Independence at Pomona, via Summer in Cambridge

Grapefruits are bittersweet, right? After weeks of searching for an analogy to accurately depict my thrilling rollercoaster of a summer, I have settled on a fruit whose mixed taste is representative of my feelings at the moment. It is a bittersweet day leaving Boston.

(Well, Cambridge technically. For two months, I lived and worked across the Charles River from one of New England’s most bustling urban hubs. The cities of Cambridge and Boston, however, are so interconnected that to anyone more than 10 miles outside the city, I will say I lived in Boston. But really, I am leaving Cambridge.)

The Cambridge city skyline, as seen from the Boston side of the Charles River.

This post documents Part 1 of my departure and focuses on my work experience as a Content & Design Intern for Zagster, a startup providing bike share services to tens of thousands of people across the United States. Zagster happens to be expanding monstrously, having recently secured $3.5 million in Series A funding, and it took me along for a nine-week ride at the home office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge has a strong focus on higher education and academia, as well as a young, ambitious tech scene not too unlike my hometown of Silicon Valley. Add an actually functional public transit system, subtract a heavily Asian demographic, and boom — my summer summarized.

Just kidding. These details don’t do justice to my experience here. Although I have spent a few years working for small businesses (shout out to the Career Development Office’s internship program!), I know that what I did this summer is unlike anything I have done before. Sitting in front of a computer screen for 8 to 10 hours a day was new. Listening to an orchestra of swear words from my frustrated coworkers was new. Taking shots every week (in my case, apple cider shots) to celebrate the closing of large-scale contracts was definitely new. The mantra “work hard, play hard” could be very applicable to this particular startup culture, and for better or worse, stress seemed to fuel the success.

The Boston city skyline, as seen from Cambridge on the other side of the Charles! Beautiful skylines everywhere you look.
The Boston city skyline, as seen from Cambridge on the other side of the Charles! Beautiful skylines everywhere you look.

More about my work: I was being supervised by a very hardworking manager whose busy schedule left me to extensive creative freedom. To my surprise, I became the company’s primary producer of graphic design and content marketing pieces. Using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, I created promotional collateral for use by each of our 75+ partners, who ranged from huge universities like The Ohio State University and Yale University, to mid-sized cities such as Albuquerque and Cleveland, to corporate campuses of Samsung and General Motors. I also conducted extensive research about bike sharing and transportation sustainability and wrote over a dozen editorial pieces. They were posted on the Zagster blog and shared via social media platforms and email marketing campaigns, which I also led. It was a challenging, vulnerable, and huge growing experience to put my own ideas into implementation, yet oddly – I felt prepared for it.

I say oddly because I have often heard Pomona College called out for holding the hands of its students. We are blessed with a suburban bubble of safety, with an astronomical endowment per student, and wonderful professors and peers who care about our learning — and more importantly, us. Although it is not perfect, Pomona does an excellent job of giving support for our personal development. So why, when suddenly given all this independence for my internship, did I feel so ready?

My hypothesis is that while Pomona does provide many safety nets and support systems, they are all in place for us to think and grow independently. Our small class sizes allows for a more discussion-based style of learning than a lecture-based, please-regurgitate-what-I-tell-you kind. Professors challenge us to challenge norms, challenge ideas, and even challenge them. By encouraging us to share our personal narratives while thinking critically from perspectives besides our own, Pomona has helped me become more myself and less afraid to be myself.

The city of Boston, framed. I'll be back for more!
The city of Boston, framed. I’ll be back for more!

Although the stress incurred by the “growing pains” of my company’s success has at times stymied my creativity, I learned to take what independence I was given and run with it. Pomona’s culture of introspection and personal development prepared me well for my time in Boston (Cambridge?) and though the long hours behind a screen were sometimes bitter, the process of learning and end results were sweet. After all — what better place is there to find your independence than in the city where the United States fought for and won its own independence? Boston, I hope to be back for more.