The Hunger Games: Pomona

Once again, I find myself wanting to go to all the events put on by groups at the 5Cs. My original plan for last night was to attend a screening of The Dark Side of Chocolate hosted by the Environmental Analysis (EA) department so that when I tell people I don’t like chocolate, I would have an arsenal of reasons of why chocolate is bad, not just to my taste buds, but for the environment as well.

However, my attention was stolen by a Pomona Student Union (PSU) event featuring Pomona professors trying to prove their departments the best. I attended an event quite similar to this last year, called “Survivor: Pomona” and really enjoyed it. So, even though the theming had changed, I eagerly arrived at Edmunds Ballroom in the SCC at 7 pm.

The format of the event included opening remarks from each of the professors present, cross-examination, and then closing remarks. It was themed after The Hunger Games in the fact that it included a “tribute” from each of Pomona’s five breadth of study area requirements. Prof. Ken Wolf, who won “Survivor: Pomona,” also attended as a “Career.”

After moderator Dan Martin PO ’14 finished his opening remarks with “And may the odds be ever in your favor,” the professors got right into it.

Area I: Professor Anthony Shay of Dance

“What do you do when you finish a test? Go solve another Calc problem? Conjugate Latin verbs? Or do you do a victory dance?” *applause and shouts.

Area II: Professor Michael Steinberger of Economics

Prof. Steinberger enchanted the audience with his witty Powerpoint discussing his fellow competitors, demonstrating the types of things you get to say in economics (lots of things about “stimulus packages”), and discussing how econ helps you make decisions between options based on trade-offs. And trade-offs are important. See the money Pomona spent on redoing Stover Walk. Then see what they did to snack. (This appeal to the students garnered a great reaction.)

Area III: Professor Oona Eisenstadt of Religious Studies

Prof. Eisenstadt began by caustically calling out her competitors, labeling Prof. Wolf’s department of LAMS as a class that should be at Pitzer, and even then no one would take it. She also noted that Econ is a “how” discipline. It doesn’t tell you “what” to do with your money—what’s important, what you’re impelled to do by morals, etc.—but Religious Studies does. She ended her spiel on a more serious note, discussing the Milgram studies where people administered lethal amounts of shock to what they thought was a hurting, real live compatriot. Some people expressed concern, and the experimenter would say, “There will be no permanent damage to the brain.” Only one person asked, “What about impermanent damage to the brain?” He then refused to continue the experiment. That man was a Professor of Religious Studies.

Area IV: Professor Robert (Bob) Gaines of Geology

I was quite distracted from his words by the mass of students in orange vests an hardhats carrying pickaxes and tools in the surrounding rows near me. Oh, those Geology students… they certainly are rowdy. Prof. Gaines wanted to make it clear that he didn’t ask them to come (he didn’t, my friend is in the department), and to show that the department must be awesome if it garners this much support. Because, in what other discipline would you get to “spend thousands of U.S. and Canadian taxpayer money on helicopter rides, hotel stays, and gear from R.E.I.?”

Area V: Professor Erica Flapan of Math

Prof. Flapan was focused on jobs. She stated that most of her colleagues and their departments don’t get any jobs. Ok, ok, so some Geo and Econ students get jobs. But even then, it’s those with the stronger math background who get jobs. “It’s no wonder that the Econ Department advises its students to double in math for Econ grad school.” Also, “without jobs, you starve. If you starve, you die. Without math, you die. QED.”

Wildcard/Career: Professor Ken Wolf of LAMS

First of all, LAMS is a new(-ish) major meaning, “Late Antique Medieval Studies.” They arranged those words in that order just so they could show off pictures of cute baby animals. Also, in reference to these animals, their “meat is not noxious to Christians, Muslims, or Jews; in fact, they all love it!”

The discussion of jobs flew back and forth between competitors, Prof. Wolf of LAMS stated, “I believe they’re a bit overrated,” and I agreed with Prof. Eisenstadt of Religious Studies when she said, “You’re going to make money for the rest of your life, you should take these four years and spend them thinking.” Then Prof. Flapan of Math backed off her jobs argument a little, noting, “Math is the most common double major and minor at Pomona. So, everyone who’s anyone wants to know math.”

In the end, Dan Martin’s “100% accurate and unbiased applause-o-meter” judged Geology as the winner (yeah, those kids were really loud). But it’s not about who came out as the winner (unlike in the actual Hunger Games); it’s about professors who are passionate about their departments, and students who love their majors.

When I asked my friend Evan afterward if he were simply (double) majoring in Math (and Computer Science) for the jobs, he said, “No. Math is… beautiful” with such a tone of awe in his voice. Hey, I don’t have a determined major yet, and now all I really want to do is take a class from each of those entertaining professors. I’ve got to hand it to Prof. Shay, though—after I finished my CS program later on in the night, I did do a victory dance.