College, student, and university leaders foster a discussion around inequality, community, growth, pain, and a path toward greater diversity and inclusion.
By Grace Power Smith
In April, the Orfalea College of Business hosted its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Townhall, which invited students, faculty, and staff to engage in a conversation about DEI within the college.
The event lasted from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Zoom and began with results from a survey put out by the newly formed OCOB DEI Action Committee. The committee was formed under OCOB’s DEI Faculty Fellow, Ahmed Deif, who is also a professor of operation and supply chain management.
As DEI Faculty Fellow, Deif motivates and directs faculty members on how to improve their knowledge about DEI issues and encourages them to implement a personal DEI development plan into their classrooms and curriculum, he said. He also chairs the OCOB DEI Action Committee and liaises with other DEI fellows and deans across the university.
“This is our college,” Deif said of his primary goals and motivations in the role. “This is our climate that we breathe in and live in and learn in and educate in, so I want to help make it a healthy, DEI-conducive climate.”
The survey invited students of all identities to share their experiences within OCOB classrooms. The survey results then helped prompt discussion during the event between students and the four panelists: OCOB academic advisor Yovani Alexander, OCOB Interim Dean Al Liddicoat, Cal Poly Interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Denise Isom, and OCOB Associate Dean Stern Neill. About 100 people attended the townhall.
Deif moderated questions for the panelists that included topics such as how the DEI initiatives will play a role within the OCOB community now and into the future, how people can expand their DEI knowledge, and why it’s crucial to address inequity and foster an inclusive environment.
“There is such great need for our incredible students, staff, and faculty to know that this is theirs. Every single bit of Cal Poly is theirs and Cal Poly would not be what it is and it can’t get to where it needs to be without them and without more of them and more of their voices and more of their contributions.”
Neill and Liddicoat shed light on how they are working to create a more inclusive environment within faculty and staff by implementing the personal DEI development plan and ensuring equitable hiring practices. They also shared overarching views about the importance of DEI initiatives and why it’s vital that OCOB represents the best values of society.
“I don’t know how we learn and grow as students, as faculty and staff, as all the stakeholders that are engaged if we don’t acknowledge inequity and prejudice, if we don’t humbly listen and learn from one another and the experiences of others,” Neill said.
“Hearing the stories of others brings an urgency to me in terms of wanting to do this work and willing to do it well,” added Isom of her work at the university level, echoing Neill’s point. “There is such great need for our incredible students, staff, and faculty to know that. This is theirs. Every single bit of Cal Poly is theirs and Cal Poly would not be what it is and it can’t get to where it needs to be without them and without more of them and more of their voices and more of their contributions.”
Isom also outlined how she would like to see more faculty and staff with experience and expertise in diversity, equity and inclusivity across campus but is also hearted by the university’s intentions.
“I like what the phrase inclusive excellence says about the ways in which we’re attempting to approach DEI at Cal Poly,” she said. “It’s embedded in every aspect of our movement toward our aim of being identified as an exemplary, comprehensive polytechnic. We see ourselves as a unique institution, uniquely poised to impact California and the world around us. We see ourselves as graduating students who go out and are immediately ready with the skills to change the world. And Cal Poly is invested in DEI being centrally embedded and woven into every aspect of that—it’s included in the kind of skills we want our students to leave with.”
When asked about the work that lay ahead, and how she’s tempering past disappointments with hope for the future, she reiterated the intentions of the university as a building block.
“The commitment that is clear from the institution and upper administration is why I’m willing to stay here, because if those things were not there, this would be a very different kind of scenario. That said, the list is long in what I’ve been disappointed in, and the list is vast in the things that we need and still have yet to do.”
Deif encouraged attendees to ask questions and share their stories through the chat function on Zoom. Most students chose to ask their questions anonymously. The panelists addressed each comment and made sure those who shared were heard.
Deif said he helped form the DEI committee in order to have student, faculty, and staff representation and efforts put into this work, and he acknowledged that this amount of dedication to DEI work is overdue.“Once we started to have an idea of what we’d like to do in general at OCOB, I came in and said, ‘Well let’s do this not as an individual task, but as a group of us.’ Who is the college? It’s the faculty, staff, and student, so let’s bring them together and let’s share this among a selected group,” Deif said.
