Behind the Scenes: The Alternatives to Changing Your Major

When our group first started out on our final story of the quarter, we thought we were going to be focusing on tarot cards. I began by emailing tarot card readers and astrologists in the San Luis Obispo community, looking to see if any were interested in being interviewed. Much to our amazement, we received many replies that agreed to be a part of our story.

Unfortunately, after our first interview, we realized that our topic was too broad, and that we needed to come up with another story idea. We were told by our professor of a new online form called the Individualized Change of Major Agreement (ICMA), which allows for Cal Poly students to begin the process of switching to a new major.

To learn more about this, we went to interview Dr. Debra Valencia-Laver, an Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Valencia-Laver gave us a lot of useful information on the ICMA and how the process works for students who want to switch their major. Luckily, she also talked about what students should do if they can’t get into the major of their choice. This comes in a little bit later.

Audra Wright looks for the right office to interview Dr. Debra Valencia-Laver about the ICMA.
Audra Wright looks for the right office to interview Dr. Debra Valencia-Laver about the ICMA for her editorial portion.

After our group member on the editorial position, Audra Wright, met with our professor to go over her story outline, she had some more news for us. She confessed that a story purely about switching majors would be too difficult to cover in the short period of time we had left, and told us that our professor suggested to make the story more about alternatives for students that couldn’t switch into their desired major.

“Before this project I didn’t realize how many alternatives there are if a student is unable to switch his or her major. It was especially eye-opening to learn about the College of Liberal Art’s development of the interdisciplinary major and its ability to allow students with a low GPA to switch majors,” said Wright.

Even though our group wasn’t too thrilled to start over onto another story topic, we agreed that it would be the best decision to change the topic in order for a better story. Suddenly, our multimedia group member, Laura Daniele, knew exactly who we should interview next. She remembered a friend of hers that was unable to switch from crop science to biology, so later that day we talked to mechanical engineering senior Peter Pratt.

Laura Daniele gets her camera ready for an environmental portrait of Peter Pratt.
Laura Daniele gets her camera ready for an environmental portrait of mechanical engineering senior Peter Pratt.

“Since I couldn’t switch my major at first, I decided that joining a club on campus that had some parts of the major in it was the next best thing. The PROVE Lab supplemented what I was missing in my current major, and allowed me to immerse myself in my interests,” said Pratt.

Since our broadcast group member, Josh Munk, had originally done his video interview with an astrologist, he was relieved we were able to find another person to do it on such short notice. Pratt was able to share how difficult it is for many students to get into the major they want, and that there are plenty of other options if the major is full or they can’t switch in, such as finding an internship in the desired field or joining a club with similar interests.

Being a group of seniors at Cal Poly, many of us didn’t know about all the different alternatives to changing a major. Munk had wanted to switch his major from journalism to communications a while ago, but was unable to get into the communications program.

Josh Munk decides on the perfect shot for his creative video interview.
Josh Munk decides on the perfect shot for his creative video interview.

“This topic was really interesting to me because I tried to transfer majors, but was never able to, and so learning about the process and how things have begun changing has been cool to see,” said Munk.

As we tried to make the most of our limited time, we discovered that this is a topic that not a lot of people know too much about. Daniele was especially excited about the opportunity to share alternatives with people who might be stuck in their major.

“Switching majors has a negative stigma at Cal Poly and everyone thinks it’s super hard, so they don’t attempt it. So, I think it’s good that we’re finding alternatives to changing majors and explaining the process better,” said Daniele.

Laura Daniele figures out possible questions for her survey that she will incorporate into one of her multimedia components.
Laura Daniele figures out possible questions for a survey that she will incorporate into one of her multimedia components.

Overall, we think this story turned out pretty well for us getting a late start. This project had our group learn some new information about alternatives to changing majors and we got to meet many people knowledgeable on the subject. As this is our last piece for our senior project, we really enjoyed the experience of working in these different roles and we gained a lot of insight on how to craft an accurate and newsworthy story.


Behind the Scenes: From Mom ‘n’ Pop to Corporate Shop

At the beginning of the quarter, my group and I set out to write stories we felt would matter to San Luis Obispo residents and the larger community. We thought about the particularities of current San Luis Obispo that the community would care about and asked ourselves internal questions like: What are people’s concerns? What do they want more of? What are they frustrated by?

We answered these questions for ourselves, and each of us agreed that San Luis Obispo’s changing downtown — in terms of its rapid development and introduction of major chains like H&M and Williams & Sonoma — was a potential area in which some of these concerns populated. Monterey Street has been almost entirely transformed over the course of our college careers (the last four years).  We also realized we bore witness to a substantial numbers of stores picking up and leaving town, but we didn’t exactly know why.

The new stretch of Monterey Street some are referring to as "Corporation Row."
The new stretch of Monterey Street some are referring to as “Corporation Row.”

