Behind the Scenes: Why Cultural Commencement is important for Cal Poly

As previously mentioned in this blog post written by my fellow teammate Lexy Solomon, working on this story was a challenging for a few reasons— a lot of the conversations were sensitive and we had to be mindful in our approach, and organizing over 20 interviews with students and faculty is tedious work.

“It has been a challenge getting in contact with sources from all cultural commencements,” said Victoria Howland. “As journalists, my team and I are working very hard gather accurate information regarding each culture to avoid misrepresentation.”

However, this story allowed our team to take part in conversations about extremely important topics on this campus.

“This story holds so much value to me,” said Sophie Kelly. “I feel like we have a large duty as a group to respectfully and accurately cover each individual cultural commencement ceremony, attendees and the traditions involved within each.”

Representation of marginalized groups

Through our interviews and interactions with staff and faculty, we very quickly learned how important this story was for Cal Poly’s campus. Nearly every person we reached out to was grateful that we were covering their individual cultural ceremonies since that hasn’t been done before.

At the Chicano and Latino Commencement meeting, Lexy and I gathered stories from students about how their culture has impacted their Cal Poly experience, and the responses were heartwarming.

Psychology Senior Yvette Solano comes from a small, predominantly Hispanic town in San Diego, and coming to Cal Poly her Freshman year was a major shock.

“Coming to Cal Poly which is not too diverse is definitely shocking at the beginning,” said Solano. “But it only helped me embrace my culture even more.”

Many students including Solano told stories about how their families supported them through their time at Cal Poly, and how much the cultural ceremony means to them.

“I’m proud of where I’m from — not only where I was born, but where my parents are from,” said Solano. “I’m proud of the sacrifices they’ve made to allow me to be here, so it’s all for them.”

Financial support from the university

During my interview with Ethnic Studies Assistant Professor Jenell Navarro, the topic of funding came up. She said that although the university supplies a certain amount of money for the event, the budget isn’t big enough to include every aspect of the ceremony.

“There’s a portion of the budget that comes from the president’s office for each of the commencements, and that did increase this year,” said Navarro. “But it still didn’t pay for the whole ceremony.”

According to Navarro, the American Indian and Indigenous Commencement ceremony received additional funding from the American Indian Faculty Staff Association and Career Services. In addition, University Housing paid for the graduates’ blankets for the ceremony to represent the students and their families, as well as commemorate the Chumash naming of the new Student Housing South.

“It’s always kind of a hustle to come up with the funding for the event,” said Navarro. “I would be great if we could write out our budget and give it to the University Cultural Commencement committee.”

Hope for the future

This was the first year that Student Affairs sent an email about the Cultural Commencement ceremonies to every student. This makes us hopeful that the campus will continue to pursue equal representation for marginalized groups on campus.Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.56.07 PM

After working on this project for weeks and getting to hear stories from students and commencement coordinators, we hope that this inspired student media to cover different cultural groups more often.

“I think this story has opened the door for a lot of discussion about the different cultural groups on campus,” said Lexy Solomon. “It has been a pleasure getting to speak to a wider variety of people and learn how their cultures have shaped their college experience.”

Behind the Story: ROTC

Before starting this story, I knew next to nothing about the ROTC program. Over the last four years, I’d seen some students in uniform walking around campus but was honestly too intimidated by the outfits to look for very long much less ask them any questions. I now realize how foolish I’ve been.

At the start of this quarter, one of my other group members pitched the idea of doing a story on Cal Poly’s ROTC program or maybe profiling a specific student. There hadn’t been any major stories on the program in the last few years. As our luck would have it, a Mustang News writer had been working on a profile piece around the same time we were looking to do our story. My group is short a member so we always have one element of the usual senior project missing. This time around, we were able to use Emma Kumagawa’s story and add in our multimedia elements. For me, having Emma was extremely because she had already made some contacts with members of ROTC. Her story was focused on ROTC Senior Cadet and biological sciences senior Katherine Holst, who’s headed to the 82nd Airborne to serve as a field artillery officer for at least the next five years.

