Oxtoby joins prestigious group

Pomona College president David Oxtoby will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts this fall to be inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He joins 220 people being honored this year for leadership in academics, arts, business and public affairs. Other 2012 honorees are Hillary Rodham Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Melinda Gates, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Paul McCartney.

Dr. Oxtoby—who found out about his admission to the Academy “the old fashioned way,” via letter—is no stranger to accolades. He has received fellowships from organizations including the Guggenheim, von Humboldt, Dreyfus, Sloan, Danforth and National Science foundations.

Nonetheless, he feels honored to join the storied Academy, which was founded in 1781 with inaugural members like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

“It definitely stands out,” Dr. Oxtoby humbly said of his Academy membership. “Coming from the academic world, if you’re not going to get a Nobel prize, this is one of the larger prizes.”

Dr. Oxtoby has been asked to write a letter accepting his membership, which will be kept in the files of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He marvels that those files contain similar letters by George Washington and other leaders that shaped our country.

It is not the first time a Pomona College president joined the Academy. In 2006, David Alexander, the university’s 7th president, was inducted into the society. This year, there are several Academy honorees with ties to Pomona College. They include Sally Elgin, a Pomona College alumna and genome researcher; Pomona alumnus, psychologist and author (The Child’s Theory of Mind) Henry Wellman; and former Pomona College faculty member Steven Koblik, who is president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Dr. Oxtoby is the author of numerous scientific articles on subjects such as light scattering, chemical reaction dynamics and phase transition and 2 popular first-year chemistry textbooks. Though he teaches a class each year in environmental chemistry, specifically climate change, his love of science often takes a backseat to college administration.

“I’m very optimistic by nature. Even now, with all of our challenges, America has the best system of higher education in the world. We have a huge opportunity to make our education even better,” he said.

Science will take the spotlight in September, when he will travel to the University of Cambridge for a 3-month sabbatical. Dr. Oxtoby will be conducting chemistry research, which will be briefly interrupted in October when he flies to the other Cambridge for the Academy of Arts and Sciences ceremony. While he’s gone, Cecilia Conrad, dean of Pomona College, will serve as acting president.

When Dr. Oxtoby became the 9th president of Pomona College in 2003, it was written into his contract he could take a sabbatical after his 6th year. Nine years into the job, he is excited about the opportunity to get re-immersed in the realm of science. He and his wife are also looking forward to a vacation this summer, when they will spend several weeks hiking and bicycling in the Canadian Rockies and on Prince Edward Island.

Despite his enthusiasm for scientific and personal rejuvenation, Dr. Oxtoby emphasizes that his primary focus is Pomona College.

“I’m really passionate about the values of liberal education,” he said. “It prepares students to think critically, to work in groups, and to ask big questions. I’m committed to that over a number of years.”

—Sarah Torribio



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