Cultivate Spring 2020

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TAKING ROOT How a $820K grant is helping Cal Poly restore a native coastline habitat Page 7


COMMUNITY connection As Cal Poly and our community work to adapt to the unprecedented challenges we are all facing during the COVID-19 global pandemic, my heart is full knowing that together we remain strong. This issue of our magazine was complete and headed to the printer when this global challenge emerged. In just a few short weeks much of what we know has changed — and will continue to do so. On April 6 we launched a virtual spring quarter — the first in Cal Poly history — with a focus on ensuring that student learning continues successfully while protecting the health and safety of all. We had to cancel very few classes, underscoring the creativity and dedication of our team. From assembling jam-making kits for delivery to Food Science students to filming drone labs for BioResource and Agricultural Engineering students, we have all come together to continue to provide the education that our students both expect and deserve. I am humbled and inspired as I watch our alumni and industry partners come together to help their surrounding communities. From working long days and nights to make sure there is food for the hungry, to making hand sanitizer to share with those in the health care industry frontlines, to collaborating to think beyond the struggle to days ahead. In this issue you’ll read stories about our community connection such as real-world projects focused on helping citizens of Malawi improve the nutritional programs available in their country; enhancing the food safety measures of the leafy greens industry; and, in our cover story, rehabilitating the Oceano Dunes with native plants. These projects all — most importantly — involve students, and the experience they gain while working to solve real-world problems will equip them for a lifetime of learning, critical thinking, and career success. CAFES resides at the intersection of academia and industry — taking learning theory and applying it to the real world. We are fortunate to have community and industry partners who see the value of this model to community health and industry success. I hope that these stories provide a bright spot for you in these challenging times. I encourage you all to continue to work together and we will continue to do our part as well.



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Cover Story TAKING ROOT ————

11 Q&A








CULTIVATE is published for alumni and friends by the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES). Dean’s Office 805-756-2161 Communications Team Haley Marconett 805-756-2933 AnnMarie Cornejo 805-756-2427

Wishing you all good health in the coming months,

Publication Designer IE Design + Communications, Hermosa Beach, California Printer Lithographix, Los Angeles, California Staff Photographer Sara Theodozio, Agribusiness student Cover Story Illustrator Julia Jackson-Clark, Graphic Communication, ’19

Andrew J. Thulin , Ph.D. | Dean Stay connected on:


Honored Alumnus In Memoriam Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences former Department Head Greg Brown died Jan. 2 surrounded by his wife and family. Brown joined the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department in 2016, after serving in academic leadership positions at the University of Queensland, Central Washington University, University of South Australia, Alaska Pacific University, and Green Mountain College in Vermont. He was named one of the world’s most impactful scientific researchers by Clarivate Analytics, which recognizes the most frequently cited researchers spanning the globe in 21 fields of sciences and social sciences. “Greg made a tremendous impact during his time here — he was a deep thinker and brought a fresh and unique perspective to the department and college as a whole. I will miss his infectious enthusiasm and commitment to giving his all to everything he approached,” College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean Andy Thulin said.

Kirk Messick (Agricultural Business, ’83) was named the 2019 College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Honored Alumnus. Messick has had a long and successful career in the agriculture industry. He spent 28 years with the Farmers’ Rice Cooperative before launching his own consulting business in 2016. He is well known and respected throughout California and beyond, recognized for his deep connections and steady hand. Messick has been a member of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council for 16 years and has played a key role in the college’s reimagining of its strategic direction. Messick has donated widely of his time and money, including establishing a Learn by Doing Endowment that provides hundreds of Learn by Doing opportunities for students. Messick’s wife, Mary, is also a Cal Poly alumna, as are their three children.

Unified Wine and Grape Symposium In February, students, staff and faculty traveled to Sacramento to attend the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, the largest wine and grape industry trade show in North America. An alumni reception was held to share the department’s latest news and recent developments of the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture.




Regenerative Agriculture

Memorial Rose Garden More than 150 new rose bushes were planted at Cal Poly in December to honor former horticulture and crop science Professor Daniel Lassanske, who passed away in 2018. In addition to planting new roses, decorative deer fencing was installed. The new roses were donated by former student Scott Klittich of Otto and Sons Nursery in Fillmore, California, and the Farm Supply Co. Cal Poly faculty, students, staff, as well as retired faculty and staff and former students, and volunteers in the local community, planted the roses. The Cal Poly Rose Garden is located directly north of the Spanos Stadium on California Boulevard. Lassanske was recognized by the horticulture industry on several occasions for his outstanding teaching, service and leadership, including the designation of a special rose named in his honor by Disneyland.

Ag Showcase Career Fair Cal Poly’s Agribusiness Management and National Agri-Marketing Association Club hosted the annual Ag Showcase Career Fair in January, featuring more than 100 companies spanning the agricultural industry. The event gives students the opportunity to network with company representatives about potential jobs and summer opportunities. Company representatives get the opportunity to showcase their firms to Cal Poly students who have proved over the decades to be day one-ready employees.