When I first starting talking to Katherine, I was intimidated. I didn’t know much, but I could tell she was a person of great importance. When other students and even higher ups passed by us, their behavior suggested she was certainly a woman with authority. While she maintained this general vibe during our entire time together, I soon realized that she’s really no different than me. She’s just a student trying to make it through. I certainly don’t mean that as a negative, but I was under the impression that everyone is ROTC cadet was some gym rat with an aggression problem. Again, I quickly realized I was wrong. My group members agreed.

“I really liked working on this story because through all of the tough workouts and time commitments, these students are just like any other students but they happen to play a part in the bigger picture of life. It’s awesome to see they are not all that different,” said Jessi Armstrong.


Katherine understood that this was a common misconception for people who aren’t familiar with the program and that she gets more than her fair share of flack simply for being a woman within the unit.

“There is nothing magical about being an ROTC cadet. We aren’t a bunch of geniuses of fitness freaks or anything else out of the ordinary. We are simply a group of students who have decided to join something a little bigger. So don’t feel like ROTC is reserved for a select or tiny elite subset of the population. Feel free to come to Dexter and check us out, come chat with us or come do PT with us if you feel like it. I think you’ll find it’s not as different or as scary as it first seems,” said Holst.


My group and I actually ended up joining Katherine at 6:30 am one Wednesday morning as she headed out to Camp SLO, a local military base. There were some juniors taking their physical fitness test and we were able to see how the whole thing went down. And for a third time, I saw how my own preconceived notions had dictated my perception of these people. There were students of all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique story of why they joined ROTC. No two were alike other than that they were all extremely friendly and welcoming to us. They were focused when they needed to be but during breaks, they laughed and joked around like any other typical college student.


“I found that the people in ROTC are really motivated and dedicated. Waking up at 6 am to go workout three times a week is brutal and I admire them so much for putting so much time and effort into something they are passionate about,” said Marie Leleu.

Behind the Story: Inside Cal Poly’s Cultural Commencement Ceremonies

In just one short week, soon-to-be Cal Poly graduates will be lined up along the edge of Spanos Stadium with their fellow peers, proudly sporting green caps and gowns, receiving diplomas, and officially becoming Cal Poly alumni.  However, this won’t be the first celebratory ceremony some students will be participating in.  Several students will have already participated in an intimate cultural commencement ceremony amongst their families, that aims to honor and recognize the accomplishments and hard work of each student.

Last month, Harvard’s first black commencement ceremony made headlines as students banded together to create their own ceremony to celebrate the achievements of black students and faculty, which they believe are overlooked.  As this story began to spread across the nation, my group and I set out to learn more about the six different cultural commencement ceremonies Cal Poly offers.


A closer look at the set-up of the Middle Eastern student commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy of Raha Haghnia.

We set out to interview most of the coordinators of the cultural commencement ceremonies, as well as some of the students who will be participating in the ceremonies.  Over the course of the past few weeks, my group members and I have had the opportunity to speak to first-generation college students, students who have overcome many obstacles at a predominantly white university, and faculty who are extremely passionate about acknowledging the dedication and hard work of underrepresented students on campus.   Group member Sophie Kelley said, “It was so heartwarming to hear advisors share why these ceremonies mean so much to not only graduates, but their entire families as well.  I think every school should work to include cultural commencement ceremonies.”

2016 Middle Eastern Student

Middle Eastern Commencement Ceremony stoles for the class of 2016. Photo courtesy of Raha Haghnia.

Before beginning this story, we asked students, non-Cal Poly students, faculty, community and non-community members about their opinion on cultural commencement ceremonies.  Since there’s been some controversy over this topic, we wanted to know if Cal Poly students thought that having additional culture-specific graduation ceremonies increased inclusivity on campus, or created more of a divide within the student body.  Shelby Funk, junior business student said, “I think the fact that there are different ceremonies is very inclusive, but also the fact that I didn’t know they existed kind of makes it feel less beneficial towards an overall inclusive effort.”

My team and I definitely encountered some obstacles along the way.  Reporting on this topic was not smooth sailing as we anticipated.  While we went into this story with nothing but good intentions, one of the cultural groups did not appreciate us attempting to better understand their culture, but rather, they were highly offended and were not receptive to working with journalists or other students.  Although we tried to make amends and continue the relationship, they were firm on their decision to not contribute to our story.  It is unfortunate because we wanted to include them in our story and highlight the students’ accomplishments, but were unable to do so.  “This has been a very challenging story to work on, but focusing on underrepresented groups on campus is extremely important.  We had to organize so many interviews and meetings, and might have rubbed a certain group the wrong way, but this has been a learning experience and I have enjoyed hearing all the different stories and experiences” Cameron Bones said.

