Dec 14, 2017
Wyatt Oroke (History, ’13) was recognized on The Ellen Show for his dedication as an eighth grade humanities teacher at City Springs Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland.
In just five years of teaching in Baltimore, Maryland, this middle school teacher has already left his mark on the city.
“There have been neighborhoods in Baltimore that have been under-resourced and underserved for centuries based on political decisions, be it segregated housing or redlining certain neighborhoods,” said Oroke. “Our students come from the highest poverty rates out of any school in Baltimore City.”
In the classroom, Oroke has seen the effects of homelessness, gun violence, and poverty on many of his students. He aims to show empathy and find different ways to interact and connect with students.
How it all began
As a student at Cal Poly, Oroke’s senior project was a critique of Teach For America, a national corps of teachers who teach in low-income areas, aiming to provide students opportunities similar to students living and learning in more affluent areas. His research on the program led him to apply upon graduating.
“It seemed like a program that aligned with my overall values and my belief in equal access to educational opportunities,” said Oroke.
When Oroke looked over Teach For America’s regions, he noticed that Baltimore had the highest turnover rate for teachers consistently. There was a teacher shortage in the area.
“I decided that if I was going to do the work and wanted to be a teacher, I might as well go somewhere that needed teachers. So, I ended up in Baltimore,” said Oroke.
City Springs is a community charter school, meaning that Oroke is able to write his own curriculum as opposed to following the city-scripted curriculum. This is one of his many passions in the teaching field.
Oroke said his professors at Cal Poly inspired him in his teaching career.
“The history department is unbelievable and brilliant, and I didn’t have a single class I didn’t enjoy,” said Oroke. “Every professor that I interacted with showed me a different side of the world that I didn’t have exposure to beforehand. It really helped shape the way I viewed the world and the people in it.”
In addition, Oroke’s work as a Resident Advisor for Trinity Hall and Sequoia Hall taught him valuable lessons about lending a helping hand.
“Being able to work in a mentorship capacity helped me better understand how to help others and what that help can and should look like. I think that really prepared me to be a teacher,” said Oroke. “All 120 students are very different people, just like all 300 residents were very different people. The support they needed looked very different.”
Meeting challenges with advocacy
Teaching middle school can be a challenge regardless of the school, but Oroke, known as Mr. O by his students, also sees the challenges his students face in their neighborhood.
As a Women and Gender Studies minor at Cal Poly, Oroke learned how to combat injustice with advocacy. Oroke’s students may not have equal access to resources, but that does not stop him from finding ways to better support his students.
Oroke said that throughout his education, he explored and studied statistics that reflected the inequities that burden marginalized groups in the U.S. He said these statistics were often negative about communities around the world, including his community in Baltimore.
“I have slowly realized that I have a lot of those statistics in my hands now. It’s my responsibility to control how those statistics go and what they look like — like the statistic of how many students go from 8th grade to 9th grade. That’s my responsibility. How many students are on reading level in my community, that’s part of my responsibility. How many individuals end up heading to college or having high-paying jobs or being successful... A lot of those are in my hands now. I feel my role as an educator is to impact those statistics in a way that betters our community and really change those statistics to give our community a better outlook.”
His advocacy has led to the start of Gay Straight Alliance at one of his former middle schools, a new teacher mentorship program at Teach For America, and teacher representation on the board of GLSEN Maryland.
Oroke hopes to continue his advocacy and inspire his students to do the same. His students’ advocacy led to a successful fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey victims, which garnered attention from the media.
The Ellen appearance
When Oroke introduced a lesson in class surrounding Hurricane Harvey, his students were eager to help. The students wanted to hold a fundraiser for victims of the recent disaster in Texas.
“We often avoid fundraisers because that’s not the way our community shows their love. They show it in different ways. But, the students wanted to, because we had done lessons around Hurricane Harvey,” said Oroke.
So, the students set a goal of $500.
Despite coming from low-income neighborhoods, the students doubled their goal, raising over $1,000 for hurricane victims. This caught the attention of local news stations and the city councilman.