I wanted to see if this perception seemed universal, at least within San Luis Obispo. Each of us had at least several conversations about San Luis Obispo and it’s ‘changing downtown culture’  but I wanted to know what more students, community members, local business owners, and city officials thought. Are chain stores taking over?  Is San Luis Obispo in its first stages of its eventual destruction from the one-of-a-kind, warm, Shangri-La many know it as? Or, was that an unfounded perception?  We set out to find out.

Lauren interviewed more than 11 different people—passionate community members, local business owners (including the owner of Forden’s, a local home fireplace shop that decided to move out after 78 years of business in San Luis Obispo), the city’s economic development manager, and the mayor.

“I felt like I was really part of the community while interviewing some of my favorite shops,” broadcast reporter Mariam said. “It was comforting to hear their unique stories and experiences.”

Lauren, who attended a fair number of interviews as well for her multimedia portion said, “It was nice being able to hear from different people in the community that I may not have talked to before this project. Each one of them had something useful to say about their business.”

Capturing the full gamut of perspectives was a priority for us—which meant Lauren’s days were spent interviewing sources back to back—to back.

“I think the hardest part was the research,” Lauren said. ” I interviewed eleven sources and read reports, which was all very time consuming and grueling. But it was cool to get to know the community on a deeper level and hear the very different perspectives on the issue of SLO becoming corporate. Some opinions even surprised me.”

I attended a few of the interviews, and I too, was surprised by some of the stories I heard. After talking separately to Gold Concept co-owner Aaron Gomez and Mee Heng Low Noodle House owner Paul Kwong, it became alarmingly clear that in spite of the frustration many local businesses feel and their resistance to change, they also held a kind of humility and acceptance toward the fate of a city that is larger than themselves—or their businesses.

Longtime San Luis Obispo staple Mee Heng Low Noodle House on Palm Street.
Longtime San Luis Obispo staple Mee Heng Low Noodle House on Palm Street.

Kwong talked about the inevitability of so-called expiration dates for cities many hold dear. Originally from Santa Barbara, he moved to San Luis Obispo to get away from a city he felt was losing its character.  

Kwong also noted the immense power and influence that Cal Poly has on the city’s decisions—and in this case, on what he calls “Corporation Row”— the stretch of Monterey St. that now contains Lululemon, Williams & Sonoma, Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Mint & Craft.  Mayor Heidi Harmon explicitly pointed to this during an interview I had with her over the phone. Harmon said a lot of the chain stores exist because of students.

H&M, San Luis Obispo's latest addition to its Chinatown project.
H&M, San Luis Obispo’s latest addition to its Chinatown project.

“I seriously doubt we would have an H&M at all, or certainly an H&M of that size if Cal poly and Cuesta students weren’t shopping there,” she said. “That’s a huge part of their market, I’m assuming, and that’s not to blame students for any part of this problem, but it’s just to remind students that they have a big role to play here, and i would encourage students, in particular, to think about that and know there are essentially voting with their dollars and voting for what city of San Luis is going to be like with their dollars.”

Behind the Cinema: A look into the Palm Theatre

The Palm Theatre has been a part of the Downtown San Luis Obispo community for over 20 years. You’d think a business that has been there longer than most of the students at Cal Poly have been alive would be more of a household name, but most students don’t even know what the Palm is. No one in my group had ever been, so it was particularly important to find out why we should start going.

“The most interesting part about this experience is finding a hidden gem in SLO.  I feel like I was investigating for not only the story but for myself as well.” – Group member Audra Wright

My roommate Leila is an avid Palm Theatre goer.  She doesn’t miss the chance to rave about her experiences watching movies that she loved. So, I wanted to find out more about this not-so-hidden gem.

The Palm Theatre is located on Palm street in Chinatown of Downtown San Luis Obispo.

Opening the door to the Palm on the day of our interview with the owner, Jim Dee, led us into a new world of celebrity faces painted on the hall way wall, popcorn for a dollar and a cash only operation.  It felt kind of like being transported back into the time of our grandparents. It is a breath of fresh air from the expensive and crowded cinemas that most cities have.

“It was really fun going to the Palm theatre to see how the experience there is different than the normal movie theater goer experience. It was interesting to learn about how cinema can shape a community,” said group member Sara Portnoy.

Audra Wright snapping some pics during one of the Palm’s busy Monday night showings.

Turns out, Dee,has a huge passion for film starting back when he was still an undergrad at Cal Poly and part of “CinemaZoo“, a film showing club, consisting of him and his friend Paul Karlen.

“So we called it the San Luis Obispo Zoopraxographical Film Society or CinemaZoo. I want to say we did about 10 screenings.” – Jim Dee, Owner of the Palm Theatre

Charging about 75 cents a ticket, Dee and Karlen broke even or made enough to purchase the film for their next showing.