World Ag Expo In February, students, staff and faculty hosted the college’s annual alumni reception at the World Ag Expo at the International Agri-Center in Tulare — the largest annual outdoor agricultural exposition.



A Regenerative Agriculture Field Day was held at Swanton Pacific Ranch in January as a featured event prior to the annual EcoFarm Conference to discuss the value of biodiversity and the future of agriculture and food systems. Featured speakers included an international lineup with Nicole Masters of Integrity Soils, New Zealand, Jonathan Lundgren of Ecdysis Foundation and Blue Dasher Farm, South Dakota, alongside ranchers Loren Poncia (Dairy Science, ’98) of Stemple Creek Ranch, Kara Porterfield, current livestock manager at Swanton Pacific Ranch, and Gordon Claassen, former livestock manager at Swanton Pacific Ranch. A donation made by Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer of TomKat Ranch paid for five Cal Poly students to attend the Swanton event and provided an additional five scholarships to attend the EcoFarm Conference.

Nicole Masters getting to the root of soil health at the EcoFarm pre-conference event at Swanton Pacific Ranch. Photo contributed by Kathy Webster of TomKat Ranch.


U-Pick is an established tradition at Cal Poly and offers students a variety of fresh fruits at affordable prices. During the season, the Cal Poly orchards are open to the public to pick fruits straight from the tree. Photos by fourth-year agricultural business major Sara Theodozio.




Learning Across Continents


A dietetic internship exchange — funded by a partnership between Dignity Health and the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences — introduced four students, two from Cal Poly and two from Malawi, Africa, to dietetics from differing perspectives. Felistace Mtande and Limbikira Wasambo from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and University of Malawi, College of Medicine, spent three weeks at Cal Poly in late January and early February immersed in the Dietetic Internship Program. The two interns experienced clinical nutrition and food service rotations at French Hospital in San Luis Obispo and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, both operated by Dignity Health, and participated in community nutrition at the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County. Mtande and Wasambo are among the first from their country to study dietetics; they recently completed a postgraduate degree program in clinical nutrition and are now registered dietitians in Malawi. Last May, Cal Poly students Joyce Huang and Kelsey Krieger, both enrolled in Cal Poly’s Dietetic Internship Program, traveled to Malawi to intern under the supervision of Cal Poly nutrition Professor Peggy Papathakis, who spent 10 months there as



a Fulbright Scholar doing research and helping to build the curriculum for a new nutrition undergraduate degree program. Under Papathakis’ guidance Cal Poly nutrition students have been volunteering in Malawi in maternal and child nutrition clinics for more than a decade. This is the first time, however, that students from Malawi have been able to study at Cal Poly. “The time is right for developing a dietetics program to help the citizens of the Malawi learn to make better food choices, from preventing undernutrition and food insecurity to prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension — all of which are on the rise,” Papathakis said. “The government recognizes this and has pledged to create job opportunities for the dietetics graduates within the public hospital system.” The benefit for students on both

sides of the intern exchange is invaluable, Papathakis said. “This is important for Mtande and Wasambo since they are the first generation of dietitians and can bring lessons learned at Cal Poly home to Malawi to help develop the roles of dietitians in hospitals and health care,” she said. “Equally as important, Cal Poly interns learned about how medicine and dietetics are practiced in a different setting and of diseases prevalent in other parts of the world. They also gained a cultural understanding of the areas of health care that are the same or different from their own.” The partnership with Dignity Health enabled the immersive experience. “French Hospital Medical Center is proud to partner with Cal Poly for this extraordinary exchange program, allowing international students the opportunity to experience an array of departments within our medical facility,” said French

Limbikira Wasambo and Felistace Mtande at Cal Poly after giving a presentation on the budding dietetic program in Malawi.


just become registered and plan to be practicing very soon.

Hospital Medical Center President and CEO Alan Iftiniuk. “We are always eager to offer hands-on education and training for anyone pursuing a career within the medical field, and we are grateful to have had the chance to share our best practices with Felistace and Li during their time here.”

Dietetics in Malawi Dietetics, the science of how food and nutrition affects human health, has long been an integral part of public health in the United States. Yet in other parts of the world, it has not been a central focus. There are only six countries in Africa that have dietetic nutritionists, including Malawi, which introduced the profession just recently. Mtande and Wasambo are among less than a dozen students who have committed to pursuing the newly introduced profession. To date, there is only one practicing dietitian in Malawi, but five more have

