Behind the Scenes: Flipping the Stigma, Autism at Cal Poly

Behind the Scenes: Flipping the Stigma, Autism at Cal Poly

We sat down on the first day our groups were assigned, some of us meeting for the first time, eagerly sharing story ideas we’ve brainstormed since our last class meeting. After a bit of dabbling with other story ideas, Emma said she was inspired by the Netflix show “Atypical”, a heartfelt story of a highschool boy with Autism. The show is filmed in a style where the viewer is following around the main character. So, we decided to try and imitate this idea, but make it local to our campus. Our group thought this was a really important story to tell: what’s life like here at Cal Poly for students on the Autism spectrum?

Our overarching goal of the story was to portray what life is like as a Cal Poly student who isn’t neuro-typical, meaning an individual who thinks in ways that are considered to be “normal” by the general population. We all agreed that much of the conversation about Autism centers around early childhood and adolescence, and far less involving college-aged individuals. Our early ideas were to do some sort of “day in the life” exposé, but that came with some roadblocks. The largest hurdle was trying to find someone willing to be followed around with a camera, for many people that would be a type of “outing” as autistic. We got in touch with Jenny Peterson, a Cal Poly Alumni who works as the connections coordinator for the DRC, and is on the Autism spectrum. She got us in touch with Katie Whelan, a third year mechanical engineering student, who was willing to let us interview her. Jenny also volunteered her time to be interviewed. From there, each team member was busy doing their own specific duties.

I began working on research, team coordination and general PR to see what the Cal Poly community wants to know about our topic. The most impactful of these reports was my backgrounder, where I surveyed to see if Mustang News and/or local news publications have ever done a story like this. The most poignant story I found was written in 2013, written craftfly by Aryn Sanderson. Sophie, our writer for this story, used this piece as a model for her own writing. Additionally, I used the power of social media to survey what the community wants to know about living with Autism at Cal Poly, and compiled it into a report for my team members to use as they move forward in their work.

Emma Withrow, our passionate video team member coordinated and filmed the interviews, is really happy about our work. Withrow recognized how special it was to work on this project, “I feel so honored to have gotten to share the story of these amazing individuals. The process of interviewing them, especially surrounding such a sensitive topic, was truly eye opening. I am so glad we get to share some light on students at Cal Poly on the Autism spectrum.” Emma’s passion for broadcast really brought our ideas for this story to light.

Emma checks on the camera angle during Jenny Peterson’s interview.

Yasi Arami, our interactive / photos team member, had never even held a camera before this project, and she did a fantastic job! Below are couple of the fantastic photos that she took during and after the interviews.

Katie Whalen on Cal Poly’s campus

Some call this a stress ball, but for individuals with Autism, having something to do with their hands can help them focus. 

Yasi is really pleased with this process and our work as a team, “I learned a lot about photography and loved the experience of meeting and hearing the stories of our sources,” said Arami. 

Last but not least, Sophie Carnevale had the job of putting all this work into writing; she aimed to balance the emotional, empathetic and informational interviews we got. Before any of that, she had to make sure she was well-versed on what Autism is, how it affects academic and social development, and general facts about Autism spectrum disorder. Carnevale saw firsthand the difficulty in finding sources who were willing to open up, “It was tough to find people to be honest about such a potentially vulnerable topic but I think our sources understand the impact they can make through this story.” And she was right. Katie Whelan began the interview by talking to us about how much courage this interview took for her,

“I don’t really talk about [being Autistic] just because there’s sort of a fear that if people know that you’re Autistic that they’re going to treat you different than before.”

And that’s the reason why we chose to write this story! To work to flip the stigma around Autism at Cal Poly, and educate our community on the lives of incredible individuals.

Behind the story: Cal Fresh program on Cal Poly campus

You might think that Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students do not go hungry or struggle with funding for food, but that’s simply not the case.

Every year Cal Poly senior journalism students investigate various stories related to campus and our team: Mandie Geller, Erica Hudson, Reilly Roberts and I decided to find out more about how this program works and who it benefits.

Cal Poly CalFresh Food Pantry
Cal Poly CalFresh Food Pantry

Gathering Information

Our team investigated to find out more about a federally funded program on campus called Cal Fresh that aims to help provide students with the nutrition they need.

Since I was in charge of the strategy and engagement position, I  made posts on various social media outlets (Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat)  in order to search for students who have benefited from the program or know more about it. We found a variety of students that either use the program or have worked for it, but it should be noted that Facebook was the only successful outlet I found. Snapchat was almost useless since most people had not heard of the program and Reddit trolled me, called me an “idiot” or “I’ll write your story for you.” Basically, no one wanted to help me on either of those social media platforms.

