Cal Poly Faculty Expert Guide

Entrance to Cal Poly

With more than 1,400 faculty members, Cal Poly is able to offer numerous resources to working journalists seeking expert commentary on a variety of topics.

Scroll through the list to find a source for a news story, or contact Cal Poly's University Communications office for help identifying a faculty expert.

Media Contact
Matt Lazier, Assistant Vice President, Executive Communications and Media Relations


David Mitchell

David MitchellDavid Mitchell is a professor in the physics department, specializing in astronomy. His research is in the detection and characterization of extrasolar planets – planets that orbit other stars. In collaboration with colleagues in Germany and elsewhere, Mitchell has discovered several planets orbiting giant stars. He has used both large observatories and the small telescope on Cal Poly’s campus for his research. Mitchell earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and applied mathematics at The George Washington University, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California, San Diego. He has taught at Cal Poly since 2004.

Areas of expertise: astronomy, extrasolar planets

Automotive Safety

Charlene Birdsong

Charlene BirdsongCharlene Birdsong is a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Her projects and research interests include automotive safety and crash avoidance, vehicle safety modeling and control, pre-crash sensing, vibrations and acoustics. Birdsong is also interested in engineering education, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outreach in local K-12 schools and technology in the classroom. She also serves as advisor to both the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honor Society. Birdsong earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly, and a master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University.

Areas of expertise: vehicle safety of autonomous vehicles, vibrations and control

Biomedical Engineering 

Lily Laiho

Lily LaihoLily Laiho is a professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department. She serves as faculty advisor to the Quality of Life Plus program, a non-profit organization that develops engineering solutions for veterans with life-altering disabilities. Prior to joining Cal Poly, Laiho was an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Before beginning her Ph.D., Laiho worked at ALZA Corporation where she developed components for drug manufacturing equipment prototypes. She also worked at Carco Electronics as a project manager and engineer designing flight motion simulators. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and received her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Areas of expertise: biomedical engineering design, medical device design and manufacture

Michael Whitt

Michael WhittMichael Whitt, an assistant professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department, focuses on product development, hemodynamics (the study of blood flow) and vascular mechanics. Whitt holds five medical device patents and co-founded a medical device start-up, Cordex Systems Inc., which has developed a noninvasive early detection method for cardiovascular disease. He can answer questions about pharmaceutical process and medical device development, chemical process design and development, medical device start-ups, community engagement and education, and entrepreneurship. Whitt earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University, a Master of Science degree and Doctorate of Philosophy in biomedical engineering from Rutgers University/University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UNDNJ), and a master’s degree in business administration from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Areas of expertise: entrepreneurship and startups, product development, medical technology 

Climate Change

Michael Boswell

Michael BoswellMichael Boswell is department head and a professor in the City and Regional Planning Department who has published on topics such as climate action planning, hazard mitigation, adaptive management and governance, local government planning, autonomous vehicles, and sustainable development. He is lead author of the book “Climate Action Planning,” designed to help planners, municipal staff and officials, citizens and others working at local levels to develop climate action plans. Boswell currently serves as an expert advisor on “Guidelines for City Climate Action Planning” for the United Nation - Habitat's Cities and Climate Change Initiative, and attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP-21) to launch the report. In 2017, he represented the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning in the Planners for Climate Action initiative launched at COP-23 in Bonn, Germany. Since 2006 he has served as a senior advisor and project director for the California Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan update. Boswell is a founding member and served on the Organizing Committee of the Central Coast Climate Collaborative and is the director of the California Climate Action Planning Conference. He has also served on the board of Bike SLO County and as a member and chair of the City of San Luis Obispo Planning Commission. Boswell earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Central Florida, and his master’s degree and doctorate in urban and regional planning from Florida State University.

