Pomona College Alumni Carve Out Careers in Emerging Fields

Pomona alumnus Jálynn Castleman-Smith '13, from left, Julius Torres Kellinghusen '16 and Harry Leshner '08.

From policy research to consulting to business operations, Pomona College alumni are tackling grand challenges through their chosen career fields. Jálynn Castleman-Smith ’13, Julius Torres Kellinghusen ’16 and Harry Leshner ’08 recently explained how their time at Pomona put them up to the task.

Jálynn Castleman-Smith ’13

Jálynn Castleman-Smith ’13 credits her intellectual curiosity, a trait she refined at Pomona College, with helping her find new ways to support students from low-income backgrounds.

“My professors all wanted us to ask questions and seek to understand things,” Castleman-Smith recalls, a decade later. “I remember loving the idea that students weren’t obsessed with grades. We all understood we were there because we wanted to be engaged in an intellectual community, somewhere you can learn for the sake and love of learning.”

A passion for closing equity gaps for students from historically underserved backgrounds through evidence-based practice has guided her career journey from educator and public service practitioner to social policy researcher.

This dedication is what attracted Castleman-Smith to MDRC, a national non-profit, non-partisan social policy research organization dedicated to improving the education, employment, and life circumstances of individuals, families, and children with low-incomes. The former psychological sciences major serves as an operations research associate in MDRC’s Postsecondary Education policy area.

In her role, Castleman-Smith seeks to understand how effective student success initiatives at two- and four-year institutions are at putting educational success within reach for students from historically underserved backgrounds. In addition to evaluating existing programs, MDRC also uses their research to design promising new interventions and provide technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale.

According to Castleman-Smith, “Pomona is where I really fell in love with this idea of increasing access [to education] through an equity-focused lens and working with students.”

Castleman-Smith, who earned her MPA from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, looks back fondly on her years at Pomona College, especially as a student worker in admissions, which she says “inspired my career.”

Wanda Gibson, assistant dean and deputy director of the Career Development Office, was a particularly great mentor, Castleman-Smith recalls, and someone whose advice she covets to this day.

“Pomona does an amazing job supporting their alumni,” she says.

Julius Torres Kellinghusen ’16

As business operations manager at New York-headquartered HealthRight, Julius Torres Kellinghusen ’16 has his finger on the pulse of business operations, fundraising, grants, communications and more.

“There’s very little that gets done that doesn't involve me contributing in one way or another,” he says.

A generalist, he calls himself.

“This role allows me to use a lot of different skills,” he says. “There’s never really a boring day here.”

HealthRight, a global health non-governmental organization, or NGO, with projects in Kenya, Uganda, Ukraine, the United States and Vietnam, aims to close the gap in health outcomes by expanding access to quality health systems in communities of need.

“One of the reasons I wanted to work here,” Kellinghusen says, “is I love their approach, which is 100% local. Wherever we go, we create NGOs, and we stay in the community for 10 years so when we leave, it’s because we’ve been able to set up the NGO to run independently.”

Kellinghusen, a former international relations major, learned about and interned for HealthRight while at Pomona College, and says courses here prepared him for a career “where each person has to be responsible for their own work and can’t rely on someone else to tell them what to do.”

After graduating, Kellinghusen served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. He later earned a master’s degree from New York University’s School of Global Public Health.

Skills such as problem solving, time management, communication and writing “are things Pomona grads do well,” he says.

Harry Leshner ’08

Forgive Harry Leshner ’08, but even after 15 years, he still has trouble explaining his role in the software industry. In short, he consults with businesses on technology strategy and innovation.

What’s not so difficult to explain is how Pomona College prepared him to be versed in the field.

“Going to a liberal arts college, I felt I wasn’t pressured to pick a major,” he says. “With liberal arts, you learn a little bit of everything.”

The thing about technology, Leshner says, is that the rate of innovation is very fast and always accelerating. “I love it because I’m always learning something new,” he adds. “The minute you stop learning, you’re obsolete, and that’s really what Pomona helped me with—the curiosity, how to learn and pick things up.”

Leshner, a former economics major, appreciates how his former professors challenged him to learn base theories and concepts and apply that knowledge to coursework and tests.

“It wasn’t just rote memorization,” he says. “I was being trained to think at a high level.”

Beyond the classroom, campus life helped shape Leshner into the professional he is today.

“At Pomona, it’s not just about classes,” he says. “It’s about community. I was involved in a lot of different things. I played two sports, and we also had this consulting club we formed. We were all ambitious, driven people, and helped each other out.”

“In the professional world,” Leshner adds, “working in a team and leadership are important and I had opportunities at Pomona to develop those skills.”