The Otter World on the Central Coast

When I was about eight years old my family took a road trip up the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco. We made all the usual tourist stops but there were two stops in particular that made the whole trip worth while: Morro Bay and Monterey. As a San Diego native, I grew up playing in the waves and building sand castles and though it was exciting, dolphin and sea lion spottings were nothing out of the ordinary. When my family stopped in Morro Bay I saw a mama and baby sea otter in the wild for the first time and I was totally mesmerized by the incredibly adorable, fluffy pair. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium I got to see even more sea otters and I begged my mom for a sea otter stuffed animal. That otter stuffed animal quickly became my favorite toy and I have been fascinated by otters ever since.

When I heard a rumor that sea otters were thought to be extinct until a small population was found in Big Sur and rehabilitated on the central coast I wanted to know more. I presented the topic to my group and it turns out I wasn’t the only one curious about the sea otter population. Lauren Arendt, who was in charge of the interactive aspect of this project, said that she had heard the same thing in an environmental class she had. So we decided to do some digging. We found an article that said that the otter population was strong in Morro Bay but declining state wide. We also found an article that said otter populations were declining because of sharks. This got the ball rolling for our project and so I asked the students of Cal Poly’s class of 2019 if they knew that Morro Bay had one of the biggest populations of sea otters in California. I had several responses from people who were either Marine biology or animal science majors informing me that I should get in contact with Heather Harris who runs the marine mammal enterprise at Cal Poly.

Harris told me a little bit about the marine mammal enterprise and recommended I contact Mike Harris, a sea otter biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife based in Morro Bay and Abrielle Goodwein, her TA for the marine mammal enterprise class.  So finally we had good leads to knowledgable sources.

Arendt and reporter, Evan Van Beek, headed out to Morro Bay to speak to Mike Harris about the sea otter population on the central coast. After their interview with Harris,  Arendt said, “I had no idea how much Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo plays a part in global otter populations.” Van Beek and Arendt agree that learning about the otter population on the central coast from a very knowledgeable source was very impactful for them.

Video reporter, Jason Amberg, got to film the cute and fluffy sea otters for his portion of the project and said, “the otters are unbelievably adorable and it was awesome to learn more about them.” In the interview I attended with Abrielle Goodwein I learned a lot about the marine mammal enterprise and I thought it was so cool that Cal Poly students can take a class outside of Cal Poly’s campus and get hands on experience working with marine mammals. The most interesting thing I learned was how the students track the animals. Goodwein told us that she and her team surgically implant trackers into sea otters and then they are able to track the otter for the remainder of their lives. In the picture below marine mammal enterprise students are tracking an otter that had been rehabilitated at their facility and then release back into the wild with a tracker.

Goodwein said that when things are slow during a shift they go out and see if their otters are around. Van Beek and  I both really enjoyed our time with Goodwein. Van Beek said, “I really enjoyed talking to our sources. They were extremely knowledgeable on a topic I knew nothing about.” Overall, this was an interesting topic and I think people will be interested to read our story and watch our video to learn more about our cute little furry marine friends.


100 years of the ‘P’

3 story ideas, 2 sources who couldn’t meet our deadline and one final product. Team 4 started slow, but finished strong after Summer realized we had a key source to the story idea she pitched: a former Cal Poly professor who prides himself on the history of Cal Poly’s ‘P’. After leaving our huddle in class, I started the community engagement report.

While I was shopping, I asked a few employees what they would like to know about the P. I knew the story was a strong topic by their immediate questions that just kept coming and coming. There is a genuine curiosity to the P and its mystery. The social networking report reaffirmed people’s interest in the landmark, with the post to the Cal Poly Class of 2019 page getting the most interaction. Some of the most popular questions our group received were, “who maintains it?” and “who originally created the P?”

Summer and Daniel went to the Cal Poly Archives to look for some answers. The archives are home to photos dating back almost 100 years. The photos revealed the P’s use as a historic landmark in Cal Poly’s history.

The archives were a fan favorite within the group. “It was really cool to be able to go through the Cal Poly archives and see Cal Poly throughout the years” Summer said.

