Pomona pre-health students still in search of adviser

Pomona College’s Career Development Office pre-health adviser and faculty pre-health academic adviser roles have both remained empty since the start of this semester.

Amanda Taylor, the former CDO pre-health adviser, resigned at the beginning of the spring 2018 semester, according to neuroscience and psychology professor Richard Lewis, the former faculty pre-health adviser who stepped down at the beginning of this semester.

A search committee has been formed to hire a new full-time associate director for pre-health advising under the CDO.

Associate Dean of Students and CDO Director Mary Raymond said the search committee will consist of herself, the Senior Associate Director of the CDO Wanda Gibson, some faculty, and potentially Dean of Students Avis Hinkson.

A previous search for a new CDO pre-health adviser was conducted over the spring semester after Taylor’s departure “in hopes of bringing someone in before fall term started,” Lewis said. The CDO opted to include the pre-health student liaisons in the selection process around early April, according to pre-health liaison Anne Price PO ’20.

“The CDO [recognized] we were students who are integrated into the community and talked to other students, so they wanted us to be as much as part of the process as possible,” said Annika Kim PO ’20, another pre-health liaison.

The liaisons — Sarah Etuk PO ’19, Alejandro Guerrero PO ’19, Eric Smith PO ’19, Anne Berhe PO ’20, Annika Kim PO ’20, Anne Price PO ’20, Ja’Nea James PO ’21, and Jaime Gonzalez PO ’21 — scheduled lunch meetings with the candidates the same days they would come to interview for the position and afterwards were surveyed for their thoughts on each one.

“The CDO [presented us] the resumes of all the candidates who we were interviewing,” Kim said. “We’d read them, they’d take a lot of notes on what we prioritized — what the students really wanted — someone with experience, empathy, who was well-researched and competent for that position.”

However, the search turned out to be unsuccessful, and no appropriate candidate was found.

Lewis said the application pools from four years ago and recently have been “pretty weak,” partly because experienced pre-health advisers prefer to work in academic affairs.

“They are pre-health specialists; they don’t necessarily know anything about careers beyond pre-health, and so we were not recruiting experienced pre-health advisers, even though that was the job description,” Lewis said. “When surveyed, this was one of the reasons they gave: They didn’t really see themselves being a good fit in career centers, and they preferred to work as part of academic advising.”

Guerrero said that was when the pre-health liaisons first realized there was concern with pre-health advising overall.

“Over the summer, we had no idea what was going on with that position. It was vacant. All we had known was that the first search didn’t go well,” Guerrero said.

At this time, the CDO hired Chelsea Ahn, who had previously served as a graduate intern, Lewis said. Ahn’s post is currently the interim pre-health coordinator and career adviser, which she will hold until Jan. 1, 2019, according to Raymond.

“She only sort of popped up,” Guerrero said. “None of us ever knew or were ever contacted. It wasn’t until we reached out with a strongly worded email about it that they started looping us more into it.”

Though pre-health drop-in advising appointments are currently unavailable, according to Pomona’s website, students can still make appointments with Tony Jimenez, Chicano Latino Student Affairs dean of students, and Ahn. Jimenez previously worked in admissions for MD/PhD programs in the Midwest for many years before he took on the administrative role here, Raymond said.

In addition, Lewis said last spring, Pomona “hired the former pre-health adviser to come out of retirement to help out [while Pomona] searched for a permanent replacement for the CDO pre-health adviser.”

The CDO’s search will continue to involve the liaisons through this semester. At the start of October, a job posting for the title of Associate Director for Pre-Health Advising was posted on Pomona’s employment page.

The current pre-health liaisons met with the CDO two weeks ago, according to Gonzalez. Gonzalez said “they were very focused on filling up this new job position and giving this position the value it deserves. It didn’t have a value originally, which is why we were getting not so qualified candidates, but now there’s an actual focus and priority, we’re seeing a brighter future ahead.”

The future for the position of faculty pre-health adviser, however, is still unclear. Lewis had formerly served as the faculty pre-health adviser since 2000, when there also was another staff position that he said “was half-time pre-health adviser, half-time graduate fellowships.

Other than Lewis’ role in helping students navigate pre-health track and graduate admissions, Price said “[Lewis is] the first person everyone’s going to associate with knowing what to do,” since first-year pre-health students are introduced to the college’s programs by him during orientation.

About 65 students from Pomona apply to MD programs each year, according to Lewis. However, the structure of the pre-health program shifted about four years ago, when the former staff pre-health adviser retired.

“The [former] President David Oxtoby and [former Dean of Students] Miriam Feldblum wanted to move pre-health advising out of academic affairs and put it in the CDO,” Lewis said. “Faculty were not consulted about that move. I worked with that plan and really discovered that it was not a very good plan. It was not in students’ best interest, it was not efficient, it created inconsistencies in the advising, and so I thought it worked much better under academic affairs.

Lewis said he believes that at a small school like Pomona, the pre-health program should be managed by faculty.

“Academic advising is under the control of academic affairs, and I view pre-health advising as just being a specialized form of academic advising,” he said.

There is not yet a confirmed successor for the position of faculty pre-health adviser.

“Pomona needs to provide support for these students,” Associate Professor and Department Chair of Economics Michael Steinberger wrote in an email to TSL. “Otherwise, it could risk disproportionately hurting first-generation students and students who do not have a doctor in the family who may be able to help them through the requirement and process.”

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