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No Syllabus Needed: Liam Toney's '17 Education in the Great Outdoors

Student Liam Toney stands before Mt. Baldy mountain

Overnight trips to Malibu to watch the sunset from the beach. Six-day backpacking adventures in the canyons of Utah. Conversations with new friends around the campfire. These are some of the experiences that Liam Toney ’17 loves about Pomona College. An outdoor enthusiast since childhood, Toney has been actively involved with the student-run club On The Loose (OTL) and the College’s Outdoor Education Center (OEC) during his four years at Pomona.

Toney, who grew up kayaking and mountain-climbing in the state of Washington, came to Pomona for many of the same reasons most students choose this school and not because of what it offered in terms of outdoor experiences, though that was a nice bonus. Like many students, he was drawn by the small classes, one-on-one attention from faculty and the bounty of resources offered by The Claremont Colleges.

His Orientation Adventure (OA) trip, surfing north of Santa Barbara, provided an introduction to the outdoor community at Pomona.

Later in his first semester, Toney and his “spibling” (a uniquely Pomona term referring to a friend from your sponsor group) signed up for an OTL trip to Joshua Tree National Park. On this trip were four or five seniors they’d never met before.  Looking back, Toney chuckles at the degree of separation he and his spibling initially felt existed between the seniors and them – after all, there’s a large experience gap – but he also remembers how much fun the trip ended up being. That unexpected good time with such a random group made him excited to become more than just a trip participant.

“People have different outlets for stress. I recharge by spending time outside, and to share that with others is very special. The conversations you have with people in the outdoors, isolated from the business of school life, have a different quality than the ones you have on campus.”

With his demanding academic schedule as a physics major and geology minor, Toney made the tough choice to put aside cross country and track. This allowed him more time to get involved as a staff member with On the Loose. In this role, Toney and his fellow OTL staff have been working to make outdoor activities more welcoming and more accessible to all students of The Claremont Colleges, regardless of a student’s background or experience.

“I was very fortunate to enter Pomona with a lot of background in the outdoors that allowed me to immediately become engaged,” says Toney, who also led an OA trip during his senior year and is now a staff member at the OEC.  “Looking towards the future, it’s my hope that anyone of any background can come in to Pomona and feel empowered to get involved... Everyone experiences the outdoors differently, and we’re really focused on ensuring that all the folks on campus feel they have a place in the college’s outdoor community.”

He recalls one OTL trip to Red Rock Canyon State Park, located at the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where he served as co-leader and wasn’t very familiar with the other OTL leaders or participants. “After hiking a bit in the afternoon, we built a fire and ended up sitting around and chatting late into the evening. And I interacted with folks whom I’d never had the time to share a deep conversation with.”

“I’ve planned and participated in many ‘epic’ trips but the most important takeaway is that I’ve met people that I never would have met otherwise,” says Toney, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in geophysics. “Such environments build community incredibly quickly – you can make fast friends!”