New leader of Pomona’s OEC embraces Claremont’s ‘outdoor love’

New OEC Manager Connor Bigenho hopes to foster community and a love for the outdoors at the 5Cs. (Austin Zang • The Student Life)

On Jan. 9, 2023, Pomona College hired Outdoor Education Center (OEC) manager Connor Bigenho. In his new role, Bigenho will be in charge of overseeing future Orientation Adventure (OA) programs, managing the hiring of OA leaders and organizing OA leader training and logistics for Pomona College and the 5C community. 

Bigenho, a Dallas native, previously worked at Stephen F. Austin State University as an outdoor pursuits graduate assistant for the University’s outdoor center. Bigenho has only worked in Texas and is excited about the change in location. 

“There’s a lot of outdoor love in this area, and it’s also uniquely located in such a nice outdoor playground,” Bigenho said in an interview with TSL. “You have the mountains just north of us, you[‘ve] got the ocean to the west, and you got more mountains to the east…[it’s] a perfect location for being able to share outdoor activities. I didn’t have that living in Texas, so I really wanted to go to a place where I could experience that and be able to facilitate more of what I love.” 

During his time at Austin State, Bigenho led a safe and positive environment in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, altering positions to keep staff working and focusing efforts on outdoor recreational resources. 

He implemented trail cleaning and maintenance on the university’s five and a half miles of multi-use trails and worked with student volunteers to rebuild the trail systems by fixing drainage issues, clearing fallen trees from snowstorms and rebuilding bridges. 

To facilitate community through outdoor activities during this time of isolation, Bigenho and his staff filmed videos introducing short virtual clinics, training and explorations of nearby resources such as trails and lakes. Bigenho also hosted bike rides and trips twice a week in hopes of reintroducing students to outdoor spaces and skills. 

At the OEC, Bigenho’s focus is mainly on his staff and providing a chain of communication for students to express their needs.

“I want to make sure we have the ability to offer something for everyone, and that really starts with my staff and how well I train my staff here,” he said. 

By adhering to the staff and students’ needs, Bigenho hopes to create a new space where everyone is comfortable, even those who might not be a fan of the outdoors. 

One of Bigenho’s first projects is to develop a clinic to teach staff and students mountaineering skills. He explained that tools such as crampons and ice axes are inherently dangerous and require training and practice.

“I don’t want to limit students from being able to do things just because I don’t want to spend the time trying to train them and how to teach them,” Bigenho said.

In addition to this ongoing effort, Bigenho has been in contact with various outdoor 5C clubs who have expressed interest in certification. In response, Bigenho has been working with them, researching and contacting industry organizations that provide certification courses. 

“The students would like me to share knowledge with them and experience, and have me share my skills,” Bigenho said. “Or, if I don’t personally have those skills, to see if I can outsource that to bring someone who’s a professional in those skills.” 

Although Bigenho has only been here for a couple weeks, the conversations and connections he is making haven’t gone unnoticed by his staff. 

“Connor gives us a lot of agency over the types of events and the type of atmosphere that we want to be,” Katie Chao PO ’25 said. “He’s very focused on creating an OEC that fits in with what students actually want and need and not what he thinks it should be.” 

In the future, Bigenho hopes the OEC can have a greater positive impact on the 5C community, giving students the opportunity to branch out of their campus bubbles.

“I’m hoping it’s a resource, and it’s a community building center,” Bigenho said. “The 5Cs can come in here, they can rent gear [and] they can get to know people all across campus.”

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