The process of “shining a light on a wall” as Dee calls it, has changed a lot since his college days. What was once a projection room full of equipment and film and requiring an attendant, is now replaced by a simple hard drive, electronic key and touch screen.

Even though he doesn’t handle film anymore,  Dee is still the beating heart of the Palm Theatre. He picks each movie that gets shown. “Hopefully they’ll see something that’s either thought provoking or a film was able to get to you on a certain emotional level,” said Dee on what he wants the audience to get out of the films he selects.

Dee does not shy away from controversy.  He has shown films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 that brought about some opposition.  Most recently he participated in the showing of 1984 on April 4th in protest of the election of President Donald Trump.

Sara Portnoy capturing the sounds and life of the Palm Theatre.

So now the issue the Palm still faces, a decline in student patrons. Maybe it is because of the Netflix craze, HBO boom or Amazon Prime rush.“I want to say since about 2005, 2006 the younger audience is slowly disappearing, unfortunately. I would say 80-90% of our patrons are middle-age and above,” said Dee.  I think anyone that goes to the Palm will fall in love with its originality and unique personality and shut their laptops, turn off their TVs and leave the movies to the big screen.

Josh Munk interviewing a patron of the Palm Theatre.

Getting to meet Jim Dee and learn about the processes behind the workings of the Palm Theatre was an amazing experience and definitely pushed us to become avid Palm Theatre goers like Leila. “I’m really glad that we got the chance to work on the Palm theatre because it is something I’ve always been curious about and now i have more incentive to go and see a movie,” said group member Josh Munk.

I think I can  speak for my group when I say the Palm Theatre is  an important piece to the Downtown SLO puzzle and one we can’t wait to frequent.


International Mustangs Among Us

The story we decided on was not something sprung  from clumsy, crude curiosity. My group had an intimate interest in this topic of international students at Cal Poly for an essential reason–we all studied abroad ourselves. From that experience, in each of us, we were able to know that a story did exist which was worth telling. We sought it out with personal passion, but our hunger wasn’t exactly met by a buffet or a polite “bon appetit.”

While we expected a wealth of sources to be ready and willing, we came to realize many of the international students studying abroad at Cal Poly this quarter were European. This homogeneity gave us some misgivings, however, we persisted–knowing that the stories was, nonetheless, there to be told. Official, administrative sources also presented potential setbacks. The international center has a very strict and busy schedule, and so the usual flag of “I’m a student journalist” didn’t receive the expected amount of attention we were hoping for. We hoped they would see the story too and welcome our notepads, but they were, understandably, busy helping make the story happen by orchestrating foreign exchange on campus. Some email exchanges did provide us some information we were hoping for though. Many international student sources also cancelled interviews. Although, we did know they would be at a weekly study abroad student session every Tuesday so that was an efficient contact resource.

An obvious theme in this story was the cultural differences noticed and felt by these international students living and studying in the US. We tried to section off areas for these differences, like socially, academically, politically, etc. Some of the students joked about President Donald Trump and how pathetic they think the US is for electing him, like so many Americans, themselves, do.

Urenna Evuleocha, a second year from Nigeria who came to Cal Poly for its architecture program, had a more personal experience to share.

“Before coming here, I didn’t really know anything about colonialism, slavery, and racism… they were just abstract terms in my mind,” Evuleocha said. “Now that I’ve come here, […] they are issues that I’m really passionate about.”

This personal anecdote gave us insight on where to take our story. The topic of politics was not exactly offering much newness or richness, so we dived into the rut of personal experiences with these international students. These were themes that we were easily able to generate from our own experiences abroad.

Group member Amanda Newell studied abroad in London last year. She shared how she grew from her time overseas.

Newell eagerly prepares to make a phone call with an ominous, golden clock tower in the background. London, United Kindom.
Newell eagerly prepares to make a phone call with an ominous, golden clock tower in the background. London, United Kindom.

“Studying abroad helped me learn to be comfortable with myself,” Newell said. “The sense of happiness I got from being independent and on my own is something I still carry with me today. Navigating a foreign city alone really forces you to grow and mature into a better version of yourself.”

I can relate with Newell’s experience and say it is very true. I studied abroad in Paris and started off not being able to walk 50 feet without pulling out my map. It was worrying at first, but I could have walked the streets with my eyes closed by the end. Adaptability is a skill worth millions in the modern, increasingly globalized world, and studying abroad is a masters course in it with a guaranteed degree. Such feelings were chronicled by fellow Mustang student journalist Kristine Xu in an article she wrote during her time abroad.

Group member Laura Hoover also continued on this theme from her own time in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, Italy. She also fostered a perspective of cultural appreciation along with an understanding of how cultures and their respective members overlap.

