Behind the camera: Normalizing the sex industry.

When we started brainstorming stories for our third project we talked extensively during the pitch session and continued the conversation through our group message and landed upon a story by the end of the day.


No one really expects to hear about a student who’s side job is working in the sex industry, which made the story automatically compelling. There were also problems that came from telling the story. While it did raise interest from the people I talked to on campus and off, there weren’t really any extra sources.

Mustang News had previously done a story on Porn, in which they talked about the unspeakable topic. This was a different take on the sex industry, coming from an on campus student.

This project brought a unique challenge to us in that it wasn’t fitting into a lot of the demands on the syllabus addendum. We were planning on doing a story on a girl who performed on camera to make extra money. There wasn’t an academic component or multiple sources who could speak on the subject. We had one girl.

Olivia takes photos of our subject in her room where does her webcam modeling.
We decided as a group that our angle needed to be objective and we needed to wait before making any assumptions about our subject and the story in general. There was a lot of similar preconceived feedback that we’d gotten from talking to students, community members, etc. There is a stigma that can come when you mention the sex industry and we were here to tell her story and take on the stigma

Going into the interview there was a consensus that we here to facilitate her story being told and allowing our audience to take what they would from it. We met with her for about an hour and she shared her story. We agreed to withhold naming names in this situation because of the subject matter.

She talked to us about the industry, the clientele, her experiences dancing and walked us through the website which is just one of sites on the internet. was the site she used because she liked the variety of options that came with it.

The website allows user to rename anonymous, comment, tip and watch videos of their choosing.

It’s helpful to have all of the group attend the interviews because each of us had different questions that came up during the interview. Also we were able to help on the areas that were our own specialties even though we weren’t using them for this particular project.

Cecilia also interviewed Jane Lehr, Associate Professor & Chair Women & Gender Studies about the subject for an additional perspective.

Cecilia taking notes on the story.
We had two memory card issues, one dying battery, and four iPhones that we used to get everything for the story. It taught us a lot about having back up plans and back up plans for those back up plans.

Madison improvises with an iPhone after encountering technical difficulties during the filming.
The project allowed us to continue our theme of really good ideas and adapting that to few sources and little resources. We’re seeing that it’s important to have that initial interview with the primary source. We’ve seen our stories evolve on each project from our beginning plan to where the source takes us.

This has affected the way we do the print, multimedia, public relations and broadcast. I think that our last project will probably also come together in the second week even though we are already planning it, it’s just part of the trend.


Under the Sea: Cal Poly’s Marine Mammal Enterprise

A few weeks ago, I came across a press release on Cal Poly’s website about the conclusion of the first quarter of the university’s new Marine Science degree. Since the program had just finished up its first quarter, I thought that it would be a great idea to do an article for project #2 talking about how successful (or unsuccessful) the quarter had been for the faculty and for the students. After talking over the idea with my team members, Monica Roos (Editorial), Dylan Ring (Broadcast) and Savannah Sperry (Multimedia) during class, they were all excited about the prospect, as the project would allow for plenty of audio and visual opportunities.

Further research led our group to find an article published from the Tribune about the Marine Mammal Class that just began winter of last year. The class, offered through the Animal Science department, allows students the opportunity to go out to the Marine Mammal Center located in Morro Bay six hours a week to participate in the rescue and rehabilitation of sick sea lions. This allowed us to focus our topic from the marine science degree to one specific class, and why students are interested in that one specific class and the value that they see in this class.

We found out that the class, taught by Cal Poly professor and Central Coast Veterinarian Heather Harris, is only taught every winter quarter, so we immediately contacted her. Upon reaching out, we found that she was unavailable to be in contact due to an international vacation until February 12th, meaning that we had to push the story back until project #3. In the meantime, we focused on the Current Solutions story for project #2.

When the time came for project #3, our team once again reached out to Professor Harris. She agreed for an interview before the class lecture Wednesday afternoon, and encouraged us to stay for the lecture from 4 to 6, which she gave us details and a walkthrough about in an email before we arrived that day. The opportunity did not present itself for us to interview Dr. Harris that day due to her having to lead the necropsy, so we had to reschedule her interview for the following week.

February 15th, 2017. Professor of Marine Mammal Enterprise Heather Harris leads the necropsy of a gunshot seal being the Cal Poly Veterinary Clinic. (Building 57)
Photo courtesy of Savannah Sperry.  February 15th, 2017. Professor of Marine Mammal Enterprise Heather Harris leads the necropsy of a gunshot sea lion during Wednesday’s lecture behind the Cal Poly Veterinary Clinic. (Building 57)



I posted forums on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter earlier that week to gage student feedback on the topic, and although the responses were few, it helped the rest of the team with coming up with questions to ask Diana Kramer, Coordinator of the Marine Mammal Center, Saturday morning.

“After posting on social media, I was a little worried that the story might fall through due to a lack of potential interest from readers. But as we began talking to different sources, I felt more confident that this is a story that pertains to everyone and resonates the importance of being bigger than ourselves,” Alison Stauf said.

