By Patrick Little and Dwight Whitaker

Place is a loaded and complex term. It can signal domination (“know your place”) or freedom (“a place of one’s own”), or it can reflect the connection between our selves and the spaces we inhabit. Because the term is complicated and fraught with meaning, we often substitute physical space for place, looking at the size of a room, the assessed value of a home, or the presence or absence of desirable features like windows. As we reflect back on our time at the Hive, we are reminded that sometimes we did exactly that, but we also had the chance to experience what a place for collaborative creativity might feel like.

At the celebration of Rick and Susan Sontag’s gift, Estela Sanchez spoke of how she had not really felt she had a place at the colleges, and how she had questioned her own sense of belonging. She then went on to describe how the Hive was that space she had sought, and how it filled her with joy to be able to help shape it. Later, during the campus-wide conversation led by students of color at CMC, Estela spoke out at a rally and invited the students and their allies to the Hive as a safe space. Her spirit of ownership of the Hive reflected one of our core values of the Hive as an open and welcoming place.

The core values also informed much of our attitude about designing the Hive as a physical space, using a portion of the Seeley G. Mudd library made available by President Oxtoby. “Creating permission to experiment and play” translated into creating a space that is not precious, where mistakes, marks, or changes are welcome. We wanted students to be unafraid to write or paint on a wall, to display their creations, and to share their work and expect feedback. Clovis Ogilvie-Laing created an artwork that crossed several rooms and reminded us about embracing failure.


From the beginning, the Hive has been a prototype of itself where we learned what spaces were too big, too small, too dark and sometimes just right. Each of the rooms acquired an informal name, such as the Inner Meadow and Scandinavia. Scandinavia, named for its IKEA furniture, surprised us because we were sure that a room with a sink, cinderblock walls and no natural light would likely be underutilized. Instead, the room’s sense of enclosure provides students a sense of privacy that allows them to share personally significant experiences safely.

The rough nature of the physical space also didn’t keep people from using it in beautiful and imaginative ways. A narrow hallway became an art gallery for work from Rachel Levy and Ken Fandell’s fluids and photography class, and for Albert Dato and Sarah Gilbert’s class uniting materials science and sculpture.

Glass Bulbs

Perhaps the most striking use of the space was by Christy Spackman’s food and culture class, which transformed the Outer Meadow into a tasting place.

Hanging Roses

The Outer Meadow also became the home for dozens of mini-workshops, which filled the space with sketches, 3D printed objects, sticky noted on foam core boards, and Haitian art dolls. These workshops and classes hosted in the Hive taught us that the space we were using was too small, so this summer we are expanding the space to more double its size.

Estela gave voice to students who come to the 5Cs looking for a place that is inclusive, welcoming and generative. Our hope has been for the Hive to be a focal place, where students have a profound sense of belonging, connecting, and creating.

– Pat and Dwight

By Patrick Little and Dwight Whitaker

The Hive emerged from conversations that began during the 2014-15 academic year among faculty and students at Pomona and quickly came to include the other undergraduate colleges. The central thrust of these conversations was to find ways to improve the creative capacity of our students. Guided by designers Tom Maiorana and Vida Mia Garcia, parallel faculty and student steering committees took part in a series of discussions of what a creativity initiative might mean and what it would look like. Tom and Vida Mia come from a background in Design Thinking and applied its methods to help the 5Cs create a vision for the center.


Dwight Whitaker and Brian Keeley, of the faculty steering committee, participate in a values finding exercise for the Hive.

Through interviews with dozens of people, we learned that there was a deep desire to prepare ourselves to solve the “wicked problems” society faces. These complex yet important problems often do not fall easily into a discipline and are sometimes hard to even articulate. To make headway on these messy problems requires people to work across disciplinary boundaries and to share each other’s mindsets. It quickly became apparent that the participants wanted to cross these lines of discipline, department, college, and even between student and teacher. The act of sharing mindsets and expertise to generate previously unavailable solutions is what we have come to call “collaborative creativity.”

It was also clear that we wanted to find ways to lower the “cost” and “risk” of moving outside traditional boundaries, whether that entailed exploring new disciplines or addressing new problems. Lowering barriers to entry not only allows us to fail safely, but also to regain the delight of learning new things – exploration is fun.