Hoover pranks a monkey with the "bunny-ears move" while on a trip to Northern Africa. Cedre Gouraud Forest, Morocco.
Hoover pranks a monkey with the “bunny-ears move” while on a trip to Northern Africa. Cedre Gouraud Forest, Morocco.

“This sounds counter intuitive, but I have never felt so perfectly comfortable being uncomfortable,” Hoover said. “Living in Italy forced me out of my comfort zone and into a completely different, yet vibrantly beautiful culture. The experience of studying abroad strengthened my independence and confidence but it also opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity that exists in this world. From Morocco to France, from Denmark to Spain, I encountered generosity, kindness, and genuine hospitality from a wide array of people. I learned that no matter how different a person and their culture may seem to you, that commonalities can always be drawn.”

It can be difficult to stomach some of the experiences one may feel while being abroad. There’s just too much to absorb at times. The world seems too big to be true, then suddenly morphs into a small sphere in the palm of your hands, all in an instant. This dramatic change directly parallels the tangible transitions students undergo during their travels. Many students keep blogs for this reason, as described in this article.

Group member Sophia Levin is one more who studied abroad in London. She commented on the cuisine between different countries and the small differences, the ones that leaving us unable to describe or recall. As Vincent says to Jules in Pulp Fiction about his time in Europe, “It’s the little differences…”

Levin stylishly stomping in the streets of Paris in the famed Montmarte district.
Levin stylishly stomping in the streets while on vacation in the famed Montmarte district. Paris, France.

“It felt weird getting used to a different country’s customs and culture,” Levin said. “It took time to learn the idiosyncrasies of the way people in another country live their lives. I found it interesting how cultures around food and drinking vary so much from country to country.”

I can provide an example of Levin’s viewpoint: I would often go into a cafe to grab an espresso before early morning class in Paris, and as I zombie-stretched for my caffeine, I would see an elderly Frenchman sipping a glass of wine at 8 a.m. in the morning. Furthermore, in Serbia, my host would offer me a shot of liquor strong enough to sprain my neck muscles before lunchtime. Yes, I took it and said cheers with him. Hospitality needs to be reciprocated with heart, you know? On an entirely different plain, in Morocco, all the student travelers were frustrated at not being able to buy shot glasses as souvenirs because–they didn’t sell any! Morocco is a Muslim country, and most Muslims obey their doctrine by abstaining from alcohol.

No, that is not the actor from "10 Things I Hate About You," that is me with a mane atop the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower looming behind. Paris, France.
No, that is not the actor from “10 Things I Hate About You,” that is me with a mane atop the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower looming behind. Paris, France.

The study abroad experience was something my group and I were really hoping to take to a new level for readers. Cal Poly students hear so much about going abroad from fellow students, and we wanted to provide perspective from the other side, from the inverse. We wanted to hear the voices of foreigners on campus and we felt like the right people to pursue this story.

Sources were a definite hurdle in this story. We did not let that dampen our reporting though, and my group members deserve a lot of credit for seeking out the foreigners they were able to find and speak with. The toughness and persistence they displayed was surely part of their study-abroad muscles. In nearly every unfortunate situation I’ve encountered since returning to the states, I am always able to say to myself in relief, “I’ve had worse,” as I laugh at myself and remember, and remember.

Behind the scenes: The horse sale dilemma

My team and I first heard about the horse sale through Rachel’s friend, Emma Eskildsen. Emma worked at the horse unit her senior year and heard through word of mouth that one of the horses had a rare genetic disease that caused it’s skin to peel off when ridden, or when a saddle was put on.

Jessi and I were both skeptic of getting involved with horses, since we had both had traumatic stories involving the animals. Jessi had been hassled by a man in Mexico who attempted to get her to ride a horse, and me who had grown up with a crazy horse-loving mom who tried to get me to ride when I was little even though I hated it. Rachel knew nothing about horses at all – we were off to a good start some may say.

My mom trying to get me into horse back riding at a young age

However, we knew that the story was an important one to be told and decided to put our pasts behind us. I set out after class to go get some information on the horse sale, and to see if anyone could confirm the disease. I knew the best place to get information would be in the agricultural building on campus. I went into the office of the department of animal science to find an administrator who could point me in the right direction.

I spoke to Nicole Einfalt who seemed suspicious of my questions, and my motivation behind writing the story. She asked to see my set of questions, and got defense when she saw a question about complications with the horse sale… I could tell something was fishy. She did give me valuable information by giving me the names of the two students in charge of the horse sale: Ashlyn Frost and Annika Moe.

I contacted both students immediately for an interview, and wandered the halls until I found an open door.

I interviewed Dr. Sprayberry who is a vet on campus. She was a bit frantic because a horse had passed away earlier that day, and had yet to be examined. When asked about complications with the horse sale she said, “Not that I am aware of. Horses always get sick, or get a serious injury.” However, there was still no mention of a diseased horse.