Areas of expertise: climate action planning, hazard mitigation, local government planning
Social: @mboswell, LinkedIn

Computer Science

Zoë Wood

Zoe WoodZoë Wood, professor in the Computer Science Department, is the Cal Poly lead for the International Computer Engineering Experience (ICEX), which provides students an opportunity to apply their technical knowledge in an international context and increase global citizenship across campuses. Whether it is creating computer graphics models of underwater shipwrecks or using art and creativity to help students learn computational thinking, Wood’s projects unite visual arts, mathematics and computer science. She recently completed the last year of a three-year, $250,000 National Science Foundation-funded project in Malta, which paired Cal Poly students with peers from Harvey Mudd College to deploy underwater robots with the purpose of mapping coastal shipwrecks and developing new mapping technology. In 2017, her research team discovered historically significant remains of the Fairey Swordfish, a biplane torpedo bomber used by the Royal Navy in the 1930s and during World War II. Wood’s research area is computer graphics and computer science education. She works to increase the number of underrepresented students in her field through research projects, outreach activities and advising the student group Women Involved in Software and Hardware (W.I.S.H.), a student club for female computing majors. As co-founder of the interdisciplinary minor, Computing for the Interactive Arts, she believes in empowering students to realize their artistic visions via coding. Wood earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science from the California Institute of Technology.

Areas of expertise: computer science, women in engineering

Construction Management 

Philip Barlow 

Philip BarlowPhilip Barlow, a professor in the Construction Management Department, has nearly 20 years of construction field experience including overseeing several K-12 school district modernization projects as well as the construction of new medical facilities, hotels, and jail and prison facilities, and seismic upgrade projects. Barlow, who came to Cal Poly in 2006, oversees the Construction Management’s senior project program and its Cooperative Education Program, in which students can work full time in the construction industry while receiving credit toward their degree. He is also involved in Cal Poly's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as one of its 2018-19 faculty fellows. In this role, he incorporates innovation and entrepreneurship into his coursework, serves as a CIE ambassador within the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, and helps guide students through various entrepreneurial career paths. Barlow earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Cal Poly, a Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and a doctorate in construction management from the University of Florida. 

Areas of expertise: healthcare construction, construction jobsite management, quality control and quality assurance, construction education, cost-value engineering, entrepreneurism


Zachary Peterson

Zachary PetersonZachary Peterson is an associate professor of computer science. His current research agenda includes developing and evaluating novel approaches that improve cybersecurity outreach and education, especially those methods centered around the use of games and play. Creating experiences that are fun, inclusive, and meaningful, irrespective of a student’s background and abilities, has been a particular focus. With the support of multiple National Science Foundation awards, Peterson has created [d0x3d!], an open-source, network security board game designed to teach young, non-CS audiences network security terminology, attack and defend mechanics, and basic security concepts; the development of a “cybersecurity track” within Cal Poly’s Engineering Possibilities in College (EPIC) summer camp for high school students; and most recently, the development of an experimental CS course designed to engage first-year students in computer science and security principles, taught as an alternate reality game. Peterson was recently named a Cybersecurity Policy Fellow at New America, a DC-based think tank, and was a 2016 recipient of a U.S.-U.K. Cyber Security Fulbright Scholarship, both of which he used to continue his research exploring the use of digital and non-digital games for teaching computer security concepts to new, young, and non-technical audiences. Peterson earned bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer engineering from UC Santa Cruz, and a master’s degree in security informatics and a doctorate in computer science, both from Johns Hopkins University.

Areas of expertise: cybersecurity, secure systems, applied cryptography, computer security education


David Headrick

David HeadrickDavid Headrick, a professor in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, is a specialist in basic insect biology; invasive insect species and their effects on the environment and economies; biological pest management, and native and introduced pollinators including European honeybees. Headrick teaches courses in agricultural pest management, vertebrate pest management and biological control and conducts research on insect pest management in vegetable, citrus and greenhouse cropping systems. He can speak to the use of biological control in pest management, an approach that uses beneficial insects that prey on pest species to achieve sustainable pest control without the need for pesticides. Over the years he’s conducted extensive research searching for and establishing beneficial predators in California. Headrick earned his Ph.D. from UC Riverside, where he studied biological control of weeds and became a specialist in tephritid fruit fly ecology and behavior. His research on agriculturally important insects and other research has resulted in 100 publications and over 130 professional presentations.  

