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Letter from the Chair - 2021

Jul 20, 2021

Lola Berber

A lot has happened since we last sent a newsletter in 2019. I’m happy to report that our very adaptable student body, faculty and staff continued to do excellent work under all conditions, including all different modalities of teaching and learning. Our faculty and staff have been resilient and creative, working with each other with grace and care. Our students performed in an exemplary way during the last year and a half and overcame many obstacles.

Our new department coordinator, Bronwyn Ciccone, was essential in managing this unpredictable period. She joined us officially in February 2020, and her Cal Poly city and regional planning degree came in handy. She helped us transition amazingly well, keeping up real and caring connections with our students, faculty and the many departments teaching our curriculum while navigating all the new college and university requirements. 

We continue to be proud of our graduates. Every year their eagerness and enthusiasm is a source of inspiration for us. The classes of 2020 and 2021 proved to be exceptionally strong. Even in the changing circumstances, they successfully met their goals. 

We had an extraordinary number of students complete their bachelor’s degree — 104 in the 2020-21 academic year. Many will continue to pursue a credential or master’s program. We are honored to have worked with them and wish them the best. 

In 2019 we completed our program review, as we do every seven years, and presented a strategic action plan. We’re happy to report that as a result of our work, we have the first two tenure track faculty members in Liberal Studies! 

We were thrilled to have these superb new professors join our department, making it even stronger than before. Amanda Frye focuses on the social foundations of education, and Jasmine Nation is our science specialist. They recently completed their first year teaching — entirely virtually! — and did an amazing job.

We also sadly lost one of our lecturers, Stephanie Miller, who taught for us from fall 2013 to spring 2015. In memory of Stephanie, I want to share this advice she used to give her students:

“My teacher message just for you: A candy kiss because everyone needs hugs and kisses, a cotton ball to help you cushion and soften some of the hard times, a candle to brighten your way in life, a sweet and sour candy to remind you that parts of your day may be sweet, and others, sour, a smile because we all need them and they are contagious, a rubber band to remind you to be flexible in all areas of life, an eraser to remind you that you are not perfect but we are unique!”

In fall 2020 we started teaching a new course, Children’s Literature in a Diverse Society, which is also a GE course. It has a strong emphasis on racially diverse themes and authors and has already become a popular course for all majors.  

At the end of spring 2020, two of our beloved faculty retired: Anne Marie Bergen and Russell Swanagon. We missed having a celebration for them due to COVID restrictions, but we know their influence will continue with all the teachers they have inspired. While Russell continues to teach LS 310 Storytelling and hopes to lead the Ireland study abroad program again when travel restrictions ease, Anne Marie is taking some well-deserved time off but stays connected by working as a Frost undergraduate research mentor.

Please take time to sign their virtual cards: 
•    Card for Ann Marie Bergen
•    Card for Russell Swanagon 

Thank you for all that you do to support the Liberal Studies Department. Our larger community has been a great help over the past year, and we appreciate you keeping connected with us. We would love to hear about your new adventures — please email us any time at

Lola Berber-Jiménez  

Continue reading Letter from the Chair - 2021...

2021 Newsletter

Jul 20, 2021

Featured Articles

Francisca Camarillo on the beach wearing graduation gown

Liberal Studies Grad Will Inspire Children in Mixtec, English and Spanish

Francisca Camarillo knew she had the potential to do and be more. Now she'll help elementary school students in Santa Maria discover how promising their futures can be. Video included!

Lola Berber-Jimenez

Letter from the Chair

Lola Berber-Jiménez reviews the department's resilience and accomplishments.

Read the letter ›

Four students, one in graduation robes, holding up black polo shirts in front of a Congrats sign

Educators of Color Thrive

Members of the new Educators of Color club support one another and the local community.

Learn more about the new club ›

Continue reading 2021 Newsletter...

Vanessa Lamoureux Earns Academic Excellence Award

Jun 19, 2020

Vanessa Lamoureux Earns Academic Excellence AwardVanessa Lamoureux, a Northgate High School graduate and soon to be Cal Poly graduate with a bachelor's degree in liberal studies, earned the 2019-2020 Academic Excellence Award from the Cal Poly Liberal Studies Department. A select few students who achieve outstanding academic performance measured by cumulative grade point average receive the award.     

Each year academic departments recognize student academic performance with the top-performing students often achieving perfect GPAs of 4.0.     