Mtande, 33, earned a degree in clinical medicine from the Malawi College of Health Sciences, a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a post graduate degree in clinical dietetics from the College of Medicine, Malawi. Her journey to Cal Poly, her first time in the United States, is the final step before she enters the dietetic field at home. “Honestly we had enough theory but not enough exposure to the things we learned in class,” she said. “We had about five weeks of dietetics experience in Cape Town, South Africa, but I still had a feeling that there was more to learn, observe and feel. So when the opportunity arose, I had to grab it, and I don’t regret anything that happened to let me come here.” Kati Fosselius, who heads Cal Poly’s Dietetic Internship Program, said, “Part of our internship’s mission is to ensure that interns make a meaningful impact on each of the varied communities served during their rotations and graduate poised to become leaders in the dietetics field, equipped to meet the diverse needs of society.” “When Cal Poly interns completed rotations in Malawi, they learned so much about how to serve communities without the benefit of the resources they’d become accustomed to here in the U.S. Felistace and Li shared what they gained during their rotations in California, including new management and educational styles, as well as strategies for increasing revenue for clinical

facilities back home. Our understanding of how to meet the needs of a diverse global society was forever broadened through this experience,” she said. Mtande said the dietetic field is rare in Malawi because nutrition was not considered an important component of patient care until recently. “In my country, nutrition was only integrated as part of agriculture, not the health care system. But now we realize that for positive and better patient outcomes, we should take issues of nutrition seriously. And here we are now, proud Malawi dietitians,” she said. The three weeks that she spent at Cal Poly interning at local hospitals through Dignity Health and working alongside dietetic professionals and other dietetic interns will help guide her as she embarks as one of the first in the profession at home. “During our time here, we have seen better ways of patient care, from diet prescription to the nutritional support of the patient,” she said. And while she will take many of the skills learned during her time with the Cal Poly Dietetic Internship Program home, some challenges will take longer to overcome because resources and the expertise of service providers vary dramatically between hospitals in California and Malawi. Yet the goal is the same. “In a clinical setting we all have one common goal: to provide quality health care services to our patients,” she said. “After all I have learned and seen, I feel like it’s time to take action and be available to those who will benefit from my services,” Mtande said. “Above all, I will never stop learning.”

Our understanding of how to meet the needs of a diverse global society was forever broadened through this experience. Felistace Mtande




Definition of success

• degree or measure of succeeding. • satisfactory completion of something. • the gaining of wealth, respect or fame. • a person or thing that succeeds.

1 First Place Win

Back row, L to R: Assistant Professor Kevin Lin, Olivia Larsen and Luke Haley. Front row, L to R: Courtney Frickman, Morgan Cutter and Chrissy Baur.

A proposal to create an annual convention for home share and vacation rental owners to enhance their knowledge, network and property-management skills led to a first-place win for a team of Cal Poly students from the Experience Industry Management Department. The five-person team won at the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) annual student competition for the proposal, the “Home Sharing Proposal Experience (HSX).” The Cal Poly team included senior recreation, parks and tourism administration majors Morgan Cutter, Luke Haley and Olivia Larsen; Courtney Frickman, a senior business administration major with an event planning and experience management minor; and Chrissy Baur, an exchange student from Germany. They were advised by Assistant Professor Kevin Lin. The team later got to present their proposal at the PCMA Convening Leaders Conference in San Francisco.

2 Viewers Choice Kimura Yamamoto, a graduate student studying agricultural education, won the viewers choice innovative poster award at the Western Region American Association for Agricultural Education Research Conference in September 2019 in Anchorage, Alaska. Research topics included agricultural education, communication and leadership.

From L to R: Anna Hilbert, Emma Manoukian, Victoria Cohen and Katie Kelley



3 Food Challenge Win A team of students won first place at the Food Distribution Research Society’s National Student Food Marketing Challenge in Seattle, Washington, in October 2019. Agricultural communication senior Emma Manoukian and agricultural business seniors Victoria Cohen, Katie Kelley and Anna Hilbert created a market plan addressing specific challenges for an agribusiness company that was selected prior to the competition. The team presented their findings to representatives of the company. Assistant Professor Cristina Connolly advised the team. Seven universities from across the country, including Cal State Chico, Fresno State, University of Delaware, University of Missouri-Columbia, Arkansas State University, and Texas A&M, competed in the contest. After three rounds of presentations between the student teams and the client, the Cal Poly team won first. This is the second consecutive year that Cal Poly has taken top honors at the competition.


TAKING ROOT Along the windswept shoreline of the Oceano Dunes in southern San Luis Obispo County, loose sand has blown throughout the area to form the distinguished sand dunes that adorn the coastline. The area, part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA), is the only beach in the state open to off-road vehicles — and is at the center of a delicate balance between environmental sustainability and recreation. ďƒš

Mike Bush, Cal Poly lecturer, and Scott Steinmaus, head of the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, survey the Oceano Dunes.





