Diversity & Inclusion

Office of University Diversity and Inclusion

College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences First-Gen Faculty, Staff, and Administrators

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Dr. Shashika Hewavitharana

Assistant Professor, Horticulture and Crop Science & Strawberry Pathologist with the Strawberry Center

Contact Shashika Hewavitharana

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Plant Pathology

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

I encourage you to dream big, execute your plans and help others to follow your path.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

It was initially an overwhelming feeling as everyone in my family were looking at me if I would be successful. I had the right teachers, friends, and support, so I was successful step by step and I gained confidence and aspired for bigger dreams.

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Dr. Chris Dicus

Professor, Natural Resources Management & Environmental Sciences

Contact Chris Dicus

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Forestry with Specialty in Wildfire Ecology and Management

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Expect the unexpected (including disappointments) and do your best to "roll with the flow". Indeed, recognize that some of your most bitter disappointments (at the time) can turn out to be some of life's biggest blessings down the road. Also, be ok that you might not be able to afford all the cool "toys" or get to do some of the cool things that you're more affluent peers might have access.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

A college degree was my ticket out of generational poverty and its associated dysfunction that commonly accompanies it, all of which seems incredibly normal if that is all that you've ever known. Unlike the rest of my family, I have been able to travel the world and meet scientific and political leaders from across the globe, the vast majority of which is due to my professional duties, none of which could have occurred without a sound education. These experiences have enabled me to grow SOOOOO much as a person because I'm able to bear witness to ideas/worldviews/joys/concerns that varied so much from my own personal experiences, which were severely limited due to childhood poverty.

Chase your dream and never back down, no matter how overwhelming life can seem as you navigate these unchartered waters. Expect challenges and times of questioning as to whether you belong or whether you can finish (they're normal and you WILL overcome these feelings if you choose to fight those lies). Know that you're going to have to rely mostly on yourself. The world is ran by those who show up, so become actively engaged with your peers and with your instructors even if it is scary and outside of your normal comfort zone.

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Dr. Benjamin Hoover

Associate Professor, Horticulture & Crop Sciences

Contact Benjamin Hoover

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Horticulture

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Communication is so important! Take time to talk to your academic advisor and faculty advisor before a crisis happens. Also, talking with faculty in your program during office hours can be very helpful. At times it can feel like your professors and instructors are enemies or obstacles, but they are actually your biggest fans and supporters.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

I had a two-fold level of adjustment as a college student, since I was a first-generation college student who was entirely homeschooled prior to college. On a campus and in a classroom, I realized that I did not know how to ask questions. Everything was new to me, and it felt like everyone else knew what they were doing. I learned to research and prepare myself for things. I learned to be wise about who I trusted for advice.

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Dr. Kari Pilolla

Associate Professor, Food Science and Nutrition

Contact Kari Pilolla

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Nutrition Science

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Know that you are not alone and many faculty and staff members are here to support you! Always advocate for yourself and attend advising sessions, faculty office hours, and reach out to mentors (on and off-campus) as you take this journey. You will be faced with opportunities disguised as challenges - don't be fooled - each challenge is just a way of providing you with the opportunity to look for a new solution, learn a new skill, build a stronger network, etc. In case you already forgot - you are NOT alone!

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact you?

As a first-generation college student, I had to learn how to navigate academia on my own. I, too, attended a CSU and my experiences, good and not-so-good, motivated me to complete my terminal degree so that I could return to help future generations of students navigate their path through higher education.

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Dr. Stephanie Jung

Professor, Food Science and Nutrition

Contact Stephanie Jung

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Nutrition Science

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

My advice is to use all the resources that are available to you, including connecting to your professors by attending office hours. Your faculty want to get to know you and care about your success. We are here to support you.

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Dr. Mark Edwards

Professor, ANIMAL SCIENCE

Contact Mark Edwards

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Animal Science/Comparative Animal Nutrition

What advice would you share with a first-generation college student at Cal Poly?

Honor the opportunity you have been afforded by striving for excellence in your life. Respect those who make sacrifices on your behalf, open doors and support your journey. Share your education and experiences to enrich the lives of others.

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