The committee has been coming up with clear, actionable initiatives and policies to implement in the college, many of which will arise from the townhall, according to OCOB alumna and student committee member Eve Sumpster. “We’ll have a better sense of what students and faculty are really feeling, rather than just guessing, and from there we can come up with real solutions,” Sumpster said.
“Change occurs when people step outside their comfort zone, when they critically think through their beliefs, and most importantly when they question their institutions.”
Sumpster, business administration junior Lydia Dasari, and business administration freshman Hannah Tenney make up the student representatives within the committee. They work to share stories of other students, recommend initiatives based on what students need to succeed, and advocate for student voices, according to Sumpster.
“It’s a committee dedicated and focused on improving OCOB’s climate and making sure that all students are represented equally and empowering all underrepresented minorities,” Sumpster said.
Ahead of the townhall, the students on the committee developed and deployed the survey, prepared the results, and helped to promote and organize the event. As part of this process, Sumpster, Dasari, and Tenney wrote a collective letter about their intentions for the townhall and published the message, encouraging members of the OCOB and Cal Poly community to engage and attend.
“Transformative action must be taken on all levels for permanent change to occur,” the letter read in part. “As proud members of OCOB, we not only envision a space of diversity and inclusion but one of safety and empowerment. It is with an emphasis on community and restorative justice that we seek this change.”
Following a conversation that centered around these themes, the townhall ended with a closing remark from Dasari, who urged attendees to be “radical and innovative” with their knowledge about diversity and inequity by engaging in conversation, understanding oneself, and calling out performative activism.
“Change is not born from safety,” Dasari said. “It’s not born from sanitized conversations that are moderated by establishment. Change occurs when people step outside their comfort zone, when they critically think through their beliefs, and most importantly when they question their institutions. Change happens when privilege is recognized and utilized, not simply when books or read or events, even like this one, are attended.”
A group of professors in the Orfalea College of Business Masters of Business Analytics Program have penned and published a string of influential and best-selling textbooks, helping to shape the future of the field in the process.
In addition to recently being ranked as the best master’s program in the west in the discipline of business analytics, the MSBA program at the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business has developed a foundation of literature that has become pervasive and extremely influential among instructors and thought practitioners.
Economics Professor Sanjiv Jaggia has published a suite of texts about the business analytics field. Along with his OCOB coauthors Professors Kevin Lertwachara and Leida Chen, plus Professor Alison Kelly of Suffolk University, he recently published Business Analytics: Communicating with Numbers, which follows an experiential learning approach, seamlessly threading the topics of data wrangling, descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics into a cohesive whole.
His other titles, which he also coauthored with Professor Kelly, are Business Statistics: Communicating with Numbers and The Essentials of Business Statistics: Communicating with Numbers.
According to his publisher, McGraw-Hill, the three texts have become the company’s best sellers in the areas of business statistics as well as business analytics. They are projected to reach somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 students in the next year alone, being adopted in several prominent schools like Indiana-Bloomington, Michigan State, Purdue, South Carolina, Colorado-Boulder, and USC, as well as in numerous small colleges.
According to his publisher, McGraw-Hill, the three texts have become the company’s best sellers in the areas of business statistics as well as business analytics. They are projected to reach somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 students in the next year alone.
“It’s always gratifying when a professor in Georgetown tells me that these texts have allowed her to teach the way she’s always wanted to,” says Professor Jaggia. “Or when a graduate student in Nevada reaches out to tell me how much he enjoyed studying from one of them, or when a friend’s daughter in India informs me that she’s learning statistics from these books.”
Like his colleagues, OCOB economics Professor Eduardo Zambrano has a pedigree of producing significant texts in the field of analytics. Perhaps most notably he worked as a coauthor alongside economics Professor Roger B. Myerson of the University of Chicago, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2007, to produce the second edition of their book, Probability Models for Economic Decisions.
The text offers an introduction to the use of probabilistic models for analyzing risks and economic decisions, drawing on insights from the fields of operations research, statistics, information economics, and game theory. It also takes a hands-on, Learn by Doing approach, teaching students from scratch how to build complex and realistic Monte Carlo simulations of the decision-problems modern organizations may face.
“I started teaching from the first edition of the book in 2005 and when the opportunity to be a co-author in the second edition materialized late in 2017 it was like a dream coming to fruition,” he says. “Students love to learn from the book and teachers love to teach from it because it adopts a simulation and optimization approach that allows instructors to offer a course which is both very theoretical as well as very practical.”
