Daniel To ’17 and Samuel To ’18 have many things in common. They both major in chemistry and share a strong interest in research, they are teammates on the Sagehens swimming and diving team and they have both served in the Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP). But most importantly, they share an unbreakable bond as brothers.
Daniel first heard of Pomona when the Sagehens were recruiting his older brother Stephen, who is also a swimmer. “Even though my brother went to a different school, I came from a small high school and was looking for that same feel for college. Visiting Pomona made me realize that would be the right fit for me,” says Daniel.
The Tos hail from the L.A. suburb of San Marino, and when Daniel would come home, Samuel would hear him talk about the close relationships he had with professors and the positive atmosphere of competing in collegiate athletics. This sparked an interest in Pomona for Samuel, who had his eyes on going to college somewhere in California where he could balance academics and athletics. It didn’t hurt that Daniel was Samuel’s host when he visited campus so he got to meet and hang out with his future teammates.
“At Pomona, I feel that school is a priority,” says Daniel. “During my recruiting trip, I learned that graduates go on to medical school which was one of the interests I had.” Already accepted into Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, the senior is looking forward to making a decision on where to start his medical education next fall.
Practical experience in the lab helped catapult Daniel toward direct entrance to medical school. “At Pomona, I get to do my own research,” says Daniel. “I get to think about my own results and discuss them with my professors and even get to present research at conferences.”
“Daniel has really become more of a colleague than a student,” says Professor of Biology EJ Crane, who has worked with Daniel for almost four years. “He is one of the leaders in the lab, both in terms of running his electrochemistry project, and in just keeping lab morale up and helping to keep things organized.” Daniel traveled to Japan last summer and joined Crane at a geochemistry meeting where he presented his electrochemistry work.
As a junior, Samuel, who minors in mathematics, has also earned notable research experience at Pomona, leading to lab opportunities outside of California. He spent 10 weeks at Columbia University as part of the highly competitive AMGEN Scholars Summer Research Program, working full time assisting a doctoral student in research related to social memory by examining the hippocampus region of the brain in mice.
Pomona has also allowed Samuel to explore science from a different perspective. The Asian American Studies class Science, Technology, Asian America gave him a wider view of science. He learned that science could be political and that there are a lot of gray areas. He even learned about the pipeline in science and that a lot of students who are not well supported in this area, fall out of the pipeline and the class helped him examine what could be done to help prevent the many students who drop out of the science pipeline to stay in.
As part of the class, Samuel and others worked with students at Mark Keppel High students in Alhambra, just outside of Los Angeles in an area with poor air quality due to pollution and its proximity to the 10 freeway. The goal of the group project was to help the high school students by creating easy to follow manuals and instructions to create an air sensor. “My group managed to make a working air sensor and we also created a set of simple instructions so that the high school students will be able to follow them and make the air sensors for themselves using inexpensive materials,” says Samuel.
Having spent their childhood in Malaysia, the To brothers have a close connection to Asian American issues. Serving as AAMP mentors during their respective sophomore years, they guided first-year students, organized mentor-mentee events and ran meetings.
“Learning how to work in a group, how to mentor people, work with a budget, how to ask administration for things… It prepares you for the real world,” says Daniel.
When it comes to the pool, Daniel and Samuel are two of the best athletes on the team, according to Jean-Paul Gowdy, head men’s swimming and diving coach. From their versatility as swimmers, to their leadership, they set a great example with their racing abilities in meets and their consistently high effort level at practice.”
Gowdy adds that, like many siblings, the brothers are at once very supportive of each other and also very competitive. “Having this dynamic every day in practice and then on the weekend at competitions is a real advantage for the Tos. I think they are even more successful because of each other.”
Daniel prefers the backstroke but his competitive drive has led him to earn All-SCIAC conference distinction in several events for throughout his collegiate career. He has also set school records for the Sagehens in the 200 and 400-meter medley relay. Samuel, a versatile swimmer as well, earned All-SCIAC distinction as a first-year in the 200-meter individual medley (IM), 400 IM and 400 medley relay. Both brothers have earned the distinction of honorable scholars from the College Swimming Coaches Association of America and have made it to the conference’s All-Academic team as well.
“At the beginning, balancing athletics was tough because academics was so much more rigorous than high school,” says Daniel. “But, with the team you have upperclassmen who are pre-med or science majors who have gone through similar struggles and can share their experience with you. With Pomona’s athletics, you have a lot of support.”
And now that they are upperclassmen, they can give back to those who are new to the team.
When his younger teammates ask him how he managed to swim and get into medical school, Daniel tells them, “if I can do it, you can do it.”