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CLA Honored Alumni 2017

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

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New Queer Studies Minor Launched Fall 2017

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


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Students in New Political Science Course Draft a Bill

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.


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CLA Athletes Honored at Big West Conference

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


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Cal Poly Journalism Senior Crowned Miss California 2017

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.


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Members of Inaugural Cal Poly Spanish-language Debate Team Ranked as World Finalists

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.


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Ethnic Studies and Sociology Student Receives CSU Trustees’ Award

Oct 9, 2017

A Cal Poly ethnic studies and sociology student from Santa Maria has received the 2017 California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement.

The Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented annually to one student from each of the CSU system’s 23 campuses. Jeremiah Hernandez, 29, like his counterparts throughout the state, was selected for superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service, and financial need. As part of the recognition, he will receive a $6,000 scholarship as the state’s Michael A. and Debe Lucki Scholar.

“I’m honored and humbled,” Hernandez said. “Recognition is not something that I’m particularly fond of. What is more exciting for me is seeing the possibility of being another positive example for my community of Santa Maria.”

That dedication influenced ethnic studies Professor Jenell Navarro to recommend him for the statewide award.

“Jeremiah stands out among the hundreds of students who come through my classes,” she said. “He is an insightful and critical thinker, and he is keenly aware of the importance of experiential knowledge in the academy and the world.”

Hernandez took two courses with Navarro after transferring to Cal Poly last fall. He also works as one of her teaching assistants.

“He is willing to speak up on behalf of underrepresented students and ensure their voices are not pushed to the periphery or represented inaccurately,” Navarro said. “He is a young scholar in his own right who wields his knowledge with purpose and intent to correct social ills.”

The product of a working-class family, Hernandez understands that attending college is an important goal. However, life’s realities — earning a living, getting married and divorced, overcoming health challenges, and being a single father to daughter Savannah — kept him from reaching that goal for many years. Wanting to be a positive example to his daughter, the 2006 Santa Maria High graduate returned to Hancock College in 2012 after several academic false starts — this time more determined than ever.

He became a full-time student in 2014 and worked to raise his GPA from 0.4 to 3.78. The perseverance paid off. Based on his grades, leadership and community service, he was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa 2016 All-California Community College Academic First Team. Only 30 students in the state receive the recognition out of the more than 2.4 million enrolled in California’s 113 community colleges.

Hernandez graduated with an associate degree in liberal arts: social and behavioral sciences and was accepted at three CSU campuses.

“I chose Cal Poly for two reasons: my daughter and being close to our family; and so I could stay involved with the community of Santa Maria,” he said.

Overcoming struggles to succeed in school has inspired him to give back.

“My goal is to work in an educational field, particularly with underprivileged/underserved groups,” he said. “I’ve always kept an eye on being an academic counselor, and I’m planning on completing the single-subject credential program for teaching at a high school in Santa Maria. Ultimately, I’m planning on pursuing a doctorate so I’ll be able to work with students at both the high school and college levels, particularly to help bridge the gap between ‘underachieving’ schools and higher education.”

Navarro said Hernandez’s “life experiences” will benefit others.

“He is an incredibly hard-working student, parent and community member who is deeply invested in changing the educational system so that education becomes a project of freedom for all members of society,” she said. “I believe he will do significant work with his degree, and he will continue to lift up first-generation students of color who need to see themselves represented in institutions of higher education.”


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College of Liberal Arts Recognizes Outstanding Seniors

Jul 7, 2017

Each year, the College of Liberal Arts, its departments and the university recognize outstanding students for their academic performance and contributions beyond the classroom. The students were recognized with certificates of achievement at the 2017 College of Liberal Arts student award ceremony Friday, June 16. 


