When Ernesto Gutiérrez Topete ’17 steps into his Lincoln Hall classroom this fall, he takes his place at the front of the room instead of shuffling into a seat next to a classmate.
Gutiérrez Topete returns to Pomona as a Chau Mellon postdoctoral fellow after earning his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. As a postdoc, he will teach two courses each year. He couldn’t be happier to be at his alma mater, and he will be teaching his favorite subject—phonetics—to boot.
“Coming back to Pomona—a liberal arts college, a school that I know very well, a school that has the approach that I was looking for—was a perfect fit for me,” says Gutiérrez Topete.
Only six years after graduating, Gutiérrez Topete returns to many familiar faces, mentors and supporters eager to welcome him back.
Hector Sambolin Jr., associate dean for academic affairs, academic success and assessment, is one of Gutiérrez Topete’s biggest cheerleaders. He calls Gutiérrez Topete’s achievements “a testament to the power of higher education.”
From Community College to Pomona
Gutiérrez Topete migrated with his family to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 12, and after moving from place to place, eventually settled in an agricultural town in Northern California. When it came time to apply to colleges, he knew that financial support would be a challenge, so he opted to attend community college. There, a professor, who attended Pitzer College, recommended he apply to Pomona.
“I didn’t know anything about Pomona, so I basically agreed to do so because she was helping me a lot,” says Gutiérrez Topete. Once he did his research, however, and learned about the educational experience, the student-to-faculty ratio, the student life experience, he “fell in love.”
Pomona’s Office of Financial Aid made attending Pomona feasible for Gutiérrez Topete. “Even though the price tag was significantly higher than other schools I was considering, after factoring in the financial aid package, I realized that Pomona was the most affordable option for me,” he says.
Launched into Research
Being a transfer student isn’t always easy, and Gutiérrez Topete felt like he was academically behind his peers. He took advantage of professors’ office hours and made sure that he was always making some kind of progress.
At the end of his sophomore year at Pomona, Gutiérrez Topete was selected to be part of the inaugural cohort of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Program at the Claremont Colleges. The goal of the program is to help increase faculty diversity in higher education by supporting underrepresented students to pursue careers as professors.
The program provided Gutiérrez Topete intensive training seminars, a faculty advisor—Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures David Divita—to help him navigate his undergraduate research experience, and funding to conduct research.
As a double major in linguistics and Romance languages and literatures, Gutiérrez Topete conducted research on Spanish linguistics over two summers. Those experiences allowed him to see himself as a researcher, he says, and immediately after graduating from Pomona, he headed to UC Berkeley to study linguistics.
When Gutiérrez Topete received his Ph.D. this past summer, he became the first MMUF alumnus from the Claremont Colleges to achieve that goal. Currently there are 14 MMUF alumni in Ph.D. programs across the country, and Sambolin, who directs the MMUF program in Claremont, says that Gutiérrez Topete is living proof that “it’s achievable.”
Ready to Contribute
Now that he’s back on campus, Gutiérrez Topete looks forward to teaching linguistics, participating in the Oldenborg Center’s language tables (as he did as a student) and mentoring students, including those who share his identities.
“When I was a student here, I realized the connection the faculty made with students, and that’s something that I really appreciated. It’s something that I wanted to participate in from the other side as well,” Gutiérrez Topete says.
Relating to former professors as colleagues has been an adjustment, Gutiérrez Topete says: “I was still referring to them as ‘Professor’ until they had to stop me and asked me to use their first name.”
Divita, Gutiérrez Topete’s former advisor, is ecstatic to have him back: “Ernesto’s remarkable trajectory attests to his focus, determination and brilliance. It’s thrilling to think of all the contributions that he’ll make to our community.”