PSU Panel Focuses on Rebranding

The Pomona Student Union (PSU) sponsored a panel discussion Oct. 30 to address students' doubts about Pomona College's rebranding efforts.

The discussion featured a panel of speakers who addressed the findings of marketing consultant Mark Neustadt, who presented a report last semester identifying what he called Pomona's "ease narrative" as a setback for the college.  

"Last year I was one of many students who heard rumors about this elusive Neustadt presentation that was encouraging our administration to make Pomona more elitist, pre-professional, and like our East Coast rivals," wrote Marianna Heckendorn PO '16, a PSU member who helped organize the event, in an e-mail to TSL. "I and some other students on PSU spoke with each other and felt this was an issue that affected Pomona students but that was not being talked about in the proper context."

“We felt there was a communication gap between the students and the administration and that there was a need for more transparency about what rebranding was and the direction Pomona College was heading in," she wrote. 

Office of Communications Senior Director Mark Wood, who spoke at the event, described the term “rebranding” as a misnomer. 

“When I think of rebranding, I think of a corporation that’s failing and tries to reinvent itself," he said at the discussion. "What we’re doing now is just a shift of emphasis to deal with a perception problem.”

“The word 'brand' fills a gap," Wood said in an interview. "The reason it ends up in use is because there’s not another good word for it. What we call a rebranding exercise is really just about trying to make sure we understand the relationship between what we are, what we say, and what people perceive us to be.”

Wood also explained why he thinks that the college is attempting to change its image.

“We want to make sure that we’re getting our main point across—that this is a really rigorous education, that the students here are very passionate about what they do, and that they want to come here because they want to work hard," he said. "This has always been our message. It’s just that, somewhere along the line, the message got misinterpreted.”

At the panel, Draper Center Director Maria Tucker expressed a desire not to associate “laid-back” with “not hardworking.”

“I grew up in Southern California, and I feel that as a people we are easygoing folks, and that’s how I understand how Pomona is as well," she said. 

However, Tucker’s main concern with the school’s atmosphere was that student happiness at the college is not uniform, which could alienate some students, including those who are first-generation or from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

“There was too much emphasis on everybody being happy," she said. "That’s not the reality for many students here. We needed to more accurately name the Pomona experience.”

Tour Guide Intern Justin Gutzwa PO ’14, who also participated in the panel discussion, said that he had been told to “reshape the tour guide program starting right around the spring semester last year.”

“I was told that the perception of Pomona given by the tours was not matching up with the resources available on campus,” he said at the panel. 

By asking the student audience to raise their hand on whether they had heard about programs such as the Pomona College Internship Program, the Draper Center, and study abroad opportunities, Gutzwa made the point that the tours had not been using Pomona’s student resources well enough.

“Most of us hear all about Ski Beach Day, ‘fountaining,’ Orientation Adventure, J-Tree, Disneyland, and an array of numbers that gave the college no personality," he said. "This is not what our tours are currently focusing on any more. We’re now more focused on less numbers and more meaningful facts and experiences.”

Career Development Office Director Mary Raymond was also part of the panel. 

"We are in the unique position to lend support for students, but we have ... an authentic type of service that mirrors what students’ interests, aspirations, and goals are," she said. "So, in essence, we represent ... the student body. Simultaneously, we have to identify with employers and graduate institutions. And the reality is that the rest of the world does not come from the same segment of the world as LA.”

Raymond also said that she disagreed with the perception that Pomona is “laid-back.” 

“I didn’t like hearing [that] our students [were] being non-serious and didn’t prioritize their work," she said. "What I really see in Pomona is that it opens up so many doors to students. Pomona is a world of opportunity.”

One of the most recent windows into the college’s rebranding attempt is its new Academic Viewbook, available at the Office of Admissions.

When asked to compare the new viewbook to the one used for the 2012-2013 academic year, students had a variety of opinions.

Jonathan Starzyk PO ’14 said that the new viewbook displays Pomona students’ “passion in a very crisp way.”

“As opposed to the old one, the new viewbook does a very good job at giving an accurate and natural sense about what the college is all about," he said. "It’s a beautiful work.”

Danny Villars PO ’17 disagreed.

“I think the new viewbook is a bit too cluttered, but it does grow on you," he said. "Frankly, I like the older one better. It shows what the school is all about and has the laid-back feel to it, which is a good thing.”