We met in class that Wednesday and pitched our story ideas to the class. Our team grew nervous because the diseased horse had yet to be confirmed by an adult, and we were scared our story was going to fall through. After that class meeting, we all went back to the agriculture building to see if we could get more information.

We spoke with an administrator of the department of animal science that gave us attitude and contact information we already had. We spoke to Professor Burd that gave us good insight on the horse sale, and how the students work with the horses.

A horse at the horse unit on the Cal Poly Campus
A horse at the horse unit on the Cal Poly Campus

After our conversation with him, we returned to Dr. Sprayberry and struck gold. She confirmed that the horse had the disease, and that they were unsure if the foals had the disease or not – we had our story!

From there, we set up more interviews with Dr. Burd, an interview with the supervisor of the horse sale, Julie Yuhas, and were able to visit the class in which students care and tend for the foals.

Jessi and I spoke to Dr. Burd for about forty minutes on May 24th and got more information about the disease. “It was interesting finding out about the HERDA disease, because I never really thought that horses have health problems like humans do. It was great to talk to Dr. Burd because he’s very knowledgable about the disease and how to care for horses in general,” said Jessi.

The horse cared for by students in the foaling class
The horse cared for by students in the foaling class

Rachel and Jessi headed up to the horse unit to meet with Julie Yuhas and the foaling class. Unfortunately I was unable to attend because I had class during that time. Rachel said, “I really didn’t know much about horses and I’m honestly kind of afraid of them. But being around them and the girls, even just for a few hours, made me appreciate the animals so much more and the work these students put into caring for them.”

We were able to get all the information we needed from Dr. Burd, Dr. Sprayberry and the students in the foaling class thanks to Julie Yuhas. Looking forward to reading the story written by Jessi Armstrong and the video interview by Rachel Mesaros.

Behind the Scenes: Krukows Klubhouse at Cal Poly Baseball

Krukows Klubhouse is the premier section at Cal Poly baseball with free food and drinks and a family-like vibe. The Klubhouse is named after Mike Krukow who is a Cal Poly baseball alumni and current San Francisco Giants commentator. Our group member, Ayrton Ostly, knew at the beginning of this class that he wanted us to do a story on Krukows. While digging through Mustang News archives we were surprised to see that there have been very few mentions of the Klubhouse and it hasn’t been reported on more. Seeing this, we were really excited to dive in.


Cal Poly Mustangs home team dugout with bleacher and Krukows Klubhouse seating at Baggett Stadium.

I immediately got working on the engagement report to see what exactly people knew about Krukows and what they would like to know. I reached out on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Surprisingly, I did not get much feedback. The feedback I did receive though was strictly people commenting on Facebook saying they had no idea what Krukows Klubhouse was! Learning this and relaying it to my team members showed us the best angle for the story was to shed light on what Krukows is all about, how to become a ticket holder, and the history behind it all.

While I did lock down three interviewees for my team, we were also hoping to be able to attend a Cal Poly baseball game in the Klubhouse to get video footage and interview ticket holders. Unfortunately, due to schedules not lining up and our busy lives we weren’t able to make a game. I don’t believe that hurt our story, more that it would have been a little stronger if we had the first hand experience of attending a game.

Group member Kameren Mikkelsen, who was in charge of the multimedia portion of this story, agreed with me on this stating “my main concern with this story was that half of our team was out of town during the last home game. It definitely made it a challenging, yet rewarding experience when we got it all finished!”

We were lucky enough to be able to talk to the Director of Cal Poly Athletics, Don Oberhelman. His interview was very insightful and super helpful in regards to getting the information we needed to run with the story. He was very knowledgeable (which didn’t come as a surprise being Director of Athletics).

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 9.53.47 AM

Cal Poly Director of Athletics, Don Oberhelman, sits down with our team for an interview. 

Team member Natsuki Nishikawa was also excited about being able to talk to Don saying “this story didn’t work quite as well as I expected, especially since none of us were actually able to go to Krukow’s and see what it’s like. But I think the interview with the Athletics Director was nice and talking to a student about his experiences there helped too.”

Speaking of students, I got us an interview with Esteban Ramos, a student who has been attending baseball games for three years now at Krukows. He explained what it’s like to attend a game by saying “it’s not just a keg frat party in college. It’s a pretty fun environment that’s family friendly. You’ll get a little bit of rowdiness, not too much, but it’s not just coming from students. It’s coming from alumni and parents too.” That was really cool for our group to hear because until learning about what it’s actually like up there, it seemed like it would just be a place to get drunk and loud.