The partnership allows us to build the skill sets of students to be the next generation of restoration ecologists, who will be vital in the kind of work we are immersed in.” Ronnie Glick, Senior Environmental Scientist, California State Parks

On a recent sunny afternoon, a group of scientists gathered along the dunes’ edge to evaluate a project that was introduced to help reduce dust that is swept to nearby communities, contributing to a rising concern about air quality. Among them, Cal Poly lecturer Mike Bush and Scott Steinmaus, head of Cal Poly’s Horticulture and Crop Science Department, viewed the 48-acre foredune area near the shoreline that was recently cordoned off with orange fencing where work is being done to help mitigate small particulates from blowing inland. The Horticulture and Crop Science Department was awarded a four-year, $820,000 grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation in December 2019 to help restore native plant habitat to the area. Steinmaus, who has a doctorate in plant biology, is overseeing the project, while Bush, who has an extensive background in horticulture, is managing operations of the project, which entails growing up to 200,000 native dune plants from seedlings each year. Bush has been involved with the restoration of native plants at the Oceano Dunes SVRA since 2018. “The overarching implications of this project are a benefit to all stakeholders in the Oceano Dunes SVRA ecosystem complex,” Steinmaus said. “Creating native vegetative ‘islands’ between which



vehicles may travel will assist in mitigating particulate matter emanating from the dunes complex to meet the goals of environmentalists as well as recreationists.” The project is a direct benefit to Cal Poly, he added, as students will use the college’s uniquely situated

and equipped Horticulture Unit’s greenhouses and controlled environmental chambers to propagate the native plants. “This epitomizes the hands-on, Learn by Doing culture that we cherish at Cal Poly,” Steinmaus said. The native seeds, provided by


plants to the dunes. There, a team of staff and conservation workers managed by the California State Parks carefully planted the new plants, plus 75,000 more, in areas designated for remediation. That partnership led to the additional four-year contract with Cal Poly. Ronnie Glick, a senior environmental scientist with California State Parks, has overseen the environmental programs at the Oceano Dunes for 14 years. “Cal Poly and the horticulture program bring the technical expertise, professional greenhouse staff, facilities with the right elements needed for growing native plants, and student learners into the picture,” he said. “The partnership allows us to build the skill sets of students to be the next generation of restoration ecologists, who will be vital in the kind of work we are immersed in.”

California State Parks, are delivered to Cal Poly, where they are grown in campus greenhouses and cared for by Bush and several students from summer to early fall until they are ready to be transplanted. In 2018, Cal Poly was first contracted to grow 18 different varieties, totaling about 35,000 plants. The plants were transported from Cal Poly in covered trucks and U-Hauls, moving more than 700 flats of

The most recent plants grown by Cal Poly were planted in February in the foredunes designated as the next step in restoration. Intricate circles of rice straw nodes measuring 12-feet in diameter were laid in the sand, with the plants positioned strategically in the center of each area. The dune sand beneath it remains naturally wet, providing the moisture needed for the plants to thrive in the windy environment. The area is fenced off from vehicles and campers, allowing the sand to build up over time and create a natural environment for the plants to thrive and keeping sand particles in place. “This appeals to students interested in restoration and mitigation,”

Bush said. “The reestablishment of plants in areas of development or where a catastrophic event has occurred is an important part of what horticulturists do.” Students are involved every step of the way, including sowing the seeds and transplanting the seedlings into the seed pots — a long process that takes months to complete. Henry Main, a second year agriculture and environmental plant sciences major, helped to grow both batches of seedlings, taking on the role of the project’s student leader and helping to coordinate other students involved. “For the fall 2018 dunes grow, I spent most of my time transplanting seedlings, moving plants, and preparing greenhouse space,” Main said. “This past grow season I did a bit of everything: sorting and sowing seeds, prepping planting space, irrigating and fertilizing, transplanting seedlings, organizing volunteer workdays, and making labels.” Main will now lead the way constructing several hoop style greenhouses on campus that will provide an additional 6,000 square-feet of growing space for the 2020 and upcoming growing seasons. “I plan to continue to improve our processes throughout the grow,” he said. “It is hard to put into words how rewarding and educational this opportunity has been. There are a lot of skills you just can’t learn in class, such as time management, teamwork, long-term commitment, horticultural techniques, and the general wisdom that comes from working on a real-life project.”






















Ricky Volpe, associate professor in the Agribusiness Department, teaches classes on food retail and supply chain management focused on the grocery sector. Prior to joining Cal Poly in 2014, he worked as an economist at the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in Washington, D.C. Volpe is interested in better understanding the impact that the food retail sector has on other industries, such as transportation, construction and labor markets — which led to a recent study published in California Grocer magazine on gender pay inequality. While the California grocery industry has shown progress in closing the gender pay gap, on average, men still earn more than women. Why research the gender pay gap?

What can be done to help reduce the gap even more?

that go into determining wages, there is no reason that men and women should be paid differently. Nevertheless, in the California grocery industry, women made about 82% as much as men, as of 2018. I think it’s important to dig into the numbers and figure out why this significant gap persists. Much of the pay gap is probably explained by differences in the jobs being held by men and women, respectively.

than for men. That probably goes a long way in explaining the gender pay gap. Men, on average, remain longer in their positions in the industry and are accordingly more likely to receive pay raises and promotions. I think the California grocery industry, and our industrial sector in general, needs to work to understand why this gap in turnover persists and needs to assess if there are elements of the corporate culture, benefits structure, or working conditions that need to be addressed.

