Each year, Pomona College selects alumni to receive the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni for high achievement in professions or community service. This year, the winners are Brian Schatz ’94, Debra Cleaver ’99, Earl Maize ’72, Lynda Obst ’72 and Marilyn Ramenofsky ’69. These are alumni who have carried the spirit of the College into the rest of the world and lived up to the famous quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed into the gates of the College: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."
Brian Schatz ’94
Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) serves in the U.S. Senate.
At Pomona, Schatz majored in philosophy. Four years after graduating, he ran for office for the first time and won, serving as state representative in the Hawai‘i House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006. In 2008, he chaired the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, which helped deliver President Barack Obama’s best performance of any state in the country. During this time, Schatz was also the CEO of Helping Hands Hawai‘i, one of the state’s largest non-profit community social services organizations.
In 2010, Schatz was elected lieutenant governor of Hawai‘i. In this position, he led the state’s clean energy efforts, including the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, which aims for the state to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
In 2012, Schatz became the senior U.S. senator from Hawai‘i. In his seven years in the U.S. Senate, Schatz has focused on climate change, access to higher education, privacy and consumer rights and health care. He serves on the Senate Committees on Appropriations; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Indian Affairs; and Ethics. He is also chief deputy whip and the co-chair of the Senate Climate Change Task Force.
Schatz received an honorary doctorate degree from Pomona when he spoke at the College’s 124th Commencement in 2017.
Debra Cleaver ’99
Debra Cleaver is the founder and CEO of Vote.org, the leading non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout.
Vote.org launched to much acclaim, winning the prestigious Knight News Challenge in 2015 and earning acceptance into the startup accelerator Y Combinator’s 2016 Summer Cohort. In 2017, Cleaver made the YCBA list of 100 people, organizations and movements that are shaping the future of culture.
Since 2016, Vote.org has registered close to two million voters, running large-scale “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) campaigns targeting tens of millions of low-propensity voters.
Prior to founding Vote.org, in 2004, Cleaver was the national director for Swing the State, an online resource that matched volunteers with GOTV efforts in swing states. Swing the State was one of the first organizations to translate online engagement into on-the-ground action. In 2008, Cleaver launched the project Long Distance Voter (LDV), making vote- by-mail more accessible and providing nonpartisan resources to underserved voters. By 2012, LDV had registered over three million voters and was named one of the official data providers for the Google.com Civic Engagement Team’s 2014 Election Information Boxes, which secured over 30 million views. Cleaver became the first full-time staff member at LDV in 2014 and led its transition into Vote.org in 2016.
Before becoming an alumna of Y Combinator, Cleaver studied psychology at Pomona. She is currently a DRK (Draper Richards Kaplan) Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship. She speaks frequently at venues and conferences nationwide, including SXSW, Harvard Law School, the Harvard School of Government, the University of Michigan and the SUMMIT Ideas Festival.
Earl Maize ’72
Earl Maize is the manager of the Cassini Program, a mission that began exploring the Saturn system in 2004 and concluded operations in September 2017 with a spectacular plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.
A native of northern California, Maize began his postsecondary education at Pomona, receiving a B.A. in mathematics before moving on to earn his doctorate degree in mathematics from the Claremont Graduate University in 1981.
Maize has worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA for the past 35 years. He began at JPL on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and held positions of increasing leadership responsibility on the navigation and orbiter engineering teams. After Galileo’s final Earth flyby, he transferred to Cassini as the flight system operations manager and then deputy program manager.
Maize left the Cassini Project in 2005 to pursue management positions in avionics and guidance, navigation, and control. He returned to Cassini as the program manager in January 2013.
Prior to joining JPL, Maize worked on the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) program at the Aerospace Corporation.
He is married to Rosina Maize ’75. When he’s not exploring the outer planets, Maize enjoys playing classical guitar, cycling, hiking and hanging with his grandchildren.
Lynda Obst ’72
Lynda Obst is one of Hollywood’s best known and most successful producers. She has made more than 20 movies and television shows at almost every studio over the course of her long and prestigious career.
Obst’s credits include the Christopher Nolan-directed Interstellar, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Contact, Hope Floats, One Fine Day, Sleepless in Seattle, The Siege, The Fisher King, Adventures in Babysitting and Flashdance, amongst others. In television, Obst served as executive producer for the upcoming National Geographic limited series based on Richard Preston’s '78 The Hot Zone, as well as for the Amazon show Good Girls Revolt, TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland, SyFy’s Helix and NBC’s Emmy-nominated miniseries The ’60s. She is a recipient of the Women in Film Crystal Award, as well as the We Empower Women’s Pioneer Award and the first Polly Platt Award.
As an author, Obst’s book Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches debuted at number one on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List and remained on the list for 10 weeks. The book become an industry classic and was adapted into a documentary for AMC. Her second book about the entertainment industry, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business, another Los Angeles Times bestseller, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2013. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Slate, the Huffington Post and The New Yorker.
Originally from the suburbs of New York, Obst studied philosophy at Pomona before enrolling at Columbia University for a graduate degree in philosophy. She left Columbia to create the Rolling Stone History of the ’60s and then to become an editor for the New York Times Magazine.
Obst is currently producing both film and television projects out of her office at Sony.
Marilyn Ramenofsky ’69
Marilyn Ramenofsky is an emeritus adjunct professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis, and a member of the Animal Behavior Graduate Group. She is also a lauded former amateur athlete and coach.
Ramenofsky graduated from Pomona with a degree in botany-biology, and went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas, Austin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. As a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York, she researched the environmental control of physiology and behavior of migratory birds, a theme she pursues to this day with funding from the National Science Foundation. Throughout her career, Ramenofsky has mentored students at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. This work, she says, is always fueled by “a passion for biology and education, much of which was formed at Pomona.”
As a teenager, Ramenofsky fixed her focus on swimming. In 1961 and again in 1965, she visited Israel as a member of the U.S. Maccabiah teams; in 1966 she traveled to São Paulo as a member of the U.S. Maccabiah Pan American team. In 1964, as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo, Ramenofsky secured three world records in the 400m freestyle and won a silver medal at the Tokyo Games in the same event. From 1962 to 1964, she was named to the All-America Women’s Amateur Athletic Union swimming teams and set an American record in 220yd freestyle.
Upon retiring as an amateur athlete, Ramenofsky turned to coaching, leading the 1967 Aina Haina Swim Club team in Hawaii. In 1971, she coached the University of Texas women’s swim team to the state championship, upsetting Texas Tech (“definitely a coup”). In 1982, she was inducted into the Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Hall of Fame. Ramenofsky is also a member of the International Jewish Hall of Fame in Israel and was named one of Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Top 50 Greatest Arizona Sports Figures of the Twentieth Century.”
According to Ramenofsky, “It is an honor to return to Pomona as a recipient of the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award.”