Come June 13-14, Cal Poly will send off another batch of more than 3,600 graduating seniors into the world.
For the graduating class of 2020, however, the last quarter is slightly different due to coronavirus: classes are online, the quarter is shorter by a week, and commencement plans are up in the air as of now.
Biomedical engineering senior Anthony Bonvino said he was ill-prepared for his classes to move online during his last quarter at Cal Poly.
“[The strangest part is] seeing my classmates through the computer, knowing that I’m never going to see them in person again,” Bonvino said. “There is just such an abrupt ending that nobody could have expected.”
Bonvino is in the stages of finalizing his senior project, a portable induction stove that he and his teammates had started planning for in September. However, they will never see it come to the last stages of being built or have the opportunity to showcase it at the end of the year.
Bonvino’s professors have assured every student that they will still complete their senior projects and graduate, but not be in the way that they had expected.
“We were ready to build our device and put it out on the market, but right now is the worst time to do that,” Bonvino said.
Bonvino said he also does not know the next time he will see his professors, many of whom, he said, double as mentors.
While many professors have started using Zoom to communicate with students, Bonvino said that it simply cannot replace the face-to-face interaction students experience in a classroom.
Bonvino said that he was one of the “lucky ones” who had signed into a full-time job offer before the outbreak occurred, although the job has been postponed to August.
As for commencement, Bonvino said that if Cal Poly ends up pushing the ceremony to the fall, he cannot see himself paying for him and his family to travel back to San Luis Obispo to see him walk across the stage. And he is not alone in that concern.
Art and design senior Chelsea Stewart has known from a young age that she wanted to attend college to pursue gallery management.
“From age seven or eight I’ve been so excited to have the moment of: I get to walk across a college stage,” Stewart said.
Stewart said that she was sad to hear about spring’s postponed commencement, but she knows it is what’s best for the community right now.
Stewart was about to start an internship at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art [SLOMA] before the pandemic occurred, but it was ultimately cancelled due to social distancing regulations surrounding COVID-19.
Stewart’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) showcase, where students present their art to their peers and art industry professionals, has also been postponed until November.
“I’m so thankful for the professors for finding a way to show our pieces because networking is a huge thing within our major,” Stewart said.
How coronavirus has affected students getting jobs
According to University Ppokesperson Matt Lazier, Cal Poly averages a 93-94 percent for positive outcomes for graduates. This includes jobs, internships, and graduate school, but he said he is uncertain of how the current situation will affect this year’s graduating seniors.
“There is a great deal of uncertainty. We are all waiting to see how the outbreak will impact companies and their profits and hiring trends,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.
Lazier said that employers are still posting opportunities on MustangJOBS, Cal Poly’s online job listing service, although the number of job opportunities has decreased from last year by about 41 percent.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), out of 135 employers, 64 percent said that they are “not revoking offers to full-time recruits and interns” as of April 3.
In the same survey, 25 percent of employers “are not revoking offers yet but are considering it.”
For the 2017-2018 year, 79 percent of Cal Poly seniors had jobs before graduation – 13 percent within three months, 7 percent within 6 months and 1 percent within nine months – but no one can be sure of how these numbers will be affected in the coming months.
“We don’t really know what happens following a pandemic,” economics professor Stephanie Fischer said.
Fischer teaches Survey of Economics (ECON 201 and a graduate class in labor economics.
Fischer said that in past economic downturns, empirical studies show that students who graduate during a recession generally “take a hit.”
“If you just look back historically, when students graduate in recessions, they do fare worse in terms of initial placements and some of their wages,” Fischer said. “Labor market outcomes are better for graduates when the economy is strong.”
The caveat to that, she said, is that because this is an unprecedented time, they do not have the historical data or studies showing how students fared in the labor market following an event like this.
Fischer said that she graduated in 2009, following the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and that is what pushed her to pursue entering into a doctorate program for economics.
“If students are considering grad school, this could be a good nudge,” Fischer said.
Fischer said that both she and her husband graduated around 2009 and were on the fence about going into the labor force or going to graduate school. They both decided to pursue schooling in the face of a poor economy.
Fischer said when students graduate in a recession, there is usually an increase in graduate school participation.
Fischer said it is difficult to predict how long the pandemic will last, but ultimately it will depend on the response of the government and the policies they put in place.
For the time-being, Fischer said students should continue to “get out there” and apply for jobs and do the best they can to leverage networks that they have at the moment.
Although Cal Poly cannot offer in-person services, the Career Center has transitioned to offer online services to students. Students can attend virtual career fairs, virtual job workshops, and speak with career counselors.