New Director To Guide Oldenborg Rebuilding

Pomona College's Oldenborg Center is scheduled to be reconstructed over the next few years. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

Pomona Associate Professor of German and Russian Anne Dwyer will become the faculty director of the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations June 1, and see the center through its expected replacement with a new building, Dean Audrey Bilger announced in an email to Pomona students Feb. 14.

Current Oldenborg director Rita Bashaw, who has served in the position since June 2006, said she is stepping down to be with her husband and elderly mother in Seattle.

The change in directorship coincides with ongoing discussions within the Oldenborg planning group and larger Pomona community about plans to replace Oldenborg with a new language immersion residence hall and center for global learning.

The planning group, which is chaired by Bilger and Pomona Treasurer Karen Sisson, is made up of various administrators, professors, and students, and was formed last fall when President G. Gabrielle Starr indicated replacing Oldenborg was one of her priorities. The group held an open discussion with the community Feb. 13.

Rebuilding Oldenborg has been a long-existing goal for Pomona. It is listed in the 2015 Master Plan, which notes that Oldenborg “damaged the planning structure” of the original 1913 design for the campus, and previous TSL coverage cites master planner Scott Smith calling the building a “goof.”

The planning group estimates that the entire planning and reconstruction process will take a minimum of just under three and a half years, which would put the end date sometime in 2021.

Opened in 1966, Oldenborg currently houses 129 students. It will continue to house students for at least another year. During reconstruction, its language halls will be relocated elsewhere. The planning group is looking into how to deal with the potential resultant housing shortage.

Language tables, conversation classes, and OLC talks will also continue operation at different locations during reconstruction.

Bilger outlined some major design goals for the new building in an email to TSL, including separating the public space from the residential space to enhance student safety, and improving the organizational layout of the language halls.

The planning group plans to modify the size and layout of the cafeteria, which is currently considered quite cramped, and is also considering adding a space specifically dedicated to global engagement.

This space would “[draw] together certain offices and services (like Study Abroad, for example) that could benefit from their proximity and inclusion in a space devoted to a vision of Global Pomona,” Bilger wrote.

Bilger mentioned the new design will also be formulated with respect to issues of sustainability.

“If we do this right, we'll be able to continue with all the activities that have made Oldenborg such a special place on campus, but to do them even better,” she wrote.

Bilger wrote that current director Bashaw told Bilger about her decision leave last fall. The dean’s office then began to look for a globally-oriented, experienced faculty member to fill the position. When Dwyer expressed interest in it, Bilger wrote, “It was not difficult to me to recognize that we had found an ideal new director.”

Dwyer was offered the position shortly after winter break and agreed to a five-year term.

Dwyer said she doesn’t have plans for big changes to Oldenborg next year.

“Next year’s going to be about keeping the ship afloat and learning the ropes, because it’s my first administrative job,” she said.

Later on, though, Dwyer said she has more ambitious goals.

“Oldenborg has the potential to be a bigger player on campus. I think we can bring in kinds of programming, perhaps year-long programs, themes, really collaborate with other departments even more closely than Oldenborg does at the moment,” she said.

In time, Dwyer plans to expand the Oldenborg Luncheon Colloquium — a lecture series focusing on international and cultural topics — to include more discussion formats, make the sophomore-dominated dorm more appealing to upperclassmen, and advocate for adding another director position to Oldenborg.

Bashaw said she is excited about Dwyer filling her role next year.

“I think good things are going to happen to Oldenborg in the coming years. With our current administration and incoming director, I feel good,” she said.