Poly Parent News: March 2020

This Month's Newsletter


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Director's Message

Spring is in the air at Cal Poly and students are gearing up for finals and spring break. As a reminder, spring break is the shortest quarter break and provides far less time for students to detach, decompress and feel refreshed before starting spring quarter. Unlike the long holiday break following fall quarter, spring break feels more like a pit stop on a long road trip. With only one week off, let’s encourage our students to get recharged and prepared for a new quarter. Before they know it, they will be on the road again with their sights set on summer!

If you have a Mustang that is graduating this June, we encourage you to write them a letter through our campaign: Dear Mustang Grad. Letters will be hand-delivered to grads with a small gift. Use this chance to surprise your grad with a note that reflects your pride, encouragement, and celebration of their accomplishments. Letters can be submitted HERE through April 15.

We hope to see many of you at Poly Cultural Weekend, April 3-5, and Open House, April 16-18.

As always, please reach out to us with any concerns or questions – we are here for you!

Tessa Espinoza, M.Ed.
Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement

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Support Your Student During Finals Week

As Winter Quarter finals approach, your student may be feeling a heightened amount of stress regarding classes, tests, and projects. Cal Poly offers several different resources to help minimize students’ stress levels and promote healthy study habits. 

Also, remind your student of the following tips for managing their stress

  • Incorporate some “downtime” into your daily routine; go for a walk, listen to music, read for pleasure
  • Begin practicing relaxation techniques; meditate, practice breathing exercises
  • Don’t ignore your body; eat well-balanced meals, exercise, get adequate sleep each night 
  • Take positive steps to change what you can; prioritize, break large tasks down into smaller ones, organize 

If you’d like to send your student a little extra love while they prepare for finals, you can send them a care package through the University Store.

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Making the Most of Spring Break

    Whether your student is going abroad or staying local for the Spring Break, you should have a discussion with them about safety. Here are some safety tips you can share with them: 

    • Let a friend or family know your itinerary, destination locations, and contact information for others you are traveling with 
    • Wear sunscreen, whether at the beach or in the snow
    • Keep your phone charged; consider carrying an extra portable power bank
    • Designate a safe driver, both to and from any destination(s)
    • Consider carrying a small travel first aid kit 
    • Let your friends know where you're going and when you'll be back. Utilize the TapShield personal safety app.  The safety app is available free to all Cal Poly students, faculty and staff. 
    • If you see a questionable situation, be an active bystander and check in. If you're not comfortable intervening yourself, ask someone who is.
    • For more information on personal safety tips, visit UPD’s website HERE.

    Spring Break can also be a great time to rest and get some planning done for the upcoming quarter and summer. Consider the following Spring Break plans and projects with your student:

    • Your student should ensure that their housing arrangements are finalized for the upcoming summer and/or academic year during this time
    • Your student can start planning for their summer; will they be enrolling in summer courses? Finding an internship or job? Traveling?
    • Has your student mapped out their upcoming academic year? Encourage them to spend some time considering what courses they need to take each quarter in order to stay on track
    • Spring break is a great time to connect with family members that many students haven’t seen since the winter break. You can also get some great family time in without going far or planning large vacations. Simple things like family dinners or game nights can help students reconnect and rest at the same time.
    • Sometimes the break can be used for just that – a relaxing break from school work and college life. Spring break doesn’t have to be packed full with activities and traveling. Allow your student to get the rest and recuperation that they need before starting another quarter.

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    Is Your Student Graduating this Spring? Sign Up for Commencement Emails

    Parents, supporters, family, and friends can sign up for Spring Commencement 2020 information emails to stay in the loop about commencement ceremonies, regalia, parking, tickets, and more.

    You can also follow Commencement on social media on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date with the latest news and announcements.

    Visit for ongoing updates and new information throughout commencement season!

    Contact the Commencement Office at (805) 756-1600 or with any additional questions or for more information.

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    Featured Article: Four Ways to Help Your College Student Grow Up (The New York Times)

    “I wouldn’t normally call you, but my child is not good at advocating for herself.” Working as dean and director of family engagement at Barnard College, I often hear this kind of claim. It’s rarely true. In almost all cases, the parents and guardians who tell me this have, unknowingly, prevented their children from handling their own affairs. I wish they would recognize this kind of overparenting for what it is: counterproductive.

