Chris Gateley / Mustang News

At Cal Poly, the homecoming court and royalty have long been a way to recognize graduating seniors who performed outstandingly in their time here, both academically and socially. This year, however, the university is taking a step away from tradition and toward inclusivity, by instituting gender-inclusive voting for homecoming royalty.

In the past, each of the six colleges would choose a “prince” and “princess” for homecoming court, two of whom would be voted “king” and “queen” by Cal Poly alumni and the student body. This year, the two most outstanding senior students from each college will be selected for homecoming court regardless of gender.

The top two students with the most votes will each be given the gender-neutral title of Homecoming Royalty. This decision was made by the alumni office in coordination with Associated Students, Inc. and the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity, in response to feedback from students and faculty.

Voting links for the full list on homecoming nominees will be up this week at

Here’s an up-close look at two of the seniors on homecoming court this year, representing the College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Engineering, respectively.

Jessica Catson

Major: Liberal studies

Hometown: San Ramon,  California

On-campus involvement: President of the College of Science and Math Ambassadors; intramural softball, basketball and flag football

Mustang News: What made you choose Cal Poly?

JC: I fell in love with the location in SLO, and the campus in general. Being so close to the beach is really nice, and I just loved the whole aspect of Learn by Doing. When I first came here, I knew that this is where I wanted to be.

MN: What are your plans after graduation?

JC: I want to be an elementary school teacher. After I graduate, I’m going to get my credential, which is a year-long program. I haven’t decided exactly where yet, but possibly Cal Poly.

MN: What do you like to do when you’re not studying or working with on-campus groups?

JC: I volunteer at Bishop Peak Elementary, since I want to be a teacher. And I don’t have that much free time, but I like food a lot. I like to cook it, but I especially like to eat it, so I love to go around and try new restaurants and food places in SLO … My favorite place to eat in SLO is Eureka. I also love to go to the beach and play spike ball and KanJam and other games there.

MN: What’s your favorite TV show to binge-watch?

JC: Right now, my roommates and I are watching Nashville. Last night we literally watched six episodes; it was a super exciting Friday night.

MN: Favorite place to study on campus?

JC: Definitely Baker [Science].

MN: What’s one thing still on your San Luis Obispo or Cal Poly bucket list for before you graduate?

JC: I really like to hike, and I still haven’t completed the Tri-tip Challenge, so I really want to finish that.

MN: What do you think of the new gender-inclusive homecoming court?

JC: I think it’s a super good direction for us to go in as a school. It’s important for everyone to feel welcome, and not like they’re forced into certain gender roles.

MN: Finally, any advice for first years?

JC: Don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone! And make sure to balance your academics and fun. We’re here to learn, but make sure you’re enjoying yourself too.

Zach Sharpell

Major: Mechanical engineering

Hometown: Escondido, CA

On-campus involvement: President, Engineering Ambassadors; Vice President, Tau Beta Pi; Secretary, MESFAC (Mechanical Engineering Student Fee Allocation Committee); Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers); ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers); Study abroad in Germany; PROVE (Prototype Vehicles Laboratory);

MN: What are your plans after graduation?

ZS: After graduation, I’m either going to move back down to San Diego or stay in SLO, but either way I want to continue to grow my start-up company, Sharpell Technologies. We’re developing an all electric mid-size SUV, so we’re currently looking for investors and designing different aspects of the vehicle. Personally, I’m involved in the development of the battery pack and the battery management cooling system, as well as the aerodynamic design of the exterior.

MN: What made you choose Cal Poly?

ZS: When I first visited Cal Poly, I had a tour with the then-President of Engineering Ambassadors, Michael Haworth, and he gave me a personal tour of mechanical engineering. That tour was absolutely amazing, and I got to see all of the labs that I was going to work in. From the beginning, I really liked the Learn by Doing approach. That meant that from the beginning, I could go in the shops and get my hands dirty. As a mechanical engineer, it’s important to build what you design, and then break it, so you can design it better and remake it again. Plus, it’s California.

MN: What do you like to do in your free time?

ZS: I really like racing. My friend Austin Barnes does what’s basically a junior version of NASCAR, so we go to autocross events and we race. I also like playing the drums. I don’t have a drum set here because I don’t want my neighbors to hate me, but I’ve played since the fifth grade. I’m also really into martial arts. I taught it for four years, and have black belts in three different martial arts, including a second-degree black belt in taekwondo. I was born and raised in San Diego, so I really like going to the beach, too.

MN: What’s your favorite TV show to binge-watch?

ZS: Mythbusters! They could just build whatever they wanted to, and they pretty much blew it up every time.

MN: Favorite place to study on campus?

ZS: That depends what I have to study, but I normally go to the Hatchery, in Building 2. It’s key-pad coded, so it’s normally really quiet, and they have these really cool curved whiteboards.

MN: What’s one thing on your Cal Poly bucket list that you want to do before graduation?

ZS: I’m the biggest nerd, so I’ve actually never hiked the “P,” Madonna or Bishop, so ideally I’ll do all of those before I leave. But I really want to watch the sunrise from the top of Bishop Peak.

MN: What are your thoughts on the new gender-inclusive homecoming court?

ZS: I think it’s a really good idea. It’s always a good idea to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and as if they have an equal chance. My high school, Escondido High School, actually had a gender-inclusive homecoming court this year, too, which I thought was really interesting, and I think it’s great that this idea is gaining momentum.

MN: Any advice for first-years?

ZS: Shoot for the stars. I came in here knowing I wanted to build a car when I graduated, and I would tell people that, and they’d think I was crazy. But now here I am, and I have my own car company. Anything that you want to do can happen at Cal Poly. Just do what you’re passionate about, and try to get out of your comfort zone.  Also, make sure you study abroad if you can, it’s probably the best personal growth experience you can have. And make the most of your time in San Luis Obispo, it really is the happiest city in America.

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