Nearly 100 students sat in rapt attention as university President Soraya M. Coley made her way to the front of the room. As Coley began her address and walked among the audience, the students followed her every move with laser-like focus.
But this wasn’t a class on campus. This was a room adorned with a Cal Poly Pomona banner and filled with fourth-grade students at Lehigh Elementary School in Montclair. A dozen students wore hard hats to symbolize engineers while others waved green-and-gold pompoms. Many in the audience were adorned in green T-shirts. Cal Poly Pomona is the adopted university of the fourth-graders, and that allegiance was evident. Coley was even given a hard hat to wear for the occasion.
Lehigh teacher Claudia De la Torre, a 2004 alumna in liberal arts who also received her teaching credential at Cal Poly Pomona, reached out to Coley about meeting with the fourth-grade classes.
“When I first heard about this request, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see these talented young people,” Coley told the students during her hour-long visit on April 16. “I had to come and hear about all the wonderful things you are doing.”
After leading a discussion on the traits of good students and the need to prepare early for college, Coley called in reinforcements: three Cal Poly Pomona students.
Justine Budisantoso, a hospitality management major, told students about the time she had to go to Disneyland as a class requirement. Fallon Franklin and Chris Caban, who are both mechanical engineering majors, relished the fact that they have had to break things in class to figure out how they work. Their anecdotes drew oohs and aahs and occasional laughter from the audience.
Lehigh is a “no-excuses” school, meaning that college is the ultimate objective for every student. The school’s motto is “After high school comes college.” Coley’s appearance helped further inspire the fourth-graders.
“Taking it from an abstract thing where they’ve been talking about the school and learning about the school all year to making it concrete by having the president of the university be here brings it to life,” said Lehigh Principal Christiane Ayoub-Garcia, who wore a green blouse for the event. “This makes it real and something attainable for our students. The fact that she was willing to make time and talk to our students is really humbling for us.”
Coley then called upon her nurturing side from her time as teacher, urging students to realize their untapped potential.
“You have a talent and gift that is inside you. Each of you have something to contribute whether it is at school, at home or in the community,” Coley said. “You each have something special to give.”
To mark the occasion, small gift bags filled with Cal Poly Pomona items such as stickers and pencils were distributed to the students and helped further cement Lehigh’s relationship to the university.
Fourth-grader Leslie Cortez wore a hard hat emblazoned with the phrase “I Love Engineering,” showing early potential as a candidate for a STEM-related major.
“It feels good that the president came here. No president has talked to us before about engineering,” Leslie said. “Since she talked to us, I have a feeling I’m going to go to Cal Poly Pomona.”
Valeria Aguilar, another fourth-grader wearing a similar hard hat, echoed the sentiments about Coley’s visit. “This inspired me because I like to learn new things,” she said. “The president told me all about college.”
In a telling statement about the mission at Lehigh, Coley asked the students how many were planning to go to college. All the students raised their hands.
“It starts now. You have to take the right courses and study hard. You must always do your best and be prepared,” said Coley. “I am so glad to have had the chance to meet all of you. It has been so uplifting.”