Each June, Cal Poly says goodbye to thousands of graduates who are ready to dive into careers or continue on to graduate studies and address the world’s problems with innovation, technical savvy and confidence earned through their Learn by Doing education.
Each of this year’s roughly 4,500 graduates (one of the largest classes in Cal Poly history) has a unique story of success and perseverance along with thoughts on how their university experience has shaped them as they ready to make their way in the world. Meet six outstanding members of the Class of 2017:
Iris Huang | Orfalea College of Business
Iris Huang found her footing studying business administration, with a concentration in information systems — the study of people, organizations and technology — at Cal Poly. It’s a skill set that allows her to translate information needs into technology needs and technological capabilities into new business capabilities.
“The introductory classes in the business major exposed me to a bit of every concentration,” said Huang who is graduating after just three years and who will begin graduate studies in business analytics at Cal Poly this fall. “Before college, I never saw myself working in the tech field. After taking the intro to Information Systems class with Professor Jim Burleson, I realized how fascinating and useful the discipline was.”
The 21-year-old from Monterey Park is the first Cal Poly Scholar to graduate from the Orfalea College of Business. The program for freshmen started five years ago as a part of President Jeffrey D. Armstrong’s mission to diversify the incoming Cal Poly population. It recruits and retains high-achieving students from partner high schools. Scholars receive a scholarship, a technology package (including a computer) and supportive programs that foster student success.
Huang was attracted to Cal Poly by its Learn by Doing ethos as well as its friendly campus, the allure of the Central Coast, and “some pretty cool (student) projects.”
“Cal Poly exposed me to a network of professionals, bright peers and internship opportunities,” she said. “A lot of learning is done by talking to classmates, speaking to industry people and doing impactful work during internships.”
Over the summer, Huang will complete an internship at Kaiser Permanente.
“Sometime in the near future I’d like to join the Peace Corp and go abroad to a developing country for a two-year assignment,” she said. “Afterwards, I’d like to settle down working in the creative industry or a nonprofit doing either project management or data analysis.”
• • •
Martin Alfaro | College or Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences
It’s been a long haul for Martin Alfaro, a 26-year-old transfer student from Soledad, Calif., who had a three-hour commute to and from San Luis Obispo — sometimes up to five days a week — over the past two years in pursuit of a degree in agriculture and environmental plant science, with a concentration in plant protection and a crop science minor.
Luckily, this first-generation college student didn’t travel alone. He had two siblings along for the ride: younger brother Daniel, with whom he will graduate, and sister Maria. And another sister, Adriana, lives on campus. (His sisters plan to graduate in 2018.) The eldest of eight brothers and sisters, Alfaro said, “I never thought I would attend college with one of my siblings. I was fortunate to take courses with not just one but three.”
Alfaro will head back to work as a pest control adviser for Huntington Farms in Soledad. The job is more than managing pests that threaten lettuce and other crops; he’ll be an important resource to his employer in a wide range of concerns related to plant health.
After graduating high school in 2008, Alfaro started a family — he and his wife have a son — and took a job as a general farm laborer. He started at Huntington Farms in 2011, working his way up to become an assistant to the company’s in-house pest control adviser.
“Working at Huntington Farms sparked my interest in pest management and farming,” he said. “After three years of putting off my education, I decided to return to school.”
He completed two years in community college while working full time, obtained a pest control adviser license in 2015, and started at Cal Poly that fall.
“Before starting my first quarter, I was nervous at how it would prepare me for a career after graduation,” Alfaro said. “Today, I feel that Cal Poly has given me the foundation that I need to succeed in my career.”
Earning a 3.4 GPA, he credits the help of “amazing faculty and counselors” who were “always there for me.”
“Working full time and my daily commute took valuable time from my studies,” he said. “The faculty helped me overcome these obstacles and succeed in my education.”
• • •
Cameron Andrews | College of Liberal Arts
A 2013 Paso Robles High School graduate, Cameron Andrews found Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy to be a “tremendous catalyst” as he pursued a psychology degree. “It gave me hands-on experience into what it would be like in the workforce,” said the 21-year-old, “and a better understanding of the things I would like to do in the future.
“Cal Poly impacted me in a way that all colleges should. It helped me grow, mature and expand my perspective. The past four years really has shown me who I am, what I love and where I want to grow.”
Andrews plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan. But first he will head to Alaska through the AmeriCorps program.
“I will be working with veterans, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the homeless population to help to integrate them into society,” he said.
Andrews, who competed on the track team, recalls his pride at representing Cal Poly and “what it means to be a Mustang — our tenacity, spirit and pride.” He was hampered by injuries that affected his development in the long jump and triple jump. A hamstring injury closed the door on his track career, but it didn’t end his days as an athlete.
“Whatever technical skills I lacked as a track and field athlete, I made up with raw strength,” said the 5-foot-9 Andrews. “Pound for pound, I was the strongest person on the team. I’d give some of the guys who weighed 100 pounds more than me a solid run for their money and in certain lifts beating them. I remember when everyone’s jaws dropped; me — a 155-pound dude — was squatting 405 pounds five times, for sets of five.”
His coach is training him to become an Olympic weightlifter.
“He believes I can become an Olympian and that I have what it takes to compete in the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020,” he said. “I believe that I can do it.”
• • •
Camille Chabot | College of Science and Mathematics
Camille Chabot, 22, has crammed a lifetime into her four years at Cal Poly while earning a liberal studies degree with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher and, ultimately, a school principal.
