Each year, the Pomona College Alumni Association Board selects alumni to receive the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni for high achievement in professions or community service. This year, the honorees are Cathy Corison ’75, James Strombotne ’56, Martina Vandenberg ’90 and Nathan Wang ’79. These are alumni who have carried the spirit of the College into the rest of the world and lived up to the quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed on the College Gates: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."
Cathy Corison ’75
Corison was the first woman winemaker-proprietor in the Napa Valley, where she continues to produce handcrafted wines without compromise. Her grapes are sourced from some of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley, all located on classic benchland between Rutherford and St. Helena. Corison’s vineyards are certified Napa Green. She has farmed organically for more than 25 years, with sustainability as a core value.
Corison's interest in wine was sparked while at Pomona College, when she took an extracurricular wine appreciation class from Professor John Haeger, then a professor of Chinese and a budding wine writer. She landed in the Napa Valley in 1975 and spent decades working with other vintners, including Chappellet Vineyard, 1980-1989 (the owner Donn Chappellet ’54 was also a Sagehen); Staglin Family Winery, 1989-1990; Long Meadow Ranch, 1994-2003; and York Creek Vineyards, 1990-1999.
Corison founded Corison Winery in 1987, guided by her belief that winemaking and wine appreciation are a timeless, creative celebration of life. Along with her husband, William Martin, she expanded the portfolio to include Kronos Vineyard in 1995 and Sunbasket Vineyard in 2015. Her daughters Rose Corison Martin (Harvey Mudd ’16) and Grace Corison Martin (Syracuse University ’19) have been working at the winery, on and off, since they were children. Corison Winery will harvest their 35th vintage of Corison in 2021.
Corison holds a B.A. in biology from Pomona College and an M.S. in enology from UC Davis. She was the San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year in 2011. In 2018, 2019 and 2020 she was a finalist in the outstanding wine, beer or spirits producer category for the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence. Corison has had a front row seat for over 45 years as the Napa Valley established itself as one of the best places in the world to grow grapes and make wine.
James Strombotne ’56
Strombotne is an American painter born in Watertown, South Dakota. He was educated at Pomona College for his bachelor’s degree and Claremont Graduate School for his master of fine arts. He received a fellowship from Pomona College to study in Italy, and in 1962 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for further study in Rome. That same year, a feature article about his work appeared in Time magazine.
Strombotne’s first one-man show was at the Studio 44 gallery in San Francisco in 1956. Since then, he has had over 100 one-man shows, with 14 retrospectives: four in New York City, 22 in Los Angeles, and others in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Santa Barbara, Newport Beach and Santa Fe, New Mexico, among other venues. His work has also been included in most major group shows in America, including two Whitney Biennials, the Carnegie International and the Corcoran Biennial.
Strombotne’s paintings can be found in the permanent collections of museums across the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA), the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Hirshhorn Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is also included in many well-known private collections, most notably the Jack Nicholson collection, which includes 20 of Strombotne's major pieces. Awards he has received include the Art in America New Talent Award.
Strombotne is a professor emeritus at UC Riverside following his retirement in 2005 after 40 years of teaching. He continues to paint every day in his studio in Orange County, California.
Martina Vandenberg ’90
Vandenberg is the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Legal Center. Vandenberg established the organization in 2012 with generous support from the Open Society Foundations Fellowship Program. For more than two decades, she has worked to fight human trafficking, forced labor, violence against women and establish that rape is a war crime. Vandenberg has trained more than 4,000 pro bono attorneys nationwide to handle human trafficking matters. She has testified before multiple House and Senate Committees and gave the keynote address at the first NATO ambassadorial-level conference on human trafficking in Brussels.
Vandenberg previously served as a partner at Jenner & Block LLP, where she focused on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A former Human Rights Watch researcher, Vandenberg is the author of two Human Rights Watch reports, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia & Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution” and “Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’” Her work has been cited in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, CNN and BBC.
Vandenberg has received multiple awards for her leadership against human trafficking, including the 2021 Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award, the 2013 Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s Stevens Award and the 2015 Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize. She also received the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Pro Bono Award for representation of trafficking victims in U.S. federal courts and her advocacy before Congress.
In 2020, Vandenberg received an honorary doctorate from Pomona College. She currently co-chairs the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force’s Forced Labor Subcommittee. A Rhodes Scholar and Truman Scholar, Vandenberg has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the American University Washington College of Law and at the Oxford University Human Rights Law Summer Program. She earned her M. Phil from Oxford University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.
Nathan Wang ’79
Wang is one of the most successful composers in Hollywood and Asian cinema. Prolific and versatile, he has written music for Jackie Chan movies, Steven Spielberg documentaries and for Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and Sony studios’ films. His compositions have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Shanghai Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera and the Chicago Symphony.
Born to parents from Shanghai, Wang was raised in Los Angeles. After graduating from Pomona College, he received a Rotary Ambassador scholarship to continue his studies at Oxford University. He eventually became a composer for the then-popular ABC TV drama “China Beach” before moving on to write music for other television shows such as “Eek! The Cat,” “Toonsylvania” and “American Experience.”
Wang’s many accolades include a collaboration with Hans Zimmer for Steven Spielberg's “The Last Days,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary in 1999. He was also personally awarded a Singapore Grammy for Best Arrangement of a Song and also received an Emmy for the award-winning film “Reefer Madness.” Just this year, he was chosen to score an epic documentary about the Forbidden City (故宫) and its 600th anniversary as a historical landmark. Wang has been invited to conduct the China Philharmonic Symphony inside the Forbidden City.
Wang is an associate professor of film scoring at Beijing University and also lectures at Nanjing University, Hangzhou University and the Shanghai Institution for Visual Arts. Recently, he was named 2021-2022 composer-in-residence for the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. For this residency, Wang will be writing a new musical entitled “Shanghai” to be premiered in 2022, in collaboration with lyricist and fellow Pomona alumnus Matthew Leavitt ’03.