A: Controlling for all the factors

How is the pay gap different in the California grocery industry than other retail sectors?

A: The gender pay gap in the

California grocery industry is significantly lower than in other retail sectors. And importantly, over the past 25 years, it has continued to shrink in the grocery industry while remaining flat in the rest of retail. The bigger question is why, and I don’t have those answers yet.

A: Turnover is higher for women

What can other industries learn from the grocery industry when it comes to gender pay equality?


A: The grocery industry has seen

a lot of progress in recent years in terms of gender equality in leadership positions. Women are increasingly holding highly visible executive positions throughout leading food retail companies and the industry’s trade associations.




Antarctic expedition

In the frigid temperatures of Antarctica, a team of Cal Poly researchers recently spent three months studying Weddell seal pups — the most southern-breeding mammal to permanently inhabit the continent.


The furry pups have an innate ability to maintain a steady body temperature while transitioning between two distinct, extreme environments: on the polar sea ice and in the 28-degree sea below. The pups have only weeks to develop the capability to survive both, and Cal Poly researchers are studying the physiology that enables their quick transition from land to sea. Animal science lecturer and veterinarian Heather Harris, who specializes in marine wildlife and preventive medicine, joined the expedition, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The NSF awarded more than $1 million to a team of Cal Poly researchers led by Heather



Liwanag, assistant biology professor, Lars Tomanek, professor and director of the Environmental Proteomics Laboratory, and Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center. The center, located in Morro Bay, California, is the world’s largest marine mammal hospital. Harris, who both teaches at Cal Poly and works at The Marine Mammal Center, joined a team of five other women as the lead veterinarian on the expedition. At Cal Poly, Harris teaches a Marine Mammal Health Enterprise course in partnership with The Marine Mammal Center, which provides students with hands-on experience working with sea lions,

sea otters, elephant seals, harbor seals and other marine mammals. The Weddell seal research is permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which requires veterinarians are present to manage the care of the animals during the research project. Harris, who has forged a strong partnership between Cal Poly and The Marine Mammal Center through her collaborative class, was a natural fit for the project. “It was truly a privilege to be part of this interdisciplinary team to contribute to scientific knowledge, animal welfare and wildlife conservation in this remote corner of the planet,” Harris said.

On the Ice The all female Cal Poly team, including Harris, Liwanag, postdoctoral researcher Linnea Pearson, field veterinarian Emily


Photos were collected under NOAA permit # 21006-01 and ACA 2018-103 M#2.

Whitmer of The Marine Mammal Center, veterinary technician Erin Brodie of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, and former Cal Poly graduate student Emma Weitzner, was stationed at the National Science Foundation’s research facility McMurdo Station, which is located at the southern tip of Ross Island. The facility, which hosts researchers who receive grants from the National Science Foundation, is located 850 miles from the South Pole and is the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program. “One of the things that surprised me about the field station was how amazing and strong the community is there,” Harris said. “People from all over the world are there to work together in the name of science.”

extreme cold weather gear needed to work outdoors in freezing temperatures. Once at McMurdo Station, they participated in numerous safety trainings prior to starting their work. The Cal Poly researchers then set up their field sites on the frozen ocean about an hour away — which they traveled to each day on snowmobiles or via Pisten Bully (a tank-like track vehicle), at times in temperatures that registered 30 degrees below zero. Yet timing was everything, since only a small window of time existed in which the researchers could gather the metabolic data they needed before the sea ice melted for the season. Pregnant Weddell seals typically give birth in October or November, and the pups learn to dive within only weeks of being born.

Before flying to the ice, the team met at the U.S. Antarctic Program facility in Christchurch, New Zealand, to be outfitted with the

The researchers were interested in learning how the pups were able to maintain their internal temperature because scientists

don’t yet know what mechanism Weddell seals use to do so. The seals would be captured, sedated and closely monitored by Harris and the veterinary team in order to safely gather blood samples, tissue biopsies, and weight and length data as the pups grew. Harris spent more than a year preparing for the trip, doing research, gathering and shipping supplies, and seeking the additional permits needed to study the animals under the Antarctic Conservation Act, which is focused on environmental protection and animal welfare. While there, she oversaw the sedation of the animals and their care while being handled.