We spent Saturday morning at the Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay interviewing Diana and getting an up-close look at the work students and volunteers do at the center.  We were also lucky enough to meet Trisha and Brittany, two volunteers at the center who work with Diana. Unfortunately as we were leaving a possible ride-along opportunity presented itself, as Trisha and Brittany received a call about a possible sea lion on the road side that needed to be rescued. They informed us however, that many times the calls turn out to be false alarms.

Home to the Marine Mammal Center, Morro Bay is the gateway to the sea. February 16th, 2017
Photo courtesy of Savannah Sperry.  |February 19th, 2017. Home to the Marine Mammal Center, Morro Bay can be seen as the gateway to the sea.
Photo courtesy of Savannah Sperry. | February 19th, 2017. Students participating in Cal Poly’s Marine Mammal class volunteer at the center six hours a week rescuing and rehabilitating sick sea lions and sea otters.
Photo courtesy of Savannah Sperry. | February 19th, 2017. Sea otters love to play and have fun in Morro Bay.








On Monday, Dylan received a message from Diana about a sea lion that had just been rescued and relocated to the Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay. Because Dylan was unable to film anything on Saturday, it was the perfect opportunity to get footage of students working on an animal at the center. Just before we were sent to depart for Morro Bay, Diana informed us that we would need consent in order to film. Due to this, Dylan’s broadcast element of the story had to be postponed until further notice.

“This project was pretty stressful due to the sporadic nature of my part. But I thought we had a really engaging interview with Diana. You could really tell that she’s passionate about these animals. She had some great anecdotes about rescues and other encounters,” Dylan Ring said.

After reconnecting with Dr. Harris following Wednesday’s necropsy, Monica and I scheduled an interview for the following Wednesday afternoon. The interview took place at the Cal Poly Veterinary Clinic in the same classroom where the students from the class attend lecture each week.

Dr. Harris shared her favorite marine mammal memory with Monica and I, in which a young sea otter pup was reunited with its mom after drifting off during high tide. The video from Morro Bay, which was taken on Dr. Harris’ phone, went viral within hours.

“You’re not really supposed to anthropomorphize or put your human emotions onto wildlife but in this case it was impossible not to. She was just totally relieved, she had lost her little guy. It was pretty amazing to be a part of that,” Dr. Heather Harris said.

The interview with Dr. Heather Harris was the last piece that Monica and Savannah needed to complete their multimedia and editorial pieces.

“This story reminded my why I love journalism so much. Throughout my college career I’ve done tons of stories, and of course you’re not going to love every story you do. From the first day we went to the Marine Mammal Enterprise class, I felt that passion for curiosity, and each interview went so well because I had an honest interest, and so many questions. Hearing about how these students and volunteers have such great experiences has made me want to look into volunteering at the marine mammal center,” Monica Roos said.

“All in all I found this story to be challenging but rewarding. I wasn’t very familiar with multimedia going into the project but found myself more easily navigating the programs by the end. I think the Marine Mammal Enterprise class is a really interesting course and is an awesome opportunity for students. Diana and Heather were great sources and I enjoyed being able to spend some time at their Morro Bay Facility,” Savannah Sperry said.

One Roof, Four Wheels, Endless Travel: The Denali Bus

San Luis Obispo, many times referred to as a “hidden gem,” isn’t so hidden anymore with an increased demand of residency throughout the county. Unfortunately this means high rent for Cal Poly students. While many houses are crammed with more roommates than they are supposed to, Alden Summer and Alex King, fourth year Mechanical Engineering seniors decided to convert a large school bus into a mobile home.

They spent the entire summer of 2016 transforming this bus into a four-wheel adventure. After they completion, they made multiple trips from Washington to Shasta Lake, and back down to San Luis Obispo. This trip wasn’t exactly traveling in glamour. Summer and King often dealt technical difficulties that they had never faced before, and ended up in a situation where they were stuck in the bus for several days.

“That’s probably the hardest thing in life, to make mistakes. And then even harder is coming back and fixing those mistakes,” Summer said.

Our group felt the hard work and passion that these two students had poured into this mobile home that they now call “The Denali Bus.” Clara Knapp who covered multimedia was surprised by how much they were actually able to fit inside the bus.

“My kitchen in my old apartment was much smaller, which also speaks to the problem with housing generally in SLO,” she said. “People don’t have enough viable living options, and so they opt to do creative things like live in a bus.”

We approached this story with an intention of covering the benefits, hardships, and also the friendships that elevated from this bus conversion. Allison Royal who covered the news editorial piece focused on making this story appealing to an audience that is intrigued by the topic in a relatable way.

“We took this bus – a topic that easily could’ve been discussed from an engineering and construction point of view – and humanized it into a tale of travel and ultimately, friendship,” Royal said.