Soon enough, the total reached $3,000. After a viral tweet from New York Times reporter Erica L. Green celebrated the students’ accomplishment, Ellen Degeneres caught wind of the fundraiser at City Springs. Oroke was featured on The Ellen Show shortly after.
“A lot of people ask if it was fun to be on the show. I would say it was stressful to be on the show. I felt the weight of my community on me in that moment. I knew I was not just representing myself when I was up there. I was representing all 120 of my kids, all 700 kids at City Springs, all 87,000 students in Baltimore city, and all 600,000 residents in Baltimore. So, I really felt a lot of pressure to make sure what I said in that moment was representative of the entire community I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I have watched that tape about a million times at this point. I felt like I am sitting here, but really, it should be the kids sitting here. While I was humbled and honored to be there representing my community, I also knew it was the students who got me to that place.
“My community has given me a pretty positive response, and it makes me feel good that I tried to represent their voices well,” said Oroke.
Degeneres gave City Springs a gift of $25,000 to go toward resources for the school. Though plans for the money have not yet been finalized, Oroke, along with other teachers at City Springs, asked each class what they would like to see the money go toward. Oroke said common answers were greater access to field trips, books, and athletic equipment.
“Since I was on the show, I’ve gotten thousands of messages and phone calls and emails, some from people I don’t know, and some from people I do. There was one message in particular that I got the day after I was on the show. It was a student I had last year named Nyshae. She goes to Western High School in Baltimore — one of our top high schools, an all-girls school in the city. She messaged me, and it had nothing to do with Ellen. All it said was, ‘I just wanted you to know that my English teacher this year says I’m one of the strongest writers in the class, and all of us who went to City Springs are the top writers in the school. So I wanted to thank you for teaching us how to write so well last year.’
“That was the best message I got because it was like my job had found success. I’m allowing the students to find success in my classroom, which is translating as they leave. The hard thing about being an 8th grade teacher is that you see your kids for a year and then they’re gone. And here, they go to tons of different high schools across the city. So it’s hard to keep track of them and know how they’re all doing. It’s hard to know if the lessons in your room are paying off. So, knowing that, in her eyes that the lesson has paid off, it’s made her a stronger writer, it’s giving her greater access to stronger classes, allowing her to be on track to take honors and AP courses, which will allow her to be on track to go to college… All of those things have a big ripple effect. So, to see that I at least have a small part of that has been really cool for me.”
Dec 14, 2017
Cal Poly’s student-run radio station 91.3 KCPR has taken the number one spot on the Great Value Colleges list of 30 Amazing College Radio Stations of 2017-18. Great Value Colleges is a website dedicated to helping students make decisions about college education.
“We have a really great group of hardworking different individuals at KCPR,” said General Manager and fourth-year journalism student Brian Robins. “We use our differences and our strengths, which I think is unique to our organization. Being surrounded by people who share the same love of music is powerful.”
The list of rankings was released in September and also features college radio stations such as Georgetown University and UC Berkeley. According to Great Value College, Cal Poly took the top spot on the list based on their dedication to university students and culture.
“The mission statement of KCPR is ‘where different matters’ and we really embody this as a brand across all platforms,” said KCPR Faculty Advisor Keli Moore. “We’re developing our news and podcasts. We are going to start working with the PR students to get more brand awareness. There’s a lot of opportunity out there and we should be using every part of our team that we can.”
KCPR has been making waves on Cal Poly’s campus for almost 50 years, and has since grown to stream 24 hours a day from station headquarters in the journalism building. A number of structural and management changes within the last ten years have further integrated the station into the Journalism Department curriculum so that KCPR is now part of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s full circle media organization. The Mustang Media Group includes a weekly print newspaper, a news website, a weekly TV broadcast and a business department which markets to the community and manages advertisement sales.
“Our programming has moved to appeal to a larger demographic on the Cal Poly campus,” said Robins. “We’ve really pushed new music in the last three years, and we’ve gotten a lot more structure as an organization. The structure helps preserve the college radio aspect,” he added. “We have a good working relationship with Mustang News, which allows us to have breaking news and be connected to the Journalism Department.”
