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2019 Newsletter

Sep 20, 2019

Featured Articles

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.

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 ›

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 ›


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 ›

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

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

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

In 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.

Inquiry-Based Learning Builds Mathematical Confidence

Dec 11, 2018

Shannon Sheehan (Liberal Studies, ’18) took a different kind of calculus class, one that used Inquiry-Based Learning. In this video, she talks about how this method inspired her to appreciate making sense of math problems, collaborating with fellow students, and even getting stuck. 

Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) is a learning-centered method of teaching mathematics. Rather than showing facts or a clear, smooth path to a solution, the instructor guides students via well-crafted problems through an adventure in mathematical discovery. Students are given tasks requiring them to solve problems, conjecture, experiment, explore, create and communicate — skills and habits of mind that mathematicians engage in regularly. 

Liberal studies majors’ mathematics courses are based on IBL so that students can apply the method in their future classroom. 

Mathematics Professor Stan Yoshinobu is nationally recognized for his work in developing IBL workshops to help college math instructors learn to use this teaching method, which has been shown to improve learning, reduce math anxiety and close the gender achievement gap in math classes.

Currently, a limited number of faculty members nationwide have access to IBL workshops each year. With a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Yoshinobu and his collaborators aim to at least triple the number of workshop facilitators and add different types of professional development opportunities to better meet the needs of the math profession.

“I think the point for liberal studies majors is to be open and ready to learn via IBL and be patient with being stuck,” Yoshinobu said. “The rewards are great and will help liberal studies majors become wonderful, impactful teachers."

Letter from the Chair - 2018

Dec 10, 2018

Greetings from the Cal Poly Liberal Studies Department where our highly motivated students and accomplished alumni continue to be our inspiration. 

I have the privilege of working with some of our 106 new students in our introductory service learning courses. I am impressed with their dedication, their strong high school community service records, and their current involvement in our local community.

They remind me that Liberal studies students and alumni have a strong call to service and to Learn by Doing Good. 
Following their example, the department continues to partner with the local community. We’re helping local teachers implement the Next Generation Science Standards, offering professional development workshops, supporting school STEM nights, and sharing science kits with teachers.

We also have a new partnership with the Performing Arts Center youth program developed by Professor Loraine McCann (Liberal Studies, ‘81). This program allows liberal studies students to attend educational performances at Cal Poly and local schools. 

One of our students said of a recent performance, “It was so fun and entertaining and allowed for the children's creativity and imagination to freely flow. I recommend it. I was in awe of all of the dinosaur costumes and models and the incorporation of technology to create the production.” 

To support our students’ arts education, we welcomed Samuel Shalhoub to the department this year. He brings his passion for and knowledge of music, theater and dance to teaching the performing arts. California is considering adopting the National Core Arts Standards, and Samuel’s expertise will ensure our students will be prepared to implement those standards. 

Speaking of standards, last year we took a good look at our curriculum and found that it is well-aligned with the standards that the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing sets to demonstrate proficiency. Because of the alignment, we applied for the CSET waiver, which means our graduates will not need to take the CSET to continue in a credential program. We’re hopeful and will let you know the results of the review. 
Finally, I want to mention how proud we are that our own Professor Anne Marie Bergen (Biological Sciences, ’85) was a featured teacher for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Congratulations, Anne Marie!

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.


Wishing you all the best,
Lola Berber-Jiménez, Chair
Liberal Studies Department

Continue reading Letter from the Chair - 2018...

Hands-on Course Leads to Humane Society Internship

Dec 10, 2018

Meghan Balderama (Liberal Studies, ‘18) first visited the Woods Humane Society during Liberal Studies 380, co-taught by Professor Anne Marie Bergen and Jamie Relth, the Humane Education Coordinator at Woods. In the class, liberal studies majors learned how to teach students at local elementary schools how to be safe and humane with animals, specifically dogs. 

Balderama recounts the experience in her own words:

I felt that taking this course would be a fun opportunity for me to combine two of my favorite interests: children and animals.

After training with Jamie during the majority of the quarter, we visited a couple of classrooms. We taught the students how we can help reduce the numbers of cats and dogs in shelters, how to safely meet a new dog, and how to read animal body language. We even got to take a dog from the shelter along with us during our visits, which the children all loved. During spring quarter, we had the opportunity to continue teaching lessons without needing to meet weekly for training.

I loved working with Jamie and having a role with the Woods Humane Society so much that I decided to spend my summer working for their Critter Camp. In this role I continued to combine my love for animals and children. It’s been awesome learning even more about Woods and the animals that are being sheltered there. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the children progress each week as they learn the importance of adopting animals in need of homes and how to treat all of the animals with compassion and care. 

The Woods Humane Society is such an amazing organization with so many sweet cats and dogs in need of a good home and an incredible staff who dedicate everything to help get them adopted. I am so grateful that I have been able to get involved with this organization through the Liberal Studies Department.


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