The Denali Bus is not only a story about friendship and avoiding high rent expenses, but also holds a visual attraction from the audience. The wooden walls and ceiling create a cozy scenery that make such a visually appealing story. Maggie Hitchings covered broadcast and was excited to portray this mobile lifestyle.

“Their Instagram and Youtube channel was so visual so I was excited I got to be broadcast for this piece. I was surprised at how well they built the bus and how much of a liveable space it actually is,” Hitchings said.

The story behind The Denali Bus is appealing to many students who seek adventure in an area with so many outdoor activities as San Luis Obispo. Our group really enjoyed getting to know the creators of such a large project, which made collaboration very easy between us.

“It was a cool experience for all four of us to go see, climb, and explore the bus together as a team despite our busy schedules,” Royal said. “Working together on all the interviews and collaborating I think will make the media in our story that much more powerful.”Clara Knapp and Allison Royal Climbing on Top of The Denali Bus

Converting a huge school bus into a home isn’t a quick fix, especially for two college students. However, the impact of this unforgettable experience on Summer was clear.

“This will probably be one of the biggest parts of my life. Today, I don’t know what will happen next, but I’ll look but on this and cherish it for sure,” he said.

Behind the Story: Computer Science Retention

Decoding Cal Poly Computer Science:  Why Is There A Low Retention Rate?

The Plan: 

Our group wanted to explore the low retention rate within the Computer Science major after seeing a senior project from 2015, in which it was reported that only 40% of students graduate in six years.

One of Cal Poly's computer science classrooms.
One of Cal Poly’s computer science classrooms.

The Sources:

We decided we needed input from a student who is still in the Computer Science major and one who transferred out. After posting to the Class of 2017 Facebook page, we got in touch with a fourth-year Computer Science major named Matthew Davis.

Matthew Davis
Matthew Davis is a fourth-year Computer Science major who is graduating in spring 2017.

In Matthew’s opinion, there are a few main problems with the Computer Science department:

  1. A lot of the students and professors have some social anxiety and are reluctant to either ask for help, or offer help.
  2. Students have trouble getting the classes they need, which makes it difficult to stay on track for graduation, even though Computer Science is meant to be a four-year degree program.
  3. The department has trouble hiring and retaining faculty. The university can’t afford to pay the high salary that many faculty are looking for, so they leave for higher paying jobs. This often results in professors who aren’t qualified enough to effectively teach the courses.

Dani Aiello is a fourth-year who transferred from Computer Science to Business Administration. On the subject of retaining faculty, she says, “I think they’re taking anyone they can get to teach. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at teaching, able to communicate well with students, or have ever had any experience.”

Fourth-year Dani Aiello changed her major from Computer Science to Business Administration after deciding she would enjoy business more. She says she is very satisfied with her decision and now loves her major.
Fourth-year Dani Aiello changed her major from Computer Science to Business Administration. She says she is very satisfied with her decision and now loves her major.

She says that although she was passing her Computer Science classes, she felt as though she was always struggling to get by and couldn’t get the help she needed from her professors.

She didn’t want to stay in a major that she wasn’t passionate about, which lead to her decision to switch to Business Administration. Dani says she is much happier now and actually looks forward to going to her classes. She is considering a concentration in Information Systems, which combines some knowledge of coding along with business skills.

The Experience:

Our group learned a lot while doing this story and gained new insights into the Computer Science department.

Veronica Fregoso says, “This topic was interesting in the sense that you think computer science and engineering majors have it together. I thought someone in computer science would be doing what they wanted and feel confident upon graduating; it just goes to show that money doesn’t really dictate happiness. If you aren’t doing what you love or something that makes you happy you really question why you’re doing it and if you’re doing it for yourself.” 

Chloe Carlson adds, “This project was most interesting upon talking to the professors who notice a retention issue in the academia. If you have a degree in computer science and software engineering then you are more likely to work in the industry because you could make substantially more than at a university.” 

“For as long as I’ve been here I’ve seen countless friends and peers go through the rigorous computer science program. And I always questioned if it was healthy for them since some become miserable throughout the program. So getting to work on a story that affects so many people I know made it that much more imperative,” says Olivia Doty. 

Julia Morris says, “I was most surprised that the main issue in the department seems to be keeping faculty. I just assumed that because Cal Poly is known for its College of Engineering that hiring qualified professors wouldn’t be a problem.”

Behind the story: How your food is getting made underneath Cal Poly

The Blue Prints

My roommate came home from class one day going on and on about a tour she went on for one of her construction management classes. When  I heard her say “underground” she immediately had my full attention. At the time my senior project group was working on our first story, but I knew this needed to be our next. My roommate proceeded to explain where this underground place was on campus and reeled me in further. Many people aren’t aware that Cal Poly has an underground portion of campus which is used for various purposes, I was most intrigued by the space which is used by campus dining. Just a couple flights of stairs underneath 19 Metro and The Avenue there is a bakery, a butcher shop, a salad room, and plenty of storage.

It was fascinating to see the cohesion in which the facility operated. Each room fulfilled their part of the bigger picture and I didn’t know it was broken up like that before.

