Russell Corbin ’23 has been passionate about the environment since a young age and declared his environmental analysis major his first year at Pomona. In his free time, he does advocacy work for electric vehicles. Earlier this month he attended the nation’s largest electric vehicle show at the San Diego Convention Center called Fully Charged Live, where he spoke on a panel and organized a team of volunteers.
We spoke to Corbin to find out about his advocacy for electric vehicles and his time at Pomona. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Where are you from? How did you end up at Pomona?
I’m from Maryland originally. After living there my whole life I wanted to get out west. Southern California is the dream place to live. At least that was my thinking at the end of high school.
You were part of the class that left for a while during the pandemic.
Exactly. In that time, I took a semester off because I didn’t want to miss any more of the in-person Pomona experience. I did a virtual internship, working on electric vehicle policy with the organization called Plug In America.
You’ve been interested in electric vehicles since a young age. How did that start?
I've always had an interest in vehicles and also environmentalism and nature. When I was 12, the first Tesla car came out, and that was the game-changing car because they proved that the technology could be safe, be really fast, look really good, do anything a regular car can do but still be electric by happenstance. At that point, it was like, if we’re going to try and save the planet and still do our adventuring and commuting, we need to go electric. So I convinced my parents that we needed to get an electric car.
In middle school, it was mostly school projects here and there: for a science class, testing the aerodynamics of the car, or for history, doing a paper on the history of electric vehicle.
Currently, I’m involved with the national Electric Vehicle Association. It’s a group of electric vehicle owners who like to advocate and share our stories. We have chapters all over the country, and the local one in D.C. was where I got started.
I think we all need to do some kind of volunteer work or contribute toward the community. This is the way I see of doing that. Transportation emissions are the biggest source of CO2 in the U.S. If we’re going to solve our climate crisis, we have to cut transportation emissions.
What was the talk you gave at the convention this past weekend?
I was on a panel with Joel Levin, my former Executive Director at Plug In America, Charnjit Saranna from Electric Zoo and Kenneth Bokor from The EV Revolution Show, hosted by Robert Llewellyn, the founder of Fully Charged, where we talked about fear, uncertainty and doubt—the “FUD” of electric vehicles—and how to address people’s concerns. Basically, myth busting.
As with any new technology, people need time to adjust to it. Your car is personal to you. Typical fears, uncertainties and doubts are about charging, battery longevity, the validity of the benefits to the climate. Fortunately, there’s data to respond to all those things. Studies show that they’re significantly better on emissions. Studies show that the batteries last a long time, don’t really have issues and are nothing compared to the problems you have with transmissions and the like in gas cars.
How has your time at Pomona shaped you?
I don’t know how to put this without sounding like I’m overblowing it, but it’s the perfect education. I think everybody needs this format and structure of education. My first one and a half, two years were pretty general. I took classes in art history, Spanish, introduction to cognitive science, history of African colonialism. I got a foundation in all the concepts that we talk about, whether it’s settler colonialism or environmental justice. Then in my latter years, I’ve been focusing in on, how do we design parks? How does infrastructure help and hurt our urban relationship with the environment? So, specific, but that balance is key.
I’ve talked to so many people, especially at the conference, and everybody’s asked, “What do you study?” and I tell them my major. But I always say I’m studying liberal arts. To me, it’s so essential to have that grounding. It’s not just an education to do something, but it’s an education to be.