Lamoureux credits her success to her love of learning, family support, and great educators at her high school.  

"While in high school, I had some wonderful teachers who knew how to support their students in a way that helped them grow both academically and personally. Without those teachers, I definitely would not have had the educational foundation and tools I needed to succeed at Cal Poly,” said Lamoureux. “My parents have always supported me and have always been a constant source of encouragement in my educational journey,” 

Liberal Studies is a major for students who are planning on becoming teachers. That made Lamoureux, who’s wanted to be a teacher ever since I was six years old, a perfect fit.  

“I have a passion for learning and education, so it was very inspiring to be in a major and surrounded by faculty and students who feel the same exact way,” said Lamoureux. “Their dedication to education only fueled my own, and I feel extremely lucky that I was able to spend the last four years surrounded by people who love education and believe in it as much as I do.” 

Lamoureux says she chose Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics because she wanted to experience the "Learn by Doing" approach that the school has become synonymous with.  

“I knew that if I attended Cal Poly I would constantly be in local elementary classrooms learning from actual elementary teachers, and that was very exciting to me!” added Lamoureux.  

After graduating from Cal Poly, Lamoureux will attend UC Santa Barbara's Teacher Education Program, where she plans to earn a multiple subject teaching credential and master's degree in teaching. 

2019 Newsletter

Sep 20, 2019

Featured Articles

The Adventures of The Tall and the Small Book Cover

Alumna’s Picture Book Takes Students from Atoms to Asteroids

While she was still a student, Paige Gowan created a picture book that introduces children to their place in the world, from subatomic particles to the far reaches of the universe.

Lola Berber-Jimenez

Letter from the Chair

Lola Berber-Jimenez takes a look back and a look forward with gratitude for all those who make the Liberal Studies Department what it is.

Read the letter ›

Alumni Reunion

Join Us for the Liberal Studies Reunion November 16!

Enjoy a free brunch with fellow alumni and current faculty, staff, students and credential candidates. Share stories, win prizes and become part of our dynamic network.

Learn more and register for reunion ›


Classroom in Poland

Getting My First Classroom - in Poland

Volunteering to teach English as a second language in Poland taught student Lily Judge that she has what it takes to run a classroom.

Read more about teaching in Poland ›

Students at Loughcrew, Ireland

In Ireland, Students Encounter Ancient Myths at Every Turn

Students from across the university joined liberal studies students to explore the art and tradition of storytelling in the land that's famous for spinning tales.

Read more about studying abroad in Ireland ›

Continue reading 2019 Newsletter...

Getting My First Classroom - in Poland

Sep 19, 2019

By Lily Judge

Last summer I spent a month in a small Polish village teaching English to children. I went with a non-profit organization called Learning Enterprises that was advertised through the Liberal Studies Department. This experience allowed me to learn so much about myself, a new culture and the teaching world. 

I had never done anything like this before, so it goes without saying that the bus ride to the village where my host family was waiting was a nerve-racking two hours. However, I quickly came to learn that Polish people are exceptionally friendly. My host family welcomed me with open arms, and we celebrated with a huge family gathering. Dish after dish was served to me, and everyone began to practice their English skills in conversations with me. There was an overwhelming sense of comfort, home and happiness as I sat with my new Polish family. 

After the initial introduction to my family, my host mom and I took a walking tour through the small village of Zalasowa. The next day, my 16-year-old host brother took me to the school and translated for me. I was introduced to the headmaster, my students, their parents and my young classroom translator. 

The headmaster was so excited to have me as a volunteer in his school and was prepared to supply me with anything I requested. I was fortunate to have the whole school open to me for my lessons. 

“Intimidating” barley describes my first hours in the classroom. I stood in front of 25 young, Polish students who could not fully understand English, and I could not understand Polish. I tried to get a sense of what English they already knew. My class lessons were free for the students during their summer time, so I knew my lessons had to be fun for the students to continue to come and learn. Needless to say, my first week with my classes was strange, but I learned a lot about what the students already knew. I figured out what they liked to do and what they disliked to do inside and outside of the classroom.

The next three weeks went smoothly. I learned how to make fun lesson plans that would last the full two hours. I used classic American games like “red light, green light” as educational reinforcement for the new vocabulary, and my students and I learned how to communicate with one another even with our language barrier — lots of hugs, smiles and thumbs-ups. 