-Peter Gonzalez

Peter Gonzalez and Olivia Proffit got a sneak peak of the Grab 'n Go storage.
Peter Gonzalez and Olivia Proffit got a sneak peak of the Grab ‘n Go storage.

Finding Our Story

One might assume that because Cal Poly is a “learn by doing” campus it would be simple to work with the school on a story for our senior project. That one person is wrong.  From the first day we started making calls and we started at what we thought was the “top of the food chain”, excuse my pun. We worked with Ellen Curtis, Director of Communication and Marketing for Cal Poly Cooperation, and she quite literally showed us the tunnel to our story. That night I posted on Reddit, the Cal Poly Class of 2017 Facebook page, and my personal Twitter to see what students wanted to know. Our senior project team put together the scraps of our idea to form our story: Peter Gonzalez put together the editorial piece, Olivia Proffit covered the broadcast segment, Cecilia Seiter created the multimedia section, and myself (Madison Agatha-Mancebo) helped coordinate the project and handled PR .Initially my group and I were under the impression that Cal Poly had secret tunnels and almost an underground city down there.  Ellen explained to us what was actually down there and suggested how we should go about getting in. After meeting with Ellen and one other worker from Campus Dining, we scheduled our interviews and hoped that a story would fall in place.

I was surprised by the sheer volume of workers it takes to operate campus dining, and how smoothly they need to work together to keep everything running effectively.

-Cecilia Seiter.

Olivia Proffit capturing behind the scenes shots of the kitchen
Olivia Proffit capturing behind the scenes shots of the kitchen

The Exploration

Just after the lunch rush, Ellen took us behind the scenes of how every food product and meal is made on campus. She walked us through the kitchen and introduced us to the Chef Micheal Albright, took us to the bake shop, the butchery, the salad room and the storage room which resembles a miniature Costco. Our story fell into place the second we walked into the kitchen. The natural sounds were amazing and there was so much to see. We were truly shocked that this much work went into  the food.

I was really interested to learn about how campus food is made. I had no idea that the food is so fresh.

-Olivia Proffit

After our tour we had the opportunity to sit down with Chef Albright and Megan Coats, registered dietician, to see how they plan what students are going to eat.

Peter and Gonzalez interviewing Ellen Curtis about how all of the fresh meat is prepared.
Peter and Gonzalez interviewing Ellen Curtis about how all of the fresh meat is prepared.


Focusing on cleaner food, local, sustainable, listening to the trends and students, and being able to change quickly is what we strive for.

-Chef Michael Albright


All of our perspectives truly changed after working on this story. I remember being a freshman eating on campus, or attempting to not, because I never knew where my food came from. But after seeing first hand that the fruit cups I ate  are actually prepared the day of and the beef in the  hamburgers is freshly ground in the butcher shop,  I feel at ease. I think that all students should take advantage of the dining on campus, not just freshmen. The staff truly listens to what the students want and they make it happen.

The Future of safety: Current Solutions


When we began this project, we started by researching for a story about safety on and off campus in San Luis Obispo. I reached out to multiple students, professors and community members. And on social media, I posted on Reddit,  Facebook and Twitter.  I felt I had the most luck on Facebook, where I could fine-tune my questions toward specific demographics by posting them in specific Facebook groups, like SLO Solidarity and the Cal Poly Parents page. On Twitter I felt I didn’t have a great reach because of my history of inactivity on my Twitter account. As for Reddit, I was a new user and posted in the Cal Poly subreddit. I fount the results posted by users to be largely sophomoric and I got minimal feedback.

What we found was that this topic was broad. It was hard to nail down one angle we wanted to take, we had too many sources to keep track of and it was a lot to include in one piece. Unfortunately on my part, because we decided to change our angle, most of the preliminary research  became irrelevant.

But we met with our first source, the team behind Current Solutions. After a great interview, we decided that it was a better idea to focus the story completely on Current Solutions. In the end, I’m glad we changed the topic to present a more effective and focused story.

“When we first began this project, I wasn’t necessarily sure what direction we were taking, but as we began to interview our sources the story almost began to write itself.” – Alison Stauf

This was a student-founded Cal Poly group that aims to decrease sexual assault and violence against women. We decided we would talk to multiple members of the group, as well as those that may be affected by it. Alison Stauf said that our delay in focusing our story was frustrating at first, but then became easy once we talked with Current Solutions members.

“When we first began this project, I wasn’t necessarily sure what direction we were taking,” Stauf said. “But as we began to interview our sources the story almost began to write itself.”

Following up

Our next steps from here were delving deeper into Current Solutions. How do they work and where are they in their app development? We learned about how the team members met and that they were inspired to take action when they realized many of their female friends were scared to walk home at night. We met with cofounders Maxwell Fong and Elan Timmons who were shocked when they heard their friends’ stories.

“We actually started talking to our friends and we were like wait, ‘you’re scared when you walk home at night, what?” industrial technology senior Elan Timmons said.


