Maria Tucker, former director of the Draper Center and associate dean of students at Pomona College, left her position on Jan. 31 after 11 years of working at Pomona. She departs to be the dean of students at Colby College in Waterville, ME. Sefa Aina, former associate dean and director of Pomona’s Asian American Resource Center, will act as interim director of the Draper Center.
Tucker began working at Pomona in 2005 after Pomona President David Oxtoby developed a task force with the aim of connecting Pomona with the surrounding community.
Tucker, who was a first generation, low-income student, said she wanted to give back to the community. In 2009, she became the founding director of the Draper Center, Pomona’s community and education-outreach program. As detailed on the center’s website, Draper staff “connect with community members, students, faculty, and staff in support of educational outreach, community-based research and learning, and other community engagement activities.” These communities include local organizations and K-12 schools.
“[Our partners] tell us a lot about the needs and histories of their community and give us a sense of their lived experiences in ways that we might not know by ourselves,” Tucker said.
According to Tucker, the majority of the programs are student-initiated. One such program is Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS), which helps prepare first-generation, low-income students of color in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino County areas to attend selective colleges and universities.
Teofanny Saragi PO ’18 has been a student coordinator at the Draper Center since her sophomore year and participated in the PAYS program in high school.
“I’ve known Dr. Maria since I was 13,” Saragi said. “She and the PAYS program got me into Pomona.”
Saragi stressed Tucker’s influence on Pomona’s culture.
“PAYS was the reason Pomona started being such a strong leader in advocating for undocumented students,” she said.
Students and coworkers believe Tucker’s work also drastically improved the diversity of staff and faculty and added an element of compassion to the school’s culture.
“The PAYS program empowers, grounds, and gives hope to students and community members,” Aina said. “Thirty children each year come through this program. The potential for 30 families to be transformed, it’s amazing. And that’s what Maria does.”
Saragi attested to that sense of hope and purpose Tucker provided.
“The Draper center, Dr. Maria’s presence, and what she has brought to the college is what lies at the heart of my values and keeps me going,” she said.
Dean of the College Audrey Bilger also said that Tucker’s personal traits have influenced Pomona.
“She is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusivity,” Bilger wrote in an email to TSL. “Her warmth, empathy, and leadership will be greatly missed.”
Though Tucker’s absence will be “a huge loss for the campus,” according to Assistant Director of the Draper Center José Ramirez, students and faculty are excited to see how Aina will maintain and improve upon the Draper Center’s programs and values.
“[Aina] brings a lot to the table, including his passion for doing community work,” Ramirez said. “Especially in light of our current political time, it’s of utmost importance that we ensure that we’re becoming a voice of reason against this chaos. I know he will do just that.”
Since Aina has worked at Pomona for as long as Tucker, he already has a working knowledge of the college and said he will not “miss a beat.”
“[The Draper Center] does such good work that even maintaining it is a goal of mine,” Aina said. “A bad day here is a good day everywhere else, not that we’re going to have a bad day!”
Aina plans to create more community-based learning courses, have a larger presence in the city of Pomona, and make the center even more visible and accessible.
“This is part of filling out the dream of the Draper Center,” Aina said.
“There is no other place in the West like Pomona in terms of resources, diversity of students, the commitment to community and one another,” Tucker said. “I’m going to miss all of that, but most especially, I’m going to miss my relationships with students and alumni.”
Tucker left her position this past week, but her impact on Pomona and the greater community still remains, according to those who know her.
“Dr. Maria has set a precedent for many generations of conscientious engagement with surrounding communities and has definitely changed the DNA of Pomona,” Saragi said. “Pomona is not the same Pomona, and it’s better for that.”