Meanwhile, the MSBA program’s director, marketing Professor Brennan Davis, has also written a pair of textbooks with wide impact and circulation. His titles, Business Analytics: Data Analysis and Storytelling for Business and Marketing Analytics, are considered foundational textbooks. They teach business analytics and marketing analytics concepts and exercises and have been adopted at 157 universities, including the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, Villanova, and Notre Dame.
“It’s such a privilege to have our faculty’s groundbreaking textbook authorships to demonstrate to potential students that we have state-of-the-art programs. Why wouldn’t you want to learn about these important analytics topics right from the source?”
“Cal Poly hired me to develop a marketing analytics class,” he says, “but at the time, no marketing analytics textbooks existed, so I worked with a team of industry professionals to build the course. It was so successful with students that I pitched it to the courseware publisher and we discovered professors worldwide who needed a marketing analytics textbook. It feels deeply satisfying to offer content that helps the next generation of students enter a new era of marketing.”
Taken together—and considered with other texts, like Average Treatment Effect Bounds with an Instrumental Variable: Theory and Practice, which was cowritten by OCOB economics Professor Carlos Flores—it’s clear that the graduate programs at OCOB are not only offering its students immersive Learn by Doing experiences, they are also a place filled with minds, thinkers, and practitioners who are driving the business, economics, and statistics analysis conversation well beyond Cal Poly at some of the best universities in the world, helping to shape the future of the field in the process.
“As the director of Cal Poly’s MSBA program,” says Davis, “it’s such a privilege to have our faculty’s groundbreaking textbook authorships to demonstrate to potential students that we have state-of-the-art programs. Why wouldn’t you want to learn about these important analytics topics right from the source?”
Dear OCOB Community,
This year, we all have been forced to acknowledge the inequalities and prejudices within our society. Without a doubt, this process has been one of reflection for our nation and for our school. It must be recognized that these problems also permeate the walls of the Orfalea College of Business. Addressing this not-so-hidden climate of discrimination and oppression is long overdue.
As students, we believe in the rectifying power of healing spaces and are proud to take part in the OCOB Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Townhall on April 14th as a step toward improvement. It is vital that, as a community, we push for a positive adaptation to modern understandings of DEI within our classrooms. Please join us in making these changes.
We have heard from OCOB’s Interim Dean, Al Liddicoat, about the solidarity of this college and its ability to withstand challenges. He spoke of a community of healing and support. As students, we are also calling for a community of action and engagement. We want to create a conversation that allows all OCOB students, professors, alumni and staff to speak of their experiences within this college and identify points of weakness and intolerance. We will no longer sit idly by as we watch our underrepresented community members suffer within the halls that we used to walk.
It is our goal to foster a new environment of adaptable, long-lasting change. As proud members of OCOB, we not only envision a space of diversity and inclusion but one of safety and empowerment.
It is our goal to foster a new environment of adaptable, long-lasting change. But we need your help. Transformative action must be taken on all levels for permanent change to occur. As proud members of OCOB, we not only envision a space of diversity and inclusion but one of safety and empowerment. It is with an emphasis on community and restorative justice that we seek this change. With this in mind, we again invite all students, professors, alumni, and staff to join us at the townhall as we discuss the necessary steps to help usher in this future and begin the cultivation of this new climate.
Please register for the event below and please lend your voices and hearts to this conversation.
Eve Sumpster (she/her) | OCOB Alum
Lydia Dasari (she/her) | OCOB Student
Hannah Tenney (she/her) | OCOB Student
The Fourth Annual Cal Poly Analytics Forum brings together industry leaders, Cal Poly professors and students, along with other interested parties from academia and the corporate world to discuss analytics trends, practical applications, the field as a profession, and its place in the future of business.
It is hosted by the Cal Poly MS in Business Analytics program, which is a comprehensive program that offers students an accelerated opportunity to advance their professional careers in the fast-growing data analytics field.
Please find the link to register for the forum, the agenda, and profiles of the panelists below.
12:30 PM: Opening Remarks
Dr. Brennan Davis | Director, Business Analytics, Orfalea College of Business
12:40 PM: Student Welcome
Jenna Eisenman | MSBA ‘21
12:45 PM: Analytical Edge to Power Client Success in a Rapidly Evolving Higher Ed Landscape
Leslie Su | Head of Insights & Analytics, Google
Abi Frost | Strategic Storyteller, Google
1:45 PM: MSBA Student Presentations
MSBA students present Collaborative Industry Projects
2:00 PM: Analytics Inside High-Tech Enterprises: What is the Executive Mindset?