“It was cool to see them in their own element, and see how many successful businesses can really start from a small office space above Ross.” – Monica Roos

We also interviewed other members of the team who helped work at the Hothouse as well as a Brand Ambassador for Current Solutions.  The app works by alerting others who have the app that someone you know is in danger. Along with that, you can enable the app to turn on your flashlight and video camera to alert others of your location/record any evidence.


Monica Roos said she was impressed with the members work morale and progress.

“It was cool to see them in their own element, and see how many successful businesses can really start from a small office space above Ross.”

The Background

The next component of this story that was important to include was some background on sexual assault and safety in general. This was particularly important for Monica’s part in multimedia as she wanted to find a way to visualize some of the statistics. We reached out to UPD and SLOPD for any possible affiliation with Current Solutions, as the app features an ability to alert the police. SLOPD wasn’t particularly helpful in that regard and weren’t very involved with Current Solutions and UPD told us they wouldn’t be able to meet with us during the first or second week, which was unfortunate.

The Human Aspect

Our last piece of the puzzle was finding the human component to give this story an emotional connection. We reached out to Megan Knudsen, a student who reached out to Current Solutions to tell her sexual assault story.


This was particularly eye-opening for us because of how brave Megan had to be to come to Current Solutions with her story. Savannah Sperry said she was inspired by Megan’s story.

“I was impressed with the maturity she had and how she spoke about her story,” Sperry said. “She was very friendly and open to answering any questions, even if they were difficult to discuss.”


With this information, we were able to tell the story of Current Solutions and those who have become involved with it. Doing this story was a new experience and exciting to see how a student group followed a cause and succeeded in taking action.

Beneath the Sun: What you need to know about skin cancer in SLO

Journalism student Clara Knapp enjoying the sunny SLO outdoors
Journalism student Clara Knapp enjoying the sunny SLO outdoors

It has been raining more than usual lately in San Luis Obispo, so when a few days of sunshine finally came around, my senior project team was only thinking about one thing: tanning.  It’s a favorite Cal Poly           student pastime, and why shouldn’t it be? Cal Poly has an outdoorsy culture that encourages people to have a “healthy” tan, and spending time hanging out in the sunshine at the pool or beach with friends is easy at our campus.

But what about all the things people don’t like to think about when it comes to fun in the sun? Things like skin cancer, wrinkles, sun spots and aging. And, of course, putting on sunscreen. As college students, even though we know the risks of sun exposure, we think sunscreen makes tanning impossible, we forget to put it on… or we’re simply too lazy. Realizing that this could potentially have far-reaching effects on skin gave birth to the concept behind our story: discovering the true risks of sun exposure for people our age, and the effects it may have later on in life.

Getting Started

Our senior project team of four worked to bring all the pieces together: Maggie Hitchings working on the print version, Allison Royal covering multimedia, Barbara Levin featuring a Cal Poly student with skin cancer in a broadcast piece, and myself (Clara Knapp) coordinating the project in a PR role.

I thought this was a tough yet exciting topic to cover. It was a tough topic to cover because everyone knows that it’s bad to not wear sunscreen, but everyone ignores it. Finding a different and intriguing angle was the first challenge but once we gathered our sources we were able to tackle the topic.                    – Barbara Levin

Day one of the project, I posted on social media to get some opinions from the community on what exactly they would like to learn from a story on this topic. I posted on my personal Facebook page, a Cal Poly Facebook page and on Twitter, and was excited to receive feedback from a wide range of people, and even the Olay Skin company! I also posted on Instagram, and received helpful questions from students at Cal Poly – this was a great way to engage with potential readers.

Posting on Instagram helped engage Cal Poly students in the reporting process.

These social media responses were able to give us some direction once we contacted our sources and had all the interviews lined up.

Finding the Facts

As a team, were able to talk to a wide range of people with knowledge about sun exposure, skin cancer and skincare. Our sources included a tanning salon employee, a microbiologist who does research on UVA and UVB rays, and a Cal Poly student who struggles with skin cancer.

Going into our story I was a little lost on what the angle was going to be. I was getting stressed out that our story wasn’t going to be interesting enough or informative past what people already know about sun protection. However, after attending the interviews I gained so much insight on both the scientific side, from Dr. Fidopiastis, and emotional side, from Monica, about skin cancer. The story really came together and I think it will be informative for students and hopefully scare some people into wearing sunscreen and protecting themselves!           – Maggie Hitchings

Casey Handcock, employee at Planet Beach Tanning & Spa
Casey Handcock, employee at Planet Beach Tanning & Spa

Attending these interviews taught me things about sun and UV exposure that surprised me. Casey Handcock, a Cal Poly civil engineering major and tanning salon employee, told me that some of her clients have been prescribed tanning by doctors in order to treat spider veins, Vitamin D deficiency,  and other skin conditions such as acne.

