Last month, the Cal Poly Pomona community suffered the tragic loss of Michael Reibel, a devoted professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology. In teaching geography at CPP for 22 years, many came to know Reibel as a vibrant educator and mentor.
Department Chair Kristen Conway-Gómez was a friend of Reibel’s for the past 15 years and shared the esteemed view many had of the late professor.
“He was genuinely kind and cared about people. He didn’t like to see suffering and was very empathetic,” said Conway-Gomez. “He was such a great and fair conversationalist, and he knew so much about geography and the world.”
Reibel made a point to be heavily involved in academic activities on campus. He served as acting chair of the CPP Faculty Geographic Information Systems Council for nine years and was an involved faculty member in the Pi Gamma Mu student honors society.
He was not only an experienced instructor, but an avid social justice advocate. Focusing on the human aspect of geography, a large portion of his research concentrated on issues such as organ donor demographics and renter’s rights within different populations.
“He was really big on helping the people at the bottom of the totem poles in society and asking what we could do to help them,” said Jason Ambacher, a geography lecturer and colleague.
Among the numerous students that Reibel formed comradery with, alumna Diana Degroot (‘18, geography) was one who considered him an inspiration and mentor even beyond her years at Cal Poly Pomona.
“When I was a freshman, I wasn’t fully sure I wanted to do geography, but he was always so open and understanding,” recalled Degroot. “He took the time to help his students and he encouraged me a lot. He was also just hilarious when you got to know him outside of the classroom and, because of him, I was able to get an internship that really helped me expand my interests in GIS and working with communities and that’s a path I’m still following now.”
Deemed a challenging but compassionate professor by students and faculty alike, Reibel’s dedication to his field, though strong, was not the only area of his personality those around him admired.
“He loved to talk about hiking and cooking and his family,” said Conway-Gómez. “His wife and two kids were definitely the high points of his life and those that knew him for longer than I have said that they really changed his life. He was really a good man and a devoted father.”
Reibel also had a notable creative streak and had his poetry published in the Pomona Valley Review. He enjoyed sharing musical knowledge from his years as a bass player with those he knew.
Ambacher, a bass player himself, became “two peas in a pod” with Reibel when he was hired five years ago.
“We would go to Innovation Brew Works, like he would do often with people he knew, and have these wonderful conversations about so many things like class rock music and food and life,” said Ambacher. “Mike was just real. He was rare for an academic.”
The memorial service honoring Michael Reibel took place via Zoom on Nov. 27 and welcomed at least 90 participants including former students, faculty, friends, family and many others who mourned the loss of the beloved professor.
“I remember one day we got into a discussion about how you don’t go into education to get rich, but Mike looked at me and he told me, ‘If you stick with it, you’re going to get a lot of love out of this job,” said Ambacher. “The campus really lost a very valuable asset. We need more professors that had Mike’s spirit and that are able to find that perfect balance in education.”
(Feature image courtesy of Kristen Conway Gómez)
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