Please Rebrand

Last year, Pomona College hired a marketing agency to look at how we brand ourselves. The agency, Neustadt Creative Marketing, recently suggested we deemphasize our easygoing atmosphere.

They make a good point. We do put a lot of focus on our easygoing atmosphere.

Take a look at U.S. News & World Report‘s school rankings for liberal arts colleges. Pomona is ranked fourth, tied with Middlebury. The four liberal arts schools ranked better than (or at the same level as) Pomona have blurbs describing their academic life. Williams uses “Oxford-style teaching,” Amherst is part of a consortium, Swarthmore offers an engineering program, and Middlebury lists some important departments.

Our summary reads, “Students can take advantage of this private institution’s unique location during the annual Ski-Beach Day, a morning of skiing at a local resort before an afternoon on a beach in Orange County.”

So maybe we should listen to Neustadt. If I had to describe Pomona to someone, I wouldn’t mention Ski-Beach Day. I also wouldn’t mention our barbecues or hammock gardens. These are nice perks, but they’re not important.

I could mention our small, intense classes, the great interactions I have with professors, and the way my classmates continue to surprise me with both the breadth of their intellect and how much they care about the world. But these are typical liberal arts school tropes, and they start to sound like empty marketing platitudes. When we talk about Pomona’s character, the things that make it unique, we’re probably not talking about those.

What are some other things that make Pomona special?

As Pomona students, we can do undergraduate research, get paid for unpaid summer internships, control a telescope operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spend a semester in Silicon Valley, explore one of the most geologically interesting regions of the U.S., visit an 85-acre ecological field reserve across the street, take trips to a number of world-class museums, and enroll in courses at any other college in the consortium, including engineering courses—take that, Swarthmore!

Wow! That sounds pretty awesome to me. More exciting than Ski-Beach Day, even.

Cortney Anderson PO ’15 wrote last week that she didn’t want Pomona to become an institution that focuses on a narrow definition of success. Success means different things to different people. Pomona enjoys a diversity of interests among its student body, and focusing on a narrow definition of success might push some of those interests away.

But we don’t have to concentrate on a narrow definition of success. We can focus on our academic strength and a diversity of interests, rather than trying to limit ourselves. I’m hoping the administration doesn’t prove me wrong on this. Pomona students and alumni accomplish many great things, even if they don’t end up being high-paid investment bankers or doctors.

Let’s focus on our accomplishments, both in academia and in life, whatever form they take. Changing the way we brand ourselves doesn’t mean we throw away our existing culture. It just means putting a different side of ourselves forward.

How’s this for a blurb? “Pomona students take advantage of the typical liberal arts school numbers, combined with opportunities unique to California and the Los Angeles metropolitan region, to practice their love of learning for learning’s sake, and achieve great things in the world.”

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