    Research has linked overparenting to a wide range of negative outcomes, including low self-efficacy, depression, decreased school engagement and poor academic adjustment. Worst of all, acting as a go-between and swooping in to solve every minor problem can signal to young people that their parents think they’re incompetent and incapable of self-advocacy. Though 61 percent of American adults with children ages 18-29 say parents are doing too much for their young adult offspring, just 28 percent say they themselves are doing too much. It’s hard for them to see how their own “helping” behaviors are harming their children.

    Those who intervene unnecessarily in the lives of their college-age children are typically aware of — and emphatically reject — being categorized as “helicopter,” “bulldozer,” “snowplow” or “lawn mower” parents. That’s probably O.K. I don’t think there’s much to be gained from assigning negative labels to moms and dads who need a bit of guidance on how to take a step back as their sons and daughters’ transition into adulthood. I prefer to think of them as “fix-it” parents since their primary, shared goal is to solve problems in order to protect their children from pain or discomfort.

    Remembering these altruistic intentions helps me reach common ground with the parents who call the Office of Family Engagement to complain that their daughters are unable to register for their preferred classes, are intimidated by their professors, are not happy with the water pressure in the dorm showers, are worried their roommates don’t like them or are dissatisfied with the food options on campus.

    I hear from dads as frequently as I hear from moms. The fathers who contact my office have a tendency to infantilize their daughters and try to enforce their own “solutions.” When a student isn’t able to register for a class because it’s full, for example, her exasperated father might call to inform me that the administration needs to open more sections of the course so there will be an open seat for his child. And when I explain that no one is available to teach an additional section, the common response from dads is, “Well, then you need to hire more instructors.”

    Moms usually take a more collaborative approach. In this same situation, a mother usually inquires about how similar issues have been handled in the past. When I respond that most students simply register for the class the next time it’s offered, she will typically implore me to do everything in my power to facilitate a one-time exception and ask what she can do to help me make a spot available for her daughter. Some parents start right at the top. After one anxious dad contacted the college president’s office to voice concerns that his daughter wasn’t registered for the “right classes,” I followed up with the student directly. It turned out that she and her father weren’t on the same page at all. Not only was she satisfied with her courses; she had no idea that her dad intended to intervene on her behalf — and she was mortified that he had done so. Being embarrassed by parents who meddle in your affairs is a normal, healthy response for a college student. I worry about the ones who have been taught to be helpless. What will happen to them when their moms and dads are no longer around to solve their problems?

    Fortunately, there are many ways to support young people as they learn to speak up for themselves, solve their own problems and make important decisions.

    Here are a few:

    Encourage them to take small steps. If your student tells you something isn’t going well — a roommate who’s abusing alcohol or drugs, a less-than-stellar exam grade — encourage the student to take a first step: Send an email to an adviser on campus, or tap in a phone reminder to call an appropriate person and set up an appointment.

    Help them write “scripts.” If your student is scared to talk to a professor or feels intimidated by a dean, help write a “script” for the occasion. Chances are you’ve had experience talking to your boss or manager, so tell your student what words to use. I tell students who have trouble talking with professors to write down a few sentences like, “Hi, Professor X, I’m Sally, and I’m in your intro to biology course. I wondered if I could speak with you about my midterm. I made a lot of mistakes, and I’d like to understand how to do better next time.” Ask your student to write down your suggestions in a notebook or type them into a phone, somewhere your student won’t forget to look right before stepping into a professor’s office.

    Encourage them to follow up. Sometimes a student will work up the courage to find a professor, only to hear something disappointing: They are failing the course, or the next exam will count as their final grade, or they can’t possibly take a makeup exam after missing the first quiz. Some students will take this disappointing news and turn it inward, feeling terrible and using negative self-talk. (“I’m so bad at this subject, I should just drop out of school. I don’t belong here.”) If your student has a tendency to do this, help to reframe the disappointment as a learning opportunity: Your student should follow up with an email or another visit to the professor with specific questions like, “What can I do to be better prepared for the next exam?” or “If I can’t make up this quiz, is there another way for me to try to understand the material and raise my grade?”