Areas of expertise: entomology, biological control, insect pests in agriculture; citrus and greenhouse pest management, invasive species, vertebrate pest management in agriculture and urban environments, native pollinators, general agricultural issues

Food Pricing 

Ricky Volpe

Ricky VolpeRicky Volpe, an assistant professor in the Agribusiness Department, teaches course on food retail and supply chain management, transportation and logistics, and data analysis. Volpe maintains an active research agenda using a variety of large scanner data sets to study issues related to market structure, firm performance, food prices, consumers’ food choices and health outcomes. He also works closely with industry leaders in food retailing, wholesaling, and distribution to facilitate collaboration on public-private partnerships, student internships, and scholarships. Born and raised near Boston, Massachusetts, Volpe worked for four years as an economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service in Washington, D.C., where he researched a variety of topics, including food price formation, competitiveness in the food industry and the healthiness of grocery purchases in the U.S. Volpe was also responsible for forecasting retail food price inflation at the national level. Volpe earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics, and master’s degree in resource economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and a doctorate in agricultural economics at UC Davis.

Areas of expertise: food pricing, consumer purchasing decisions, food/retail supply chain, agricultural economics

Geology and Earthquakes

John Jasbinsek

John JasbinsekJohn Jasbinsek is an associate professor in the Physics Department who teaches courses about geology and geophysics. His specialty area is seismic imaging of the deep earth, or using recordings of earthquake waves to study the nature of earth's internal boundaries — all the way to earth’s core. He can also answer questions about the fault systems in California and their earthquake history and potential. In addition, Jasbinsek has been collaborating with hydrologists from Cal Poly’s Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department to determine the subsurface geologic structure of groundwater basins, including the thickness, depth to water table, presence of shallow faults and changes in moisture above the water table. The faculty members have worked on projects over the past few years with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Santa Maria office. Jasbinsek earned a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona, a master’s degree from UC Santa Barbara and a doctorate from the University of Wyoming. He has taught at Cal Poly since 2008.

Areas of expertise: geology, seismic imaging, fault systems, earthquake history and potential, groundwater hydrology

Robb Moss

Robb MossRobb Moss, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, is an expert in geotechnical earthquake engineering, engineering seismology, and risk and reliability with respect to earthquake engineering. His research and consulting focuses on the physics and probability of natural hazards such as strong ground motions, seismic soil liquefaction, surface fault rupture, seismic induced landslides, debris flow and others. He has worked in more than 15 countries on projects to address earthquake hazards, and has been a member of nine earthquake nine earthquake reconnaissance teams that traveled to Nepal, Japan, Chile, Alaska, Turkey, India, Mexico and around California. His teaching includes undergraduate and graduate courses in geotechnical engineering, engineering risk analysis, geological engineering and earthquake engineering. Moss earned a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in the field of geotechnical earthquake engineering, with minors in engineering seismology and structural reliability.

Areas of expertise: geohazard mitigation, including earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, debris flows, fault rupture 


Philip Williams

Philip WilliamsPhilip Williams, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts since August 2019, previously served as director of the Center for Latin American Studies and professor of political science at the University of Florida. Williams was also co-partnership director for the Colombia-U.S. Human Rights Law School Program and co-directed the Program for Immigration, Religion, and Social Change (PIRSC). He is co-author of “Living ‘Illegal’: The Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration,” “Militarization and Demilitarization in El Salvador's Transition to Democracy,” “The Catholic Church and Politics in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.” Williams received a Master of Philosophy in Latin American Studies and Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics from the University of Oxford in 1986. 

Areas of expertise: immigration, contemporary politics in Latin America

Landscape Architecture

David Watts

David WattsDavid Watts, an associate professor in the Landscape Architecture Department, is a registered landscape architect with more than 25 years of practice operating a design/build firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He has traveled, taught and worked in France and South Africa. His area of research is children’s play environments, their impact on child development and their role in reconnecting children to nature. Watts was involved in planning for the re-design of the Child Development Preschool Laboratory playground on campus, and has led multiple trips to South Africa to build community playgrounds. He oversaw a team of undergraduate students who designed and built a 5,000-square-foot playground for the Ratang Bana Orphanage in Alexandria Township, South Africa. The project received an “Award of Excellence” in the community service category in the 2014 American Society of Landscape Architects. He earned his Master of Science in landscape architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Areas of expertise: children’s play environments, landscape architecture