As it turned out, the approach of listening respectfully and enthusiastically became a central element of how people at the Hive approach almost everything. The early process also revealed a desire for action and fearless prototyping. During that pre-Hive year, Mark Allen offered a Studio Art course that moved his students into collaborations with art students throughout the region. Dwight led a three-day workshop on 3D printing. Tom and Vida Mia conducted several one-hour mini-workshops on topics such as visual communication and re-imagining an everyday object. Among the things we learned from these were that students would move quickly in response to opportunity and that these activities take time and other resources. These prototypes showed that engagement can take many forms with different levels of investment by the participants. Ultimately, this led to a menu of offerings as short as a one-hour mini workshop up through a multi-semester engagement with a project.

Granularity Figure

The process that we see at the Hive has its roots in human-centered design, design thinking, and simply listening and acting as a model for getting things done. We have come to respect process as a key element in approaching messy problems (and also fun activities), but at its core, process is an approach rather than an ideology.

The process that has emerged can be characterized as:

  • Listen and empathize
  • Organize thoughts and key themes
  • Try a solution (quickly and cheaply)
  • See what happens
  • Iterate again and again

Anyone who has read a text in engineering design, design thinking, or problem solving will recognize this process and perhaps even want to name it as their own. We think that’s great. Frankly, we don’t really care much about what it is called so much as we care about empowering students and faculty. Listening, acting, and observing create the opportunity for the connections that are central to collaborative creativity.

Pat and Dwight 

By Patrick Little and Dwight Whitaker

In just a few days, we will stand down from our roles as interim co-directors of the Hive and turn things over to our new full-time director, Fred Leichter. For both of us, watching the Hive come into being has been one of the most compelling and rewarding experiences in our careers. The Sontag Center was designed to influence the entire 5C community by creating opportunities for students, faculty and staff to work together in a truly collaborative and creative environment. In little more than a year, the Hive has grown from an idea to a nationally recognized center for the development of the creativity of undergraduates.


Interim co-directors Dwight Whitaker and Patrick Little

Over the next few days, we want to reflect on the past year at the Hive, how it came to be, what people have done, and who made these great things happen. (We’ll leave it to Fred to talk about the future of the Hive when he gets here.) To add structure to these reflections, we’ve tried to align our thoughts in terms of 4 P’s: process, place, programming and people. We’ll start with process, since that gives us a chance to share some of the history (and rewrite it on our own terms). We’ll talk place next, since our space is where so much has happened, and it illustrates our approach to prototyping almost everything. The things that happened will be discussed when we write about programming, although too much happened for us to do everything justice. We’ll save people for last, because, quite simply, it is people who have made all the difference in changing the Hive from a concept to a culture. We also want to use that post to say thanks to the many, many, many folks who have participated.


Someone’s always making something at the Hive. In this case, students from Human Centered Design prototype self-expression.

Each of these goodbye posts is informed by the core values of the Hive, but in different ways. The central mission of the Hive is to “accelerate the creative development of students across the 5Cs.” To accomplish this, we seek to:

  • Nurture connections
  • Show everyone how they can fit in
  • Infuse doing into all learning experiences
  • Make it feel truly 5C
  • Cultivate generative mindsets
  • Present ambitious challenges
  • Create permission to experiment and play

Tomorrow’s process post remembers how these core values created a dynamic culture.

– Pat and Dwight

A great read for folks interested in some of the psychology behind some of the mindsets we should be fostering in this initiative.

We often talk about the need to be able to embrace failure. That’s much easier with a growth mindset.

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

Awesome rallying cry for creativity across disciplines, economic standing and educational levels.

We’re really excited by all the work happening as part of the Digital Humanities at the Claremont Colleges. To get a taste of the initiative, check out the key note video.

dr_liu-DH-keynoteDr. Alan Liu presents his talk: “Key Trends in the Digital Humanities: How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities.” This talk marks the inaugural event for the DH@CC efforts, and was filmed at Pomona College on Feb. 18, 2015. DH@CC is the digital humanities effort at the Claremont Colleges. The project, which intends to increase DH capacity at the 5Cs, is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Video produced by AJ Strout.

This is a great post for anyone looking to tweak their classroom in a minimal way. As we think through what (if any space) we should have for this initiative at the 5Cs, these three elements are great to keep in mind.


Every day educators are tasked to cultivate bright and creative minds. Yet many teachers are often restricted by the environments they are provided. They must work within various constraints to build a classroom that will support their goals and encourage creative thinking amongst their students. We wanted to know: what are the key characteristics and challenges of a creative classroom?

Element #1 – Environment that signals expectations

Element #2 – Diverse surfaces that encourage active learning

Element #3 – Multiple spaces separated physically and acoustically

Check out the full article by