    Remind them to talk to more than one person. A professor, a friend or a teaching assistant might have one answer to a question, but others on campus might have advice of a different kind. Encourage your student to get to know other adults on campus who might be able to help navigate a less-than-ideal situation. Getting lots of information and input can help them make better decisions. Remind them that learning to live with disappointment is a facet of self-advocacy. Even students who are great at asking for what they need may not get the response they want. Remind them that this is O.K.: Rejection is a part of life. Too many parents have a “don’t-take-no-for-an-answer” mind-set, and their children adopt the same attitude. This approach rarely works for self-advocacy. Remember that every conversation is a give-and-take, and coming off as angry or inflexible is only going to create tension with the very people who are in a position to help. Students need to learn when to accept “no” as the final answer and when it is appropriate to push back or ask more questions.

    With time, your student will become better at self-advocacy — but only if you step back and let them practice.

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    The Disability Resource Center: An Achievement in Academic Equity

    By Jarod Urrutia, Fourth-year student, Journalism

    Cal Poly’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) is more than a means of support for students.

    It’s also more than a provider for accommodations.

    The center is an achievement in collaboration, communication, education, and accessibility. Most importantly, it’s making a difference for students in need.

    “I’ve really been just super grateful to the DRC,” said second-year biology student Ethan McGhee. “It’s really been nothing but a positive experience for helping me. They’re fantastic people.”

    McGhee, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia and central auditory processing disorder, is one of more than 1,900 students who utilize the DRC’s services. The center’s mission is to make Cal Poly a positive, more equitable experience for McGhee and other students with temporary or permanent disabilities by combining the use of new and emerging technology, individualized accessibility plans, and ongoing communication with faculty. 

    McGhee was diagnosed in high school and considered the disability accommodations of each university during the college application process.

    “It was during spring break in my senior year when I first met my access specialist (at Cal Poly),” said McGhee of his initial experience with the DRC. “She went through the whole system of how to get set up with the DRC and receive my accommodations. She made it really, really easy and that definitely made a big impact on my decision to come here.”

    Other students, meanwhile, appreciate the DRC’s ability to adapt to their changing needs.

    Joey Freschet was diagnosed with ADHD during his sophomore year at Cal Poly and at one point, found himself facing academic disqualification due to his struggles with the disability. At the time, he was already receiving accommodations for dyslexia.

    “Once my parents and I figured out something was wrong, I was able to get diagnosed,” said Freschet, who graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in the winter of 2018. “After that, the DRC was able to change their accommodations and give me what I needed.”

    Overcoming hurdles

    According to Assistant Director Amy Gode, the DRC aims to “level out the playing field” for all students and make a difference in their academic careers.

    “Students with disabilities have a lower graduation rate than students without, likely because something is getting in the way,” she said of the hurdles facing students with disabilities.

    Gode noted that the center currently serves about 8.7 percent of the student body. Still, roughly 12 percent of the student body likely qualifies for DRC services, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Often, she added, students simply don’t know that they can receive accommodations.

    She noted that DRC staff are trained to understand how disabilities affect learning and can offer a variety of options to use that support access.

    “So often students who are diagnosed with depression don't necessarily think that they would qualify to receive accommodations,” Gode said. “Unfortunately, that happens a lot, and that means we don’t end up seeing some students until maybe their junior or senior year. What we can do for them is look at how those symptoms are impacting them in getting through school, because there are accommodations we can put in place to help them minimize those impacts and show their capabilities.”

    Another common barrier for students, she added, is the stigma of standing out among their peers for seeking help.

    “There’s definitely that stigma,” said Gode, who noted that the use of accommodations will never appear on a student’s transcript, while diagnoses are only shared on a need-to-know basis with faculty. “A lot of the time, students come in and say that they don’t want anything special. We don’t provide anything special — just what is reasonable and mandated by federal law so we can do what’s best for students.”

    Assistive technology

    Gode noted that one of the most popular accommodations requested by students is the LiveScribe Smartpen. The center has more than 300 units currently on loan.

    “It’s a smart pen that records lectures as students take notes, so they can go back to a specific part of their notes and hear what a lecturer said during that time,” she said.