I had never taught English as a second language, so I based my lessons on how I best learned Spanish. Every day I was impressed by how much vocabulary my young students could retain and how excited they were to see what new words they would learn and what interactive activity I had planned. 

My last week of teaching included a talent show for the parents and community in which the students showcased their English skills with songs, skits and dances. This final day with them was very special to me. I got to see and reflect on everything we had done together, and it was so sad to say goodbye to all the students I had grown fond of.

My experience was not solely based in the classroom. I also got to be a part of the community by engaging with my host family, neighbors and other villagers. With my host family, I saw sites all around Poland and learned a lot about the culture through the different meals we shared and the long afternoons after my lessons.

After this summer I feel confident in my desire to become a teacher, and I feel ready to have my own classroom whether it’s in the United States or another country. I am so thankful the Liberal Studies Department shared this opportunity with me, and I look forward to hearing about other students’ experiences through Learning Enterprises. I might even try another country next summer.

Letter from the Chair - 2019

Sep 19, 2019

Lola Berber

As I prepared for a new academic year, I was reflecting on all the people who have helped the department become the nurturing and challenging learning environment that we are. After all, it is true what they say: we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Sadly, we lost one of those department supporters this summer. Rosa Jones, our dedicated administrative support coordinator, passed away on July 24 as a result of complications from a brain aneurism. It was a sudden and unexpected loss that left a hole in our hearts. Rosa worked for the Liberal Studies Department for more than three years. She was a long-time member of the Cal Poly and College of Science and Mathematics family, serving in multiple departments throughout the college and university for more than 29 years. She contributed to the Cal Poly community in many ways, including as an active member of the CSU Employees Union. We are very thankful for her service to our faculty, staff and students. Her life was too short, and we will always remember her.

In happier news, a team of external evaluators names us a “distinguished liberal studies program.” The evaluators’ visit completed our program review process, in which we reflect on program effectiveness and create an action plan for the next five years. We are deeply grateful to the internal and external faculty members and evaluators who contributed to this process.

In this newsletter, you’ll hear from our students and read about our their commitment to teaching and learning, whether volunteering in Poland or self-publishing a beautiful children’s book. We also offered our inaugural study abroad in Ireland program led by Russell Swanagon, which was a great success and will continue in the future.

We also want to highlight some opportunities for our alumni and friends to visit Cal Poly and connect with fellow liberal studies alumni and current students.

Mark your calendars! 

Join Us for the 4th Annual Alumni Reunion on Homecoming Weekend 

Enjoy a free brunch with fellow alumni and current faculty, staff, students and credential candidates. Share stories, win prizes and become part of our dynamic network.
Date: Saturday, November 16th, 2019 
Time: 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Where: Baker Lawn at Cal Poly
Cost: Free

Register Now!

Anne Marie Bergen’s Retirement Event

Anne Marie Bergen is retiring! Come celebrate this wonderful person, her amazing accomplishments and the lives she has touched.
Date: Saturday, May 30, 2020 
Time: 4-7 p.m.
Where: Red Barn in Los Osos 
Cost: Free

We are so grateful for all the support we receive from our alumni, donors and friends. You help us provide a strong Learn by Doing education to our students every day. Please drop us a line and let us know what you’re up to or come to one of our events this year.

Wishing you all the best,

Lola Berber-Jiménez, Chair

Liberal Studies Department

Continue reading Letter from the Chair - 2019...

Alumna’s Picture Book Takes Students from Atoms to Asteroids

Sep 19, 2019

By Paige Gowan

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in child development in spring 2019. I was inspired to create my children's book, “The Adventures of the Tall and Small,” after hearing Mercedes Talley speak in Professor Bergen’s class. 

Talley founded a non-profit called Learn Through the Universe, which helps students learn about the universe through collaborative construction of true-to-scale models at powers of ten. Through these activities, students journey out into the cosmos and down to the subatomic level.

The exploration of scale in her discussion and the following activities were so interesting that I thought a book would be a great way to introduce children to their place in the world. Professor Bergen’s “innovation project” was a perfect excuse to create the book, and I made it with some markers, a scanner and some rhyming inspiration from Professor Swanagon. 

The book is now touring along with Mercedes Talley and her Learn Through the Universe team! I am now in pursuit of a master's degree in speech pathology from Sacramento State University and hope to work as a speech therapist in elementary schools.

