Contact: Jay Thompson

Cal Poly Great Grads Highlight the Talent, Tenacity of the Class of 2015

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Every year, Cal Poly bids a fond farewell and good luck to more than 4,000 graduates ready to soar to new heights in the global workforce or in pursuit of an advanced degree.

Each grad has a unique story of success and perseverance and thoughts on how the Cal Poly experience has shaped them academically and as future leaders of industry and community.

Here are six members of the Class of 2015 who will graduate this weekend and take their Learn by Doing education into world.

Jeffrey Silva
College of Engineering

Jeffrey Silva, College of EngineeringSilva’s Cal Poly experience has been a chance to give back. The industrial engineering graduate was named the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Graduating Senior for Service to the Community.

He has been actively involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the largest Hispanic club on campus, serving as president for the past year. He also has worked as a Partners Ambassador for two years, visiting Partner Schools and giving tours to student groups who come from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

Silva’s community contributions also include volunteering with the Center for Community Engagement and organizing Alternative Breaks to New Orleans, a program to help rebuild homes devastated in Hurricane Katrina.

“I was given many opportunities to meet amazing and inspiring individuals and challenge myself as a leader, advocate, community member and professional,” Silva said. “These organizations have given me so much that I look forward to giving back to them as an alumnus.”

The 23-year-old La Habra native will head to Indiana after graduation for a job with Schneider Electric. He hopes to go to graduate school in the next five years to earn his master’s in business administration.

Amy McBirney
College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences

Amy McBirney, College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental SciencesMcBirney knew she wanted to be a veterinarian, and she knew after visiting campus as a high schooler that Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing education could help her achieve her goals.

The university’s reputation for offering undergraduate students an uncommon level of hands-on experience is well earned, McBirney said. And she credits her devoted professors for ensuring her academic success.

“My experiences at Cal Poly have been so valuable because of individuals who have been exceedingly patient and truly encouraging to me,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to these professors who have shown me what it means to be a mentor and who have encouraged me to pursue my passions.”

The 21-year-old Morgan Hill native was on a team with fellow Dairy Science students that took first place this year at the National Collegiate Dairy Challenge in New York. And she is graduating this weekend with an award for her 4.0 GPA, the highest in her college.

McBirney will head to veterinary school at UC Davis in the fall.

Nava Haghighi
College of Architecture & Environmental Design

Nava Haghighi, College of Architecture & Environmental DesignHaghighi took a more circuitous path to Cal Poly than most of her architecture peers.

As a member of a religious minority in Iran, many basic human rights were denied to her, including the right to pursue a university education. She left home, family and friends in Tehran after high school, seeking a California dream.

She transferred from Santa Monica College to Cal Poly in 2012, attracted by the program’s reputation as one of the nation’s best architecture and design schools.

“The program doesn’t have a specific style, and it’s very diverse,” said the 24-year-old who aspires to be an “impactful designer.” “Cal Poly really lets you carve your own path.”

Since her arrival, she has excelled in her studies and become a positive force within her college and department. She served as a member of the Architecture Department’s Fifth-Year Student Committee and was a driving force behind a recently created mentoring program between third-year and first-year students. She also recently passed her test to become a U.S. citizen.

“I had the highest graduating GPA in my entire college, the College of Architecture and Environmental Design,” she said. “I also graduated with honors, summa cum laude.”

As a result, Haghighi was honored as one of eight university-wide Outstanding Seniors for Academic Excellence and was a member of the president's platform party at the commencement ceremony for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, and the College of Engineering.

“The incredible friends I have made, the amazing network of faculty and staff, and their constant love and support throughout my time at Cal Poly has really helped me succeed and grow both as a person and a designer,” she said. “They have become my second family and have made Cal Poly my home away from home.”

Following graduation, Haghighi plans to travel throughout Southeast Asia and Australia before tackling graduate school.

Photo by Anya McInroy Photography

Kou Xiong
College of Liberal Arts

Kou Xiong, College of Liberal ArtsKou Xiong has focused his efforts on making the Cal Poly experience as deeply impactful for others as it has been for him.

“For me, Cal Poly has been about building connections that will last after graduation and making a positive impact on others,” said the comparative ethnic studies major.

His department recently gave him an award for Outstanding Contribution to Ethnic Studies for his work in creating two campus clubs: the Hmong Student Association and the Comparative Ethnic Studies Student Association. He also serves as a student assistant in Cal Poly’s MultiCultural Center and has given several guest lectures on campus to discuss Hmong culture and Asian American identity.

Diversity, social justice, and making a positive change in his community are important ideals for Xiong, a first-generation college student from Fresno, Calif.

After Cal Poly, Xiong, 23, will go to work with City Year-Sacramento, working with high school students in low-income areas around the state capital to improve graduation rates and foster pursuit of higher education.

Alicia Romero
College of Science & Mathematics

Alicia Romero, College of Science & MathematicsFor Oxnard, Calif., native Alicia Romero, graduation from Cal Poly is a milestone on the journey to her doctorate and a career as a microbiology researcher and professor. But her Cal Poly experience wasn’t just about a single discipline.

“Cal Poly has given me a broad range of knowledge that allows me to relate my studies to a bigger picture and the tools necessary to think outside the box to solve problems,” said the 22-year-old microbiology major.

Her hard work in the university’s Learn by Doing classrooms and laboratories also presented her with opportunities to further advance her education. One example was being selected as an Amgen Scholar after her second year at Cal Poly and working in the Summer Research Program at Stanford University.

“I could not have done this without the support, guidance and knowledge my professors provided,” she said.

Romero’s academic career is already mapped out, and she has her eyes on the next step: participating in the 2015-16 post-baccalaureate research program at UC Santa Cruz. From there, she’ll apply for doctoral programs around the country for fall 2016.

Brian Henson
Orfalea College of Business

Brian Henson, Orfalea College of BusinessAs a high school senior, Henson was headed to Southern California colleges when a Cal Poly campus tour changed his life.

“There was a passion here that I didn’t see at other places,” said the 22-year-old who will graduate with a business administration degree before heading to Washington, D.C., to work as a policy fellow for the National Council of La Raza. “That was really something that stuck with me, and coming here it really rang true.”

Henson displayed his passion for Cal Poly as a resident advisor in the dorms and as a student ambassador assisting prospective students and reacquainting business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs with campus life through the College of Business’ Executives in Residence program. In addition, he was president of Cal Poly’s Financial Management Association and started an investment club.

The magna cum laude grad-to-be stands out for more than academics and his attitude, however. He is the first Cal Poly student to compete in a half marathon in Pyongyang, where he posed in his Orfalea College of Business T-shirt for a photo with a North Korean soldier.

In May, he received the Dean’s Award at a ceremony honoring outstanding business graduates, but what Henson considers his biggest accomplishment is helping his peers and assisting his professors.

“I came to get an education, but I really feel like I left here getting so much more,” he said. “Cal Poly has been my home and my family for the past four years. I think that is something that is going to stick with me the rest of my life.”

Cal Poly will confer degrees on more than 4,000 graduates June 14 and 15. For more information about spring commencement,

# # #