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Together Apart: Pomona Students Carry On with Activities Remotely

Model UN student activities

During this remote fall semester, Pomona College students aren't letting distance get in the way of building community — instead, they've found creative ways to adapt and stay involved, from all corners of the world.

As the semester comes to a close, we take a look back at some of the programming and initiatives that Pomona and their fellow Claremont Colleges students have participated in and produced. 

Model UN Goes Online

Members of the Pomona College Model United Nations (PCMUN), which includes students from Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College, were preparing for conferences when the pandemic hit, abruptly ending their season. They continued to conduct business from afar — holding elections and putting together a budget — and focused on how to recruit new members in the fall and keep the team engaged. 

During their brainstorming sessions, an idea was born: to launch an online speaker’s series titled "The New Normal," featuring movers and shakers in the foreign policy world, open to everyone in the 5C community.

"We'd never had a speaker’s series before, even in person, so this was a new direction for us," says Bryce Kelly ’23, secretary general of the PCMUN. "We realized how the whole school might be struggling with not being able to do their normal activities, and we could show people that as much as we don't want to be remote, some cool things can still come from it."

Kelly was able to secure a big name for PCMUN's first event for “The New Normal” in September: J. Stapleton Roy, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Singapore, China and Indonesia. The event was livestreamed, with Kelly leading the conversation and Roy fielding questions from viewers. 

Since the inaugural event, PCMUN has held two additional online events: one with Naomi Fellows '91, labor counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and another with Erin Phelps '12, senior strategic partnerships manager with the Freedom Fund.

The team meets every Friday over Zoom, switching things up every week — if they conduct drills and learn about parliamentary procedure one day, the next time they will play games and answer icebreakers. There is also a mentoring program, where established team members work with new students to ease them into the program.

"We wanted to keep our tight-knit community, where people looked forward to seeing everyone on Zoom," says acting PCMUN president, Alexandra Rivasplata SC ’21. "We all wanted to stay in touch, and regular practice is a good way to do that."

New Chapter for Pomona Black Physicists

For years, Pomona students have been attending the National Society of Black Physicists' conferences, winning poster prizes and networking with members from across the country. Now, the College has its own chapter, thanks to the work of several science-minded students, including Rohan Lopez ’22. 

Lopez's first conference was in Columbus, Ohio, and going to the event "really solidified to me that I wanted to do physics," he says. "Being in that community, meeting those people who are now mentors and role models to me, and having really good friends that came out of going to that conference was huge for me."

The paperwork was turned in early this summer, and the chapter was approved just a few months later. Through the National Society of Black Physicists, members of the Pomona chapter will receive grant money to fund research projects and have the opportunity to receive mentoring from physicists at other universities. Chapter members are meeting virtually now, and it's "a great way for us to see each other and be in contact," Lopez says. "It provides a structure for us to keep pushing forward and to increase the number of Black physicists at Pomona and in general."

Dancing Must Go On

It takes two to tango, but the members of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company have spent the last several months practicing their moves solo. While physically they are apart, the students are still competing in virtual ballroom competitions and communicating via the app Discord.

"I knew I wanted the team to keep interacting and having some sort of plan, and after talking to the student officers from all 5Cs, they were the ones who said, 'Discord is where it is at now,'" says Denise Machin, director of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company and assistant director of the Smith Campus Center. "That's why we started Discord. They were the ones with the insight into what students need, and what they need is a platform to connect."

To work around the company members being in multiple time zones, Zoom meetings are held on different days at various times so more people have the opportunity to participate. Other colleges in the ballroom scene are hosting online group classes open to other collegiate dancers, and that's giving "our students a chance to learn from people outside of our organization and build a community," Machin says. "It's really nice that the different campuses are supporting each other during this time."

There have been opportunities to dance in virtual competitions, including the Zoom Ball on Halloween, where participants uploaded videos of their routines to be judged live — a way for them to safely receive feedback on their dancing.

"It's a difficult time and I'm really impressed by the resilience of our students," Machin says. "They are going through a lot and managing a lot and I'm inspired by them. They are just good at this — they are so good at connecting online and coming up with creative ideas."

Outreach through Benton Museum of Art

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College runs several community outreach programs such as its successful Native American Outreach Program which reaches third-grade classes in Claremont. 

While elementary school children are not able to visit the brand-new Benton right now, they can still learn about its collections, thanks to the museum's education outreach interns. These students are helping local teachers by preparing art presentations, conducting research and creating curriculum for students. Once a week, the interns meet up on Zoom to discuss their assignments and listen to presentations from outside speakers.

Maggie Allegar ’23 decided to intern for the museum in order to "stay connected on campus and involved in some way," she says. Allegar especially enjoys the public outreach aspect of the internship and increasing her own knowledge by intently studying the subject material.