Nick Morgenstein ’23 had almost completed his first year at Pomona College when the pandemic lockdown sent him home to San Francisco in March 2020. The next 17 months were an introspective period that served to carve out the remainder of his time at Pomona.
During the first summer of the pandemic, Morgenstein joined two high school friends conducting voter outreach for a small political campaign in San Francisco. “I had nothing else to do,” he laughs.
As he canvassed neighborhoods, he started wondering how it was decided which doors they would knock on: “How are they making strategic decisions? Who are they asking to vote for their candidate? How are different groups responding?”
Morgenstein discovered that the campaign had collected large amounts of data but was not fully utilizing the information. “They were somewhat indiscriminately choosing which voters to talk to,” he says. He offered to look over the data and conduct some preliminary analysis.
The spring semester of his sophomore year, Morgenstein took his first computer science class—online—and at that point decided to major in the field.
“The pandemic changed how I viewed what one should study in college,” says Morgenstein. “A lot of times people study what they think they’re good at, and I realized that while I’m at a place like Pomona, it makes sense to learn something you know the least about that also might be something you find interesting.”
The following summer, Morgenstein wanted to apply the data analysis skills he had gained and continue what he had begun the previous summer. He applied for a Pomona College summer research grant to build out data analysis dashboards for local campaigns, allowing them to easily upload their data and be able to identify which demographics they should target.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Joseph Osborn advised Morgenstein’s summer research. Of its impact, Osborn says, “Nick’s project worked to expand the availability of data science techniques to small, local races run by less well-funded candidates. These approaches are generally the domain of large campaigns.”
Morgenstein reflects, “My summer research experience helped show me that you can really forge your own path in the world.”
During his time at home, Morgenstein also found his way to the ocean. Surfing helped him deal with the stress of the pandemic, and he found it to be “a transformative spiritual activity.”
When he returned to campus, Morgenstein was eager to share his passion. He and a few other students decided to revive the Surf Club, which had gone dark after the previous leadership graduated.
As the president of the club, Morgenstein devotes a significant amount of time each week to organizing trips to the beach—arranging rides, making sure everyone has surfboards and wetsuits—and teaching people how to surf. The five-college club has a mailing list of over 800 students, demonstrating the strong interest that exists for the sport.
“It has been really amazing to get to help people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of experience get in the water,” says Max Moonier ’23, one of the coaches in the club. “While part of Surf Club is to surf, it is also just about getting people to relax a little and de-stress from school by getting to the beach.”
Looking ahead, after he graduates in December 2023, Morgenstein is considering working in consulting, politics or starting something on his own, but he will use this next summer to continue exploring options.
“The pandemic helped me leave my comfort zone and showed me that I might as well follow what really makes me excited,” Morgenstein says.