LGBTQ Mental Health and Wellness

Jay Bettergarcia

Jay BettergarciaJay Bettergarcia is an assistant professor in the Psychology and Child Development Department. Bettergarcia, who joined Cal Poly in 2016, leads the Queer Community Action, Research, Education, and Support (QCARES) team. With the team, Bettergarcia uses community-based action research and mixed-method designs to study LGBTQ mental health and wellness, including affirming approaches to mental health care for transgender and non-binary people. They also investigate evidence-based approaches to teaching and training about diversity, including the reactions (resistance and receptiveness) often encountered in diversity trainings and how to “roll with resistance.” Bettergarcia aims to better understand the experiences of LGBTQ community members, especially those who are underserved, and to utilize data to create evidence-based strategies for teaching and training about sexual orientation and gender diversity. Bettergarcia has received a Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Innovation grant from San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health for $519,700, a four-year grant to explore best practices for training therapists to be LGBTQ affirming via a nine-month training program in San Luis Obispo County. In addition, QCARES in October 2018 received a $25,000 grant from San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health through the Mental Health Services Act to evaluate mental health services for LGTBQ individuals in San Luis Obispo County. Bettergarcia earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal Poly, a master’s degree in social psychology from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in counseling, clinical and school psychology from UC Santa Barbara.

Areas of expertise: LGBTQ mental health and wellness, transgender and non-binary affirming care, teaching and training about diversity, multicultural psychology

Marine Sciences

Ben Ruttenberg

Ben RuttenbergBen Ruttenberg is an associate professor in the Biological Sciences Department and director of the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences, which includes the Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach and several research vessels. Ruttenberg's research is highly applied, focusing on how we manage our impacts on the oceans, and what we can do better. His research interests are diverse — current projects include understanding the impacts of marine protected areas and a changing climate on nearshore fisheries; studying the potential for offshore wind energy and how environmental analysis can inform potential permitting and implementation; understanding the factors controlling the decline and potential recovery of Pismo clams; studying the feeding behavior of parrotfish and how they can improve resilience of coral reefs; and using artificial intelligence tools to better process video monitoring data in marine (and other) systems. Prior to joining Cal Poly in 2013, Ruttenberg worked as a research fishery biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Marine Fishery Service, and as a marine ecologist for the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, both in Miami, Florida. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a master’s degree from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, and a doctorate from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at UC Santa Barbara.

Areas of expertise: ocean phenomena (climate change, ocean acidification) and impact on the ecology of species and ecosystems, fisheries, marine management and marine policy, offshore wind energy, aquaculture


Greg Steinberger

Greg SteinbergerGreg Steinberger, a faculty member in the Orfalea College of Business Marketing Area, teaches courses on marketing principles. Steinberger has more than 30 years of experience in business leadership, brand building and human resources management. He also served eight years as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Steinberger is the retired founder of Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream lab, a Central Coast-based benefit corporation with more than 550 local shareholders. Steinberger designed the branding and marketing programs for the company. He previously worked as a human resources director or manager for several firms in California and New York. Steinberger earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration-marketing from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and a Master of Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Areas of expertise: Marketing, entrepreneurship, benefit corporations, ice cream


Katya Cengel

Katya CengelKatya Cengel, a lecturer in the Journalism Department, has taught courses in global communication, multicultural society and the mass media, and news writing. A roaming features writer and author, Cengel has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America. She is the author of "From Chernobyl with Love: Reporting from the Ruins of the Soviet Union," published in November 2019; “Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back,” published in 2018; and “Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life,” which was a finalist for the 2013 Kentucky Literary Award. Cengel’s 2017 article “My brother’s killer is now my friend” was named one of BBC’s “Best big reads of 2017.” Cengel has been awarded grants from the International Reporting Project, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and the International Center for Journalists. She earned her bachelor’s degree in writing and history UC San Diego.

Areas of expertise: deportation of legal permanent residents/Cambodian-American community; Southeast Asian community issues related to imprisonment, incarceration or refugee resettlement; minor league baseball; global communications and international reporting; role of the mass media in a democratic multicultural society.