“What makes KCPR unique is that we’re not just radio,” said fourth year economics major Jesse Hynes, a DJ, online music streaming director, and content team member. “We’re multimedia. We have a website and social media and are present on many different platforms.”
For more music from KCPR, listen live on their website and follow their weekly playlists on Spotify.
Dec 13, 2017
Yiwen Chiu, a professor in Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, and Cal Poly English Professor Jason Peters have been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Chiu and Peters will receive approximately $140,000 over three years to pilot an undergraduate curriculum that combines environmental science and rhetoric. One goal of the new curriculum is to teach students how to best communicate about sustainable agriculture.
“Creating sustainable agriculture requires scientific skills like quantitative analysis, sure, but it also requires students to learn to talk to a range of stakeholders in all sorts of situations to get people working together in innovative ways based on what the science is telling us,” said Peters. “And that’s where environmental rhetoric and communication comes in. With the program Yiwen and I are designing, students will learn how to get legislators, farmers, environmental scientists, citizens, and consumers all on the same page and collaborating to make the science of sustainability work.”
The curriculum will consist of required courses in environmental life-cycle analysis combined with courses in public rhetoric and environmental communication. The project is a partnership between professors and researchers in the two academic departments and the University Writing and Rhetoric Center at Cal Poly.
The grants are funded through NIFA’s Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program, which aims to help higher education institutions teach the next generation of food and agricultural science professionals. HEC also seeks to improve local economies by supporting the development of degree programs that respond to emerging employment opportunities.
Chiu and Peters will design and implement the pilot curriculum over the next three years. They plan to publish the results of the collaboration.
“We’ve learned so much from other scholars and teachers working across traditional disciplinary lines on these issues all around the world, and we hope to be able to contribute what we learn from doing this work at Cal Poly,” said Peters.
Nov 15, 2017
The Modern Languages and Literatures Department has a new name – World Languages and Cultures.
In fall 2017, the department officially changed its name to World Languages and Cultures to adapt to current changes and trends among language departments in universities across the country.
According to Department Chair Dr. John Thompson, the department’s name change has not changed the major’s curriculum.
“Modern languages and literatures reflects what we do because we believe in teaching literature, but we believe that literature is a part of culture,” said Thompson.
The department will continue to teach literature as an aspect of culture, but the department’s former name did not encompass every aspect of culture the department aims to teach.
“We changed the name so it would be broader,” said Thompson. “We want to be more inclusive by including all aspects of culture in the name.”
In addition to the name change, the department also created a new opportunity for bilingual students. The department partnered with the Cal Poly School of Education to develop a new single-subject teaching credential for bilingual students.
Dr. Silvia Marijuan, world languages and cultures professor, helped develop the credential so students would have the opportunity to teach another language in schools.
“When I came to Cal Poly, I thought we needed to create more opportunities for the students and for the world languages and cultures majors,” said Marijuan. “This will help the Latino community on campus because they are bilingual, and they have a lot of linguistic skills.”
Currently, two students are enrolled in the language single-subject credential program. Both students are postgraduate Spanish speakers hoping to pursue a career teaching Spanish.
“It’s becoming more commonplace for people to learn another language because they think it’ll benefit them later to be bilingual,” said Jasmine Elliot, who is currently enrolled in the credential program. “Especially here in California, where a high percentage of our population speaks Spanish, if not some other language. More and more people are taking Spanish in high school, making it a high-need field.”
Students of the single-subject credential work with teachers at Morro Bay High School and San Luis Obispo High School and learn how to teach the language firsthand — yet another way students are practicing Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Marijuan. “We are happy to create new programs and also help the students.”
