Joseph Pack/Staff Photographer

Minorities now make up 30.8 percent of the freshman applicant pool.

Suha Saya
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For some students, a familiar face is hard to find.

If she hadn’t searched for diversity through different clubs and activities, business administration senior Carina Mercado said her experience at Cal Poly would have been very different.

“I’ve only seen more diversity because I’ve gone out looking for it,” she said. “But generally, as far as classes, I don’t think that they have become more diverse over the years.”

Mercado, a co-coordinator for PolyCultural weekend, recognized when students first tour Cal Poly, they may experience culture shock.

“If students don’t see the other side of Cal Poly – the welcoming aspect of PolyCultural weekend or the option to participate in the Educational Opportunities or summer bridge program – they might not want to come,” she said.

But over the years, the number of students who attend Cal Poly and go to PolyCultural weekend has increased, she said.

And according to associate director for Admissions and Recruitment Melissa Furlong, that’s not the only number that has increased.

Underrepresented minorities in freshman applicants have increased from approximately 4,000 a decade ago to more than 13,000 this year. They now make up 30.8 percent of the application pool, compared to 18.8 percent 10 years ago, she said.

The number of underrepresented minorities transfer applicants has also increased. From 814 a decade ago to 2,529 in 2014, they now make up 32.2 percent of the overall applicant pool.

“We utilize a lot of predictive modeling — College Board has a search service, and we’re able to identify all underrepresented prospects through that database,” she said.  “We have a very targeted marketing campaign.”

In the beginning of February, Cal Poly admissions held an overnight outreach program to approximately 200 students and 25 counselors as a part of the Cal Poly Partners Pre-Collegiate Symposium program. Most of the 221 partner schools serve communities with high numbers of first-generation or economically disadvantaged students, Furlong said.

However, while there has been a large increase in the number of students who apply to Cal Poly, the increase in enrollment hasn’t been as extreme.

“Back in 2004, our enrolled minority population was 331, but for fall of 2013, it was around 900,” she said. “We’ve definitely seen some growth because they’re now 18 percent of our population, but there’s room for improvement.”

With California’s Proposition 209, public universities are not allowed to use race, gender or ethnicity in the selection process at all, she said.

“It’s only for demographics and data purposes,” Furlong said. “You’ll notice that at any CSU or UC, but private schools have more of a leeway.”

Despite the proposition applying to all public schools, Furlong admitted some CSUs and UC schools are considered to be more diverse.

“The city of San Luis Obispo is probably not the most diverse of cities to start with,” she said. “Although we’re in California, we’re in a pretty small town and a rural area.”

Scholarship opportunities offered by the UC system and other schools may also be a factor for the lack of underrepresented minorities at Cal Poly, Furlong said.

“We do lose a lot of students because they possibly have better scholarship opportunities at other campuses they’re applying to,” she said. “That may definitely be a factor.”

But even for Furlong, a Cal Poly alumna, moving to San Luis Obispo was a challenge.

“When I first moved here, it was a huge culture shock; it took some getting used to — finding my social network of folks, getting comfortable being in a small town.” she said. “But now you have to drag me out of SLO. It’s a nice, mellow town. There are so many amazing people here, amazing resources and the education here at Cal Poly — you honestly can’t beat it.”

Cal Poly is trying its best to solve the diversity issue by making students feel more welcome through the Cross Cultural Centers.

During the “From Party Theme to Protest” event hosted by the Cross Cultural Centers at the end of January, students brainstormed goals that included going beyond advertisements to include students of color. Some ideas included having different cultural food offered on campus and extending PolyCultural weekend.

Currently, Cal Poly participates in an outreach effort called Super Sunday, Vice Provost for Marketing and Enrollment Development James Maraviglia said.

“The president and other institutional personnel visit churches to meet with church groups,” he said. “It’s aimed at certain churches where there are a large number of underrepresented minority students.”

Maraviglia added that though campus may not be as diverse as he would like, the numbers show improvement.

“The facts show that numbers of underrepresented minorities are going up,” he said.

But Cal Poly also needs to continue working on inclusivity, he said.

“I think Cal Poly can improve in inclusivity … something that expands beyond — but surely includes — race, gender and ethnicity,” he said. “It means providing that national and global experience … Are we able to address everyone? Provide a place where differences are acknowledged and cherished? That inclusive excellence is the model that our campus is hoping to follow right now.”

Mercado agreed.

“I think a lot of us see that Cal Poly is trying to do something about diversity and that they recognize the issue,” she said. “It may be a culture shock for many of us at first, but by reaching out to those resources and programs, it’s possible to grow and adjust.”

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