Kelly Bennion

Kelly BennionKelly Bennion in an assistant professor in the Psychology and Child Development Department. She is interested in the effects of several real-life variables — emotion, stress, motivation, physiological arousal — on memory, as well as understanding how sleep affects memory. As research shows that sleep selectively enhances memory for certain experiences over others, Bennion’s research seeks to explain the factors that may promote successful memory using a combination of behavioral, eye tracking, polysomnography (a type of sleep study), and neuroimaging approaches. Bennion earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish from Middlebury College; a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology, with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience, from Boston College.  

Areas of expertise: emotional memory, effects of sleep and stress on memory


Alyson McLamore

Alyson McLamoreAlyson McLamore, a professor in the Music Department, teaches music history classes to majors and non-majors on topics ranging from the general history of western music to Broadway shows. She is a specialist in music of the early Classic Period, including study of symphonic music in London during the late 18th century, funded by a grant from the Fulbright Commission. Publications include a musical theater textbook; studies of concert-presenting musical prodigies — contemporaries of Mozart — who were sons of the cofounder of Methodism, Charles Wesley; evaluation of 18th-century “nautical-themed” music and its impact on British national identity; resource guides for the U.S. Academic Decathlon; and program notes for the Festival Mozaic (formerly the Mozart Festival) and the San Luis Obispo Master Chorale (formerly the Cuesta Master Chorale). McLamore earned her bachelor’s degree, teaching credential, master’s degree and doctorate at UCLA.

Areas of expertise: music history, musical theater, film music, women in music, symphonic music, and music education (especially band) 

Nutrition and Public Health

Aydin Nazmi

Aydin NazmiAydin Nazmi, an associate professor in the Food Science and Nutrition Department, is a social epidemiologist and public health nutrition specialist. Nazmi’s main interests are population-based prevention of nutrition-related chronic disease, improving health equity, and developing policy to benefit public health. His current research examines food insecurity, particularly among American college students; food classification systems; and the public health impact of ultra-processed foods. He has extensive international experience working with prospective cohorts, population studies and large, complex data sets. Nazmi earned bachelor’s degrees in nutrition science and exercise science from UC Davis, a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a doctorate in epidemiology from the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil. His post-doctoral training was conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Areas of expertise: public health, nutrition-related chronic disease


Suzanne Phelan

Suzanne PhelanSuzanne Phelan is a professor in the Kinesiology and Public Health Department and director of the Center for Health Research. Her research focuses on discovering ways to reduce obesity and related diseases with particular emphasis on interventions in the time surrounding pregnancy. Over the past decade, Phelan has secured National Institutes of Health funding of more than $12 million. Her recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an online weight loss program led to significant weight loss in low-income, postpartum mothers. Phelan’s other research projects include gestational diabetes prevention, a couples-based approaches to weight management during pregnancy, understanding maternal and toddler feeding interactions, and identifying strategies among long-term weight loss maintainers. Phelan is also spearheading a new program to provide free women's healthcare to underserved populations in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The Cal Poly Women and Infants’ Mobile Health Unit contains a medical clinic that travels  to underserved populations, providing free access to health care and opportunities for Cal Poly students to get hands-on experience in clinical research. Phelan earned bachelor’s degrees in French and journalism from the University of Colorado, and a master’s degree and doctorate in clinical and health psychology from MCP Hahnemann University.

Areas of expertise: obesity

Plants and Soils

Nishanta Rajakaruna

Nishanta "Nishi" RajakarunaNishanta “Nishi” Rajakaruna, a professor in the Biological Sciences Department, studies the ecology and evolution of plants growing on extreme substrates, including serpentinite, limestone, vertic clays, mine tailings and guano. He is interested in the ecology of federally endangered plants and how they might respond to future changes in climate. Other interests include researching the effects of heavy metal contamination and atmospheric nutrient deposition on plants and other biota. Rajakaruna lives in the yakʔitʸutʸu residential community on campus as part of Cal Poly’s Faculty in Residence program. There, he serves as a role model and mentor to students, and hosts and participates in residential community events. He earned a bachelor’s degree in human ecology with an emphasis in botany from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine; and a master’s degree and doctorate in botany from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada.