Nov 13, 2017
2017 College of Liberal Arts Honored Alumnus - Chris Trapani
About Christopher Trapani
Christopher Trapani graduated in 1990 with a degree in political science. He is the founder and CEO of Sereno Group, a residential real estate company generating more than $3 billion in sales annually. Sereno Group was named the “Best Place to Work” by the Bay Area News Group for eight consecutive years from 2009-2016. Trapani is committed to the environment and community development through philanthropy. He created Sereno Group’s 1% For Good program, through which one percent of gross commissions are automatically donated to local charities, resulting in nearly $500,000 in donations annually. For the company’s philanthropic work, Sereno Group was recently honored as one of the top 50 corporate givers in the Bay Area by the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Trapani is a member of the Cal Poly President’s Council of Advisors and is playing a lead role in raising funds for space for the Expressive Technology Studios in the new Science and Agriculture Research and Teaching Complex scheduled to open on campus in 2021. Trapani’s wife Kirsten is a Cal Poly alumna and two of their children, Gabi and AJ, are currently Cal Poly students.
Other 2017 Cal Poly Honored Alumni from CLA
Two other 2017 Cal Poly Honored Alumni are also graduates from the College of Liberal Arts!
Steve S. Jones
B.A., Political Science, 1992
CEO, Allied Universal
CPAA - Distinguished Service Award
Kelley Bannon Lashley
B.A., Political Science, 1995
Partner Calleton, Merritt, De Francisco & Bannon LLP
Nov 13, 2017
The Women’s and Gender Studies Department launched a new queer studies minor in fall quarter of 2017.
Students and faculty gathered in the Robert E. Kennedy Library atrium on Oct. 4 for a launch party to celebrate and speak about the significance of the new minor.
The minor has been in development for years, according to Jane Lehr, chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Lehr said the minor is a step in the direction of a more equitable and inclusive campus and world.
“Courses and Learn by Doing opportunities will examine how constructions, experiences, and expressions of sexuality change over time, and are lived in relation to interlocking systems of race, ethnicity, class, nation, age, disability and gender,” said Lehr.
The minor consists of 24 units. Core classes required for completion of the minor include sexuality studies, queer anthropology and queer ethnic studies, among others.
Queer studies is not yet common among universities, according to Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Jozi DeLeon. The addition of the queer studies minor is a progressive step for Cal Poly as the university strives for more diversity and inclusivity.
“We don’t see this at every university,” said DeLeon. “The fact that we see this here at Cal Poly speaks volumes about the commitment of this university to recognize one of the most marginalized groups and to do work around creating understanding, equality and inclusion.”
The creation of this minor was a collaborative effort between students and faculty. The Queer Student Union paired with faculty to create the Queer Studies Working Group (QSWG), a group dedicated to the creation and implementation of the queer studies minor. The QSWG started meeting in 2015 to develop the minor.
“Queer studies is about being critical. It’s about not accepting the way society is now, not saying that this is good enough, and thinking critically about the priorities of the mainstream LGBTQ movement,” said political science senior and QSWG member Matt Klepfer.
Born out of students’ drive to Learn by Doing, the queer studies minor will allow for even more opportunities to practice Cal Poly’s guiding philosophy.
Queer Studies Launch Party Gallery
Nov 8, 2017
Bill update, August 27, 2018:
AB2385 — the California State Assembly bill written by Cal Poly political science students, requiring textbook publishers to disclose major differences between editions — potentially saving students money statewide has officially been signed into law!
Bill update from Professor Chris Den Hartog, May 11, 2018:
In early May, California Bill Project students traveled to Sacramento to lobby for the bill. They attended a series of seminars with lobbyists and staff to discuss the bill, along with their roles, career paths and advice for getting into government work. The students also attended a reception with Sacramento Cal Poly alumni.
Three of the students testified at an Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing on the bill; other students stood to briefly express their support after the testimony. The committee voted 12-0 to recommend passage of the bill and sent it to the floor.
We are now waiting for the floor to vote on it. If they pass the bill, which seems fairly likely, it will then go to the Senate.
Students enrolled in a new political science course are drafting a bill that will be sent to the State Legislature in hopes of passing the bill into state law.
