College Connections: John Zuk at Pomona College

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Do you prefer the beach or the mountains? For college students at Pomona College in Claremont, California they can enjoy both skiing and surfing in the same day. The campus is also just a 35 minute drive away from Disneyland! 

Casady graduate and former Crier Editor in Chief John Zuk (’16) will graduate Pomona College in the Spring of 2020 and is double majoring in Economics and Classics. I asked John about his experiences at Casady that helped prepare him for college, as well as learning more about Pomona and college life. John’s responses are thoughtful and honest, with great advice for high school students. 

What was the most important lesson you learned as an Upper Division student?

John: I think the most important lesson I learned as an Upper Division student was the value of hard work and overcoming adversity in the pursuit of goals. Casady does an excellent job of making students believe that they can achieve anything they desire. However, they also teach you that goals are accomplished through nothing less than persistent diligence. Having the willingness to work harder than everybody else is something that has served me well during college and every other aspect of my life.

What classes at Casady were the most beneficial to you?

John: I think I first have to give a shout-out to all the Latin classes I took at Casady (from 7th grade with Mrs. Winkle all the way to senior year with Mr. Gorham). I am a Classics major and I have to give Casady all the credit for cultivating my passion for ancient languages. Reading ancient languages is a great exercise in critical thought and it is very rewarding to be able to connect with people from the ancient past. 

The tools I gained from the English department in the Upper Division have served me well in college, as well. It was in classes with Mr. Banecker, Mrs. Finley, Dr. Hubbell, Dr. Powell, Mr. Bottomly, and Ms. Stone that I really learned how to analyze texts and write interesting thesis statements/essays. The ability to write clear, concise, and compelling work is a recipe for success no matter your major in college. If I could, I would go back and spend a lot more time workshopping material with those teachers, and learning as much as I could from them. 

I think Precalculus with Mr. Ebert and BC Calculus with Mr. Halpern are still some of the most difficult—and most rewarding—courses I have ever taken. Those teachers really taught me the meaning and value of hard work. Additionally, the quantitative skills I gained in those courses have really benefited me in my studies of Economics in college.

What advice do you have for UD students preparing for college?

John: I would say work as hard as you possibly can, ask your teachers for help/advice, and get out of your comfort zone whenever possible.

Describe Pomona College’s personality and what attracted you to Pomona. 

John: I would say Pomona College fosters an intense learning environment that focuses on creating collaboration—rather than competition—between students. The school is extremely diverse, with students from nearly every state and 47 different countries. I think going to school with so many unique individuals that share a passion for learning attracted me to Pomona. Pomona also offered small class sizes which was a must for me. Ultimately, I think Pomona shares a lot of similar characteristics to Casady, which is probably why it was so appealing to me when I was applying to colleges. And the Southern California weather certainly didn’t hurt anything! 

What are some fun traditions at your school?

John: I think Ski-Beach day is probably the most fun tradition at Pomona. By virtue of Southern California’s proximity to both mountains and beaches, you can sign up for a day trip where—as the name suggests—you ski and go to the beach on the same day. 

Pomona is also a part of the Claremont Colleges, five undergraduate institutions (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Scripps, Pitzer, and Harvey Mudd) located in the same square mile. Pomona and Pitzer form a team for athletics as do Claremont Mckenna, Scripps, and Harvey Mudd, so the rivalry games between the two teams are always fun to attend. 

Other fun traditions include throwing people in fountains on their birthday, late-night snacks at the dining hall Sunday-Wednesday, and the fascination with the number 47.

What does your average school week and weekend look like?

John: During the week, I typically have two to three classes a day (around three hours of total class time–definitely beats being at Casady from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM). I probably do homework for three hours or so on a good day and for six to seven hours on a bad day. However, assignments feel much more doable because you aren’t spending so much time in class. I typically get lunch and dinner with friends and hang out with them for a while after dinner every night. I try to get to the gym to play some basketball or work out three to four times a week (I’m in a 3 on 3 basketball class right now that is a lot of fun) and I spend a lot of my free time playing guitar (I’m also in a jazz improvisation class that I like a lot). On the weekend, I typically get some homework done, do laundry, run errands, and spend time with my friends (watching a movie, going out to eat, going to parties, etc.). If I don’t have a lot of work, I might go to Los Angeles to hang out with my half-sister, or go to the beach.  

What has been the greatest challenge for you while at college?

John: I think the greatest challenge I have had in college is discovering who I truly am as a person and maintaining a healthy level of self-esteem. At Casady, I let my activities and coursework define who I was, and my opinion of myself was dictated solely by my performance in each of those activities. However, when I arrived at Pomona, I was no longer playing competitive sports, I auditioned to join the orchestra and didn’t make it, and I ultimately found myself questioning who I was as an individual since I no longer found myself participating and excelling in the activities that I had been doing for the previous eight years. I went through a rough patch during which my self-esteem was really damaged. Eventually I came to the realization that it is impossible to do everything and that there was always going to be someone better than me at doing something. After I got that difficult fact of life through my head, I found that it was more beneficial to assess my personal performance and achievement based on my own efforts to grow and the actual growth I exhibit. I still find myself comparing myself to others at times, but in general I am much happier as a result of judging myself solely based on my own efforts and growth. 

What do you enjoy most about Pomona?

John: Definitely all the close relationships I have developed with friends and professors during my time here. The people you spend your time with ultimately shape the experience you have at any school or job. At Pomona, everyone wants to see everyone else succeed and be happy. That creates a collegial environment in which students and professors care and look out for one another. That environment has definitely been the best aspect of my college experience.  

How are opportunities such as internships and study abroad woven into the curriculum?

John: Pomona College does a great job of integrating internships and study abroad into the curriculum. As far as internships go, Pomona offers a variety of resources to help students. They provide access to various job searching platforms that make it easier for students to find opportunities that are interesting to them. Furthermore, they have people who will conduct mock interviews with you to help you prepare for an interview you might have coming up. And perhaps most importantly, they have a fund that pays students who take unpaid internships, making all opportunities available to students of every socioeconomic background.

Pomona also makes a ton of study abroad programs available to students. I didn’t study abroad (it’s difficult to when you are a double major), but nearly half of the students here do, and I have heard nothing but positive things about the process and experience from my friends. 

What do you want to be once you graduate?

John: After graduation, I am going to be working as an Investment Analyst for a portfolio management company called Cambridge Associates. Per their website, Cambridge “is a global investment firm that works with premier institutional investors and family offices to manage custom investment portfolios that aim to generate outperformance so they can maximize their impact on the world.” 

It is obvious that John’s tenacity has pushed him to excel in his studies, and this perseverance has carried him through difficult life challenges. John also believes it is beneficial for us to step out of our comfort zone. It is when we take risks that we progress.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, Pomona College is ranked #5 in national liberal arts colleges. It is a close-knit community with 1,671 students and 186 full-time professors. 53% of students, including freshmen, conduct research with their professors. Pomona’s mascot is the Sagehen, named after the Sage Grouse, which is known for its fierce loyalty.  

Fun fact about Pomona College: There is a well-known secret club called “Mulfi” that since the 1940s has been leaving cryptic notes with social commentary around the Pomona campus. Go Sagehens!