Areas of expertise: Ecology and evolution of plants, serpentine soils, geobotany, how rare plants respond to climate change, restoration ecology of serpentine outcrops
Social media: 


Michael Latner

Michael LatnerMichael Latner is an associate professor of political science. He has taught a range of courses since joining Cal Poly in 2007, including classes on American and California government, political participation, campaigns and elections, California politics, evolutionary theory and politics, and public policy. Latner is a 2017-19 Kendall Science Fellow, working on voting rights at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy in Washington, D.C. His most recent research publications are “Diagnosing Electoral Integrity” in “Electoral Integrity in America, published in 2018, and “Building a Healthier Democracy: The Link Between Voting Rights and Environmental Justice.” His co-authored “Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, The Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty,” published in 2016, was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent gerrymandering cases. Latner has received national professional recognition, including the Common Cause Redistricting Competition award and the Wilma Rule Award from Californians for Electoral Reform, and is frequently quoted in local and national media. He is active in the electoral reform movement, conducting several studies on the impact of changes in electoral systems on representation and political participation. Latner earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University, Chico, and his master’s degree and doctorate in political science from UC Irvine.

Areas of expertise: voting rights, political participation, representation, electoral system design, civic technology
Website and

Power and Energy


TaufikTaufik is a professor in the Electrical Engineering Department and director of the Electric Power Institute. His areas of interest include power electronics and power systems, focusing on DC-DC converters, utility and renewable energy applications of power electronics, microgrid, and rural electrification. He initiated the DC House project in 2010 to develop the technologies to enable the use of multiple small-scale renewable energy sources to power homes in rural areas with DC (direct current) electricity. The DC House uses a low-voltage DC distribution system to provide basic energy needs to a single family, such as lighting. The project has attracted numerous collaborations with universities abroad and resulted in DC House prototypes in Indonesia, Philippines, and at Cal Poly. Taufik’s DC House project was featured on the September 2011 issue of the EE Webpulse magazine. Taufik holds two U.S. patents: a multiphase converter to power low-voltage high-current devices, and a Multiple Input Single Output (MISO) converter, which provides a scalable, stackable, energy efficient solution to combining multiple energy sources into a DC powered house or a hybrid AC/DC house. Taufik earned a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, a master’s degree from University of Illinois Chicago and a doctorate from Cleveland State University, all in electrical engineering.

Areas of expertise: power electronics, power systems, rural electrification
Social mediaLinkedIn

Patrick Lemieux

Patrick LemieuxPatrick Lemieux is a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department whose teaching and research areas focus on internal combustion engines and alternative energy, including wind energy and wind turbine systems design and analysis. He is also concerned with issues regarding global energy sustainability and climate change. Lemieux has been involved in wind power research for more than 20 years. Over the past 10 years at Cal Poly, he has developed the Wind Power Research Facility, which prepares the next generation of wind industry mechanical engineers. He has also directed the Engines Test Center, which is used for teaching, research and projects involving powerplants as varied as gas turbines, small reciprocating engines, large automotive turbo-diesel engines and electric generators. Lemieux earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada; a master’s degree in thermal power from Cranfield University in Bedford, England; and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

Areas of expertise: wind power, gas turbines, climate change

Public Health

Jafra D. Thomas

Jafra D. ThomasJafra D. Thomas is an assistant professor in the Kinesiology and Public Health Department whose research agenda seeks to advance efforts to promote healthy and active lifestyles for all. To that end, two of his core focus areas include knowledge translation — the process of putting research studies into practice — and equitable physical activity promotion. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport sciences from University of the Pacific, and a Master of Public Health in health promotion and health behavior and a Ph.D. in kinesiology, both from Oregon State University.

Areas of expertise: Promoting health and physical activity across the lifespan and where people live, work and play; community-based and action-based physical activity research, health literacy, sociocultural studies of physical activity, exercise, and sport; and social psychology of physical activity, exercise, and sport.