It was truly a privilege to be part of this interdisciplinary team to contribute to scientific knowledge, animal welfare, and wildlife conservation in this remote corner of the planet. Heather Harris

The seal pups are affectionately named after candy bars, such as Caramello, who earned his name because of his mellow demeanor, and Rollo, who was the biggest pup, weighing a whopping 113 pounds at one week of age. The




The team at McMurdo Station.

pups are studied closely in the seven weeks before they were set out on their own by their moms. In all, the researchers studied 10 pups this season. This was the second trip taken by Cal Poly students and faculty for this project; the first included a study of eight pups in 2017. Harris wrote in a blog post, “The shape of their faces makes them look like they are perpetually smiling. But the most phenomenal aspect of these animals is their other-worldly vocalizations: the chirps, chugs and eerie swirling trills echo all around us from above and below the ice simultaneously.” Weddell seals can grow to 10 feet and weigh about 1,000



pounds. In the wild they can live up to 30 years. “I am still processing the experience — it was amazing, complex and challenging and helped me to not only grow my troubleshooting capabilities but blew my old boundaries out of the water in terms of science and what is possible,” Harris said. “The experience pushed me to do things I’d never done before while working in an extreme environment. It is both exciting and invigorating to have such an experience to share with my students.” Harris plans to include students in future research with samples

gathered from the trip under the umbrella of a One Health approach, assessing the human, animal and environmental relationship all together to determine what can be learned from the seals, not only for their own conservation but how it relates back to the larger, shared ecosystem. “By learning more about the marine environment they live in and the health of the ecosystem, we are learning about our own health,” Harris said.



MATCH MAKER Katerina Axelsson (Wine and Viticulture, ’15) can’t turn water into wine, but she can match your palate with the perfect wine in merely seconds. Her business, Tastry, integrates artificial intelligence software, sensory science and chemistry into in-store kiosks and a smartphone app to match a customer’s flavor preferences with food and drink products, particularly wine. Axelsson, who founded the company in 2015 while a student at Cal Poly, has been profiled by Forbes, Wine Enthusiast and Coresight Research about her startup, which aims to make buying wine easier, faster and less stressful. Axelsson said the idea for the business was born while she worked as a chemist for a custom crush facility (a bonded winery that makes wine for other wine brands). While there she learned that it was common practice to make a large batch of wine, sell half to one winery and half to another. “The same wine would be bottled and sold under two different names, labels and price points and receive different industry scores from the same critics,” she said. “I had a hypothesis that there

was a more honest and transparent way to recommend wine by using a combination of analytical and flavor chemistry.” So Axelsson got to work. With the permission of her employer to use the company lab to analyze hundreds of wine samples — she spent countless hours, often working until 3 a.m., to gather the data she needed. She then worked with a Cal Poly computer science professor to process the dataset, leading eventually to a melding of chemistry and data science to create a patent-pending technology to predict consumer preferences for sensory-based products. After years of development, the AI-generated quiz takes 20 seconds or less and helps consumers sift through hundreds or thousands of wines in seconds to, “find the ones they will love,” Axelsson said, by letting them filter by occasion, varietal, terroir, price and much more. “It can also pair your wine to charcuterie, a group of friends, what you’re having for dinner, and over 1.5 million recipes.” The in-store kiosk can be found across the U.S., including Fresh Market in San Luis Obispo,

California. The company is also launching a pilot with Walmart in the United Kingdom. Tastry is the driving technology behind a new mobile application called “Bottlebird,” the beta version that is currently available for iOS and Android. “We expect to be in 2,500 retail locations in the next 12 months,” Axelsson said.

The kiosks, which match consumers with wine, can be found in stores nationwide.

She plans to continue to expand the business into additional products and applications. Inquiries from companies interested in the technology to help recommend everything from coffee to hot sauce continue to flood in. For now, Tastry will continue to refine its technology for everything from fragrance to spirits, but it will keep its main focus on the wine industry, allowing wineries to better identify markets of opportunity. “Tastry recently started onboarding wineries onto our software, and we work with one of the largest wine conglomerates in the U.S.,” she said. “With this partner, we proved that we can predict the aggregate consumer score out of five stars for wines before they hit the market to within a one-tenth of a point.”




The future of experience marketing and design is in expert hands, as the world’s leading experiential marketing agency — George P. Johnson (GPJ), part of the Project Worldwide agency network — pledged $500,000 to the development of an experiential learning lab at Cal Poly.


The Experience Innovation Lab will be both a research and creative space to design immersive personal, technological and digital experiences in collaboration with industry partners and GPJ clients. It will engage students in invaluable, real-world experience design and marketing — all part of the Learn by Doing philosophy at the university. The Experience Innovation Lab, a place for burgeoning experiential marketing leaders and experience designers to grow and innovate, will be part of the Boswell Ag Tech Center, which is included in the $125 million William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation, now under construction.

dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “This donation will ensure that students have access to the latest in experience marketing and design — including some of the brightest talents in the industry — and are prepared to meet the demands of the growing industry immediately upon graduation.”

The Experience Innovation Lab will emphasize an interdisciplinary approach utilizing faculty and student expertise across campus to include experience industry management, architecture, computer science, engineering, food science, wine, marketing, graphic design, and theater, among other disciplines.