With a little additional research, it became clear that the P is a central figure for generations of students. From pranks to social movements, the P is a multi dimensional figure on campus.

Steven Marx a former professor and co-author of Cal Poly Land and Field Guide sat down with Camilla to explain the history of the P. He was a key figure in our story and helped us piece together history from a variety of sources. He recalls when fraternities would go up to the P and make greek letters. “That period was really chaotic. One of my neighbors, she  would go up there with a bunch of plastic bags and clean up the mess,” Marx said.

Even after a few sources bailed on us, Camilla was able to graciously put together an incredible piece revealing the untold, unknown story behind the P.

“I had to research a lot but the article came out good” Camilla said.

With the photos and information Daniel and Summer got from the archives, the history slowly began to fall along a somewhat completed timeline. To wrap up the story and get footage of the P, Daniel made the journey to the top of the P at 6am to get new footage.

Daniel explained that hiking the P was. “Definitely a challenge, but other than that I learned so much about the P” he said. “The archives are really cool” he added.


To make a story even more timely, the P has now been painted orange and blue. But who knows, by the time our story is published it might even be changed again. This time however, the students will have a little better understanding as to how and why.

Behind the Scenes: Cal Poly Truck and Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull

When choosing Truck and Tractor Pull as the subject for our first feature story, no one in our group really knew anything about it. After doing further research within the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo community, I soon found that a big chunk of people didn’t know anything about Truck and Tractor Pull either. 

As soon as I got out of my car in the orange parking lot on campus on Saturday afternoon, I knew I was going to be in for something unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I saw herds of people flocking towards the loudest rumble of an engine that I had ever heard.

Truck Pull

As soon as Priya Sodlapur and I walked into the outdoor arena, we were both shocked. There were hundreds of people lined up in the stands, wearing ear plugs for that matter, cheering as loud as they could as trucks and tractors barreled down the raceway, pulling as much weight as they could. It was quite the spectacle. I felt like I had entered another world, one that I had never seen before.

“I didn’t know too much about Tractor Pulling before we began this story, so for me it was especially interesting to go to the actual Truck and Tractor Pulling event and see the culture around it (and) how passionate the community involved in it is. In terms of my interactive portion of the story being at the event was great because there were so many opportunities for action shots of the actual event”, said Sodlapur.

Truck and Tractor Pull has been celebrated at Cal Poly for the past 40 years. Being one of the biggest events during Open House weekend, it draws a large crowd. Katie Hoyer and Stephanie Garibay sat down with club president Bradley Livingston and previous club advisor Dr. Mark Zohns to discuss the ideals behind Truck and Tractor Pull, as well as its history at Cal Poly.

“It was great experience learning the ins and outs of tractor pull. I didn’t really know anything before starting this project”, said Hoyer.

Livingston, a bioresource and agrigcultural engineer junior, has been involved in tractor pull since he got to Cal Poly. “Basically, you’re trying to compete to see who has the strongest tractor”, Livingston said.

Tractor- Close up

Zohns, who was the advisor of the Tractor Pull club for quite some time up until his retirement, discusses Cal Poly’s involvement in the early years of tractor pull. “One of the students in this department built one of the first modified tractors in California”, said Zohns.

Cal Poly has been collecting photos and videos of tractor pull in its archives for quite some time. During my social engagement report, we got a lead on reddit about where to find them. 

“Yeah I thought it was really cool to learn about what tractor pull actually is because I had an idea of what it was but actually learning the technicality of it was really interesting. I also found video tapes from Tractor Pulls at cal poly from the 80’s so it was really cool to be able to see that”, said Garibay.

Behind the Scenes of Women in Construction

When my group first started discussing the story of women in the major of construction management, everything just aligned perfectly. We realized that an increase of women in the construction management field was an important fact to tell others. We had easy access to the sources because they were all on campus and it just felt right.