IMG_4623Esteban Ramos, Cal Poly student and frequent Krukows Klubhouse attendee during our interview.
Ayrton Ostly who was in charge of the broadcast portion of this story stated lastly that “it’s been interesting to see and hear how Krukow’s is more than just an area to watch Cal Poly baseball. It’s like a social event for community members and people in general to hang out and spend time together.” I have to agree with him. Even though as I said we weren’t able to actually attend a game, we feel that our story captures what the Klubhouse is from the interviews we conducted. Our hope is that we engage readers with this story and hopefully spread the word about something so unique to our campus that everyone should have the chance to check out at least once in their Cal Poly career.

Behind the Story: Cal Poly Concussions

Our story was initially about the vague word “concussions” and we focused it to aim at college athletes who don’t end up going pro. Most college athletes in this category get multiple concussions and are at serious risk for brain damage, but do not get any of the financial compensation pros do.

We ended up interviewing a series Cal Poly athletes who have had multiple concussions and realized that we felt much more touched by their stories than we had first expected.

I am working on the Public Relations aspect of this story, and after getting in contact with multiple students in the Cal Poly athletic program I was amazed by how many of them were willing to interview about this subject with my team. Moreover, how many of them had additional resources they were willing to give us in order to get into contact with!

We reached out to students involved in Cal Poly Football and Cal Poly Volleyball as well as a professor in the Psychology department to get more insight on the medical view of concussions.

“[Concussions] was definitely something that was of concern when I went in there with the neurologist after my last one… But without football I wouldn’t be here.” – Noah Letuligasenoa, former Cal Poly football player

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 12.44.37 PM
Cal Poly student Noah Letuligasenoa explains to the members of our group that he has gotten 6-7 concussions from playing football.

My team and I were surprisingly touched by Noah’s story as well as the story of Anna, another student we interviewed about her involvement in athletics at Cal Poly and her experience with concussions.

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 2.17.01 PM
Cal Poly volleyball player for 4 years, Anna Gorman, gets comfortable with her interviewee Natsuki Nishikawa.

Hearing the touching stories of these students in great detail didn’t necessarily change our story’s topic, but it did change the view that we had on concussions before this project. Our story now has much more emotional context to it than we had ever expected, when we initially were only thinking about the construction side of the sorry.

“Thinglink is difficult to save things on and it’s frustrating using a new platform with little guidance. Therefore multimedia was challenging for this story, but in the end I succeeded in completing the second component for the project. ” – Hannah Landry, multimedia

“At first it was hard finding student sources, but in the end I think it worked out well and Professor Laver gave us some really good information.” – Natsuki Nishikawa, broadcast

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 12.44.02 PM
Professor Gary Laver gets acquainted with his interviewee Ayrton Ostly in his office on Cal Poly’s campus.

Professor Gary Laver also gave us some information from the Cal Poly Psychology Department‘s point-of-view that opened our eyes to even more details that we were oblivious to before this project.

“It was interesting to interview a medical expert (psychology professor Dr. Gary Laver) and then interview an athlete right after. Laver was animated but also very concerned with the situation some athletes are in after having just two concussions. Natsuki and I interviewed Noah Letuligasenoa right after and he’d had seven in 11 years. Honestly, it was hard to maintain composure after he told us how many he’d had because I just wanted to shake my head from I learned from Dr. Laver. Between knowing the effects both Noah and Lauren will likely have to live with, this will be a story I will never forget writing. ” – Ayrton Ostly, print

Overall, this story really opened our eyes to the issue of concussions. It is one of those things you don’t necessarily think about past the surface-level… unless it happens to you.

Behind the Story: Covering The Fire that Burned Down The Sub

DSC_0061Getting Started

During the first week of class, my group and I got together for the first time and brainstormed story topic ideas. Annie, who was assigned print, shared her interest in The Sub fire and mentioned that no news organization has done an in-depth investigative story on the fire or status of the business and building.

We all had many questions. Why is the burnt building still untouched one and a half years later? Why aren’t more reporters talking about this? Was it an arson or accident? My group and I quickly decided that this would be a great story opportunity for Mustang News.

Journalism seniors Nicole Peterson and Mariam Alamshahi work on planning the story during class.
Journalism seniors Nicole Peterson and Mariam Alamshahi work on planning the story during class.

After an hour-long phone call between Annie and Owner of The Sub Richard Ferris, Annie quickly realized how complex this investigation would be – this was going to take more than just two weeks.

Annie shared her thoughts and discoveries with our instructor, and we were given four weeks to cover our story. However, we were still given new roles for the second two weeks of the project. Regardless, we thought four weeks should give us enough time to find and talk to enough valuable sources and uncover all the information we needed.

The Process

The process of covering this story was a long and complicated one. We realized we would need multiple components and many different sources for each. I initially received many responses to my social media posts on Facebook and Cal Poly Reddit when I asked what people know or would like to know about The Sub fire. I gathered several sources during the first week and set up a few interviews for Annie to begin her digging.