Kevin Bennett | VP of Marketing Operations and Analytics, Informatica
2:45 PM: MSBA Alumni Spotlight: “Self-Service Analytics”
Izzy Kamrath | Advanced Analytics Professional, AT&T
3:00 PM: Closing Remarks
Dr. Al Liddicoat | Interim Dean, Orfalea College of Business
After 3 PM: Meet and Greet
Time to meet with other Analytics Forum participants
Izzy Kamrath | Advanced Analytics Professional, AT&T
Izzy Kamrath is a Business Analyst at AT&T, where she analyzes customer sales behavior, churn, and product engagement to support business partners in actively growing the customer base and reducing churn. Izzy graduated from Cal Poly’s M.S. Business Analytics program in 2020. Prior to the MSBA program, she earned a B.S. in Statistics at Cal Poly.
Leslie Su | Head of Insights & Analytics, Google
Leslie is the Head of Insights & Analytics for Education at Google. Her team of Analytical Leads helps Google’s education partners, including universities and EdTech companies, understand how best to reach potential learners in a rapidly changing digital landscape. With over eleven years of data and analytics experience, Leslie has consulted in various industries from economic consulting, mobile gaming, to big box retail. Leslie joined Google after receiving her MBA from MIT Sloan in 2016. Originally based in San Francisco, she now lives in Chicago where she leads her team across the Chicago, New York, and San Francisco offices.
Abi Frost | Strategic Storyteller, Google
Abi Frost leads research and thought leadership for Google’s Education team, helping Universities, K-12 institutions and ed-tech companies build student-centric strategies and future-proof their business. She is a passionate industry expert, experiencing firsthand how education can change a learner and their family’s trajectory. Prior to Google, Abi has a background in sales and data analytics working at the largest global consumer packaged goods company, Nestlé.
Kevin Bennett | VP of Marketing Operations and Analytics, Informatica
Kevin Bennett works as the VP of Marketing Operations & Analytics at Informatica. He has over 26 years of experience exclusively in high-tech companies. He has seen and been part of the data evolution and revolution. Very early in his career (not long out of college) he fell in love with the power of data while spending 7 years building one of the very first online market research companies starting in 1998. He learned very quickly how many Fortune 500 companies were missing the right data to answer basic customer & market questions. Kevin has run marketing analytics in several large enterprise software companies, including: Cisco, HP, ServiceNow, Automation Anywhere; and has advised many startups.
Today, at Informatica, he has responsibility for the development and implementation of: processes, tools, Customer 360 initiatives and infrastructure required to deliver on marketing key results. Overall, he leads global demand generation efforts in building a modern high-velocity market growth engine fueled by data, insights, and intelligence.
When Kevin is not working, you can find him with his wife and 4 boys donating time with local “youth focused” non-profits. Kevin enjoys hiking, camping, and long runs on the beach. Currently, he is working with his community to replant the local Santa Cruz mountain forests that he grew up admiring.
After paying her own way through school, OCOB alumna Katherine Johnson wanted to help a new generation of business students with similar needs.
By Grace Power Smith
The Orfalea College of Business Accounting Department has one of the most robust scholarship programs on campus with 63 scholarships awarded last year, according to executive director for accounting excellence Sheri Boscaro. Many Cal Poly accounting alumni have given back to the students who sit where they once did.
Most recently, alumna Katherine Johnson founded a scholarship that would provide an accounting student with coverage for all their education-related expenses for a year.
Johnson was one of nine children in her house growing up. She moved to San Luis Obispo with her family from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the third grade, and attended school in the city up until she graduated from Cal Poly in 1981.
As she looks back on her college experience, she fondly remembers her favorite class — a mergers and acquisition class — and the time the Cal Poly football team won the championship bowl in Las Vegas while she watched from home on television. But, Johnson also recalls how she had to devote many hours at work to pay her way through school. Her parents couldn’t afford to put all their children through college on one income, but did allow her to live at home to save money on rent.
By the time her senior year rolled around, Johnson was working 40 hours per week, in addition to her workload for classes. To accomplish this, she spent Saturdays and many afternoons working at her brother-in-law’s accounting firm and dedicated the rest of her time to her studies.
