Pitzer Spotlights

2007-2008 Spotlight Archives

2008 Distinguished Alumni Award: Thomas Brock ’83

Tom Brock '83
Tom Brock '83 is the recipient of the fifth annual Distinguished Alumni Award.

From the moment he stepped foot on Pitzer College’s campus, Thomas Brock ’83 felt a strong connection to the people and the place. He recognized that his own commitment to social responsibility and intercultural understanding aligned perfectly with the College’s values and through his subsequent endeavors has devoted himself to affecting positive change in communities across the country.

Brock’s concerns with poverty and other social issues began in high school and continued to grow at Pitzer when he entered as a first-year student in 1979. Interested in studying social problems at a macro level, he decided to major in anthropology and was drawn to courses across the disciplines that examined the experiences of people who were disenfranchised because of race, ethnicity or income.

Brock fondly remembers taking courses with Professor of Anthropology Sheryl Miller, Professor Emerita of Anthropology Susan Seymour, Professor of Sociology Peter Nardi and Professor Emerita of English Agnes Moreland Jackson. Their personalized attention and encouragement to think “outside the box” helped direct his academic and professional path. Particularly fascinated with addressing contemporary issues, Brock gradually discovered through Pitzer’s interdisciplinary environment that socio-cultural and urban anthropology was his niche. For his senior thesis he examined how anthropologists study poverty in the United States, and argued that the field had an obligation not only to report on social and economic problems, but to try to fix them as well.

After graduating from Pitzer in 1983, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University in New York and earned a PhD in social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1992.

“First and foremost, I think Pitzer’s nurturing environment gave me the confidence to pursue certain goals and take chances I may not have otherwise taken,” Brock said. “The foundation that Pitzer laid for me was crucial. In the research I’ve gone on to do, it’s always focused on low-income people and communities while remaining true to my original anthropological roots.”

Currently, Brock is director of the young adults and postsecondary education policy area at MDRC (Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation), an organization dedicated to learning what works to improve the well-being of low-income people. He leads a group of projects designed to increase academic achievement and persistence among low-income community college students.

“What I like best about my job at MDRC is that we are directly engaged with the people and programs we study,” Brock said. “Every report we write and presentation we give is oriented toward improving policy and practice.”

Prior to joining MDRC, Brock served as an evaluation officer at the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, where he designed and managed multi-site evaluations of after-school programs for youth, community arts initiatives and audience development programs for nonprofit theaters.

Brock currently serves as a member-at-large on Pitzer’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. Appreciating how Pitzer opened numerous doors to him as a student, Brock welcomes every chance to offer similar opportunities to current Pitzer students whether it be by returning to the College to give occasional lectures on public policy and applied anthropology, or apprising the Office of Career Services of job openings within his organization.

Since the early ’90s, Brock has volunteered for several AIDS-related causes first as part of a “buddy” program for people with AIDS in New York, and subsequently as a participant in long-distance bicycling events to raise money for AIDS advocacy and services. Most recently, he participated in the San Francisco to Los Angeles AIDS LifeCycle 7-day 545-mile ride in June 2007.

“Many Pitzer graduates have gone on to do amazing and inspiring things with their lives, and I feel fortunate simply to be counted among that group,” Brock said. “I am especially honored because Pitzer’s values align so closely with my own. “If my own life reflects some of these values in such a way that others have taken note, I am glad for that and hope for that.”