After 10 years as the CAFES Dean, Andy Thulin retired at the end of the 2023 academic year. Credit: Cal Poly / Courtesy

“The world is run by those who show up” is a phrase readily familiar to anyone close to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) Dean Andrew “Andy” Thulin.

According to the faculty who have worked alongside Thulin, the simple phrase will leave a lasting impact on CAFES even after his retirement at the end of the 2023 calendar year. 

Known as an “Andy-ism” by Assistant CAFES Dean Russ Kabaker, the phrase often rings through Dean Thulin’s office. Haley Marconett, another CAFES Assistant Dean, joked that she would be a millionaire if she got a penny for everytime she heard Thulin say those words. 

“He is a big believer in you get out what you put into something,” Marconett said. “If you’re not putting yourself in the right headspace and allowing yourself to have those big ideas, nothing’s ever going to change.” 

Thulin, who says he never has any good ideas, encouraged his team to use the sky as the limit when brainstorming plans for the college over the past 10 years as CAFES Dean. 

“We always say if we can dream it, we can do it,” Kabaker said. “I think having a positive outlook when it comes to big projects or big undertakings, and just pushing and pushing and pushing, will make things happen.” 

That pushing for advancement within the college not only requires a team willing to show up, but also hefty funding from external donors — funding that Thulin was always able to scrape up. 

A Cal Poly alum, Thulin was hired at Cal Poly in 1998 as the head of the Animal Science Department. Over his 25 years working at Cal Poly, he has helped raise more than $230 million for new resources and programs, including the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture.

“Even when budget times were tight, [Thulin] was able to find funds,” CAFES Associate Dean Jim Price said. “Different amounts every year, depending on what’s available. But he’s always pushing to make opportunities for our students available.”

Showing up also means being able to evolve and adapt. Marconett’s role as CAFES Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Student Leadership has changed over her time in the position, in part due to Thulin’s guidance. 

“My role in the college over the last almost 10 years has evolved as a result of me really taking that to heart – willing to take those risks and willing to roll up your sleeves and put in that hard work,” Marconett said. “That’s something that I’ve learned from him, and it’s helped me personally and professionally.”

According to those who work closest with him, Thulin never says no to even the most outlandish ideas. If it will benefit students, there is a way to make it happen in his eyes. 

It was former CAFES Dean David Wehner who started the conversation that would eventually lead to the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture that opened last year

Thulin and his team were able to raise the funding necessary for the center through industry connections. According to Thulin, they would raise $4 million before dinner was even served at some events. 

“The thing that I say fairly often is, we’re in the talent development business — that’s what we do at Cal Poly,” Thulin said. “I kept telling the wine industry every time I met with them, ‘You’re in the talent acquisition business; you need people, we build people.’ When we hold hands, we’re much stronger.”

This hand-holding also leads to opportunities for Cal Poly students beyond new buildings and programs. Industry leaders from around the country and government officials, even the California Secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture, have come to Cal Poly to guest lecture and meet with students and faculty.  

“People say, ‘how does CAFES do this?’ You get the people that our students are going to work for, we have them come in and talk and communicate and see what great things our faculty and our staff do, then they get exposed to our students and that sells everything,” Thulin said. “It’s pretty easy. My job’s easy.”

Thulin has experienced many aspects that Cal Poly has to offer. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Cal Poly. After getting a master’s and doctorate from Kansas State University, he went to work at Cargill, Inc. — the largest privately owned company in the nation. 

After serving as a professor at Michigan State University, Thulin was hired at Cal Poly in 1998 as the head of the animal sciences department and directed strategic initiative for the university. He raised more than $16 million for the college during this time, according to Cal Poly. 

“I knew what ‘learn by doing’ was like when I was an undergrad — there was a culture here. I hadn’t been here in probably 20 years, but I knew the tradition and how valuable of an impact it made on me.”

Andy Thulin

“I remember coming back, I felt like I had just stepped off a fast moving train,” Thulin said. “I’ll be honest with you — it scared the heck out of me for about two or three years.”

Thulin was announced as interim CAFES dean in 2013 and as the permanent dean the following year. He has always kept Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing mantra in mind during his tenure as dean.

“I knew what ‘learn by doing’ was like when I was an undergrad — there was a culture here,” Thulin said. “I hadn’t been here in probably 20 years, but I knew the tradition and how valuable of an impact it made on me.”

Thulin has opened doors for students in industries, and he will always remember the feeling of supporting his students.

“I got our students very involved in and outside of the university,” Thulin said. “Helping them find the experiences and the excitement on their face when they did land. I still stay in touch with those people today. Watching them grow was really special to me.”