Cameron Ingalls/Courtesy Photo

Tim Wetzel

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With graduation comes an immense amount of preparation and behind that planning, and lies the Commencement Policy Committee. Who are these mysterious figures who plan your graduation? Two of the most prominent are your Grand Marshals — Dr. Chip Appel from the earth and soil sciences department and Dr. Andrew Schaffner from the statistics department.

Grand Marshals are appointed by the Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, who is given recommendations from Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Keith Humphrey.

Humphrey is incredibly selective with his recommendations.

“Both Chip and Andrew came to my attention upon recommendation of several of their fellow faculty members,” Humphrey said in an email to Mustang News. “Grand Marshals have to be creative, flexible and most of all student centered. Both Chip and Andrew are all of those things.”

If you’re wondering what exactly these Grand Marshals do, Humphrey has an answer for that as well.

“Grand Marshals … serve on the Commencement Policy Committee helping us bring faculty perspective to all things commencement from procession routes, fees and academic aspects of the ceremony and weekend,” Humphrey said.

That’s not all – Grand Marshals also have a symbolic role.

“In addition to (these duties),” Humphrey said, “Grand Marshals lead the academic procession that is part of each ceremony and carry the University Gonfalons (flags that have the seal of the university on them) at the lead of the President’s Party.”

Anyone who’s carrying a flag has to be important — that’s why you should learn a little bit about your Grand Marshals.

Chip Appel

Appel is an expert in all things soil.

He loves relating his knowledge to practical data, which is how he decided on his career.

“I wanted a degree that was really applied to my surroundings,” Appel said. “Soil science was definitely applied to everything that I saw, and it was a great application of the chemistry background that I had.”

Appel has a Ph.D. in soil chemistry from the University of Florida, but received both his M.S. in agricultural Science in 1998and his B.S. in biochemistry in 1995 from Cal Poly.

While he wouldn’t specify a favorite class to teach, Appel did express fondness for many of his students.

“Honestly, I like them all,” Appel said. “I teach some introductory courses, and those are fun because the audience is pretty diverse. I also teach some senior classes in the soil science major and the earth science major; those are enjoyable because the students have more technical information, so the material I get to talk about is more in depth.”

Appel doesn’t spend all his days in Cal Poly, though — he’s travelled the world with his work.

“You know, I really enjoy travelling in general,” Appel said. “Most recently, I’ve gotten to do some work in Thailand with Engineers Without Borders, and the experiences that I had working with the Cal Poly students that I worked with were really enjoyable.”

Travel aids not only Appel’s research but also his worldview. He uses his experiences to grow both as a professor and a person.

“When I was in high school I lived in France for a year, and when I was in college I lived in France for a year again,” Appel said. “I would say that those experiences were definitely some of the highlights of my education. I feel like I grew a lot as a person and just as a citizen of the world because I got to experience something totally different.”

Whether he’s travelling or in the classroom, Appel tries his hardest to stay positive.

“I try to make sure I always have a good attitude,” Appel said. “And I feel like that’s a huge part of how you experience something. I mean, if you have a bad attitude while you’re experiencing something, then whatever you get out of it is a much more diminished experience.”

Andrew Schaffner

Schaffner’s passion lies in statistics. More specifically, he enjoys working with biomedical projects.

Schaffner received a B.S. in mathematics from Cal Poly in 1992, and a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Washington.

“I think it’s kind of cool that I was an undergrad here,” Schaffner said. “Going back even further, my first connection to Cal Poly was when I was about 11 years old and they put on a camp for kids. So I have a very long connection to Cal Poly.”

Schaffner is one of the professors in charge of Cal Poly’s new data science minor, a program offered at very few schools but valued highly in the workforce.

“The data science minor is something that Alex Dekhtyar from computer science and I just started working on together,” Schaffner said. “We built it as a response to industry right now; it’s working with large data sets, because working with unusual data types is something that we don’t really focus on in our normal statistics discipline, and computer science doesn’t really focus on the analysis side.”

Schaffner is also involved in obesity studies with Dr. Suzanne Phelan from the kinesiology department.

“I help her with the design of studies and the statistical aspect of the grant writing,” Schaffner said. “The work I’m doing with Suzanne feels like it has the biggest impact (of all my publications).”

When he’s not busy doing statistics, Schaffner likes to escape on camping trips with his family.

“I really like Big Basin,” Schaffner said. “That’s up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it’s the oldest state park in California. It’s worth checking out; it’s really nice.”

Both Schaffner and Appel were honored to be chosen as Grand Marshals. If you want to get to know them a little better, come to commencement. They’ll be the guys holding the cool flags in the front, so they’ll be hard to miss.

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