GPJ has been the leader in experiential marketing for over a century, said company CEO Chris Meyer. “As this industry develops and its prominence within the general marketing sphere continues to grow, it’s imperative that we invest our resources into future pioneers that will continue to advance the space. Higher learning centers allow for a safe testing ground for students to try out their wildest ideas, building the pipeline of innovators to come. Having been ingrained in this work for decades, GPJ is able to offer unique perspectives and insights to truly make this a state-of-the-art learning experience that will foster the future leadership of our industry.”

Teams of faculty and students will work with industry partners including GPJ executives to solve the experience industry’s complex needs and to anticipate disruptors within the event, travel, hospitality, sport, recreation and experience marketing and design space. “George P. Johnson’s partnership with Cal Poly provides students with national and international opportunities and experiences,” said Andrew Thulin, 16


In addition to GPJ’s financial investment in the development of the facility, the agency is also tapping members of its senior leadership team to lend their expertise to the design and development of the lab, acting as mentors and contributors to the programming and use of the space.

Topcon branded the surveying classroom in the BioResource and Agricultural Engineering Department with a wall banner representing various applications of surveying.

Topcon Helps Students Survey the Future Topcon Positioning Systems, a global leader in designing and manufacturing precision-positioning equipment and solutions for global surveying, construction, agriculture and civil engineering, has initiated a University Partnership Program with Cal Poly to donate surveying and automation equipment to help train students across campus in surveying and precision agriculture. Topcon leaders Mike Gomes (Agricultural Business, ’91) and Paul Stepanek (Agricultural Engineering, ’88) were instrumental in developing the partnership and are continuing to create opportunities for Cal Poly faculty and students to receive cutting-edge technology and training in and out of the classroom, including through internships based at their Livermore, California, headquarters.


A $102,500 grant from the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District funded a new front-end loading Caterpillar tractor to replace one that was more than 20 years old at the Cal Poly Dairy.

Excellence in Agriculture Anthony Augusto and Megan Campbell, both seniors majoring in bioresource and agricultural engineering, received the John and Carol Salmonson Scholarship for Excellence in Agriculture. The scholarship was co-funded by John Salmonson (Crop Science, ’67) and his wife Carol and Brandt Consolidated in 2016 to benefit students with an interest in becoming a pest control advisor or similar career path. This is the fourth year it has been awarded.

Rick antle memorial scholarship Pictured from left to right: Rafael Alfaro, a senior agricultural and environmental plant sciences major, Marley Sollecito, a junior agricultural business major, Petrina Pinto, a senior agricultural science major, Samantha Santos, a sophomore agricultural communication major, and Jose Vargas, a senior agricultural business major, received the Rick Antle Memorial Scholarship, which was established in 2019 to honor Rick Antle’s legacy in the industry and aid students in financial need from the Monterey County area.




JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture Last fall, the college held a topping-off ceremony as the last structural beam was placed on the winery building. Attendees first signed the beam, which will remain visible in the winery, honoring those who have been an integral part of the process to date.


I can see no better way for us to honor him than to indelibly

link his name to the Cal Poly program. Alex Ryan

By the end of February, the exterior walls and roof were in place, and the building was scheduled for completion by September 2020. Work began to place the structural steel for the Grange Hall in late December 2019; it will continue to be placed in coming weeks. To date, $19 million of the $22 million needed to completely fund the project has been raised. The latest donor, Westec Tank & Equipment, based in Healdsburg, California, will supply stainless steel tanks for the project. The Belli Family, owner of Westec Tank & Equipment, also donated $100,000 to support the center. In addition, the college and the Wine and Viticulture Department recently unveiled a plan to honor the teaching legacy of now deceased wine and viticulture Professor Keith Patterson by naming the faculty offices in the Grange Hall of the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture the Keith Patterson Learning Lab. Known as a pioneer in the world of viticulture and one of the founding fathers of Cal Poly’s



Wine and Viticulture Department, Patterson left an incredible mark on Cal Poly, its students, and the wine industry as a whole. During his 16-year career at Cal Poly, he taught wine and viticulture classes, carried out a variety of viticulture research projects, and shared his passion for wine grape growing and winemaking with thousands of students. “My father was instrumental in developing the wine and viticulture program at Cal Poly but what he cared most about was his students. With his support and guidance, many of his students are now world-class viticulturists, winemakers and wine marketers,” Victoria Patterson said. “His love and dedication for helping students achieve their highest potential will now live on in memory through the naming of the faculty office suite in the new Grange Hall. We are grateful for everyone’s support.” A fundraising goal of $250,000 has been set to name the Keith Patterson Learning Lab and construct a permanent display honoring his


Supporters gathered at the winery building to celebrate the last piece of structural steel placed.

impact on Cal Poly. A group of donors have already contributed $155,000 toward the memorial fund to kick off the fundraising efforts. “Many people have individually, personally and collectively tried to reconcile the loss of Keith and tried to find ways to remember him for who he was,” said Alex Ryan, president and CEO of Duckhorn Vineyards. “I can see no better way for us to honor him than to indelibly link his name to the Cal Poly program.” If you are interested in learning more about these projects, contact Director of Development Allyson Fischlin at 805-756-3269.

