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Class Acts

Get to know these faculty members outside of the classroom. Each outstanding educator represents one of the four sectors of the college — communications, humanities, performing arts and social sciences.

Farah Al-Nakib, Cal PolyFarah Al-Nakib / History Department

Specialty Area: Modern Middle East and Urban History / Years at Cal Poly: 1 

What are your research/scholarly pursuits? I write about the history of Kuwait (where I am from) and the Arab Gulf region. My first book was on the urban history and transformation of Kuwait before and after the discovery of oil. I am currently working on a second book on collective memory, trauma and nostalgia, as well as a project on Kuwait’s 1991 oil fires.

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? The same as everyone else’s: the couch, some wine, my cat and Netflix.

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How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? I was hired as a historian of the Middle East as part of the CLA’s diversity cluster hire in 2017 (though I deferred my start date). I was attracted by the opportunity to be involved in the university’s initiative to increase diversity and inclusive teaching on campus, and to teach the history of a region that constantly appears in the news but that few people really know much about.

What individuals have inspired you? I’ve been lucky to have had two incredible historians of the modern Middle East as my mentors—Dina Khoury and Nelida Fuccaro. Both scholars shaped and inspired me as a historian and as a woman venturing into what has historically been a male-dominant field.

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? My favorite class to teach at Cal Poly has been “The City in the Modern World,” which is offered as an upper-level GE. The course deals with various social and cultural issues related to the development of modern cities across the world in the 19th and 20th centuries that continue to shape our urban experiences today. 

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? Cooking is my absolute favorite thing to do. Reading and writing for pleasure (when I can!), going to the beach, boxing, and watching baseball are all on the list too. 

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? James Joyce’s Ulysses. You can read that book over and over again and keep discovering new things. 

Do you have a favorite getaway location? Stinson Beach in Marin County.

What is a fact about you that few know? Between the ages of 4 and 18, I spent my summers away from Kuwait with my family in Mission Viejo, CA. When Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait in August 1990, I ended up living and going to school there for a year until Kuwait was liberated. 

Brian Healy, Cal PolyBrian Healy / Theatre and Dance Department

Specialty Area: Stage Design and Theatre Production / Years at Cal Poly: 2 

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? Cal Poly is known to have outstanding faculty and students committed to truly engaged learning. Both groups inspire me daily and motivate me to be my very best. Our scene shop is an exemplary Learn by Doing environment.

What individuals have inspired you? As an undergrad, I had mentors that entrusted me with great responsibility. This trust nurtured my personal confidence and taught me to be a steward and ambassador of the program and the arts. I feel beholden to pass this trust and opportunity on to my students.

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What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? I am a stage designer, so most of my endeavor is focused to that end. Technology in technical production is advancing unimaginably fast, especially in stage lighting and projection. Most practitioners must spend a great deal of time staying ahead of that curve; that is certainly true for me. I am fortunate to work in a few professional venues that serve as beta testing labs for theatrical technologies. This means much of my end user experience in production is shaping how certain luminaries can be enhanced for other professionals. I am also intrigued by virtual reality and the solutions it might offer to designers and technicians with limited laboratory spaces. 

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? Is this a trick question? All of them! I am fortunate to teach classes that directly engage our Learn by Doing philosophy, or what I like to think of as “discovery courses.” For example, students in Stagecraft gain hands-on experience implementing stage designs while also gaining invaluable practical craft and trade skills. Student designers perfect process and define personal aesthetic through multiple conceptual designs, and are frequently invited to then collaborate on department productions.  

What is your favorite class/student moment? Any time I get to witness an a-ha moment in the classroom. There are few moments more inspiring in life than seeing a student’s passion for or understanding of a subject catch fire. Lives have changed in these moments, and it is spectacular to behold.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? I have two young kids, so being a great parent to them currently fills most of my life away from Cal Poly, but when time permits, I enjoy exploring new studio art and design mediums. Recently I’ve started working (dabbling) in clay pottery. It’s messy and challenging; very enjoyable. I also write and illustrate poems and stories for young readers, but don’t know that I’m quite ready to share these with a larger audience just yet.  

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? Just one? How about one box? I suppose given the circumstances of the question, I’d say "The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information" by Paul Carter. Make no mistake, that book is first and foremost a survival guide! 

Do you have a favorite getaway location? This is a funny question. I live near the ocean on the Central Coast of California. I feel like I won the lottery of staycation destinations. Truly, there are seemingly endless adventures and discoveries just right here in SLO County; I feel like I could spend the rest of my vacations discovering California.

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? St Louis Blues Hockey. 51 years without a Stanley Cup and counting… Chocolate, but don’t try to add anything to it. Just chocolate. Dark chocolate. Conspiracy theories.

Jane Lehr, Cal Poly

Jane Lehr / Women's and Gender Studies Department (WGS)

Specialty Area: Science & Engineering Education and Social Justice / Years at Cal Poly: 12

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? Gender, Race, Culture, Science and Technology. I love this course. I love the work that students and I do together in it. We focus a large amount of attention on the ways in which gender, racial and other norms both inform and are formed by scientific and medical knowledge production practices.