The class, California Bill Project, is taught by Professor Chris Den Hartog, with help from former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian. The class is working together to draft a bill acceptable for legislation.
“A class like this hasn’t been done before. It’s a new class built around this project,” said Den Hartog.
The class was formed when Achadijan brought the idea of students drafting a bill to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Den Hartog agreed to teach the class, with help from Achadijan, who has extensive experience in the State Legislature. Achadijan has attended nearly every class to assist the students in writing an effective bill.
Den Hartog said real-world opportunities like this are not always available in the Political Science Department. This opportunity will give students firsthand experience in the legislative process.
“A lot of us want to go into legislation, public policy, or law school later on, and to
have the opportunity to make such a positive impact at the state level is very powerful,” said political science sophomore Jasmin Fashami.
The bill they are proposing would lower the amount that students at public universities pay for textbooks.
Students were asked to choose a problem they wanted to see addressed, to develop a specific policy that would help and to think critically about the pros and cons. They are also considering who is likely to oppose the bill and other laws that are applicable.
While the students are working diligently to write a successful bill, they are encountering the real-life challenges of getting a bill to the State Legislature.
“Potentially, it could have a large impact. Things have been moving along well so far, but it’s the nature of the legislative process that’s unpredictable,” said Den Hartog. “One of the things that students will understand by the end of the year is that even if you have a good idea, it’s not necessarily easy to pass it into law. It’s a complicated process. But it’s exciting.”
Students will finish drafting the bill this quarter. After the bill is written, students will travel to Sacramento to lobby state legislators. Den Hartog also hopes to see students testify at committee hearings to move the bill to the governor’s desk and be passed into law by the end of the academic year.
“Hopefully, it’ll benefit students – and not just Cal Poly students. If the class succeeds, it could help thousands and tens of thousands of students in the state,” said Den Hartog.
The opportunity for a bill to pass is exciting for students. However, regardless of the outcome, Den Hartog said the experience will leave students with a deeper understanding of the state’s legislative process.
Nov 8, 2017
Sophie Bergland (Women’s Golf / Psychology Major)
Junior golfer Sophie Bergland was named to the 2017 Big West Conference Spring All-Academic Team after leading the Cal Poly women’s golf team to its most successful season in its 17-year history.
Bergland averaged 75.8 strokes per round with three top-10 finishes and six rounds of par or better.
In April, she earned her first collegiate title at the Bobcat Desert Invitational hosted by Montana State at The Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, Arizona.
The Mustangs claimed their first Big West Conference championship and earned a trip to the NCAA Albuquerque Regional.
Sierra Hyland (Softball / Graphic Communications Major)
Sierra Hyland completed her historic four-year career in 2017 by becoming the Cal Poly softball program’s first NFCA All-America selection in eight seasons.
Named Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year for a second time, Hyland closed her 2017 senior season ranked third among NCAA Division I pitchers in shutouts (12), fifth in ERA (1.10), 10th in strikeouts (275), 20th in hits allowed per seven innings (4.38), 22nd in victories (24) and 51st in strikeouts per seven innings (7.3).
The only four-time NFCA All-Region selection in Cal Poly history, Hyland also tossed two perfect games and one no-hitter in 2017.
Hyland was a record 18-time Big West Player of the Week selection at Cal Poly and closed her career ranked first in Big West history for strikeouts (965) and appearances (161). She’s also Cal Poly’s career leader in shutouts (38), complete games (104) and starts (122).
In April, the Chicago Bandits selected Hyland with the fourth overall selection in the National Pro Fastpitch Draft.
Additional CLA/Academic and Athletic Honors
The following Cal Poly student-athletes were placed on the All-Academic Team by the Big West Conference, Pac-12 Conference or Mountain Pacific Sports Federation following the 2017 Spring Quarter for their achievements in the classroom. They maintained a minimum grade-point average of 3.0 and competed in at least 50 percent of their team’s events in the 2017-18 academic year.