You can see a livestream video of the progress at




Cal Poly Professors to Develop Food Safety Training Program for Leafy Greens Growers with $214,000 Grant



Each year an estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A two-year collaborative project between professors at Cal Poly and Allan Hancock College, a community college in Santa Maria, California, aims to reduce that number. Three Cal Poly professors representing diverse areas of discipline in Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences have formed a partnership with Allan Hancock College to train socially disadvantaged farmers in food safety compliance. The project is funded by a $214,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Agribusiness Professor Jeta Rudi Polloshka, an applied economist, is heading the two-year project at Cal Poly, which will develop and implement a training program for leafy greens farmers in the Santa Maria region in compliance of the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2011. Cal Poly professors Amanda Lathrop, food science, and Karen Cannon,



agricultural communication, will address produce safety plans and food safety communications aspects of the project. Allan Hancock Professor Erin Krier, who coordinates the community college’s agriculture program, is also collaborating with the group. “Given the recent prominent food safety outbreaks involving romaine lettuce and the importance of the leafy greens industry to California, we will work specifically with operators of small and very small leafy greens farms in the Santa Maria Valley,” Polloshka said. “We hope to work with operators of Hispanic origin, given the documented challenges they face in developing regulation compliance due to barriers in language, education and other resources.” The partnership with Allan Hancock College will help to facilitate the connection with growers in the Santa Maria region. The team will train Cal Poly and Allan Hancock College students in an interdisciplinary approach to food safety, increasing capacities of future food safety experts in the state. A food safety training model, following the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA), will be offered to

growers and students. In addition, individually tailored comprehensive food safety trainings and field visits will be offered to as many as 15 leafy greens farmers in the Santa Maria Valley. Additional workshops will be offered on marketing and agribusiness tools related to food safety and best practices for crisis communication, should a foodborne illness outbreak occur. “California is the leading producer of leafy greens in the nation,” Cannon said. “As a team, the combination of our areas of expertise, our geographic location near the Santa Maria Valley, and the industry collaborations our institutions are known for means we’re uniquely positioned to create and deliver this programming.” Added Polloshka, “We will be in the fields, working with farmers at their operations, addressing their specific challenges. Our outreach program is unique as it integrates food safety compliance training with crisis communication and agribusiness tools. Our goal is to reach as many farmers as possible and to help both consumers and producers.”

As a team, the combination of our areas of expertise, our geographic location near the Santa Maria Valley, and the industry collaborations our institutions are known for, means we’re uniquely positioned to create and deliver this programming. Karen Cannon


Rooted in our History

80 years of Poly Royal Rodeo BY L AU RA S O RVE T T I

Cal Poly’s 1940 Rodeo Team won the national championship at the Intercollegiate Rodeo at Victorville, California, on April 13, 1940. Each of these men also participated in the first Poly Royal Rodeo two weeks later. Left to right: Carl Miller, Gilmore Ross, Jim Blake (shaking hands with then-Cal Poly President Julian McPhee), Hugh Kroupa, Gordon Moore, President McPhee, Jim Cochran, Rodney Clare. Kneeling: Vic Tomei, Bill Gallagher. University Archives, Cal Poly.

| University Archives

The Poly Royal Rodeo has grown from humble roots to become the largest collegiate rodeo performance in the country. In 1940, Cal Poly students organized the first collegiate rodeo on campus as part of the annual open house known as Poly Royal. An annual event since 1933, Poly Royal — billed at the time as a “country fair on a college campus”— brought alumni, local families and campus sponsors to campus to learn about the school’s activities. The rodeo was a natural fit for an event that was organized originally by the Cal Poly chapter of the Future Farmers of America, now known as FFA. The idea of a collegiate rodeo was not without challenges. Students had organized smaller rodeos on campus prior to 1940, but this would be the first large collegiate rodeo. Then-Cal Poly President Julian McPhee and other administrators worried about the liability and risk to the campus, and the fact that there was no dedicated

space designed for the event. However, the students worked hard to develop an event that ultimately set the stage for a successful program that would become an annual tradition. In preparation for the April event, students converted the baseball field in the northwest corner of campus into the rodeo grounds (about where Kennedy Library stands today). The arena built by the student contestants consisted of three chutes for riding events and one roping chute. The lineup included nearly 70 Cal Poly students competing in steer roping and riding, tie down roping, and team roping. The rodeo, which was broadcast over the San Luis Obispo KVEC radio station, concluded two full days of events, which included campus tours, livestock judging, baseball games, dances and barbecues. The rodeo was declared the most popular event of the entire weekend.

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