Each spring, a group of outstanding Pomona College professors is elected by juniors and seniors, and confirmed by a committee of trustees, faculty and students, to receive the Wig Distinguished Professor Award. It is the highest honor bestowed on Pomona faculty and recognizes exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the College and the community.
This year’s recipients are:
- Guadalupe Bacio, assistant professor of psychology and Chicana/o Latina/o studies
- Susan McWilliams Barndt, professor of politics
- Pey-Yi Chu, associate professor of history
- Stephan Garcia, W.M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor and professor of mathematics
- Carolyn Ratteray, assistant professor of theatre and dance
- Valorie Thomas, professor of English and Africana studies
In anonymously-written nomination comments, students offered high praise for the six professors who were honored at Commencement on May 19.
Bacio joined Pomona in 2016 with a double appointment to the departments of psychology and Chicana/o Latina/o studies. A clinical psychologist and researcher, she explores disparities in alcohol and drug use among young people of ethnic minorities. Bacio directs the CENTRO research lab where she and her students combine several research methods including community-participatory research, laboratory-based tasks and large-scale surveys. This is her first Wig Award.
- “Professor Bacio is a professor like no other. She does double the work in her classes as she not only provides the learning content, but also a learning community. Students are driven not only to be invested in their own learning but in the learning of everyone around them. She has very high standards for her students, but her drive, passion and energy gives you every reason to want to impress her.”
- “She teaches from a rich background working on the frontline with the people who are the subjects of our readings. Probably the most ‘real world’ informed professor I've had here, which was really refreshing at a point in my time here when ‘the bubble’ was really getting to me.”
Associate Professor of History Pey-Yi Chu teaches European history focusing on Russia and the Soviet Union. Through her research, she aims to understand the environment and environmental change through the history of science and technology as well as environmental history. Her first book, The Life of Permafrost: A History of Frozen Earth in Russian and Soviet Science, explores the history of the study of frozen earth and the creation of permafrost science in the Soviet Union. This is her first Wig Award.
- “ID1 [Critical Inquiry Seminar] is more of a distant memory at this point, but Professor Chu's Cold Places seminar was a wicked introduction to the writing and creative learning process Pomona so adores.”
- “Professor Chu is committed to empowering her students through the learning process. She has provided pages (single-spaced!) of feedback for every paper draft I've submitted and put in hours of work to make sure that I was producing the best work I possibly could. She treats her students as collaborators, considering their ideas with the utmost respect. She is kind, approachable and dedicated to teaching for teaching's sake.”
W.M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor and Professor of Mathematics Stephan Garcia is the author of more than 80 research articles, many of them with Pomona students as coauthors. In 2018 he was recognized by the American Mathematics Society for his excellence in research in operator theory, complex analysis, matrix theory and number theory. This is his second Wig Award.
- “Professor Garcia is the best lecturer I have had at Pomona. He is incredibly organized and manages to ensure that all of his students get the most out of every lecture. There has not been a lecture period where I felt that a minute is wasted. Moreover, he cares about bridging disciplines using math. He has a unique ability to put whatever we are learning in terms of contexts that students in other disciplines care about.
- “Professor Garcia is an amazing math professor. I am thoroughly impressed and grateful for his ability to synthesize different fields of mathematics to portray linear algebra topics from a variety of viewpoints. His Advanced Linear Algebra course is unique in that it caters to majors not only in mathematics but also in physics, economics and computer science.”
Susan McWilliams Barndt
A third time Wig Award winner, Professor of Politics Susan McWilliams Barndt currently serves as chair of the Politics Department, where she has taught since 2006. Among her areas of expertise are political theory, American political thought, politics and literature and civic education. She is the author, most recently, of The American Road Trip and American Political Thought (2018).
- “One of the most brilliant, funny and compassionate professors I've ever had. Not only was Professor McWilliams one of the main reasons I chose to major in politics, she's also one of the people that I trust most on Pomona's campus. She's always willing to support students in their academic and personal development, and she provides this support while quoting Plato and James Baldwin.”
- “Professor McWilliams has taught me how to ask questions. It seems so simple to say, but in this, she has changed my life. Skepticism is not easy to come by anymore; it is hard to remain uncertain in a world as fraught as ours today. I would prefer to make simple choice and think simple thoughts. Professor McWilliams shows how inadequate this is, and how incredibly choosing complexity instead can be.”
Actor and director Carolyn Ratteray is a Daytime Emmy-nominated actress who joined Pomona College in 2016 as a tenure-track faculty member. A first-time Wig Award winner, Ratteray has worked in off-Broadway and regional theatres as well as in television and commercials. She’s served as moderator for on-campus speakers such as Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander and has directed numerous student plays during her time at Pomona such as Midsummer Night’s Dreamand In Love and Warcraft.
- “Carolyn has meant more to me than I can say. Her presence makes me feel like being an artist, is attainable, worth it and powerful. And more than any other professor here she has been concerned with helping me find my voice not just the directors. Not to mention her commitment to bringing in relevant guest speakers who have ignited my passions all the more!”
- “Professor Ratteray creates spaces of healing, which is to me, one of the most radical productions of space in an academic setting. In her work as a director for theatre productions housed on Pomona's stages, and in her classrooms, Professor Ratteray's pedagogy revolves around centering the voices of people of color, queer and trans folks, and focusing on the imbricated experiences of intersectional bodies. Plainly, she allows us to speak, to move, and to emote in places where the emotional is seen as removed from the work that we must do.”
Professor of English and Africana Studies Valorie Thomas has taught at Pomona since 1998 and specializes in Afrofuturism, Native American literature, African Diaspora theory and decolonizing theory. Thomas also studies film and visual art, has an ongoing interest in the connections between writing, art and social justice and is a screenwriter. This is her second Wig Award.
- “I've had the chance to take two courses with Val Thomas over the course of my college career. Both have been two of the most impactful classes of my entire four years. Val is communicative, encouraging and articulate without sacrificing accessibility. She's confirmed to me that I made the right decision when I became an English major. Plus, she's funny. She knows how to gauge the classroom's level of attention and emotional state, so that the space is always welcoming even when in the midst of heavy discussions. I have the feeling she'll be one of the professors I reference in my 30s and 40s when responding to the question: Who influenced you?”
- “Professor Thomas is the single most compassionate professor I have ever had the honor of knowing. What she teaches students reaches far beyond any academic instruction; the nurturing learning space that she cultivates enlightens students' minds and spirits in a way that is unparalleled at Pomona College.”