Tag Archives: San Luis Obispo

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.”

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.

Instagram
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.

Behind the Story: Cal Poly Students Who Stay in SLO for Thanksgiving

We all have that one out-of-state friend. Whether he/she is from Hawaii, Colorado, or Georgia. YOU get to drive a few hours away and bam you’re sitting across the dinner table from your Aunt Lucy who’s had two drinks too many already. As much as you hate them, you love your family because the cook of the night always makes the yams just the way you like it–with way too many mini-marshmallows.

A Common Theme

During our time researching questions and discovering answers to the question:

“What the heck do Cal Poly students do when they stay in SLO for Thanksgiving?” 

(for those who aren’t locals), we found that many people actually adopt what’s called a friendsgiving. Friendsgiving: The celebration of Thanksgiving dinner with your friends. Ex. “Hey guys, bring over your family leftovers to my house on the Friday after Thanksgiving to celebrate Friendsgiving!”

It was fun to interview the outliers of the holiday and analyze their attitudes about staying in SLO. Some seemed un-touched, while others were slightly, dare I say, excited. I held multiple friendsgivings myself and they really are fun.

Our Thoughts About the Process

Demitria Castanon (PR & Yours Truly):

The reporting process was very fun. I very much enjoyed being the public relations person in the project. I like to blog, and social is fun for me (and most other people my age), and it didn’t really seem like work to me to be honest. My favorite part was tagging along in the interviews. Meeting the sources is the most exciting. Thinking about challenges, I’d say the only part that was somewhat difficult to me was the first social networking checklist because sources don’t know (nor should get the feel) that we are on a deadline so I need our communication to be prompt. A.k.a. not waiting days to see if a certain time works or not. I understand everyone has plans,  it just makes it difficult when people are unsure about setting interviews.

Amanda Fridley (Text):

I like doing print because this topic had a lot of people willing to come forward and talk about their experiences during the holiday I had fun getting to know everyone and really diving into this topic. Usually I write for broadcast so it short sweet and to the point so print should be fun for me to dig deeper into my writing. Finding sources was not difficult at all for this project

Kaylee Bingham (Broadcast):

I am not super familiar with broadcast, which is what I am doing this time around. So it has been a challenge learning all of the components, from how to use the camera to actually editing and putting a video together. I am having fun with this topic though and learning another facet of journalism.

Trevor Melody (Multimedia):

MM has been rather tricky for me compared to PR and video so far. I’m not really familiar at all with ThingLink so working with it to try and make sure that it’s been working and how it should be has been rather difficult. I also am finding that I have to interview more people than I did for both PR and Video in terms of making sure that I have enough visual and audio quality for the thinglink.

Rachel Furtado (Multimedia):

I liked hearing what everyone who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving was doing instead. People do things that I wouldn’t think to do if I couldn’t be home with family. The multimedia component was challenging at times but it was fun trying to come up with creative ways to produce content for his project!