How do students find their way to a small liberal arts college like Pomona? For some, it’s the life-changing moment of meeting with an admissions officer in some distant location across the country or world; for others, it comes down to word of mouth from friends, relatives and high school teachers and counselors; while some students depend on college-access programs that help get underrepresented students into the nation’s top schools. Read about how these four new Sagehens made their way to Pomona’s campus and decided this was the place for them.
Casey Morrison ’21
Vienna, West Virginia
Casey Morrison ’21 hails from a small town in West Virginia with a population of less than 11,000. The first-year student initially heard about Pomona College through QuestBridge, a national nonprofit organization that matches low-income and/or first-generation college students with top four-year colleges and universities. Although Morrison was selected a QuestBridge finalist, he was not “matched” but that didn’t mean that Morrison was not a great applicant for Pomona College—he was.
Morrison is passionate about the environment and plans to study chemistry at Pomona. His hometown of Vienna is situated along the Ohio River, one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Morrison recalls one summer a few years ago, when residents were told to not use the town’s tap water and points to the cause of the pollution to nearby industrial plants.
The spring semester of his senior year in high school, Morrison was debating whether to choose University of Southern California or Pomona College. He was looking for a school with a solid science program and a diverse community.
After a visit to both campuses, his choice became clear after he sat in a class where the professor was sharing about his research into global warming and compounds that affect the ozone. In addition, Morrison noted the small class sizes and close-knit community. “When I visited in the spring weekend, it felt right,” says Morrison. “The class size was a big deal."
Now, part of the Pomona College community, Morrison is part of the Quest Scholars student group and plans on taking some trips with the Outdoor Education Center (OEC).
Sei-kashe M’pfunya ’21
Sei-kashe M’pfunya ’21 is from Harare, Zimbabwe but moved to Thailand to attend United World College Thailand, an International Baccalaureate (IB) program that brings together diverse students from across the world. M’pfunya first heard about Pomona from Director of Admissions Adam Sapp, who she met twice, once while she was still studying in Zimbabwe and the second time in Thailand.
“When I first met Adam, I got to hear about Pomona but I didn’t really think anything of it because at the time I was bit young to start thinking about college,” says M’pfunya. “When I moved to Thailand, Adam came again and did another college visit and I was in grade 11 and that’s when it struck me that Pomona is a really good school, especially as he was explaining the art program and the new art building [Studio Art Hall].”
Art has been M’pfunya’s passion since the first grade. Her mother is an artist and she says that most of the art in their home is done by her. Her father works in the field as well, helping fund music and artists. “My whole family is very art-centered,” she says. “I’ve never not taken art, it’s always been part of me, so I’m continuing that in college.”
“I ended up here at Pomona because I know I wanted to do art and be an artist. Yet, a part of me yearns to do visual effects for film because I have always been mesmerized by the idea of creating a world outside of reality for people to see and detach from their daily lives to enjoy. Something that could speak to them in whatever way that suits them. But I didn’t want to go to a design school and specialize so quickly because I still don't know what identity I have as an artist. I don't know what I want to say in art yet,” she says. “I wanted a basis in art, but also have the opportunity to pursue environmental analysis because it is another facet of who I am which I hope to continue in my life.”
M’pfunya advises younger students to consider the liberal arts and a school like Pomona and stresses that declaring a major won’t set them on an unchangeable path. “You could be an art or religious studies major and end up doing something different in the future. Sometimes it's okay not knowing where life will take you next or what you want to study because that's what makes life more interesting and fulfilling.”
Chris Vazquez ’19
New York, New York
Chris Vazquez ’19 is a veteran who served his country for almost six years before leaving the Marine Corps in 2014. Originally from the Bronx, Vazquez was attending community college in Florida when he started looking into transferring to a four-year school. He heard about Pomona College through the Leadership Scholar Program, a U.S. Marine Corps education program that helps Marines transition from the military to academic environments.
Vazquez recalls that he began to communicate directly with the schools he was interested in, asking them questions about transfer credits and other details. “Pomona was a very welcoming environment and provided a lot of support,” he says. “People were bending over backward to accommodate my questions and I was offered a very generous financial aid package. Pomona was the best option for me and since I lived in San Diego prior to this, it was pretty easy to transition out.”
During community college, Vazquez worked as a medical scribe and worked more than 1,000 hours accompanying emergency physicians at a local hospital. He witnessed first-hand how doctors were able to help people and save lives.
“I want to become a doctor,” says Vazquez who plans to major in molecular biology at Pomona. “In the Marine Corps the goal is to help people out and the same thing is true of doctors – I like that responsibility.”
Vazquez has a message for his fellow veterans who are making the transition back to civilian life. “It seems veterans are underrepresented in colleges, perhaps they feel like academia is not an environment they would thrive in,” he says. “But I know that veterans can strive and succeed in whatever endeavor they apply themselves to.”
Raye Gleekal ’21
A soccer player from Minneapolis, Raye Gleekal ’21 always knew she wanted to come to the West Coast for college. Her mother had attended Stanford, and Gleekal learned about Pomona through her father after a co-worker pointed him there.
After some online research, Gleekal reached out to Pomona-Pitzer Women’s Soccer Coach Jennifer Scanlon. “She showed interest after I sent her a video and she watched me play. They were interested in pursuing me [as a recruited athlete],” she says.
At the beginning of her first year, Gleekal like most student-athletes at Pomona, was able to move to campus early to start practices and get valuable team time together. “It was definitely nice to just focus to adjusting to college and soccer without classes – and the team and coach are awesome.”
“Personally, if anyone was serious of soccer but also wants a life outside of soccer and not be owned by it, Pomona offers the perfect balance,” she says. “Everyone was just super warm and friendly which isn’t always the case when you’re touring other athletic programs and colleges. Coach Scanlon made me feel like I was really wanted here.”