Cal Poly

Orfalea College of Business

Anatomy of Opportunity

Cal Poly Scholars reshapes lives across three cohorts of Orfalea students.

Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. For Sylmar, Calif., native Felix Rodriquez, attaining a higher education required him to blaze a new trail. “I’m the only person from my high school who came here — period,” said the accounting junior of his journey to Cal Poly.

Rodriguez’s deciding factor was the Cal Poly Scholars program, which provides academic scholarships, housing and proactive advising to top students from California partner high schools where a majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. The goal: recruit and retain high-performing students who might otherwise face barriers to higher education.

“Cal Poly Scholars was a really big factor in my decision coming here,” echoes Cash London, a third-year finance student from Los Angeles. “I really like the housing community because it feels like one big family. Everyone is trying to build each other up.”

The scholars program was born out of an initiative started by President Jeffrey D. Armstrong in 2012, rooted in an effort to ensure underrepresented students receive the support they need to be successful at Cal Poly.

Orfalea advisor Justin Gomez can see the program shifting the dynamic on campus already. “All the students that I’ve talked with have the urge to make the world a better place. And I think that comes from their background: some come from a single-parent home or are first-generation college students.”

The Orfalea College of Business joined the Cal Poly Scholars program in 2014. With the third cohort arriving on campus this fall, a total of 48 students in the college are part of the program. The oldest cohort of students is entering its junior year, where the attention turns toward pursuing career-oriented experiences and making the transition to the working world.

“The third and fourth years are more about building your skills as a professional,” said London. “This year we have to do more community service and mentor the new scholars. We make sure our resumes are in order, and we attend career fairs. There are high expectations of Cal Poly Scholars.”

The college is able to participate in the program thanks to philanthropic support from the Orfalea Foundation, whose endowment at Cal Poly bolsters a variety of student-centered programs. The scholarship is $5,000 per year; $20,000 funds one scholars’ academic career in the Orfalea College of Business.

The legacy of the program is already taking shape, and it goes far beyond campus borders. “I think people are going to look back and see that the Cal Poly Scholars program was a big step in the right direction in terms of supporting students who are non-traditional, who are historically underserved and underrepresented in higher education,” said Gomez.

“I think we’re doing excellent work in helping students reach through to industries and careers where — just like in higher education — they’re also underrepresented. This program is making a difference for industry too.”

To contribute to the Cal Poly Scholars program at the Orfalea College of Business, contact Natalie Schaefer at njschaef@calpoly.edu.

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