Thomas Poon, former interim and acting president and senior associate dean of faculty at Pitzer College and current professor of chemistry at the Keck Science Department, recently announced his departure from the Claremont colleges. He will next serve as Loyola Marymount University’s Executive Vice President and Provost of the college. TSL spoke with him about his experiences at the 5Cs and his hopes for the future.
TSL: How will your responsibilities at LMU differ from those that you have at the Claremont colleges?
Thomas Poon: Some of my responsibilities are remarkably similar. For example, I will supervise administrators responsible for student affairs, enrollment management (admissions), academic affairs, the library, strategic planning, and educational effectiveness.
The major difference is that LMU is a university with a much broader scope of academic offerings than Pitzer or any single 5C has. For example, LMU has six different schools or colleges, each with their own deans for undergraduate, graduate, and credential programs. LMU also has a law school, but that is outside of my responsibilities.
TSL: The press release announcing your departure described in brief a variety of academic and social initiatives that you’ve spearheaded on campus. What has been your most meaningful experience?
TP: Well, these types of short biographies typically give credit to just one person, but I’d like to clarify here that all of these initiatives were team efforts involving administrators, faculty, staff, and students. My involvement and leadership in these initiatives ranged from approving a budget in some cases, to fundraising in others, to extensive collaboration and brainstorming with community members.
My most meaningful experience with regard to the latter was helping Pitzer navigate campus climate concerns around diversity and inclusivity during the 2015-16 academic year. I learned so much from the various affinity groups and stakeholders that I met with last year.
TSL: You’ve worked at a variety of colleges and universities. How has your experience at Claremont differed from other schools?
TP: The Consortium is a gem among higher education institutions. In no other setting do students, staff, and faculty from seven colleges and universities with very different missions and cultures get to collaborate and cooperate in the way that we do here at the Claremonts. These collaborations develop both organically and deliberately thanks to our proximity to each other and it is unlike at any other institution at which I have worked.
TSL: What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced over the course of your work at the Claremont colleges? Your greatest success?
TP: [My greatest challenge] definitely was addressing the campus climate concerns around diversity and inclusivity that I mentioned earlier, because so many members of the community were affected in very different ways and had many different needs.
I’m most proud of helping Pitzer address each of these needs and being transparent about our progress through the Living Document that continues to this day.
A close second in terms of greatest challenge and greatest success was reopening the Pitzer in Nepal Program just eight months after the devastating Gorkha earthquake of April 2015.
TSL: You’ve served as a professor of chemistry and also in administrative positions. Which of these do you prefer?
TP: This question is like the Kobayashi Maru (geeky Star Trek reference)! So like Captain Kirk, I will cheat and say I liked them both equally. They both allowed me to provide new and (hopefully) rewarding learning experiences for students, just in vastly different ways.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.