Chicano/Latino students and coordinators group photo

Group of students who are participating in the upcoming Chicano/Latino commencement ceremony gather to take a photo with advisors who helped plan the ceremony.  Photo courtesy of Cameron Bones.

Although there were more bumps than anticipated with this story, it is the last story of our journalism career at Cal Poly, and despite the frustration, countless hours spent seeking out sources, and weeks of dedication poured into this story, I think we successfully captured what we aimed to do.  “It was a pleasure to speak to the cultural commencement coordinators and students who are participating.  Speaking for myself and my teammates, we appreciate each and every person who has shared their stories with us” Victoria Howland said.

Behind the scenes: a student-run escape room

Throughout the quarter, my group worked to find and report on stories that we felt would matter to the Cal Poly community. At the beginning of each two week cycle, we came ready with story ideas, pitched them, and talked them through before deciding on a direction to take. Our last story was a little different- instead of seeking it out, it sought us out. Having previously taken a VR class with Liberal Arts and Engineering (LAES) students and knowing how passionate they are about what they do, I was excited to have the chance to tell the story of their student-run escape room. My group members were not aware of escape rooms, but were intrigued by the concept and were eager to learn more. It immediately felt like the right fit.

Amanda Newell and Laura Hoover prepare to interview Ciera Dixon in the student-run escape room.
Amanda Newell and Laura Hoover prepare to interview Ciera Dixon in the student-run escape room.

We all agreed that the concept of an escape room was interesting, and wondered about the deeper implications of the project. We began by asking ourselves questions such as- why was this project important to the students behind it? How was this project related to the interdisciplinary LAES major? What is important to tell the Cal Poly community about LAES? Through my public relations outreach I gauged that most people did not know what an escape room was. It was clear we had a story to tell.

Compared to our previous projects, reporting on the escape room went smoothly. Laura and Amanda set out to interview LAES seniors Jack Goyette and Ciera Dixon, who were running the escape room. Jack and Ciera proved to be great sources- they were both very willing to be interviewed, and were quick to convey their passion for the project.

“The most rewarding part of engaging with LAES students was watching them talk about something they are so passionate about and seeing them light up when they got to answer questions about their accomplishments and this project,” print reporter Laura said. “Hearing Jack and Ciera explain the positive impacts this project had on their academic and professional lives was inspiring and is one of the reasons why I love journalism.”

A puzzle inside of the escape room.
A puzzle inside of the escape room.

Escape room puzzle

Though the story proved straightforward overall, there were still some challenges, particularly in finding a diversity of sources for James’ multimedia components.

“For my multimedia portion, all my sources were students,” multimedia reporter James said. “I’m used to balancing sources and information, but this story didn’t really require that so I had to let that instinct go.”

All of us came away from the project feeling like we each had learned a lot. Through working on the story, we learned about the escape room and how important it is to the students running it. We also learned about the unique opportunity LAES provides for interdisciplinary learn by doing work. This especially shone through in our interview with Ciera.

“It uses so many different skills that you don’t usually get to utilize,” said Dixon. “I’ve done script writing, I’ve done video editing, I’ve sawed things, I actually broke my foot- I’ve done so many things for the escape room that I wouldn’t have gotten to do in any other environment.”

Individually, we each had the opportunity to add to our ever-expanding journalism toolboxes. James had the opportunity to learn how to use a Matterport camera to create a virtual tour of the room. Laura’s experience reaffirmed her love of journalism. Amanda had the chance to build on skills she had not previously felt strong in.

Laura Hoover asks Ciera Dixon about her involvement in the escape room as Amanda Newell handles the camera.
Laura Hoover asks Ciera Dixon about her involvement in the escape room as Amanda Newell handles the camera.

“I did not have a lot of experience with broadcast before this project,” broadcast reporter Amanda said. “I learned so much in just two weeks about broadcast, from learning how to mic a source to capturing the perfect b-roll.”

Getting to work on this story is an experience we will all cherish as our last journalism project at Cal Poly. It was the perfect ending to a quarter full of growth and positive group collaboration.

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).

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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.