Students remain defining motivation for Roberto Pomo
Ahmed V. Ortiz
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be among my dear students.”
Roberto Pomo’s impact in his 20 years at Sacramento State might best be measured by seismograph.
Pomo, a professor of theatre history and film studies, has been accorded numerous University honors, including the John C. Livingston Award, Sac State’s greatest faculty distinction.
He was the first Honors Program director and has served as chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. His CV boasts two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, plays he has written, and co-authorship of books. He also was a mentor to noted film director and Sac State alumnus Ryan Coogler, whose Black Panther was a 2019 Academy Awards Best Picture nominee.
On a cool spring afternoon, though, Pomo was just happy to be back at work after abdominal surgery in February. “It’s absolutely wonderful to be among my dear students,” he said.
The following are highlights from an interview conducted that day:
Ahmed V. Ortiz: You’ve done a lot of things on this campus. What’s most gratifying?
Roberto Pomo: The job that really molded me as an administrator was being the first director of the Honors Program. I had an opportunity to build the infrastructure from scratch. How many times do you get that opportunity in a career?
But above all it provided me an opportunity to remain closely aligned to the students, which is what I love most about my job. I love teaching.
AVO: What concern do you have for today’s students?
RP: What I fear is that our students are becoming either reticent about expressing their opinion because they don’t want to be perceived as confrontational, or the opposite. My students, for instance, are really trying to figure out which way they’re going to go in this discourse.
AVO: How much does that come up in your classes?
RP: All the time. But I also teach Multicultural Perspectives of American Films. I’m always talking about race, class, and sexuality. And the students are engaged in the classroom. But once you put them out into the world, they’re very skeptical about voicing their opinions.
Most of them work. They have to keep their jobs. They don’t have the luxury that we had in the late ’60s and early ’70s because then there was national momentum. Right now there is division. It’s tough to be them.
AVO: Your kids are middle age. What did you learn at home raising kids that you were able to apply in the classroom, or vice versa?
RP: I would have been a better father if I would have had 10 or 12 years as a university professor, dealing with students from different walks of life. I would have been more patient and more understanding. I wish I could do it all over again.
AVO: Do you still communicate with Ryan Coogler?
RP: Once in a while by email. Ryan loves this place. He’s just in a totally different sphere, trying to figure it all out. When you get to that level, everybody’s pulling on your coattails. But he’s a remarkable human being. It couldn’t have happened to a better person. I’m just thrilled. And when the time is right, I think he’ll come (back to Sac State).