Allison Royal Interviewing Planet Beach employee Casey Handcock
Allison Royal Interviewing Planet Beach employee Casey Handcock
I was surprised to hear that doctors prescribe tanning to patients because of controversy about the health and safety of tanning beds, but apparently this practice is widespread enough that it has gotten the attention of the media.

“My favorite part of the project was interviewing Casey. She explained tanning like donuts – if you have a donut here and there in moderation, you’re okay. If you have 20 donuts and eat them everyday, that’s unhealthy.”
– Allison Royal

However, other sources we talked to warned against intentionally exposing yourself to UV rays.
According to Cal Poly Biology professor Dr. Pat Fidopiastis, being exposed to the sun without protection is never safe. He suggested using sunscreen and wearing tightly woven clothing, even when it is cloudy. This is because some sun rays, especially UVA, are highly penetrating, can pass through clothing and cause skin damage below the surface. These rays are largely responsible for cancer deep in the skin that can spread to other areas of the body. Conversely, UVB rays are largely associated with tanning, skin again and wrinkles.

Gaining a New Perspective

Interviewing Cal Poly Journalism major Monica Roos helped us understand the gravity of skin cancer, and that it doesn’t just affect older people. Skin cancer is scary and can dramatically affect your lifestyle.

People need to realize that it isn’t always “just a mole” and there really is no such thing as “a healthy tan.” The research shows that skin cancer is extremely common and can be devastating, even for people in college.

Through the process of completing this story, my senior project team learned the facts about skin cancer and the risk it poses for college students, but we also gained a new perspective on the care we should be taking  to preserve our own bodies and keep them healthy for decades to come. We’re all guilty of spending time in the San Luis Obispo sun without protection, but it’s time to wake up and think about the consequences.

This topic was a reminder that there are lasting impacts to such decision and we were lucky enough to gather valuable sources such as Monica Roos who have a first-hand experience on the damages that the sun can do to you. I really learned about the consequences that just a few sunburns can do to you and think this will impact my decisions of being outside and protecting myself everyday. – Barbara Levin

The CDC provides tips for how you can protect yourself from harmful rays while still enjoying the San Luis Obispo sun. Needless to say, the first thing on my shopping list this week is a big bottle of good, full-coverage sunscreen.

Beyond the Byline: The Game of Instafame

The Student-Journalist Dichotomy

Our public relations specialist, @valleyally , searching instagram for #instafamous students
Our public relations specialist, @valleyally , searching instagram for #instafamous students

Being a student-journalist is a fascinating dichotomy. You are essentially reporting on yourself. You both report on the news and are an integral part of making it.

For example, tuition at Cal Poly is approximately $3,000 per quarter. We uncovered that some fellow students receive $3,000 every time they post a shoutout on Instagram. We could not help but relate to our interviewees, our fellow students, our peers here – as some of us work side jobs and take out loans to finance our education, and our subjects pay for similar lives with a single Instagram post. Forget reporting on these people – a part of us wishes we were these people.


Our Interviewee, @itsmandarinn

The Instagram Inspiration

Our multimedia specialist, Maggie Hitchings, completed a project on instafame back in the day that left her with remaining unanswered questions. There was more to the tech-savvy story, and it was time for us to dig deeper and see how instafame and Cal Poly fit together.

“I had a good amount of knowledge about the concept of making money off your Instagram after doing that story, but I was surprised how easy it was to find sources for this topic!” said Hitchings.  “I’m sure there are countless more people who have established instagram fame at Cal Poly that we still don’t know of.”

Barbara Levin, our editorial specialist, is from Denmark, and has seen the popularity of Instagram increase both in Europe and the United States as time progresses.

@valleyally researching and reaching out to various sources in the community
@valleyally researching and reaching out to various sources in the community

“Our group got inspired by the rise in popularity of Instagram and how personal account are turning them into a business and making a profit from their interest or passion such as modeling or living healthy,” said Levin.

Coverage: The Right Angle

After doing a preliminary engagement report, I soon realized that our topic was multifaceted and that we could probably do an hour-long documentary with a lengthy ten page spread on Instafame if we so pleased. As enticing as that sounds, we agreed as a team to narrow the scope to the business aspect of instafame, something we could notshake and knew Cal Poly readers would drool over and likely implicate in their lives.

“I had challenges with choosing what style of writing I wanted the editorial part of the story to be. There are many angles that I could’ve taken but I wanted to cover the general idea of what Instafamous is and how much work people put into it. Specifically, Cal Poly students,” said Levin.

Hitchings consistently kept the readers’ interests in mind.

Our broadcast reporter, Clara Knapp, and our Public Relations Specialist, Allison Royal, were interviewed by Peter Gonzalez and Megan Schelling (pictured) on 91.3 KCPR about their project.
Our broadcast reporter, Clara Knapp, and our Public Relations Specialist, Allison Royal, were interviewed by Peter Gonzalez and Megan Schelling (pictured) on 91.3 KCPR about their project.