“Having the full class load and having to work, I had to make really efficient use of my time,” she says. “I spent a lot of time at the library just finding a cubby in the corner, and I would spend as many hours as it took to just get homework done.”Katherine Johnson
“Having the full class load and having to work, I had to make really efficient use of my time,” she says. “I spent a lot of time at the library just finding a cubby in the corner, and I would spend as many hours as it took to just get homework done.”
She felt like her college experience was different from many other students’ because, while her peers were involved in clubs and extracurriculars, Johnson needed to make sure she could deliver a tuition check every quarter. However, this allowed her to develop time management skills and a work ethic that would help her succeed in her career after graduation. Johnson graduated cum laude from Cal Poly on June 13, 1981, words that are blazoned on her diploma, which she stores in a fireproof cabinet to keep safe.
She got her first job after graduation as an auditor at a firm in San Jose, where she stayed for a little over four years. “It was a big change to go from working at this tiny tax firm in San Luis Obispo to working audits on big public companies,” she recalls. “So, it took me a while to really find my groove.”
She went on to work for numerous big companies and smaller firms in the Bay Area and held job titles such as financial reporting accountant, assistant controller, and general accounting manager. At one point, she did freelance work training start-ups on how to use an accounting software package she had experience with from a previous job.
“I always enjoyed the smaller companies,” she says. “That was a better fit for me. I really enjoyed working in that environment.”
Johnson retired at age 40 and went on to volunteer at two schools and the Stanford Children’s Hospital. She was a cross country and track and field coach at Los Altos High School for three years and participated in a reading buddies program at the Mountain View Elementary Schools for eight years.
“When I got the email this summer saying I got the scholarship I was like, ‘What in the world?’ And I called my mom immediately, and I thought, ‘This is amazing!’”Celina Bernal
“It was so rewarding to see these kids come alive in their writing skills,” she says. “The teachers would always say as these students moved up a grade, they always knew which one of the kids was in the writing buddy programs because they had better writing skills.”
It wasn’t until the year 2000, after Johnson had retired, that she started thinking about the scholarship. She was inspired by working with her husband, Eric Johnson, on establishing a professorship at the university where he did his graduate work.
In 2018 she met with Boscaro and OCOB’s assistant dean of advancement, Mary Kelting, who each helped materialize the scholarship. Drawing on her experiences, Johnson wanted the scholarship to go to a student who, like her, didn’t have financial support through college. They also ultimately decided that a recipient would be someone who needed financial support, met a certain GPA requirement, and who graduated from a high school in California.
“I didn’t really have anyone to throw me a lifeline,” Johnson says, “even though my parents were very gracious in letting me live with them. And I just remember how it was a lot of work.”
In 2020, accounting student Celina Bernal was the first recipient of the Katherine and Eric Johnson Accounting Discipline Scholarship. Bernal says she was shocked when she received the notice that she would not have to worry about money for her education expenses for a year.
“When I got the email this summer saying I got the scholarship I was like, ‘What in the world?’ And I called my mom immediately, and I thought, ‘This is amazing!’” Bernal recalls.
“Her passion for really seeing her impact was what was inspiring. Having a donor that really wanted to make a specific impact and to be a part of the process was really awesome.”Sheri Boscaro
She says college had been her dream in high school, but even with financial aid offerings, her family couldn’t pay the tuition, which felt like “a ton of bricks” falling on her. She had to take out loans even with Cal Poly’s financial aid package.
Bernal is in her second year as a Business Administration student with a concentration in accounting, and she is hoping to add Spanish as a minor. “I’m really grateful that I’m here just because of the business program,” she says. “I feel like it’s not hyped up enough, how great it is.”
Although there was no banquet to congratulate scholarship recipients due to COVID-19, Johnson says she would like to stay up-to-date on who will receive her scholarship every year. “It’s just an honor to be able to help someone else advance their education so they can get out there into the working world,” Johnson says.
Boscaro says Johnson is extremely passionate about helping students, and it’s “so cool” how involved she was in creating the scholarship. “Her passion for really seeing her impact was what was inspiring,” says Boscaro. “Having a donor that really wanted to make a specific impact and to be a part of the process was really awesome.”
Johnson says she appreciates what she learned during her time at Cal Poly and how it led her to have a successful and rewarding career.
“Follow your passion,” she says when asked what advice she would give to graduating students. “Do what you love. Don’t give up. And don’t be afraid to make changes in your career along the way.”