Shortly after students gathered in the Quad for the quarterly question-and-answer session with university leaders, President Michael Ortiz joked that the event should be rechristened “Pizza with the Parking Director” — a humorous but on-point observation because of the number of questions asked about parking, pedestrians and traffic safety.
Ortiz fielded the first question Thursday at the fall quarter edition of Pizza with the Presidents, addressing the closure of Red Gum Lane just north of Kellogg Drive. He said the closure, which rerouted drivers and pedestrians alike, is part of a campus-wide effort to improve pedestrian safety. Other changes are being considered but will depend on the outcome of an ongoing traffic safety study.
Another student asked about the Bronco Express bus, in particular Route A, which goes from the Village up University Drive and across the northern end of campus before ending east of the CLA building. “It is a route in progress,” said Mike Biagi, director of parking & transportation services. “We want to make the bus routes as efficient as possible, taking into account road closures. … We will continue to evaluate it.”
It was the first of several trips to the microphone for Biagi, who also addressed how parking citations are appealed (online) and the success rate for such appeals (more than one in five wins).
Walter Marquez, associate vice president of facilities planning & management, was a frequent contributor as well. His focus was on access for bicyclists, skaters and those who use foot-propelled scooters. He said the university is close to completing a bike path from Lot B to the Bronco Student Center and is looking into ways to provide similar connections between several buildings on campus. Another improvement being considered is the installation of bike trees, which provide services such as tire pumping stations. He pointed out, though, that the hilliness of the campus will require some limits on bicycle access. “Speed is affected by the significant slope,” and safety remains a major concern.
Several other topics were covered during the fast-paced, hour-long session, including:
- Improving the student experience and increasing spirit: More students than ever are living on campus, and the number will grow with the upcoming addition of more housing units. Ortiz said studies have shown that living on campus improves the student experience and improves performance in the classroom.
ASI President Christine Hall added that student leaders are determined to improve the quality of life on campus, and she said the efforts are getting results. She pointed to this year’s Bronco Fusion, which drew a record 3,000 students, and said that the homecoming event in February, part of the university’s 75th anniversary celebration, will be amazing.
- Meeting the needs of undocumented students: Student Affairs provides services to ensure that undocumented students have a fulfilling experience on campus. Doug Freer, vice president of student affairs, pointed out that Student Support and Equity Programs has a liaison officer to work with undocumented students, and the Educational Opportunity Program now provides support as well.
- Improving wireless Internet access at the Bronco Student Center and across campus: Chief Information Officer John McGuthry said the university faces some challenges, including updating older infrastructure, especially in the BSC. In addition, the university has an open-access policy, which allows everyone, including outsiders, to use the system. However, he pointed out that improvements are coming, and students should start to notice improved connectivity, in part because of funding from the student-approved Student Success Fee, which took effect this fall.
- Moving from a quarter system to a semester system: Provost Marten denBoer said the switch is a mandate from the Chancellor’s Office, but the change is not imminent. “We are moving forward,” he said, but the process will take four years: one to plan and three to enact.
President Ortiz joked that if students did not want to feel the effects of the change, they could simply graduate in four years. However, he was more serious with the next question, which noted the university’s low four-year graduation rate and asked what steps could be taken to improve it. Ortiz pointed out that a four-year graduation track is for students whose sole focus is attending classes, which is not typical at Cal Poly Pomona students. “Many students work and support families, so they take fewer classes,” he said. “A six-year graduation rate is a more accurate measure” and one that higher education recognizes as a reasonable metric.
- Alumni networking: Scott Warrington, the vice president of advancement, said the Alumni Association has a mentoring program in which students can meet with professionals in their field of study to learn and make connections. He pointed out that alumni mentors significantly outnumber mentees, and he encouraged students to take advantage of the program by contacting the Alumni Affairs Office.
- The university’s endowment: Warrington said the endowment, including gift pledges, totals $96 million, up considerably since the rollout of the university’s comprehensive campaign. Overall, the campaign has generated $132 million, with some of the gifts going toward specific projects and programs as directed by the donor.
- Obamacare: The Affordable Care Act will affect health insurance for some students. A campus coordinator at the wellness center, Andrea Lueskow, is available to provide information. Her number is (909) 869-5272.
See below for a video of the entire Pizza with the Presidents.
(Photo: ASI President Christine Hall speaks while Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz looks on.)