business School for his MBA.

Next came a successful career as an investment banker. After a decade on Wall Street, Cowart’s entrepreneurial spirit flourished and he founded Capital Resource Partners, a private capital investment firm. In 1992, Cowart and David Lahar (Harvard ‘79) formed Auriga Partners, Inc., which buys and sells companies, helping them to get on track and grow. As part of this work, Cowart has served as a director, chairman or CEO of several companies.

Jefferson, meanwhile, carries on the family’s high-tech ways. At age 2 he had learned how to select songs and pictures on a PC, and punch cards were used for grocery lists. During freshman orientation week, Jefferson contacted ITS, landed a job and started working on Pomona’s network before classes even began. He has worked there ever since.

Photos by Tom Haley '07