  Student Award
Habib Placencia Adissi Contributions to the Objectives & Public Image of the University
Camille Lethcoe Contributions to the Objectives & Public Image of the College
Nicole Hayashida Contributions to the Objectives & Public Image of the College
Caroline Rein Service to the Community
Emma Annabelle Welden Academic Excellence


  Student Graduate Program
Shonna Davis English MA 
Crystal Smith-Knighton History MA
Jessica Gates Psychology MA
Nicole Angelini Masters of Public Policy (MPP)                       


  Student Major
Stacy Olson Anthropology and Geography
Habib Placencia Adissi Art and Design
Anna Kei Black-Hogins Child Development
Erica Claybrook Comparative Ethnic Studies
Laura Parker English
Lindsay Mitchell Graphic Communication
Benjamin Aster History
Leah Pezzetti Horner Journalism
Jasmine Elliott Modern Languages and Literatures
Carolyn Tingzon Philosophy
Luana Mello Political Science
Kaylene Lindsey Co Psychology
Jennifer MacMartin Sociology
Antonio Mata Theatre Arts


  Student Department Award
Kate Meissner Art and Design Excellence in Original Work
Sabrina Orro Theatre and Dance Excellence in Original Adaptation
Antonio Mata Theater and Dance Service to the Arts


The CLA Club Council presented three achievement awards for the 2016-17 academic year.

  • Student of the Year: Nicole Hayashida (Sociology)
  • Club of the Year: Communication Studies Club
  • Professor of the Year: Kelly Bennion (Psychology and Child Development)


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English Faculty Member Earns 2017 Learn by Doing Scholar Award

Jul 7, 2017

Catherine Waitinas, an associate professor in the English Department, earned the 2017 Learn by Doing Scholar Award.

Administered by Kennedy Library and a cross-college faculty committee, this award recognizes outstanding scholarship within Cal Poly’s signature Learn by Doing pedagogy.

Waitinas received $1,000 for her in-progress research, “Flipping Whitman: Collaborative Learn by Doing in the (Digital) Humanities.” Her work explores how digital manuscripts give students unique historical insights into Walt Whitman’s writing, comparing manuscripts with published poems.

The unification of digital humanities with hands-on literary study has already received praise from the Modern Language Association and promises to expand applications for other new instruction methods.

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Alumni Update Spring 2017

Jul 7, 2017

From new jobs to writing awards, read about what several CLA alumni have been up to recently.

  • Ann Neumann (English, '80) won the 2017 Ingrid Reti Literary Award for her essay that addresses a sense of natural and/or cultural place.

  • Tracy Ruiz (English, ’95) was featured in an article by The Reporter for receiving the Vacaville Unified School District Teacher of the Year award.

  • Ephraim Scott Sommers (English and Political Science, '06) published a new book of poems called “The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire,” which won the 2016 Patricia Bibby First Book Award from Tebot Bach Press.

  • Cory Morgan (History, ’03) was featured in an article in The Santa Clara Weekly for his position as a SCPD sergeant.

  • Silas Lyons (Journalism, ’96) was mentioned in a Record Searchlight article about his promotion to regional editing role in North Central California, leading the Record Searchlight as well as the Salinas Californian, Visalia Times-Delta, and Tulare Advance-Register.
  • Michelle Van Der Linden (Journalism, ’94) has been appointed the new spokesperson for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. An article in The Voice of OC covers the story.
  • Mike Annuzzi (Music, '09) is a Silicon Valley-based music professional, who visits the Central Coast regularly. He was a featured artist at the 2017 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention at the Anaheim Convention Center.
  • Rose Doylemason (Music, ’16) is in the Wind Ensemble, Philharmonia and Brass Ensembles at UCLA while studying for her Masters in bass trombone performance. She will also be teaching two sections of "African American Music of the 60's: Motown."

  • Alexis Rubell (Music, ’16) accepted a full-time choir position at Edgewood Middle/High School in West Covina.

  • Corrie Stallings (Music, ’09) won first prize ($10K) in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition and third place in the 2017 Giulio Gari Foundation International Vocal Competition that was held in New York.
  • Christina Lefevre Latner (MPP, '14) presented her paper, “Varieties of feminism in elections: The case of California,” at the 2017 Western Political Science Association conference in Vancouver, BC.
  • Katie Hoselton (Political Science, '14) is graduated this spring with her MA in International Economics and International Law from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) program.

  • Carlos Villacis (Political Science, '14) is now a federal contractor for the Department of Energy's Technologies Office in Washington, D.C. He graduated with his MA from George Washington in 2016.

  • Mitchell Haniger (Social Sciences, ’12) was featured in an article by Fan Rag Sports Network on his baseball career.
  • Kimberlee Vandenburg (Theatre, ’16) was accepted into Ohio University’s MFA Production Design & Technology program.


To be featured in the next Alumni Update section of The Link, email CLA Online Communication Specialist Krista Smith at with news you'd like to share. 

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