Click! To watch social media video

The First Interview

I felt we learned a lot of vital information about women in construction management when we went to our first interview. We spoke to  Allan Hauck who is the department head and  he pointed out a lot of important points for our story. He had a really great qoute that stood out to all of us: “You’re fighting a gender identity issue that starts in preschool, the boys get trucks and the girls get dolls, and they never think of construction as a career.” I think that statement hit us because the idea of boys getting trucks and girls getting dolls was something we all knew, but he made a point we had never thought about in the past until right now. He also mentioned that, in opposition to what most may believe, girls have the same opportunities men do in the major. Hauck also believed they don’t have any issues finding opportunities for the women in construction management. This interview sparked another interview for us on the spot! After we were finished with Hauck, he told us that employees from Panko Builders were upstairs and asked if we wanted to interview them. It was such great timing. The interviews with the employees from Panko gave us some really credible quotes to use in our story. It gave the story an extra angle that was really powerful.

Hear from the Team

Here are some quotes from the journalists in my team:

Kayla Berenson, writer:

This round was definitely my favorite. I hadn’t written in a long time, so it was really nice to get back to it. I think our story had super accessible sources, which made it a lot easier to put together, from getting footage for our video to getting data for our interactive elements. Our team also worked really well together and helped troubleshoot any challenges we faced. I felt really confident in our final product and I hope we get a chance to see it published in Mustang News!

Krista Hershfield, video:

This round like that last was great because I felt like I learned more about Cal Poly and the different majors that it offered. The people we talked to were great interviewees and were very accessible for any questions we had. Overall, our team worked well together to get it done and I had a great time brushing up on my video editing skills.

Jay Wilson, interactive:

It was interesting to learn something that I knew almost nothing about, in regards to construction management. My team really jumped on this round, too; logistically, it seemed to be one of the smoother rounds. Doing interactive was interesting, too. Getting good photos when subjects don’t have a ton of time is always a welcome challenge.


Casi McIntyre


Lighting in San Luis Obispo

We struggled for a while to come up with a topic for our final story in JOUR 462, but Sam found out about the petition to improve lighting in neighborhoods in SLO from her ethics class. We all thought it was a good idea and started to research and talk to people about it. The project was a bit different from the rest of our projects which was a good challenge for us. Sam was responsible for the audio/video portion and said, “This project was very cool to be a part of. It seemed more newsworthy than our previous topics, so working on it was a lot different. It was crazy to go around at night and see the differences between photos we took during the day and at night to truly show how dark slo is.”

I reached out to my friends and people in my classes and casually asked them what they thought about the issue and the responses I received were all in support of the petition. Emily talked to Jessica Gallagher, the Cal Poly student who started the petition, and learned that it started out as a project in one of her classes here at Cal Poly. For an assignment, she had to address an issue in the community and at first her partner Emily Gardner and her struggled to find a topic. However, they landed on this idea when they were walking home one night and noticed how dark it is in the neighborhoods around SLO. Gallagher presented to city council and was told that their are simply not enough funds right now. However, she is a junior and plans to keep working on this issue next year.

We reached out to tons of students in this process on social media and in person and the responses were nearly unanimous in support of a change. The petition on reflects these opinions and has nearly 1,300 signatures. Elliot Pyon, a construction management senior at Cal Poly, walks home regularly from class that ends at 8:00 PM and said, “I signed the petition. I always hate walking home late at night because Kentucky street is always so dark. I saw the petition on facebook and thought it was a good idea because it is impossible to see students walking at night on most of the streets around Cal Poly.”

Emily Hulsman worked on the video part of our project and said, “This project was definitely rewarding to work on because we were able to get students opinions on a very important and relevant issue. I really enjoyed working with my group on the final project.”

The final project was good for us as a group because I think all of us were in our least comfortable positions. We had to lean on each others strengths throughout the reporting process and it turned out well. It was also a more serious topic and it is an issue that is being addressed at universities around the nation. It also is something that was addressed not only recently by Mustang News, but years ago.  JB Garcia wrote the story for the project and said, “I enjoyed this project because I got to learn a lot about the city public works and what it takes to initiate change in the city. I also got to work on my writing which is good because I haven’t in quite some time.”

Behind the Scenes: Sex-E

Smile & Nod is a comedy team at Cal Poly that performs improv shows on Saturday nights. The team has been performing these shows at Cal Poly since 1998, and it uses short form and long form
styles, which are commonly used in Whose Line is it Anyway and by comedians like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

The team performs every Saturday night for the first five to seven weeks of every quarter in Phillips Hall, but most students are first exposed to Smile & Nod during Week of Welcome (WOW). Despite being a comedy team at Cal Poly, these students also put on a show called Expect Respect, a show that is designed to teach new students about the importance of respect and consensual behavior in all relationships.