What is a fact about you that few know? I am a pretty serious sports fan. (Go, Sixers!)

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How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? My Ph.D. is in Science & Technology Studies and Women’s Studies from Virginia Tech. I was hired at Cal Poly to teach the course that is now called ES/WGS 350: Gender, Race, Culture, Science & Technology – a required course in the new Comparative Ethnic Studies major that accepted its first incoming students in fall 2007 – and to develop new courses and new collaborations at the intersection of science, technology and society. This is exactly the type of work I wanted to do post-Ph.D., and I was delighted to be invited to Cal Poly to do it!

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? I want to change the world! More specifically, my research focuses on the complex relationships between gender, race, culture, science, technology and education, and reflects a long-term interest in how engineers, scientists, and persons who are “not scientists” / “not engineers” – e.g., “the public(s)” – are educated and trained to conceptualize and participate in scientific, technical, and other types of knowledge production and decision-making practices, paying particular attention to social factors including gender, race, class, and nation.  

What is your favorite class/student moment? One of my very favorite things that has happened this year is that I and others in Ethnic Studies and WGS were able to create space for a group of trans students of color to design and implement a self-directed Critical Trans of Color Theorizing course in Fall 2018 – facilitated by Carlos Gomez (they/them) (amazing double major in Ethnic Studies & Sociology; minors in Gender, Race, Culture, Science & Technology; Indigenous Studies in Natural Resources and the Environment; Queer Studies; and Women’s & Gender Studies). Reader, I cried when the students shared out what they learned from this opportunity with the Women’s & Gender Studies faculty at the end of the Fall term. Why the tears? I cried listening to the students describe their experiences of multi-layered, and multi-faceted oppression, including many experiences at Cal Poly. Second, I cried because the students also shared the ways in which claiming their education through this self-directed and self-designed course became a space to claim their lives as valuable and as beautiful and to claim their positions as powerful knowers and changemakers on this campus and in the world. This is transformative knowledge – not just for these students, but for Cal Poly and beyond.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? My most exciting hobby/extracurricular activity to share is stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga. But right now, I am most excited by the Pilates training I am getting at the Pilates Collective in the SLO Railroad District.  

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? Honestly, this would be awful for me. I read all of the time, including A LOT of “non-scholarly fiction.” (After I finally finished my dissertation in 2006, I was delighted to re-engage with fiction and give myself permission to read it!) In my ideal world, I would find a multi-volume series packaged together in one book. 

Do you have a favorite getaway location? My favorite getaway thing to do is visit my best friend and her family in Rochester, NY! I love them! They love me! They are such an important part of my home.

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? It always starts with French fries. 

Xiaoying Rong, Cal Poly

Xiaoying Rong / Graphic Communication Department

Specialty Area: Materials for printing, printing technologies, printing for electronics and functions / Years at Cal Poly: 14

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? Printed Electronics and Interactive Product Development. Students work on projects that involve programming, setting up electronic circuits and designing products with both static graphics and interactive electronic components. Many aspects are outside [their] comfort zones; however… the final products are fun and rewarding.

What are your hobbies? I like gardening, even though I constantly ruin my flower beds and vegetables every year. It is a good way to relax.

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How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? The Graphic Communication Department has one of the best programs in this area. My background and research interests fit well with the department's long term development goal. Cal Poly is an institute with great reputation in undergraduate education. Weather is unbeatable considering I have been living in the areas that have brutal winters in the past.

What individuals have inspired you? I enjoyed several books written by Apple employees and the books about some individuals that made significant influence to the company. They tell the stories of how to marry the creativity and engineering skills for developing better products.

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? My background focuses on research in printing technologies that is for producing physical copies of graphical related products. My research includes understanding the properties of materials being used and the technologies for improving production quality. Printing, as a broad term of depositing materials on substrate, has been used for building electronics and other functional devices for graphics related applications, such as smart packaging and interactive marketing products. My focus is to experiment the effective procedures of building such functional devices through printing processes. This is a cross-disciplinary area which led me to many collaborations with colleagues in College of Engineering and College of Science and Mathematics. 

What is your favorite class/student moment? Every time I teach Printed Electronics, students look at me and question me as if I am going to turn them into an Electrical Engineering or Computer Science students, and then they realized that they have the capability of doing well in both design and engineering. I love the accomplished look on their faces after all the hard work paid off. My favorite words from them are “I didn’t know I can do this!”

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? I will bring the Peanuts Treasury. Snoopy makes me happy no matter where. 

Do you have a favorite getaway location? Hawaii, warm and exotic.

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? Eat a whole pack of fruit flavored beef jerky (Asian style, not salty, really sweet). I usually have to put myself on the tread mill after that. Too good to resist. Sleep in over the weekends, which makes my son think that moms are all lazy on weekends. I know many moms are not like me.

What is a fact about you that few know? I don't like giner. Only my parents and my husband know it. 



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