Determining which information to highlight that will most accurately and favorably shape Pomona College in the minds of those outside the bubble and how to communicate with those other entities about the college is a complex process. The job falls mainly upon the Communications office and the Admissions office, both of which handle Pomona’s relationship with the outside world—be it through news outlets, college guides, high schools, or individual students.
Recently, the presentation by branding consultant Mark Neustadt raised discussion regarding the suggestion of supplanting the focus on the college’s supposed fun and laid-back nature with a focus on more rigorous academic and career pursuits. In response, senior members from both offices agreed that they did not see this as a change in the reality of the school but instead as a new emphasis on the dedication already present in the student body.
Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Alaina Dunn said that she tries to emphasize that there is a serious environment at the college rather than emphasizing California.
“It’s not all flip-flops and surfing,” she said.
Dunn mentioned that an important problem with using the setting to brand the college that she felt was emphasized by the Neustadt presentation was that pushing the California image as a principal part of the college may not be serving first-generation students.
“The narrative of ease could be hard for first-generation students to manage—working hard to get here and then being told that the beach is how you’re going to spend your time,” she said.
Dunn said that the branding suggestions might give way to a slow evolution, but nothing drastic.
“All of the counselors got the presentation, and we have begun incorporating some of the changes,” Dunn said. “It will probably be most seen in publications that will begin to shift focus a bit.”
Is the goal to disconnect from the laid-back flip-flop narrative altogether? Not at all, Dunn said, but maybe slightly fewer pictures in the sunshine.
“This is never to say that California is unimportant, just to make sure that we do ourselves justice by presenting that the reasons for coming here are much, much more than that. In the next version of the view book, you’ll see that,” she said.
During the Neustadt survey and in subsequent conversations surrounding its suggestions, Cynthia Peters, Pomona’s Director of News and Information, noted that much of the discussion centered on the diverse interests of students and the ability to explore and develop those passions at Pomona.
For Peters, this was an opportunity to highlight Pomona’s diversity in publications.
“It was interesting the number of times faculty and students in these discussions repeated the theme of passionate students—and that these students do not have to choose just one thing,” Peters said. “This is something we can highlight.”
Peters is also constantly looking for ways to keep Pomona’s presence known and relevant. She focuses on maintaining relationships with news outlets and publications.
Using relationships with media outlets, Peters is able to convey this aspect of the college to the outside world. Recently, Peters read an article in the Los Angeles Times about food waste in Los Angeles and the lack of ability to utilize the extra food to help others. Peters contacted the reporter and directed him to Pomona’s Food Rescue program, which takes leftover food from the dining halls to shelters in the area. The reporter then profiled Pomona’s program and interviewed Pomona’s Food Rescue Coordinator Nicholas Murphy PO ’13.
The Communications Department is also able to promote the high academic achievements of its staff by serving as a mediator between professors who are experts on a certain topic and news outlets that would solicit their expertise.
When President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died earlier this month, Peters served as a connection between news outlets such as USA Today and Al Jazeera English, facilitating a way for Pomona professor Miguel Tinker Salas, an expert on Venezuela, to speak on the issue.
When the U.S. News and World Report called Peters and explained that they were considering profiling four Southern California schools in depth for their next edition, Peters highlighted the resources and diversity gained from being part of a consortium, the hands-on research like those offered by the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, on-campus sustainability, the Outdoor Education Center, and the Oldenborg language tables.
“There are certain things we always try to highlight,” Peters said, “like financial aid and relationships with professors.”
On the admissions side, when Dunn visits high schools to talk about Pomona, she says that she does not make a point to include Pomona’s place on various ranking lists like the U.S News rankings in her talks, unless questioned about them.
“It can be a starting point for students, but if the only reason a student is at Pomona is because it is top-ranked, they are not here for the right reasons,” Dunn said. “We want to see if it will be a good fit.”
“There are some schools we visit each year, that we have a very strong relationship with and that we normally see a lot of their kids at Pomona,” Peters said. “Then, each counselor is given some autonomy to do research and say, ‘What school should I visit that I haven’t before?’ We want to have a diversity of schools.”
Contact with Pomona often begins even earlier, through databases of names and scores collected from student search services owned by the College Board and ACT tests, which include both the SAT and ACT as well as AP and PSAT. Colleges purchase names and addresses from the service for about 33 centers per name and send the students materials. Pomona purchased several thousand names last year, using test score ranges as broad parameters to decide where to direct information.
Pomona sends brochures to these students, and, additionally, in hopes of showing Pomona as an option to students across the country and the world, the admissions office has 12 counselors that travel to assigned regions spanning the entire United States and several parts of the globe.
Dunn explained that her presentation at high schools usually focuses on an overview of Pomona as a liberal arts institution with a flexible curriculum, passionate students, research opportunities, and a community on campus. Each conversation is different, she says.
“We don’t go in with an agenda,” Dunn said. “Sometimes I spend a lot of the time really explaining what liberal arts means, sometimes they will ask really specific questions about programs like study abroad.”
Lance Paulson, a guidance counselor at Walter Payton College Preparatory School, a magnet school in Chicago, said that the Pomona “admissions office does an outstanding job of outreach.”
Paulson commended Admissions Officers Tamina Mencin and Art Rodriguez for their help over the years in familiarizing the Chicago area with Pomona and the other 5Cs, as well as Pomona’s participation in the Chicago Posse Scholarship program.
“Pomona is a good fit for our students because they are also coming from a very diverse student body, many need Pomona’s extremely generous need-based aid, and they really enjoy the learning environment that a small liberal arts college has to offer,” Paulson said.