Credit: Aidan McGloin | Mustang News, 2019

Whether it be traveling, saving money for culinary school or jumping right into a dream job, Cal Poly’s graduating Class of 2023 is getting ready to set out on new adventures. 

There are 4,424 undergrad students and 594 grad students eligible to walk across the stage at Spanos Stadium June 17-18. In a poll sent out by Mustang News via social media, many graduating students said they felt hopeful and excited — but also slightly unstable and nervous for what the future holds. 

Those graduating who applied as Cal Poly’s Fall 2019 class made the cut despite a 27% acceptance rate. Representative findings from a survey from Harris Poll of the nationwide Class of 2023 characterizes this group as optimistic, satisfied with their degrees and pushing the limits of traditional post-grad plans. 

According to the national poll, a little more than half of graduating students said their immediate plan is to start working — and 75% of students pursuing work in their field of study already secured work. But about 44% of students also said they’ll be going to school for another degree, doing unpaid work or taking time off after graduating. These findings ring true for Cal Poly’s graduating class. 

Many students in the Class of 2023 witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown the spring of their freshman year, with their second year in college being mostly remote. Planning their futures at a time of global uncertainty altered some students’ paths. 

Maya Valree is graduating from Cal Poly’s Master of Science in Higher Education Counseling / Student Affairs (HECSA). 

“Honestly, though I came to Cal Poly as a grad student, I feel so lucky to have been able to lean into ‘Learn By Doing’ in my program,” Valree said in the poll.

To Valree, the pandemic gave her an opportunity to explore options outside of the path she was on. Instead of staying at UC Irvine for another year to complete a Spanish minor when school went online, Valree opted for taking a gap year. 

“After doing research, I found the HECSA program (which seemed like a great fit) and applied,” Valree said. “The pandemic gave me an opportunity to dive into schools, leading me to Cal Poly.”

Cal Poly’s number of master’s degrees awarded has grown annually since the 2018-19 school year, the university’s Institutional Research database shows. 

The pandemic inspired experience industry management graduating senior Delaney Jacobs to travel. Now, she’s getting ready to explore Brazil and Iceland post-grad.

“I feel like if I got a job I wouldn’t have been as inclined to travel,” Jacobs said. “I’m definitely a little nervous about not having a job locked in though, compared to my friends.”

Animal science grad Cat LaBella said the pandemic threw her off the pre-veterinary track, as she’s no longer planning on vet school. 

“I’m excited to spend time doing something I love before starting my full-time career,” LaBella said.

Anna Truong is graduating with a degree in nutrition. Though unsure what the future holds, Truong said she’s planning to take a year off to save up for culinary school. 

“[The pandemic] completely changed my idea of what I wanted to do as a career,” Truong said.

Forestry grad Calvin Greenwood said he’ll be working on a farm post-grad to explore one of his passions. 

“Learning how to farm as a member of a farm crew at an award-winning organic farm is not something I intended to do, but something that I’ve always had an interest in,” Greenwood said. “I have a passion for food systems and this seems like a unique opportunity to gain new insight.”

Esther Need, equipped with her degree in biochemistry, is set to pursue a PhD in molecular pharmaceutics at the University of Utah next. 

“I’m confident about the program but nervous about all the ‘adulting’ involved with moving,” Need said.

During Valree’s time at Cal Poly, she said mentorship from education professor Tina Cheuk helped remind her “to not self-select out of jobs, as women of color tend to do.” Valree was also hired by Dean of Students Joy Pedersen and Associate Dean of Students Blanca Martinez-Navarro to be the graduate assistant for the Students with Dependents program — one way she was able to practice Learn by Doing. As a mom herself, Valree said it showed they trusted that “those closest to the problem have the solutions.” 

Now, Valree is working as a policy analyst for The Education Trust – West, feeling “excited, nervous and hopeful.” The organization advocates for academic achievement of California students, particularly for students of color and those living in poverty, according to its website. 

“I’m nervous because my program wasn’t in ‘policy,’” Valree said. “But I’m confident that the skills and ‘Learn by Doing’ attitude I’ve acquired will help and support me along my professional journey.”