However, it wasn’t all that easy. It quickly became very difficult to find sources who were willing to provide information and records about the fire because it is a part of an ongoing investigation that’s potentially tied to a crime.

Once I switched to multimedia halfway through, I posted on social media looking for witnesses. This time, no one responded.  I mean, it’s not a surprise that no one wants to get involved in a crime related investigation; nonetheless, I was frustrated as time was ticking and no one was responding…

After doing a lot of digging, though, I found and interviewed a drive-by witness and two managers of The Sub who were present during the fire.

In addition to finding sources, some of us struggled with our roles. Nicole, who is concentrating in public relations and had no video experience prior to this project, was first assigned broadcast.

“I struggled a little bit with the focus on the camera which led my video to turn out blurry. I ended up having to set up another interview but eventually was able to get it working correctly. Overall, it has been a learning experience.” – Nicole

Journalism senior Nicole Peterson films the inside of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.
Journalism senior Nicole Peterson films the inside of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.

One of the most rewarding experiences, however, was capturing the 360 degree virtual tour of the inside of The Sub on a $5,000 Matterport camera (with our instructor’s help, of course). Nicole and I had to keep Kjerstin Ferris, who allowed us inside the building, entertained for the three hours that it took to capture the entirety of the building. But dang, it was worth it – the scan turned out awesome!

The Result

Over the course of four weeks, my group and I produced one main written story on the fire with an accompanying sidebar story on the history of The Sub, two broadcast videos, and six multimedia components (one slideshow, one quiz, one Matterport scan, one before and after comparison image with a slider widget, and two Thinglinks).

Rather than writing a second story on The Sub fire, Mariam decided to write about the history of The Sub in a sidebar element.

“I thought it would be best to give the shop some life, to paint a picture of what the history was like to our readers who had never visited.” – Mariam

Mariam also interviewed loyal customers of The Sub from every decade since it opened and included their memories of The Sub in her Thinglink.


Although we each faced different struggles when covering The Sub fire, the hardest part was dealing with two very different sides to the same story.

The Sub ‘family’ is strongly convinced that the fire was started by an arson and that the firefighters acted negligently when putting out the fire.

“I would just like someone to explain to me how chainsawing a bunch of holes in a roof helps the fire not spread,” Manager of The Sub Kjerstin Ferris said. “I know I’m not a firefighter, but that makes no sense to me at all, and nobody’s able to explain why that would be a good thing to do.”

On the other hand, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department claims they did everything they could to put the fire out as quickly as possible. In addition, the fire department and insurance company that ran the investigation on the building have both declared that the fire was not arson related, but rather electrical.

Journalism senior Annie Vainshtein discussing reports of the fire with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson.
Journalism senior Annie Vainshtein discussing reports of the fire with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson.

How do you cover a story fairly when both of your main sources contradict one another?

My group and I realized how important it is to remain neutral when reporting on a story that is not only extremely controversial, but also a very sensitive topic for our sources.

“My main concern while reporting on this story was to be as accurate as possible without compromising deference to either party. A story about a fire is, fundamentally, a story about a loss, and I wanted to make sure that that was captured and animated, even alongside the very technical details.” – Annie

Overall, I think my group and I did a great job at remaining impartial through the process and solely reporting the facts.

I’m looking forward to hearing people’s reaction to our final product!

-Lauren Roberge

The Sub As a Cultural Landmark

For those who don’t know what The Sub was, it was a cultural gift store that offered an array of unique items such as swords, wigs, lava lamps and much more. It was family owned and operated. The shop was located at 295 Higuera Street and burned down unexpectedly December 26, 2015. 

Group members, Lauren Roberge and Mariam Alamshahi discuss ideas for our story.

“The more I learn about The Sub, the more surprised I am. It was an icon in San Luis Obispo because of the diversity it brought to the small town. It seemed to be a safe place for expression for more than one type of person. I’m upset that I didn’t get a chance to visit it when it was still around.” Mariam Alamshahi, our multimedia and print group member said.

We started contacting people right away since we knew there was a lot of information to cover. Many people we asked didn’t know what The Sub was or just briefly passed by the store in their car, but never went inside. This made it difficult to find people that could share their experiences and talk about what they enjoyed about the Sub. To gain more feedback from other people, I posted on the Cal Poly Reddit page, Cal Poly Facebook page and my Instagram.

“Covering the story on The Sub fire has been a challenging, yet rewarding, experience. I was public relations for the first two weeks of our story and I definitely realized that it isn’t easy to get people to talk to you about an ongoing investigation, which may be [allegedly] tied to a crime. But, we have been able to speak to some sources that have provided us very valuable insights.” Lauren Roberge, our public relations and multimedia group member said.

Group member Lauren Roberge takes pictures of The Sub.

