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Gift to establish Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity

The presidents of Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College recently announced the establishment of the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity. The center’s purpose is to accelerate the creative development of students and to equip them to work collaboratively to address the future’s most ambiguous problems and complex challenges.

A landmark $25 million gift from Rick Sontag, a 1964 graduate of Harvey Mudd College, and his wife, Susan Sontag, a 1964 graduate of Pomona College, will provide the new center with both operating expenses for its early years and endowment support to ensure its longevity, benefiting all undergraduate students and faculty of the Claremont Colleges.

“The challenges we face today call for audacious thinkers and doers who can work collaboratively and creatively across disciplines,” explained Rick Sontag. “The center will encourage students to navigate change, pull together knowledge from a vast range of sources and have meaningful impact on the most difficult problems with no clear solutions.”

A focus on undergraduate education and an emphasis on the creative power of collaboration will distinguish the Sontag Center. As part of an exceptional consortium within higher education, the 5Cs are uniquely poised to support the center’s goals.

The opening of the new center is the culmination of a yearlong effort involving students, faculty and staff of the 5Cs in exploring new approaches to creative collaboration. Last year, students from every campus had the opportunity to take part in experimental offerings ranging from a tutorial on micro-controllers to pop-up workshops on such subjects as communication through drawing and prototype development.

Newly-created grants provided faculty with the resources to supplement existing courses with hands-on approaches to collaborative learning and to develop innovative classes that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Initially housed in Seeley Mudd Hall at Pomona College, the center affords students from the five liberal arts colleges opportunities to work in creative teams.

Nicknamed “The Hive,” for the buzz of creative and collaborative activity it is designed to foster, the center offers students the opportunity to participate in drop-in sessions and unstructured brainstorming to one-hour workshops and course-based activities, with a variety of learning options in between.

The center will offer space for prototyping, experimentation and to use “design thinking” to address complex problems.

Pomona College Associate Physics Professor Dwight Whitaker and Harvey Mudd Engineering Professor Patrick Little have been named co-directors of the center during a national search for a permanent director. The presidents and deans of the five colleges will manage and oversee the initiative.

“We are enthusiastic about developing ways to engage a wide variety of potential participants,” Mr. Whitaker said. “Anyone who wants to participate should be able to find a way to easily plug in—the history major should feel as much a part of this as the engineer, artist, entrepreneur and activist.”

Rick and Susan Sontag have built successful businesses and have actively supported education and medical research. Mr. Sontag received a bachelor’s in physics from Harvey Mudd College in 1964, a master’s in physics from the University of Nevada at Reno and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Ms. Sontag graduated with a degree in government from Pomona College in 1964.

The Sontag’s giving to the Claremont Colleges includes naming gifts to LEED-awarded residence halls on both the Pomona and Harvey Mudd campuses, as well as significant gifts to expand undergraduate research. Mr. Sontag is an emeritus trustee at Harvey Mudd College.

Mr. Sontag’s uncle, Frederick Sontag, was a longtime professor at Pomona College, where he taught philosophy for over 50 years.