Alison Ventura

Alison VenturaAlison Ventura, an associate professor in the Kinesiology and Public Health Department, is a leading expert on obesity prevention during infancy and early childhood, with specific expertise in caregiver feeding practices and caregiver-child interactions during feeding. Ventura’s research and community-service efforts also focus on breastfeeding promotion and supporting families with young children and she is an active member of the Central Coast Breastfeeding Coalition and a Commissioner for First 5 San Luis Obispo. Ventura’s current studies focus on understanding parent-child interactions during breast and bottle-feeding interactions. Overall, her research aims to support new parents and provide scientific evidence for programs that encourage breastfeeding, healthy lifelong eating habits and dietary patterns, and healthy development during childhood. With a total of $2 million in multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, Ventura and her research team are studying how interactions between mothers and babies may affect babies’ risk for overfeeding and later obesity. Current studies include a 12-week study of infant feeding and growth, study of mother-infant interactions during breast and bottle-feeding, and a 12-month study examining how mother-infant feeding interactions develop and change across the first year of infancy.

Areas of expertise: Obesity prevention during infancy and early childhood, parent-child interactions, caregiver feeding practices, breastfeeding promotion, promotion of healthy bottle-feeding, introduction of complementary foods and beverages
Social: @akventura, @calpolyhealthykids

Reptiles and Amphibians 

Emily Taylor 

Emily TaylorEmily Taylor is a professor in the Biological Sciences Department and director of the Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Lab (PERL), where students study the ecology, physiology and behavior of free-ranging reptiles in Central and Southern California. Taylor’s primary research expertise is in the areas of endocrinology (the study of hormones) and reproductive physiology. A Cal Poly faculty member since 2005, Taylor was honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award in the 2011-12 academic year. She is also the first woman to receive a prestigious teaching award, the Meritorious Teaching Award in Herpetology, given to teachers in North America who have made significant contributions to herpetological education by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, and the Herpetologists' League. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley and a doctorate in biology from Arizona State University.

Area of expertise: reptiles and amphibians

Science and Entertainment

David A. Kirby

David KirbyDavid A. Kirby is chair of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts Department and director of the Science Technology and Society Program. Kirby’s work examines the interactions between science and entertainment media in all its forms including movies, television shows, graphic novels, comic books and video games. His book, “Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema,” was the first academic study of the interactions between the scientific community and the entertainment industry, specifically the contributions made by scientists who serve as consultants for Hollywood film productions and the subsequent impact these movies had on real world science and technology. His current book project, “Indecent Science: Religion, Science, and Movie Censorship,” will explore how movies served as a battleground over science’s role in influencing morality. Kirby earned a degree in ecology, ethology and evolution from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; and a molecular evolutionary genetics from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Areas of expertise: Science in entertainment media, including movies, television and video games; science’s role in storytelling; religious responses to science and technology
Social: @SciEntLab; @king_gwangi

Technology Ethics

Patrick Lin

Patrick LinPatrick Lin, a professor in the Philosophy Department, is director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, a non-partisan organization established at Cal Poly in 2007 to focus on the risk, ethical, and social impact of emerging sciences and technologies. Lin is frequently quoted in national publications on topics including ethics of autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotics, outer space, frontiers including the Arctic, military and policing, virtual and augmented reality, and smart cities. Lin earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and master’s and doctorate degrees from UC Santa Barbara.

Areas of expertise: Technology ethics: autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotics

Ryan Jenkins

Ryan Jenkins

Ryan Jenkins is an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department. His areas of interest include applied ethics — especially military ethics and emerging technologies — and normative ethics, especially consequentialism. He earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014.

Areas of expertise: ethical artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, autonomous weapons, cyber ethics and cyber war, technology ethics

Traffic and Transportation Engineering

Anurag Pande

Anurag PandeAnurag Pande is a professor of civil (transportation) engineering and faculty liaison for Cal Poly’s Service-Learning program. His research interests include transportation safety, travel demand and VMT (vehicle-miles traveled) estimation, traffic simulation and analysis, and emergency evacuation and network resilience modeling. He has led and co-led several research projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Transportation, Caltrans and the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments. As the faculty liaison for Service-Learning, he has worked with Cal Poly faculty and regional agencies to support projects of mutual benefit. He has managed about $2.5 million in research funding since joining Cal Poly in 2008. Pande was recognized in 2007 with the “Young Researcher Award” by the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and Cal Poly’s Distinguished Scholarship Award in spring 2022. He was also one of the invited speakers on “Changes in Traffic Safety Policies and Regulations in 7 Countries (1950-2010)” at the 2012 International Workshop organized by the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences. Pande is the editor of the seventh edition of the Traffic Engineering Handbook, published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He was appointed the chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers — Transportation and Development Institute Safety Committee in May 2022. Pande earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, Mumbai; and a master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering (transportation) from the University of Central Florida.