    For students like McGhee, whose disabilities make him “a few seconds behind in auditory processing,” using the LiveScribe Smartpen to review a math problem while listening to his professor’s explanation on solving it is the key to studying productively.

    McGhee is also one of several students who qualify for alternative testing, which provides him with the option to take midterms and other exams in a distraction reduced environment. Gode noted that alternative testing takes every possible distraction into account, including noise and visual movements

    “I take my tests, midterms and finals in a small DRC testing room with about 20 students max, and it’s completely distraction-free,” explained McGhee. “This reduces a lot of what would be going on in my head in, say, a big lecture hall, where there are a lot of distractions like desk tapping or somebody dropping something.”

    Not every accommodation provided by the DRC is for on-campus use. Gode noted that for some students, many of the same challenges persist away from the classroom. To that end, DRC offers alternative formats for textbooks, such as accessible e-text, which can be read aloud by assistive technology software such as Read & Write.

    “The reading pace can be adjusted and it highlights words to support visual tracking,” she said, “It really helps students who have difficulty reading or staying focused.”

    McGhee added that the DRC already has many commonly used textbooks on file and ready to go, making it easier for students to utilize the service.

    “While I’m reading, I have a hard time keeping up with the pace,” he said. “Having that auditory aspect (from Read and Write Gold), I can follow along and that’s really huge for me.”

    At the end of the day, Gode noted, the DRC is about helping students reach their potential – no matter how reluctant they might be to receive help at first.

    “I think what’s great about our staff is that we really do our best to make it about the student,” she said. “We’re passionate about promoting disability as diversity, and ensuring equity – just people who want to help students succeed and feel included.”

    For Freschet, the DRC’s willingness to help and work with faculty to get him back on track academically made all the difference in his pursuit of a Cal Poly degree.

    “Without the DRC and the help they’ve given me,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t be at Cal Poly now.”

    Interested in supporting the Disability Resource Center and the students it serves? Visit For additional information about the Disability Resource Center, visit

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    Resource Spotlight – CLA Underrepresented Students Network

    Cal Poly has a variety of great resources for a diverse student body. Each month we plan to highlight one that may be beneficial or of interest to your student.

    The College of Liberal Arts Underrepresented Students Network (CLA USN) is a peer mentoring program for underrepresented students in our college. Mentors can meet informally with mentees to provide support and resources on Cal Poly’s campus. USN is not a counseling service, but a place to talk with peers who can identify with the experiences of other underrepresented students. 

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    Recommended Parent Reading List

    Ever wish there was a how-to guide on parenting college students? While there might not be a manual on raising young adults, there are several helpful resources, articles, and books to help you support your student. Each quarter Parent & Family Programs will recommend a recent and relevant book or article for parents and supporters of students of all identities and backgrounds.

    Winter Quarter Reading Recommendation: “The Gift Of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” by Jessica Lahey

    In the tradition of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, this groundbreaking manifesto focuses on the critical school years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.

    Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s wellbeing, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

    Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education, Lahey reminds us. Teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight—important life skills children carry with them long after they leave the classroom.

    Providing a path toward solutions, Lahey lays out a blueprint with targeted advice for handling homework, report cards, social dynamics, and sports. Most importantly, she sets forth a plan to help parents learn to step back and embrace their children’s failures. Hard-hitting yet warm and wise, The Gift of Failure is essential reading for parents, educators, and psychologists nationwide who want to help children succeed.

    Want to start a local Cal Poly parent reading circle? Browse Facebook for the many local Facebook groups created and maintained by current and past Cal Poly Proud parents. Happy reading!

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    Important Campus Phone Numbers

    Admissions | (805) 756-2311
    Career Services | (805) 756-2501
    Commencement Office | (805) 756-1600
    Counseling Services | (805) 756-2511
    Disability Resource Center | (805) 756-1395
    Financial Aid Office | (805) 756-2927
    Health Services | (805) 756-1211
    Mustang Success Center | (805) 756-6211
    Parent and Family Programs | (805) 756-6700
    Student Accounts | (805) 756-1428
    University Housing | (805) 756-1226
    Cal Poly Police Department | (805) 756-2281

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