News organizations such as Mustang News and the SLO Tribune have already written stories about Smile & Nod and its various performances over the years, but our story begins with the Expect Respect presentation. Since sexual assault has become a serious problem at colleges across the United States, presentations like Expect Respect are critical because they show students how to get consent and how to identify potential situations of sexual assault. It is this that has inspired some Smile & Nod students to turn this program into a business model to give the Expect Respect presentation at colleges other than Cal Poly.

We had an interesting challenge to write a story that both effectively informed students about the business idea and reminded them about Smile & Nod’s presence at Cal Poly.  

“(I would want to learn about) the outline of what the business is relating students. I am interested in how it intends to measure its success,” said Charmaine Farber, Assistant Graphic Communications Professor.

While other news outlets have covered Smile & Nod in the past, we still felt it was important to remind our viewers about the team so they can understand how the students came up with the business model. The next step in this story was to describe the actual business model and how the students planned to execute it. Kelly Jacobs took the assignment of writing the story, and she learned that the members of Smile & Nod work diligently to create these presentations.

“The most interesting thing I learned was the background on how the shows are created. I don’t know much about writing comedy skits so it was interesting to learn about that process and how the educational aspects are incorporated,” said Jacobs.

In contrast to the written story, the goal of the audio/visual component of this story was to capture the emotions from the Smile & Nod performances. Since this story focuses on the Expect Respect presentation, we felt the best way to show that was to record Smile & Nod members talking about the presentation and capture B-roll of the members reenacting the presentation. Iliana Salas was responsible for the audio/video component, and she learned about how sexual assault education is being presented in new ways.

“The most interesting thing I learned from the story was how sexual assault education is being shifted into new, non traditional ways because people are realizing that old methods are ineffective,” said Salas.

This story was an interesting experience for us because we learned about how the Smile & Nod students created the Expect Respect presentation, and how they intend to make it into a business.


Behind the Story: How a group of college students were able to get class credit tasting spirits


It felt as if we had just finished our story on the baby cows… we were exhausted, overwhelmed by calf cuteness and dairy knowledge. But it was Monday, which means Brady was expecting a new story topic.

“There is no time to reflect, only time to report.” -Alice Neary

Matt Medlin, the mastermind behind our newest creation, was the one to pitch Cal Wise. He attended a tour for Poly Reps of the Hot House downtown San Luis Obispo where he originally discovered the start-up. With quite the variety of business ideas, a spirit distillery was one which truly stood out.

At first, the team was overwhelmed by the scope of the topic. It seemed huge. There was the political aspect, 12 craft distilleries in the county, but all which make different products from different bases in different quantities. How could we do it justice?


After the initial interview, the team found the greatest connection to Cal Poly was Cal Wise, a start-up distillery founded by a Cal Poly alumni in the Cal Poly affiliated Hot House downtown San Luis Obispo.


The team met up at Cal Wise’s headquarters, a small cubicle in the corner of the office space above Ross on Higuera St. There, they met with Aaron Bergh,  the founder of CalWise, who refers to himself as the “Commander in Mischief.” The team was able to taste through the spirits he offers while learning a little more about his product and brand. CalWise spirits feature lots of California inspired botanical additions as well as untraditionally artistic labels. Bergh says he, “wants there to be a little more edge and personality to his brand.” After tasting, Kayla Veloso says her, “favorite was the blonde rum because it had a very fruity taste and made me feel super elegant and fancy, kind of like an old man.” This is possibly my all time favorite description of a flavor, ever.


After a lively interview, they proceeded to Granada Hotel and Bistro located on Morro St. downtown SLO that carries Cal Wise. There, they filmed the hipster bartender (yes, he had a man bun) crafting the “Bodega Punch.”  “I knew that I was going to eventually buy a $14 cocktail in my lifetime and this just seemed like it was the perfect opportunity,” said Taylor Mohrhardt. She was impressed.