- Dani Orlandi, Swimming and Diving, Journalism
- Caitlin Cox, Swimming and Diving, Graphic Communication
- Kevin Morgan, Baseball, Sociology
- Trent Shelton, Baseball, Communication Studies
- Sophie Bergland, Women’s Golf, Psychology
- Desiree Gillaspy, Women’s Golf, Graphic Communication
- Josh Ortlip, Men’s Tennis, English
- Abigail Bacharach, Women’s Tennis, Communication Studies
- Jessica Escalante, Women’s Track and Field, Communication Studies
- Nina Rondoni, Women’s Track and Field, English
- Ashley Windsor, Women’s Track and Field, Psychology
Oct 23, 2017
Cal Poly journalism senior Jillian Smith was crowned Miss California 2017 and was awarded with over $25,000 in scholarships for continuing her education. The competition was held on July 1 in Fresno, Calif.
Smith recalled wanting to be Miss California since she was five years old. “I never looked at it like I was preparing to be in a pageant,” Smith said. “I looked at it more like I was preparing to be the best version of myself that I can be when I walked into that interview room or when I walked onstage.”
Now that she has fulfilled this dream, Smith is taking one year off from school to dedicate her time to the duties of Miss California. She will return to Cal Poly in fall 2018 and is set to graduate in December 2018.
The Miss America Foundation is the largest scholarship provider in the world. The scholarships earned will help Smith complete her Bachelor’s degree.
“It opens up doors that I didn’t even know were possible,” Smith said.
The scholarships will also allow Smith to pursue her Master’s degree — something she had never considered before. Now that she has the opportunity, Smith said she will take time to consider her options regarding Master’s programs.
Smith said her experience as a journalism major helped her understand the role of the media better, thus helping her excel in the interview portion of the competition.
“My major has definitely made me more aware of how the media works,” Smith said. “I’ve been able to talk about that more in the interview room when it comes to how the media portrays current event issues.”
In addition to the $25,000 scholarship, Smith received a $1,000 Interview Award Scholarship for her excellence in the interview room.
Smith also said she believes her experience in Miss America will make her a better journalist. As for her career after Miss California, Smith ultimately sees herself involved in entertainment media.
“I’ve always figured that if I can do something with my degree that makes people happy and makes people feel good at the end of the day, that would be ideal,” Smith said.
Oct 16, 2017
Two Cal Poly Spanish-language debate team members finished as finalists at the largest international Spanish-language university debate competition — the Campeonato Mundial Universitario de Debate en Español (CMUDE) — at the University of Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City this summer.
Throughout the 10-day competition, biology senior Megan Boyd and business senior Yessenia Sanchez argued their way into the final round in a competition against 300 other participants from all over the world including Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and more.
“It was nerve-racking because we were debating against Spanish speaking teams from top Spanish speaking universities like in Colombia,” said Sanchez of the debate in Guatemala. “I’m glad I lived through that experience because it made me stronger as a Spanish speaker and in my role in the community. I really like the community that the debate team fosters where we share ideas that should be important to everyone. These ideas can range from immigration, to any other political arguments happening in the country and in the world.”
“Boyd and Sanchez’s groundbreaking success in the CMUDE represents the expansion of the Cal Poly debate team into the Spanish language world of debate,” said Marion Hart, Cal Poly Spanish-language team coach and a lecturer in the World Languages and Cultures (WLC) Department.
“It extends Cal Poly’s historic recognition in the national and international worlds of competitive academic debate,” added Christopher Skiles, interim director of forensics at Cal Poly.
The Cal Poly debate program initiated its first Spanish-language debate team in January 2017, under Hart’s direct coaching. With guidance from Skiles and Assistant Director of Forensics John Patrick, Hart worked with a dedicated group of seven students to launch this new addition to the longstanding Cal Poly debate program.
During the 2017-18 academic year, the Cal Poly debate team will participate in four intercollegiate debate tournaments in fall quarter and six in winter quarter. Internationally, they plan to compete at the World University Debating Championship in Mexico City, the Pan-Pacific Debate Championships in Hawaii, the Pan-American University Debate Championship, and the 2018 CMUDE in Chile.