“I am glad we took the angle of making money off your instagram, as I find this is what students will find the most interesting and be most curious about. A lot of people don’t care about instagram fame, and may even be annoyed about the whole concept, so taking the angle of how college students can make money off of their instagram accounts was a smart move by us,” said Hitchings.

Our broadcast reporter, Clara Knapp, captured the economic empathy associated with the story in her creative interview.

“I think that this project was a super cool idea because everyone is looking for ways to make money while in school, and it is such a simple and easy way to do it – it definitely breaks the confines of what you would normally expect from a part-time job” said Knapp.

Fresh Findings

We searched all corners of the internet and campus for a variety of instafamous students. We wanted people that were instafamous for different reasons – whether it be for the tofu-happy vegan food blogger or an Instagram worth double-tapping for the pictures of the girl drinking a margarita on the beach in a designer bikini. As the project’s public relations chair, if you go to Cal Poly and are even remotely instafamous, trust me, I found you, messaged you, sent a carrier pigeon to your house, etc.

Our group met up for editorial meetings at Scout Coffee, where Barbara Levin ironically instagrammed the meeting.
Our group met up for editorial meetings at Scout Coffee, where Barbara Levin ironically instagrammed the meeting.

“I liked the similarities and differences that each interviewee had to say,” said Levin. “They all talked about personal branding but their views of themselves and their brands all differed which was really cool to see. It showed that there isn’t just one path to becoming instafamous and that everyone takes their own route according to their own brand.”

Final Thoughts

In the end, we found the underlying commonalities and differences between all these instafamous peers of ours. We captured these local media moguls and humanized them so that readers relate to them as fellow Cal Poly students. Additionally, our piece provides applicable information as to how to brand yourself on social media and profit from it. One big takeaway is that instafame is not effortlessly achieved through a single sunset photo on Instagram. As most rewarding aspects of life do, it takes dedication.

One of our interviewees, Katie Postl, a recent Animal Science graduate, receives from double-taps on her Instagram posts than most of us ever will, but it isn’t exactly easy money.

@katiepostl one of our interviewees
@katiepostl one of our interviewees

“I don’t think people realize that me posting one picture is not like I’m quickly selecting one photo and caption.  I have a list of captions that I wrote down months ago that I haven’t used,” Postl said. “I have to send my edited pictures to so many people before I post it and I have to get captions approved by the company before I post the photo. It’s a lot of work to post a single picture.”

“I think that this project definitely showed a fun and interesting side of social media that many people don’t really think about or notice, even though it is all around them. Hopefully people can use some of the tips and tricks in our story to build their own social media platform and make some mula,” said Knapp.

Blog Post by Allison Royal.

Behind the Story: How the Issue of Disability on Campus Transpired


signlanguageeditWhen finding a good story to write about, a reporter who chooses to have a voice for those who need to be heard has the ability to make people think about what they’ve read. In order to ignite some kind of change, whether through action or just by making the reader think about the issue at hand, good reporting and representation across different journalistic platforms can only enhance the story and truly engage the audience.

How the Project Started

As print team member Olivia Doty sat in class with her colleagues, she mentioned an idea that everyone thought was worth investigating.

The idea had been mentioned to her editor over at Mustang News and they thought it was a good one: this project had the potential to be published in the campus newspaper about a pressing issue that is affecting a group of people everyday. Olivia set up interviews with students and the DRC, and began piecing together a piece of work that would hopefully inspire the campus to be more inclusive of different students.

In her experience reporting, Olivia says:

“Disabilities are just different abilities. No dis. We all have different experiences and perspectives and they all matter. Interviewing a deaf student who was such a driven and happy-go-lucky person really highlighted that for me and I hope to spread that ideal everywhere I go.” 

Gathering Data

How did the issue come about? The need to investigate and report on this story primarily encompassed the fact that little to no information is really known about what it’s like to be a student with a disability. In 2011, it was reported that 11.1 percent of college students have a disability . The majority of the student body is not aware of the additional hardships disabled students must endure when pursuing a higher education.

Multimedia team member Julia Morris worked on a visual representation of just how many campuses actually taught ASL, or American Sign Language Classes. Cal Poly is not one of them.


“After talking to Arielle and doing research on the CSU system, I found that Cal Poly is one of the few CSU campuses that doesn’t offer ASL classes and I think we should. ASL is a real language and if more people were familiar with it, I think we could be more inclusive to the deaf community”, said Julia. 

Finding Sources

The difficulty with writing stories about people who are a minority, a reason why they need to be written about the most, is finding the sources who are willing to speak up and be personal about the issue at hand.

Along with students not being aware or understanding how to be supportive, students with disabilities, and often hidden disabilities like dyslexia or deafness – choose not to disclose their disability.

When interviewing Arielle Dubowe, a senior studying agricultural communications, her kindness and positive attitude offered insight into how being hard of hearing has not brought her down but has made her a stronger individual.


Julia recalls:

“I was pleasantly surprised that Arielle was so open about her experience and didn’t view her deafness as hindering her from doing anything hearing people can do.” 