Areas of expertise: Traffic and transportation engineering, roadway safety, urban planning, sustainable mobility, bicycle and pedestrians, transportation resilience, service-learning and community engagement 
Social: Twitter, LinkedIn


Matt Ritter

Professor Matt RitterMatt Ritter is a professor in the Biological Sciences Department who specializes in cultivated trees — especially the genus Eucalyptus, which includes more than 700 varieties. He edits Madroño, the California Botanical Society’s quarterly journal of peer-reviewed research articles on the natural history of Western American botanical organisms and vegetation, including those from Mexico to South America. He is director of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory that maintains a diverse, well-documented and accurately labeled living plant collection on campus that supports and faculty teaching and research and student learning. Ritter is also an author whose books — such as “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us” and “California Plants: A Guide to our Iconic Flora” — foster a sense of appreciation in readers for the Golden State’s unique flora. His academic writings focus on Eucalpytus trees, horticulture, ecology and plant taxonomy. He gained an appreciation for wood and trees in Northern California while growing up next to a wooden boat builder. In addition, he is a master furniture maker. Ritter maintains the California Register of Big Trees, a list of more than 200 record-setting state trees, including 133 that are the largest in the U.S. He has also published a climate fiction novel, “Rainwalkers,” which is set in a not-so-distant future in which rain has become lethal to humans.

Areas of expertise: trees, large trees, Eucalypus, horticulture, ecology and plant taxonomy

Water, Irrigation

Stuart Styles

Stuart StylesStuart Styles is director of the Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC) and faculty member in the BioResource and Agricultural Engineering Department, where he teaches university classes as well as short courses for irrigation professionals. Styles has more than 40 years of field experience in irrigation and water resources. He has worked as a designer, consultant, manager and professor. His current research interests include irrigation system design and performance, irrigation modernization, and emerging electronic flow measurement technologies. Styles has worked on numerous research contracts in the U.S. and internationally. He has provided technical assistance to more than 100 irrigation districts in the U.S. and 10 international projects. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and a Master of Business Administration, both from Cal Poly, and a Doctor of Engineering in agricultural engineering from UC Davis.

Areas of expertise: water issues (conservation, supply), irrigation


Chris Dicus

Chris DicusChris Dicus, a professor of wildland fire and fuels management in the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, is Cal Poly’s resident wildland fire expert. Dicus is the current president of the Association of Fire Ecology (an international scientific society), heads the Wildland-Urban Interface Module of the California Fire Science Consortium, and sits on the board of directors of the San Luis Obispo County FireSafe Council. He is a certified senior fire ecologist and a California registered professional forester. He earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry and wildlife from Louisiana Tech University, a master’s degree in forest resources from Utah State University and a doctorate in forestry at Louisiana State University.

Areas of expertise: wildfire issues, forestry

Emily Ryalls

Emily RyallsEmily Ryalls is an assistant professor in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts Department. She teaches classes in communication, women's and gender studies, and media. Her research explores images of adolescents in popular culture (i.e., music, film, television, social media, journalism) with an aim toward understanding the normalization of the increasingly punitive treatment of teens. Her book, “The Culture of Mean,” is the first sustained feminist exploration of the contemporary bullying discourse. Ryalls earned a bachelor's degree in speech communication from James Madison University, a master's degree in communication studies from the University of Alabama, and a doctorate in communication studies from the University of South Florida. 

Areas of expertise: race, class, gender and sexuality in popular culture; bullying; adolescence in media; reality television; celebrity culture
Social: @ProfRyalls@profryalls

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