Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong makes a point to participate in student events, including the Blue-Green Rivalry game earlier this quarter.
Displaying his Mustang pride with an endless supply of high fives, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is practically a famed figure on campus.
Since he came to Cal Poly in 2011, Armstrong has been building his reputation as a productive and involved leader of the school. Students seem to appreciate Armstrong for his leadership — a leadership that is very present on campus, at games and in students’ success.
Armstrong shows up for appointments, meetings, games and events. He also has a hand in many aspects of the university. Armstrong’s executive assistant, Matthew Walters, sees Armstrong’s presence and style of leadership first-hand.
“He is definitely one who puts students first, above all else,” Walters said. “He has a true passion for students and what’s best for them and for them to succeed in their education here.”
His experience working with universities and students prepared him for his biggest job yet: being the president of a university. Armstrong came to Cal Poly after many years of working, teaching and leading at North Carolina State and Michigan State University.
“Cal Poly is very special because the students are excellent,” Armstrong said. “They’re engaged. They’re motivated. And I think they expect their president to be out and about, amongst the students. That’s normal for Cal Poly, so I love it. The students are the best thing about Cal Poly.”
Sociology senior Rachel Stochl got the job of painting Armstrong’s face at the men’s soccer match against UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 25.
“I was painting all my friends’ faces, and President Armstrong showed up at the bottom of the student section,” Stochl said. “I think he actually cares about the students, and the fact that he was actually in the student section and willing to get his face painted says that. I think he shows a lot of Mustang pride. He cares about what we are doing, even by just showing up to a game and talking to people.”
Armstrong also attends academic events throughout campus.
Although his involvement keeps him busy, it doesn’t stop him from working for what he loves: the students.
“He is always very personable,” Walters said. “Again, it shows how much he cares about the students. There is just not enough hours in the day for him here … Sometimes to keep track of him here, like to go get coffee with the students, I think, ‘Okay, it’ll be 30 minutes, he says, I’m going to tack on another half hour because he is going to run into 25 students and shake their hands and say hello.’”
These gestures don’t go unnoticed by students.
“One time, I felt this reassuring pat on my back, and I turned around and, lo and behold, it was President Armstrong,” environmental engineering freshman Leighton Murphy said. “I don’t think many kids at other colleges can say their president walks around giving reassuring back pats, but ours does.”
Armstrong also considers students when he makes decisions.
“I think he actually cares about the student voice more,” Stochl said. “He actually wants to know what’s going on with forums and things like that.”
Armstrong uses this style of leadership to shape the future of Cal Poly into one that is agreeable and successful.
“We’re going to be high tech and high touch,” Armstrong said. “So I think it’s important for me, as a leader, to help paint the future, but it’s not like I am the only one at the canvas. Everybody else gets to help paint the future, and everybody gets to buy into this, and then we can make it happen.”
Although he’s risen to the top, he hasn’t forgotten how it felt before. He uses his own college experience to predict what Cal Poly students need for success.
When asked what piece of advice he would give to Cal Poly students, Armstrong shared personal experience.
“Find your passion,” Armstrong said. “Don’t get so wrapped up in your own major that you don’t explore clubs, activities, courses outside your major because interacting — working across disciplines — is as important as being good in your discipline.”
Armstrong’s leadership stretches over the business and academic sides, as well as considering the future of the university and students’ success.
“He is such a workaholic and all of it is for the students,” Walters said.