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Disability Alliance Club Leader Recognized as CLA's 2023 'Great Grad'

Headshot of M.W. Kaplan
M.W. Kaplan

By Jay Thompson

M.W. Kaplan weathered a worldwide pandemic with a compromised immune system and will leave Cal Poly inspired by the potential the future holds.

“My time at Cal Poly was difficult, but it also gave me a lot of opportunities to grow and create change,” said Kaplan, who uses they/them/theirs pronouns. 

They graduated in 2019 from the Biomedical and Allied Health STEM program at Glen Burnie High School in a suburb of Baltimore. BMAH allows highly motivated and academically eligible participants to study and explore career opportunities across the spectrum of healthcare professions. The Annapolis, Maryland, resident chose Cal Poly for its engineering and Learn by Doing path and proximity to family in California.

“Through Learn by Doing, I quickly found out mechanical engineering was not really what I wanted to spend my time doing,” Kaplan said. “In the Communications Department, applied projects and activities are what fostered my understanding of the theories I was learning and showed me how much I’ve learned. I’ve come out with the knowledge and confidence to apply what I learned and through Learn by Doing found that I have a passion for health communication that I plan to continue in my post-graduate life.”

Change was Kaplan’s mantra while at Cal Poly, but it wasn’t limited to just the field of study.

“The vast network of changemakers at Cal Poly, particularly the QTBIPOC (Queer and Trans/ Black/Indigenous/People of Color) and disability communities really inspired me to keep pushing boundaries while honoring my own limits,” the 21-year-old said. “Members of the Communications Department and Health Center — who saw a lot of me — were very vocal in their support, and my friends and family never failed to let me know how proud they were of everything I accomplished.”

Kaplan relied on Cal Poly’s Disability Resource Center for assistive technology devices that helped them to become a more successful student. Accessibility on such a hilly and spread-out campus, built over the past 100 years, and health difficulties “were my biggest challenges,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan carries a cane and is immunocompromised, which led to uncertainty and frustration in 2022 as Cal Poly and the world began to move past pandemic restrictions. A musculoskeletal pain disorder makes Kaplan suffer headaches, sore throats, nausea and fatigue almost daily. A steroid helps, which also lowers immunity, making the communication studies major more susceptible to other diseases — including COVID.

As head of the Disability Alliance club, Kaplan raised concerns of immunocompromised students to campus administrators and faculty — and in the process found a calling as an advocate.

“I think my biggest accomplishment was creating the Disability Alliance and getting to make a lot of change with an incredible community,” Kaplan said. “Representing at the club showcase — a dream since my first year — and Culture Fest, creating the ASI Secretary of Accessibility position, meeting internationally recognized disability rights activist Judy Huemann, and getting to lead the first-ever disability-inclusive WOW group are among the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Kaplan plans to work as a clinical medical assistant while preparing for a graduate nursing program.

“Ultimately, I want to help people, especially those who don’t normally get help,” they said. “I want to become a nurse practitioner to help fill massive healthcare gaps in rural areas and in patients with highly stigmatized mental health conditions.”

The university opened a lot of doors for the graduate-to-be.

“When I first started at Cal Poly, I was still new to understanding and living with my disabilities,” Kaplan said. “I was really worried about being able to manage them while I was a student and didn’t really have support or anyone who understood. Now, I’m very confident. I know how to manage my conditions. I’ve found a direction based around my passions and have built relationships with so many incredible people, it’s hard to believe sometimes!”


Read about this year's other "great grads"

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