Creating Community Fund Events Strengthen Bonds Beyond the Classroom

Associate Professor of History Corey Tazzara prepares homemade pizza for Scripps College students

When Georgia Bates ’23 arrived at Scripps College for the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, she had to re-adjust to in-person instruction after a year of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It can be jarring to go from a college experience that began and ended with logging into a Zoom meeting to complete immersion in campus life,” the anthropology major explains. Yet, despite the challenges the pandemic has presented, the Scripps community has found ways to come together and celebrate the creative, collaborative interactions that form such an integral part of the College experience.

Each semester, the Office of the Dean of Faculty invites students and faculty to apply for the Creating Community Fund, which is supported through a philanthropic gift to the College. The fund facilitates student-professor interactions outside of the classroom to build stronger relationships, both academic and personal, says Jennifer Armstrong, associate dean of faculty, fellowships coordinator, and professor of biology. She notes that the fund “sustained and grew connections between faculty and students during COVID,” with faculty and students hosting virtual game nights and concerts, remote cooking classes and museum tours, and foreign language trivia events.

“These funds have been critical in the formation and reformation of connections as we come back together,” Armstrong adds. “Community is absolutely what we need in 2022.” As the dean of faculty reviews this semester’s applications, Armstrong, along with faculty and students who’ve hosted previous events, hopes that the fund will continue to spark meaningful relationships.

“I cannot even begin to emphasize how important a thriving campus culture is for the enrichment of individual students as well as the institution,” says Bates, who hosted a fund-sponsored picnic for Visiting Professor of Biology Benjamin Schlau and her introductory biology classmates at the end of the fall 2021 semester. The event, featuring food from local Claremont businesses, allowed her to “generate and enliven a sense of community which I feel has been rarer in the wake of COVID-19,” she explains.

For Associate Professor of History Corey Tazzara, the fund provided a “beautiful way to relax” after a period of sustained uncertainty. He hosted a homemade pizza night in his backyard for approximately 50 current and former students, including one team-taught with George Gorse, Viola Horton Professor of Art and professor of art history at Pomona College. “Such informal socializing felt especially necessary after almost two years of the pandemic, in which ‘in person’ often meant ‘masked,’ and in which much of life had simply moved online,” he says. Although Tazzara spent much of the event preparing 16 pizzas, he notes that his favorite part of the evening was listening as students from the different colleges had informal conversations outside of the academic sphere.

“By bringing together students from my various classes, there was an opportunity to introduce students to one another, to share their common interests and build a larger sense of intellectual community beyond the boundaries of a single course or classroom,” he says. “For me, that is the essence of college.”

The fund has also benefitted Scripps students who are pursuing majors at the other undergraduate Claremont Colleges, such as Kristen Mason ’22, who is majoring in computer science through Harvey Mudd College. Last semester, Mason used the Creating Community Fund to organize a pizza party for Harvey Mudd Assistant Professor of Computer Science George Montañez’s class, then knocked on other professors’ doors when she realized that they’d ordered more food than they needed. Two other professors from the department joined the party—“citing the lessons they learned as PhD students to never pass up free pizza,” Mason explains—and the get-together lasted until dark.

The fund-sponsored event helped Mason develop relationships not only within the tight-knit Harvey Mudd computer science community, but also with her fellow off-campus majors from across the 5Cs. Such gatherings, Mason explains, have the power to form bonds between faculty and students that can lead to long-term mentorship, from job hunting advice to recommendation letters and guidance during senior thesis projects.

For Bates, these connections represent the heart of the Scripps experience. Bates chose to attend Scripps because she sees it as a place where value extends beyond the classroom and into the networks that students build between their peers, faculty, and alumnae. The Creating Community Fund, she says, exemplifies that value—and it’s an opportunity for students to foster the type of social, on-campus culture that the pandemic put on hold. “I would encourage anyone looking to add vibrancy to their Scripps experience to identify the potentials and imagine the possibilities, no matter how small!” she says.

Tazzara agrees. “I think students are attracted to The Claremont Colleges because they want individual, personal attention in their education—not only in the classroom, but beyond it as well, in office hours, at campus events, and in informal shindigs,” he says. “For all that classroom education is and must be central to college life, neither for students nor for their professors is academics everything. Part of building a well-rounded, human, and humane community is having just such events throughout the year. This seems to me more necessary than ever before.”