The second Cal Poly presidential candidate, Thomas Skalak, visited campus yesterday to speak about his vision for Cal Poly if chosen as the university’s next president.
Skalak is the vice president for research and a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Virginia (UVa). He received a Bachelor of Elective Studies from The Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate at the University of California, San Diego, both in bioengineering.
Working up the ranks, Skalak served as chair of the department of biomedical engineering at UVa for seven years. He has been the principle investigator responsible for more than$30 million in grants for more than 23 years, according to his online biography.
During his visit at Cal Poly, Skalak visited places on campus and areas such as the dairy center, the Cal Poly Pier, the facilities on campus and Big Sky Café. He said he was impressed with his stay, describing the facilities as “world class.”
“I travel all over the country looking at major universities,” Skalak said. “Cal Poly is really second to no place that I’ve been to in the country and I’d say probably in the world. Cal Poly is a great university, but I believe Cal Poly can be even greater than it is now.”
During the open forums for students, university staff and community members, Skalak made several proposals on how to make Cal Poly “even greater.” Such ideas included integrating arts and humanities into technical majors. He suggested building studios that could foster an environment where different majors can interact.
“There is a lasting impact when you commit deeply to the intersection of aesthetic and ethical qualities together with technological design and innovation,” Skalak said. “I think Cal Poly is at a place where if you integrate the arts and humanities more into your technical majors you would really be the global ideal in experienced-based education.”
In addition to integrating liberal arts with technical majors, he also placed importance on diversity.
“High performance organizations, wherever you find them, perform at a high level through a diversity of ideas,” Skalak said. “So you should think of diversity as critical to high performance to any human organization or any human endeavor, no matter what the field. Diversity is important for that reason.”
Skalak said one way to approach the challenge Cal Poly faces with recruiting and retaining an ethnically diverse body of faculty, students and staff, would be to provide “role models” for the sections of the community that are not at the percentage of representation they should be at.
“We need to do this by putting role models in these communities,” Skalak said. “Then when people come to Cal Poly, we can provide them with a sense of community that might be particular to their cultural background or ethnic background. This can be accomplished by putting those kinds of programs in place with some regularity.”
Department head of graphic communication Harvey Levenson was impressed with Skalak. Levenson said Skalak answered his questions before he even asked them.
“I had questions about diversity, about the role of a comprehensive university and the importance of the liberal arts,” Levenson said. “And right off the bat in the first minute he covered it. He made it very clear that he understood the concept of a comprehensive polytechnic university, so on that level I was very pleased to hear what he had to say.”
At the open forum for students, Skalak addressed the issue of Greek life. Skalak is familiar with Greek life at UVa. He has been to many Greek rush activities and is an adviser to one of the fraternities.
“I am a big believer that the sense of community that (Greek) life can create is very important.” Skalak said. “I think it’s one of the ways people express their natural sense of belonging in a given community with a shared vision and a shared commitment
“Gaining trusted personal relationships that you’re going to have hopefully the rest of your lives. It’s very important.”
President of the fraternity Delta Chi and business administration senior Daniel Ferras is looking for a candidate who is willing to reach out to Greek life at Cal Poly.
“It’s true what he said about bringing guys together with the same vision — it’s a bond of brotherhood,” Ferras said. “We help out the community a lot too and a lot of people don’t see that.
“We feel like administration in the past didn’t really reach out to us and they didn’t notice what we actually do for the community outside of being ‘troublemakers,’” he said.
Ferras said he was impressed that Skalak recognized the importance of Greek life.
“The other guy that came yesterday (Robert Palazzo) didn’t really say anything that impressed me because he was just saying the most generic thing,” he said. “But this guy (Skalak) knows about fraternities, which is awesome because that other guy didn’t really know that much.”
Assistant to the Dean for Student Success Penny Bennett was also more impressed with Skalak compared to Palazzo.
“What I like about this guy is he had a desire to implement a vision and move forward on what’s already been done,” Bennett said. “I think he sees that Cal Poly is great and is doing a lot of great things but we haven’t reached our potential. I think he has the desire and the ability to take us to a higher level. I didn’t see that as clearly from yesterday’s candidate.”
However, some remained skeptical. Landscape architecture senior Christian Boehr said Skalak seemed experienced and well-rounded but Boehr doesn’t like to put much credence on the forum.
“You come out here and say all kinds of different things — you’re a talking head until you actually do something,” Boehr said.