Each person we interviewed gave us a different outlook on The Sub and provided us with more detailed information. Cal Poly student Rhys Couser used to shop at The Sub.

“I bought a tye dye sweatshirt, and a tye dye t-shirt, both really cool. They had rave lamps. They had incense candles. They had weird little magnets. It was a wide variety of objects.” Couser said.

Group member Mariam Alamshahi interviews Rhys Couser.

We were not really sure if we were going to be able to see the inside of the Sub, but luckily the co-owner Richard Ferris let us inside. When we got on the scene of where the Sub burned down, and it really opened our eyes. The scene was completely burned with only parts of the structure still standing. The Sub was a large location that had many different areas including a smoking section, blacklight room and a basement full of posters. Some items that still remained today were several posters in the basement, as well as several lanterns that had not been burned. It was strange being inside the building that didn’t have a roof anymore due to the damage.

“From our reporting, we’ve seen the way in which what the sub lost was more than just property-it was a whole collection of cultural relics and unique artifacts of humanity.” Annie Vainshtein, our editorial and broadcast group member said.

Overall, The Sub culturally impacted many people in San Luis Obispo and provided a variety of merchandise that could only be found at The Sub. Our group has done its best to tell the story of The Sub and hear from all different people.  It will be interesting to see what will happen next!

-Ti’l next time


Behind the Scenes of San Luis Obispo Party Houses, and the Cost of Owning One

Our story led us in a direction my teammates and I didn’t intend. However after a week filled with back to back interviews, we managed to pull together a solid story before the deadline.

Initially, we planned to do a feature story on non-Greek-affiliated Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students who have lived in a “party house” for 3 or 4 years in San Luis Obispo. Although we solidified our topic, we had a hard time honing in on an angle. 

My team and I shifted our angle slightly several times over the course of 2 weeks. Because of this, Sophie Kelley found it challenging to align her multimedia piece with the other two main components of the story, print and broadcast. “Multimedia has been pretty challenging to tackle. Our story was going in a bunch of different directions so I essentially had to decide on an angle for multimedia that would compliment and make sense for the entire story before the final story angle was established,” Kelley said.

I am working on public relations this story, and after speaking with students and community members and gauging interest through social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit on our topic, we found that people were interested in knowing more about noise violations, and how the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) keeps the college party-scene in check.

How does SLOPD determine the cost of noise violations? What is the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP)? and Who normally calls in, students or non-Cal Poly community members? were all common questions we encountered throughout out story. My group and I feel that we addressed a majority of the questions that arose from our potential readers and viewers in regards to our topic.

We reached out to college students, over the age of 21, who have experience with noise violations and ideally have received one or more within this academic year. We were able to interview 7 sources, 6 Cal Poly student party house owners and the San Luis Obispo Police Department Neighborhood Outreach Manager, Christine Wallace.

Sophie Kelley in microbiology junior, Zach Landry's home, to hear his perspective on hosting parties.
Group member, Sophie Kelley, speaks with microbiology junior, Zach Landry, on parties he has hosted, and receiving his first warning.

As we were interviewing sources, we ran into an obstacle. Many of our prospective sources were hesitant to talk to us, fearing their interview will draw attention to their household. Group members, Cameron Bones, found it challenging finding a student who felt comfortable going  on record. “Finding sources that are willing to go on camera to talk about parties has been pretty difficult, but there are a lot of people with really interesting stories about getting violations,” said Bones.

Cameron Bones reviews her broadcast piece with Mustang News Managing Editor for Multimedia and Web, Gurpreet Bhoot. Meanwhile, Lexy Solomon preps her plan for print before running it by our editors.

A key source for our story, specifically print, was the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s Neighborhood Outreach Manager Christine Wallace. Thursday, May 4th, Lexy Solomon and I had the pleasure to speak with Christine on the “behind the scenes” of the SNAP, and her take on college partying in San Luis Obispo.

Christine Wallace has been working with SLOPD since 1993. She has witnessed the Cal Poly party scene throughout the years, and believes students can still party, as long as it’s done correctly. San Luis Obispo community residents can now register their parties to avoid receiving noise tickets and warning. The SLOPD party registration is accepting applications starting today, Friday, May 5th.  “We have expectations for folks if they want live in the neighborhood. I think you can party as much as you want in our neighborhoods if you fly under the radar,” said Wallace.

Group member, Lexy Solomon, believed that Christine Wallace was a great addition to our story. “I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to speak with Christine today. She was very open and honest in answering our questions, and was a positive resource. I appreciate her contributions to our story, and look forward to seeing it all come together,” Solomon said.

SLOPD Neighborhood Outreach Manager, Christine Wallace, explains the role the Student Neighborhood Assistant Program (SNAP) plays in regulating college parties to our editorial writer, Lexy Solomon.