Headshot of Pablo Ordonez Bravo.

On Sunday mornings, Pablo Ordóñez Bravo ’18 is usually driving from Claremont to Los Angeles to the workshop of Jack Sanders, performing faculty, where Ordóñez Bravo is finishing a three-year passion project: a handcrafted guitar.

Ordóñez Bravo is a public policy analysis (PPA) major who came to Pomona with an interest in economics and politics, but wanted to try his hand at various things before settling on one major. 

“It was really important to me that I find what I was most passionate about, so I took a lot of different classes in art, history and music,” he says. One of these classes was Wood Sculpture with Professor of Art Michael O’Malley and another was guitar lessons with Sanders.

Playing guitar grew from a hobby to a passion and Ordóñez Bravo realized he needed a better instrument to play – but buying a decent guitar would cost upwards of $2,000 – money that Ordóñez Bravo, a first-generation college student, did not have.

Ordóñez Bravo, whose family emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador, is not one to quit when faced with adversity. With encouraging words from O’Malley who suggested he build his own guitar, Ordóñez Bravo decided to do just that. With his woodworking knowledge and small workbench in Pomona’s Studio Art Hall building, Ordóñez Bravo began his passion project.

Pablo Ordonez Bravo building his guitar.

Pablo Ordóñez Bravo working on his classical guitar in the private studio of performing faculty Jack Sanders. Photo taken by Jack Sanders. 

The wood sculpture course is very time intensive, explains O’Malley, so making a guitar on top of that was a very ambitious project. “Since he was at the very beginning stage of learning tools and techniques, I suggested that he begin with materials like poplar and learn the skills required before making one that he wanted to play. Pablo decided to just go for it on the first go – so I would characterize him as both stubborn, and ambitious and resilient,” says O’Malley.  

Knowing that Sanders builds handcrafted guitars, Ordóñez Bravo needed his help. “I bothered him often enough with questions about guitar-building that he eventually relented and gave me some wood that he wasn’t going to use, and with some books and the occasional question, I got to work…. This past year, I convinced him to embark on an independent study with me to finish [the guitar].”

With just a few months to Commencement, Ordóñez Bravo plans to finish his guitar in time for the spring student recital where he will perform pieces by Spanish composer and classical guitarist Francisco Tarrega.

Finishing the classical guitar hasn’t been Ordóñez Bravos’s only project during his senior year. After finalizing a class paper, Ordóñez Bravo shopped the paper to various journals, and will see it published in The Stanford Undergraduate Economics Journal. The paper was an assignment for Professor Bowman Cutter’s econometrics class and it looks at the 2016 presidential election through an econometric lens.

A precocious learner, Ordóñez Bravo graduated from high school a year early and volunteered for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign at just 14. “They gave me a clipboard and I was immediately out the door, canvassing and knocking on doors. It was really great work. I got to learn about Miami, both in geography and in learning about the people that also made their lives there.”

This summer, Ordóñez Bravo was in Washington, D.C., where he interned for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Currently, he is completing his PPA thesis exploring the role of the College Board as a nonprofit organization in education. One of his thesis readers is David Menefee-Libey, the professor of politics and PPA coordinator Ordóñez Bravo has met with frequently during his time at Pomona.

Menefee-Libey remembers when he first met Ordóñez Bravo at a lunch, “I mentioned something about Florida politics and he just lit up – he had worked on a campaign there and interned in a Congressional office and a bunch of other things, and he had a lot to say.  I’m pretty sure we argued, like we often have since, but it was clear that he enjoyed the argument as much as I did.”  

On top of working on his thesis, Ordóñez Bravo has been looking for jobs. He reached out to Pomona alumnus John Gingrich ’91 on LinkedIn and the connection has led to a job offer as a consulting analyst with the firm Accenture. He will start in late summer.

Ordóñez Bravo has advice for students: “I remember when I first started at Pomona, I felt uncomfortable asking questions because I was insecure about my educational preparation. Never forget that you deserve to be here. You’re here to learn, so don’t let anyone stop you from getting your education––even yourself.”

If it hadn’t been for this just-do-it attitude, Ordóñez Bravo would not have reached out to Sanders to help him build his own guitar. “If I’ve learned anything at Pomona, and in life, it’s that there’s no harm in trying. Sometimes you get a no, and sometimes you get to build your own guitar.”