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, Media Relations Director 
(805) 756-7109
mlazier@calpoly.edu

Automotive Safety

Charles Birdsong

Charles BirdsongCharles Birdsong is a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department. His 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. He 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
Email: cbirdson@calpoly.edu
Website: https://web.calpoly.edu/~cbirdson/
 

Autonomous Vehicles, Ethics

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
Email: ryjenkin@calpoly.edu
Website: https://philosophy.calpoly.edu/faculty-staff/ryan-jenkins

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
Email: llaiho@calpoly.edu
Website: https://bmed.calpoly.edu/lily-laiho

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
Email: zwood@calpoly.edu
Websitehttp://users.csc.calpoly.edu/~zwood/

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
Email: plbarlow@calpoly.edu
Website: https://construction.calpoly.edu/content/people/barlow

Cybersecurity

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
Email: znjp@calpoly.edu
Websitewww.znjp.com

Food Safety

Jeta Rudi-Polloshka

Jeta Rudi-PolloshkaJeta Rudi-Polloshka is an assistant professor in the Agribusiness Department. Rudi-Polloshka is an applied economist whose research interests primarily focus on food economics. Current research projects include investigating the impact of food safety recalls, estimating the cost effectiveness of various methods of reducing pathogen contamination of food products, estimating the cost effectiveness of various initiatives to reduce food waste at the farm and food processing level, as well as exploring the impact of various policies on household food security status. More broadly, her research focuses on using large datasets and data analysis tools to investigate important and policy-relevant questions in the field of agribusiness and consumer economics. Rudi-Polloshka was born and grew up in Kosovo. She moved to the U.S. after graduating from high school. She earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and mathematics at Berea College, a master’s degree in agricultural and applied economics from Virginia Tech, and a doctorate in applied economics from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.

Areas of expertise: economics of food safety and food waste
Email: jrudi@calpoly.edu
Website: https://agb.calpoly.edu/directory/jeta-rudi

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
Email: rvolpe@calpoly.edu
Website: https://agb.calpoly.edu/directory/volpe

Geology, Earthquake History

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
Email:  jjasbins@calpoly.edu
Website: https://physics.calpoly.edu/node/75/

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
Website: https://landscape.calpoly.edu/content/people/watts
Email: djwatts@calpoly.edu

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
Website: https://psycd.calpoly.edu/jay-bettergarcia
Email: jbetterg@calpoly.edu

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
Email: bruttenb@calpoly.edu
Website: http://www.marine.calpoly.edu/faculty/benjamin-ruttenberg

Media

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 “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.
Email: kcengel@calpoly.edu
Website: http://www.katyacengel.com

Memory

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
Email: kbennion@calpoly.edu
Website: https://psycd.calpoly.edu/faculty-staff/kelly-bennion

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
Email: nazmi@calpoly.edu
Website: https://fsn.calpoly.edu/nazmi-aydin

Obesity

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
Email: sphelan@calpoly.edu
Websitehttps://kinesiology.calpoly.edu/content/faculty/profiles/suzanne_phelanTwitterFacebook

Politics

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
Emailmlatner@calpoly.edu
Websitehttps://politicalscience.calpoly.edu/faculty/michael-latner and https://michaellatner.com/

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
Email: etaylor@calpoly.edu
Website: perl.calpoly.edu

Trees

Matt Ritter

Professor Matt RitterMatt Ritter is a biological sciences professor in the Biology 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
Emailmritter@calpoly.edu
Website: http://www.mattritter.net; https://bio.calpoly.edu/content/Ritter; https://californiabigtrees.calpoly.edu/

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
Email: sstyles@calpoly.edu
Website: http://www.itrc.org/faculty/styles.htm

Wildfires 

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
Email: cdicus@calpoly.edu
Website: https://nres.calpoly.edu/dr-chris-dicus

Wind Power

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
Email: plemieux@calpoly.edu 
Website: https://me.calpoly.edu/faculty/plemieux/

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