In Ireland, Students Encounter Ancient Myths at Every Turn

Sep 19, 2019

Students at Loughcrew

Russell Swanagon and 24 Cal Poly students headed to Dublin, Ireland, last summer for a study abroad experience. Swanagon taught Storytelling: Modern Applications of Traditional Narrative, and two professors from the Dublin Business School — which is much more than a business school — taught a four-unit course titled Ancient Myth and Legends of Ireland. Students earned eight units of credit during an intensive four-week stay in Dublin.

Because there is a strong storytelling culture in Ireland, students were immersed in this activity. Weekends were full of excursions to interesting parts of the countryside, with storytellers on the buses and at the significant sites. 

Students visited Loughcrew Cairns, a neolithic tomb overlooking the historically significant Boyne Valley. While there, an Irish storyteller shared the ancient legend of the creation of the valley. Loughcrew Cairns was one seven sites selected for their historical significance and association with the ancient myths and legends that are the foundation of Irish identity and culture.

One of the program’s goals is cultural exchange.  An unexpected outcome of this visit by our Cal Poly students was that DBS is changing part of their curriculum for the Irish Culture and Language Class to include a storytelling section modeled after Swanagon’s curriculum. The administrators from DBS expressed how much everyone learned and said that they enjoyed having Cal Poly students in their classrooms.


Student Awards 2018

Dec 12, 2018

Student holding an award standing with two professors
Courtney Johnson, center, receives her award for academic achievement from Anne Marie Bergen,
interim department chair, and Dean Wendt, dean of the college.

The college and department honored a number of liberal studies 2018 graduates for their outstanding achievements last spring. Congratulations and good luck to them and the entire 2018 graduating class.

College of Science and Mathematics Honors

Academic Achievement

Courtney Johnson

Contributions to the Department

Kylie Frost

Liberal Studies Department Honors

Child Development

C.J. Wingate and Emily Garner


Olivia Brown

History and Social Sciences

Raha Haghnia


Robyn Amendola and Veronica Zepeda


Courtney Johnson and Kylie Burk


Madison Yule and Emily Sweetman

Teaching English as a Second Language

Kylie Frost and Jordyn Romant

Continue reading Student Awards 2018...

Teaching and Learning in a Classical Classroom

Dec 11, 2018

Vanessa LamoureuxIn addition to their required public school observation, liberal studies students have the opportunity to observe an alternative school with a classical education curriculum. Overseen by Professor Russell Swanagon, Liberal Studies 380 Subject Matter Apprenticeship: English gives students hands-on experience in the classroom at the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy (SLOCA). They also meet as a group to discuss their experiences and prominent issues in the teaching profession. 

Below, junior Vanessa Lamoureux describes her experience in LS 380.

SLOCA provides a unique learning environment for homeschooled children. SLOCA’s students come to class two times a week with the option to take Friday classes as well. 

Their curriculum focuses on classical concepts such as Greek and Roman mythology and Latin language. Students re-learn concepts every four years, going into greater detail each time. For example, students in third and fourth grades learn about Gregor Mendel and are given a brief overview of why children look like their parents. These same students revisit the concept of heredity in eighth grade, diving deeper into the details of genetics and traits. 

Above all, SLOCA’s mission is to establish a community that “forges character, fosters wisdom, and nurtures a lifelong passion for learning.” 
Each liberal studies student’s experience at SLOCA is different. While I never taught class or planned lessons, I assisted students who had questions or needed help understanding a particular concept. Because of this, I got to know all the students in my class — by far my favorite part of LS 380. I also learned how to meet students where they are in their learning and encourage them to dive deeper into the concepts and ideas they are discussing in class. 
LS 380 is an incredibly beneficial class to any liberal studies student. Not only does it allow us to spend quality time in a classroom but it also provides us with the opportunity to learn from a teacher who truly loves her job. In addition, LS 380 students are exposed to a unique learning environment that is not found in public schools. 

This class’s biggest impact comes from the weekly meetings with our classmates. During this time future teachers consider how they hope their own classrooms will look and function, share how they feel about the teaching profession, and discuss controversial and reoccurring concerns within the realm of teaching. LS 380 takes students deep into the teaching profession with a combination of first-hand experience and time to think about how we want our future classrooms to run and what we want every single one of our students to learn.


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