The team was satisfied, but Brady would not be. They still needed more sources. Alas, the hunt was on. In a false lead that there would be Cal Wise spirit tasting samples at CaliFresh (my bad), the legendary journalist Matt Medlin decides to seize the unanticipated time opening to shoot for something even greater…he spontaneously called Bill Owens, the Founder of the American Distilling Institute, to gain a little more insight to the industry from a man who is definitly an established member. Sitting on a bench outside of the grocery store, Matt recalls being, “pretty desperate at that point and I just happened to catch him at the end of his work day when he was walking to his car to go home.” Thankfully, the people in this industry are happy and willing to share their knowledge of craft spirits. They are hopeful that through education the products they so tediously craft will be appreciated by a broader public.

During this time, Alice Neary was up in Paso Robles getting video footage of an interview with the Co-Owner of Krobār Craft Distillery. He shared some epic insight on the expanding industry including why the Central Coast is the ideal location for this kind of craft movement to begin.

The team had everything they could have wanted. Incredible sources, an exciting topic, and more than anything, they had each other.


Behind-the-Scenes: Student Travel Restrictions

As of January 1, 2017, California law AB 1887 prohibits the use of state funds for travel to states whose laws discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. What does this mean for Cal Poly students? CSU staff, faculty and students are unable to attend some events and conferences that would otherwise have been paid for by the CSU system.

Our story choice primarily came from our group members being personally affected by these restrictions. One morning, two of our group members who work for Mustang News overheard General Manager Paul Bittick speaking about the organization’s inability to attend the National College Media Convention in Dallas, TX.

“Every state has the right to make laws whether we agree with them or not. At the same time, we need to obey those laws and you can fight to change those laws. I just think it’s not right to create a law that limits some of the learning opportunities for students,” Bittick said.

While Mustang News employees were able to attend this conference in the past, this year the organization will have to pass due to the travel restrictions set forth by the state of California.

Coincidentally, Cal Poly students including ourselves received an email reminding us of revisions to the CSU Travel Policy only one week after beginning our project.

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 4.25.30 PM

Nikki, the writer of this story, reached out to Cal Poly’s Queer Student Union, various clubs and organizations affected and the CSU administration to get their perspectives on this topic. She interviewed multiple sources while also taking into account the impact this has on the LGBTQ community.

“I wanted to focus on what’s being done about this currently. We all know the travel policy is in place, but is it working? Is this changing attitudes towards the LGBTQ community? I did not want to forget those voices, or for them to get swept under the rug just because this inconveniences everyone,” Nikki said.


Hannah compiled a list of clubs that had somehow been affected by the restrictions. She created a web-like infographic that shows some branches of clubs as well as each club that we were able to get in contact with.

In addition, she created a short info video that can be posted on social media to inform viewers of the new travel restrictions that were put in place.

“I learned about this story through personal experience and from hearing about other organizations not being able to attend conferences and competitions because of the ban,” Hannah said. “Personally, I was not able to attend one of the biggest journalism conferences of the year so I knew it was only appropriate to cover the story to inform our audience.”


Hayley reached out to Cal Poly students and parents on Facebook to receive input, and got responses from a few clubs that had been affected by AB 1887. These clubs were also implemented into Hannah’s infographic.

“It was really interesting to see how many students have been affected by this law. We only got in contact with a few sources, but the responses would be endless if we had time to reach out to every on-campus organization,” Hayley said.

One was Society of Women Engineers who would have been unable to attend the National SWE Conference in Austin, TX if they hadn’t submitted their paperwork before the new states, including Texas, were added.

Cal Poly’s Triathlon Team found a loophole in the system and plan on flying into Georgia for USA Triathlon Collegiate Club Nationals in Tuscaloosa, AL. They are finding ways around paying for a hotel so that their funding for housing does not pay the state of Alabama by hotel fees.

A student in Cal Poly’s club WISH (Women Involved in Software and Hardware) also reached out, saying she may be unable to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, TX next year.

Within our time frame, we reached out to multiple students and faculty who will be directly affected by this law, proving this story to be timely.

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

DSC_0061Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

The Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Result

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lauren Roberge

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.

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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.