On Sunday, six students from suburban Chicago arrived at Pomona College to begin participation in a "mega exposure" trip funded by the Schuler Scholar Program, which prepares high-achieving but underserved students to succeed at competitive colleges and universities. The service-learning trip, which is taking place for four days on the Pomona College Organic Farm, is designed to expose students to new places, ideas, cultures and experiences. Organized by Farm Manager Adam Long '13 and Schuler's AmeriCorps Scholar Coach Julia Neaves '13, the trip was one of only four proposals selected for funding.
Students are living on campus, where they participate in social events with students from the PAYS program and attend field trips. However, most of their time is spent learning hands-on skills and completing projects at the Farm, under the guidance of Long and the incoming Farm Manager, Naira de Gracia '14.
"We really wanted the students to learn how to work as a team, how to work outside doing a variety of skill-building tasks," Neaves says. "A lot of them don't know about where their food comes from. They don't know the importance of making sustainable choices or of hard outdoor work."
The trip organizers also made a conscious effort to pair Farm activities with more academic readings detailing food systems, agriculture and sustainability, and a discussion led by Environmental Analysis Professor Char Miller. "We hope students will gain a broader understanding of food and farming and how it affects their own lives," says Long.
"We learned about the drought in California and how bad it is, with no rain for months," says Scholar Chris Panaguidon of one of the environmental documentaries viewed by the group. "I can't imagine it, because back in Chicago there's always rain or snow and here it's such a different climate. We're in the same country, but it's completely different."
So far, the group has helped tend to the chickens, prune the tomato plants and fix up the Earth Dome, among other projects. "Fixing the Dome up has probably been my favorite part," said rising senior Devang Patel. "I'm interested in engineering, and it was very hands-on. We were actually building stuff!"
"It's all in an enclosed area, but we've gotten to do so much," agreed fellow Scholar Jonathan Pizano. "We've been getting little exposures to various skills and it's all been so fun."
According to the program's mission statement, Schuler Scholars are "typically first-generation college-bound, come from under-resourced families and communities, and will need financial assistance in order to attend college." Since 2009, 10 Schuler Scholars, two of whom are members of the incoming Class of 2018, have gone on to attend Pomona College.