The way to get to Week of Welcome (WOW) events, such as kayaking or a beach bonfire, is not a big concern for many new students at Cal Poly. But that is not the case for aerospace engineering transfer student Alex Fung.
Fung said for every WOW event he wanted to attend, “there was a lot of red tape to go through.”
In 2012, at the age of 21, Fung fell down a mountain while hiking in Big Sur. The fall resulted in two breaks in his neck, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Seven years later, at the age of 28, Fung decided to continue his education at Cal Poly. After many painful years of hospital care and battling depression, Fung said he found excitement in this new journey at Cal Poly.
Going into WOW, Fung was curious how exactly the faculty and students at Cal Poly would approach the accommodations he needs. Fung said that ever since the accident, attending events has felt like a mission for him.
This struggle was taken off his shoulders, though, on one of the final days of WOW, when the efforts of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) were combined with the kindness of those around him – his WOW group included.
In order to ensure that Fung could attend the bonfire, the DRC sent Fung and his WOW group to the beach with tiles used for walking at commencement. The idea was to use these to hand build a path for Fung so he could cross the sand without damaging his chair.
However, the group had to park far away from the bonfire pit and did not have enough help to lay them out as Fung rolled onto the beach.
“At first it was just two or three people helping to lay out the panels” Fung said. “But the group grew so quickly.”
Fung explained that people from his WOW group began to come over and help, and eventually another full WOW group helped lay tiles.
Fung said, “I was enjoying that moment so much … I felt great.”
The selflessness of his peers on that day shocked Fung, as did his WOW leaders’ commitment throughout the entire week to include him in as many events as possible.
However, WOW leaders Claire Mazraji and Anelise Wyandt said they received very short notice about Fung’s disability.
“It was the day before WOW started when we got an email saying that one of our WOWies was registered with the DRC,” Mazraji said.
As WOW leaders are required to have their events planned months ahead of time, Mazraji and Wyandt decided they unfortunately could not find accommodations for Fung for every event. Had they known ahead of time that Fung was going to be in their group and in need of accommodations, they would have “completely changed the plan so he could attend everything,” Mazraji said.
Alex Fung is a new student at @CalPoly.
As part of Orientation Week, a group of students set up a beach bonfire, as a way to welcome others.
Then they realized Alex couldn’t join.
So they got together and spontaneously did this.
— Muhammad Lila (@MuhammadLila) September 21, 2019
“Figuring out the logistics of how we were going to modify events for Fung was very stressful,” Wyandt said. “Although Amy [Gode] from the DRC was on our side and helped us figure out everything we needed to do to help him.”
Having done WOW for the past two years as well, Mazraji and Wydant said they felt especially thankful for the kind students they got in their group this year. Wyandt explained how they both felt extremely proud of their WOWies throughout the week but especially on the day of the bonfire for how they helped Fung without hesitation.
Challenges included, Wyandt and Mazraji are happy they got to have Fung in their WOW group and truly broke out of anything close to a “cookie cutter WOW experience.”
Although accommodations still can be improved throughout campus for those in a situation similar to his, Fung said the willingness to help from everyone around Cal Poly makes him feel grateful.