For a while, the dream was in jeopardy. Two weeks before the start of her sophomore year, Chabot was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma — the most advanced stage of the cancer of the lymphatic system. She was 19.
Surgery, a dozen chemotherapy sessions, a relapse, and a bone marrow transplant followed. But as her hometown of Dublin, Calif., rallied around her, she remained strong with a focus that would not be undone by what had been a “little bump in my throat.”
“There were so many family and friends who told me ‘Just slow down and graduate next year. You’ll look back in 10 years, and you’ll be happy that you did,’” she said. “But honestly it was always my goal to finish with the people that I started with (in 2013). I wanted to be able to say, ‘I had cancer twice, and I graduated in four years — with a minor in French.’”
To accomplish that, she needed help. Family, friends, neighbors and a growing group of supporters came together for what started as a plan to create supportive T-shirts and evolved into #CamilleStrong, a viral crusade to share Chabot’s story, advocate for those with childhood cancer, and raise money to help other female teens facing infertility due to cancer to harvest their eggs.
“President Obama wore my shirt,” she said. “We just had this cool, awesome support group all over Facebook. It was a great community, and they were my motivators. I wanted to put on a tough face and be a positive influence because of them.”
Chabot continued with online classes — even working on a laptop computer during chemo sessions. She missed three quarters in the classroom but remained on track academically with the help of professors and advisors.
She was attracted to Cal Poly because it was just four hours from her Bay Area home and because of San Luis Obispo’s unique small-town environment, nearby beaches, and the university’s Learn by Doing approach.
“It gave me a chance to work hands-on with elementary students and grasp the California (Common Core) elementary standards and concepts,” she said. “During my second and third year, I missed several classes and three quarters, but my advisor, Dr. M. Dolores (Lola) Berber-Jiménez, and professors were very helpful and communicative. I would not be graduating on time if it were not for them.”
Chabot plans to complete her French minor in Paris over the summer and return to Cal Poly in the fall to begin the multiple-subject credential program.
• • •
Carlos “Charly” Flores | College of Engineering
Never underestimate the power of one person to make a difference, says Charly Flores, a transfer student from San Pedro who will receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a focus on power electronics.
Flores, who earned a reputation for community outreach and volunteering, served as an academic tutor for the Boys & Girls Club, inspired by what he had experienced growing up at the club in the Los Angeles Harbor area.
“I realized that I could set an example for young students,” said the 23-year-old, who was lauded for his work with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. “I was also personally influenced by a club mentor, an electrical engineer, who encouraged me to go to Cal Poly. He pushed me like my parents did.”
Flores served as president of Cal Poly’s chapter of the society in 2016-17. When a mother contacted the chapter of the society after her son’s college tour was canceled, Flores agreed to take the woman and her son on a Saturday tour through the aerospace and aeronautical labs, introducing him to students who were working on their projects.
“Charly, speaking to my son about his experiences as a transfer student, truly inspired my son,” the mother later wrote. “Cal Poly is (my son’s) first choice — actually his only choice in colleges.”
Flores, who was honored June 2 with the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Student Award for Service to the Off-Campus Community, takes pride in that.
“There is no bigger reward or accomplishment than knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life,” he said.
Flores was attracted to the university by its Learn by Doing approach.
“I got to an amazing education,” he said. “I got to work on really cool projects. I got to work for some great companies and live in different cities. I got the opportunity to grow as a young professional and develop my leadership skills.”
After graduation, he’ll head to Silicon Valley to work as a design engineer for Analog Devices. He may later pursue graduate studies in electrical engineering or business administration-engineering management.
• • •
Carla Simental | College of Architecture and Environmental Design
“I look forward to graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in a program that has prepared and challenged me to pursue my career in structural engineering,” said Carla Simental, an architectural engineering major in one of the most intense undergraduate building structures program in the nation.
The 23-year-old Santa Clarita resident, who was raised by a single mom, overcame significant economic disadvantages and through hard work and perseverance, emerged as “a top performer in this program,” said Professor and Department Chair Allen C. Estes.
“I defeated the odds associated with being a low-income, first-generation student,” Simental said, “by graduating high school at the top of my class and being accepted into Cal Poly. I was able to take laboratories for timber, masonry, steel and concrete design, which allowed me to practice designing in a variety of materials. My interest in structural engineering really grew full force within the seismic analysis side when taking structural dynamics and seismic design.”
Simental plans to obtain a structural engineering license after working professionally in the field for a few years.
“I look forward to contributing in meaningful ways as we move forward with finding effective methods for making structures safe for inhabitants during earthquakes and finding methods for ensuring less structural and nonstructural damage occurs during an earthquake in an effort to reduce the negative economic and social impact it can have for communities,” she said.
She was attracted to Cal Poly by the hands-on structure of her classes.
During her 2015-16 term as president of the campus chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Simental watched with pride as the chapter membership expanded to about 130 members and the executive board become an equal mix of men and women, “which is exciting for a male-dominated field,” she said.
Simental hopes to one day give back to assist other economically challenged individuals.
“Cal Poly provided me with opportunities to accomplish my goals thanks to the caring individuals in various departments who assisted me throughout my time here,” she said. “It’s been a place that has allowed me to discover that I am passionate about encouraging younger students to pursue higher education, hopefully in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.”