ASL is a real language a real culture

What Can We Do?

In an article titled ““Taking Nothing for Granted” , 3 students with physical disabilities are chronicled and give insight into their experience in college – especially with their campuses and ways they can improve to make it a more accommodating and inclusive place.

Interviewing Arielle helped us understand that it is not a disability – it is part of her and makes her who she is.

“There’s nothing different about us. We’re just like you.” 

Volunteer services and support are offered at Cal Poly’s Students Supporting People with Disabilities Program.  This is just one of the efforts we can put forth on our campus to make it a more inclusive community.

“Disabilities are just different abilities. No dis. We all have different experiences and perspectives and they all matter. Interviewing a deaf student who was such a driven and happy-go-lucky person really highlighted that for me and I hope to spread that ideal everywhere I go”, Olivia said.

Behind the Story: How Student-Parents Do it All

As soon as Olivia Proffit suggested covering a story about college students raising kids, the energy in the room started buzzing.

“Good,” I thought as our group of reporters began assessing how to break down such an expansive topic. “This is the kind of story that needs to be told.” Proffit and I, along with our group members Peter Gonzalez and Madison Agatha-Mancebo, knew we had touched upon a subject we could delve deep into.

Cal Poly students who are also parents are hardly discussed within the context of the student body (they’re not mentioned on the diversity homepage). Though there aren’t many, they are here, and they’re working twice as hard for twice as much – not just a degree, but a degree to support a family with. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over a quarter of the nation’s undergraduate students are raising children.

To start tackling this project, I first reached out to different members of the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities. I wanted to hear their opinions, their expertise and their questions on the subject before we dove into our reporting.

For the most part, nobody that I talked to came into much contact with student parents. I spoke with three freshmen who had never thought once thought about there being students on campus who are also parents. When I asked a few San Luis Obispo residents if they knew much about students being parents, they didn’t have much to offer, either, and the professor that I spoke with had never taught a student-parent before.

These sources did, however, give us some direction for our reporting: they wanted to know how these student-parents balance their time, how they manage to do in school, how many of them are at Cal Poly. With a better sense of guidance for the story, we got to work finding sources.

There are different types of student-parents. There are those who are returning students, well into their twenties or thirties, who’ve been raising their families for a few years. There are also those who entered college without kids but became parents along the way. Each has a different story to tell.

“It’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.” – Melinda Radsliff, psychology student and single mom

Our first interview was with Melinda Radsliff, a transfer student in her second year studying child development. She’s a 32-year old returning student and a single mom. She explained how she balances taking care of her three-year-old daughter, Evelyn, with going to school, and how she pays for it all (mostly through student loans).Melinda edited-11

“The support for students with children who want to finish an upper level college degree is severely lacking,” Radsliff told us. “So it’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.”

Radsliff was the subject for Gonzalez’s video, in which he filmed an interview with and then her dropping Evelyn off at the ASI Children’s Center.

“I think that the initial storyboarding gave me a foundation for creating the video,” Gonzalez said. “Having footage from the sit-down interview and the morning with Melinda helped create a fuller story.”


We then talked to Elizabeth Barrett, a psychology professor, to gain a better understanding of the stressors that are involved with parenting and going to school at the same time. She said that trying to meet the physical and emotional demands of a child while trying to stay on top of school work can often lead to problems, especially if with single parents.

Parents are often so focused on trying to create a better life for their child in the future, she said, without realizing that they’re missing out on the present. That can lead to loneliness and behavioral disorders in children.
For the most part, the parents we talked to have gotten a good grasp on balancing school and family, but not without rigorous scheduling. Hallelujah Adams, a married mother of two and psychology student, said that 70% of her time is dedicated to school – the rest is divvied up for family time and sleep.

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 10.43.49 PM
Radsliff reads to Evelyn at the ASI Children’s Center before dropping her off for the day.

“School for me is my thing and that takes so much time already that all the other stuff just [doesn’t take priority],” said Adams.

Our multimedia reporter, Agatha-Mancebo, asked all her sources about how they split their time between work, school, family and other functions of life. Her graphic displays how a typical Cal Poly student with a job versus Cal Poly student-parent split up their time every day.

“I was shocked and inspired by our interviews with the different parents,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily have any predisposed opinions, but when I got to meet both mothers I felt so inspired by what they have accomplished all while raising children.”

Proffit also spoke with a student who got pregnant as a Cal Poly freshman, who became the main source for the story. She had the most interesting and unique perspective of the parents we talked to.  But when Proffit talked to the director of the ASI Children’s Center, she couldn’t quite get the data on student-parents she was looking for.

“I had to learn to be flexible when my story idea didn’t quite pan out how I thought it would,” Proffit said. “I struggled to find interesting sources and solid data.”

Despite the few twists and turns in the reporting process, we got a good glimpse into the day-to-day life of a parent who is also going to school, and overall, it’s important that those stories are told.