After that, I compiled a backgrounder report on previous stories with related content. What I found were stories having a wide range of topics related to the program on campus. Most of them had to do with a larger scale regarding the CalFresh outreach in California and the effects the Trump Administration budget slashes have had on it such as this article written by the Tribune. We thought it would be best if we focused on how the program effects students since we simply do not have the time for a larger scale story.

Cal Poly student: Dezeray Cruz being interviewed on her experience with CalFresh
Cal Poly student: Dezeray Cruz being interviewed on her experience with CalFresh

We initially thought that the program works by applying to check eligibility based on income and once approved you are given up to $300 a month in food vouchers. What we found from the students who replied to our social media posts was that it is not nearly $300 a month. It’s actually closer to half of that on average for most students.

We interviewed a student who is enrolled in the program named Dezeray Cruz. She told us that she enrolled in the program because she did not feel that she made enough to purchase  organic/healthy food. She was tired of the food served on campus and felt that most of the options on campus were not up to health standards. She decided to apply for the program was immediately approved.

“I felt that one of the best features of the program is that the vouchers allow me to buy healthier options at places such as the farmers market in downtown San Luis Obispo on Thursday evenings.”

Essentially we learned that the program is widely available for students, but she did not feel that awareness was high enough on campus. She felt that more people could benefit from the program if awareness was raised.

Dezeray Cruz during her interview
Dezeray Cruz during her interview

The Writing Process

Mandie Geller was in charge of writing the story and she felt the best way to get emotion out of this topic would be to interview a student who has had experience with the program and someone who works for it. “I thought it was interesting hearing about Dezeray’s experience with receiving CalFresh benefits and being able to buy fresh, organic food at the farmers market.”

Erica Hudson who worked on the multimedia section of the project, decided that the best way to express this topic was by,  “using data from the on campus CalFresh program to visually display information and requirements about CalFresh programs in California and on college campuses.”

Reilly Roberts who was in charge of filming the project felt the best visual representation of this topic was by showing the emotion the sources expressed when speaking on the topic. “After learning more about how food insecurity is increasing during our interviews, I’m curious to see how programs develop to meet student needs over time.”

Reilly Roberts filming the interview with Dezeray Cruz
Reilly Roberts filming the interview with Dezeray Cruz

Blog written by Navid Golemohammadi


Behind the Scenes: How two Cal Poly students created the first boutique wine farmer’s market

Every quarter, Cal Poly students work on a senior project specific to their major. For some, that can be creating a new product or writing a thesis, but for Emily Rosa and Alex Broedlow, it was bringing a huge event to life. Rock the Vine was the first boutique wine farmer’s market and it was created by Rosa and Broedlow in conjunction with SLO Brew Rock.

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 4.49.45 PM

Gathering Information

 As the strategy and engagement position, I began my search for information by going through the Rock the Vine event page to find more information and contact sources. From there, I was able to get in contact with Rosa and Broedlow, who had both reiterated that they wanted to give boutique wines, wineries without tasting rooms, an opportunity to interact with the SLO community. After talking to them and a few other sources I reached out to, I passed along the information to my team so that for their sections they were able to get in touch with the right people.

From there, I complied a list of articles that had covered our topic previously, such as this SLO Tribune piece, and gave a detailed description of how we can make our coverage of the event different than what had already been written. Since all the articles about Rock the Vine had promotional piece prior to the event to increase ticket sales, our piece would be different as it would cover how the event was created and how the actual event went.

I reached out on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter to other Cal Poly students to gather information on their opinions of the event, which yielded a few responses.

Creating the Piece

Our journalist responsible for the written portion of our project, Ysabel Sullivan, had known about this project for months. As a result, she was really able to get in depth as to how the seniors planned and executed this event, but was also able to give us good perspective form the SLO Brew point of view and the wineries involved.

Sullivan attended the event in which she interviewed and observed the organizers, attendees and wineries, “I really enjoyed working on this project because it was amazing to see all these communities of SLO come together. The girls had worked so hard for so many months to make this event successful and it was great to see that happen for them” said Sullivan.

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Greg Llamas, who worked on the multimedia section of the project, set out to create a time-lapse from an elevated position and a three piece audio and visual set. He thought the story was “interesting because it was about a senior project that seemed successful.”

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Frances Mylod-Vargas, our videographer, followed attendees, organizers and wineries throughout the event to capture what it was like to be there, “it was pretty cool to be able to witness the production of the very first Rock the Vine event. Alex & Emily were so excited, as well as the wineries and event goers. It was a fun atmosphere to be apart of!”

Blog written by Jody Miller.