Events & News

Letter from the Chair 2021

Ken Hillers

As you may have noticed, it’s been an eventful time at Cal Poly, as I’m sure it has been for you. At this time last year, we were asking ourselves how you teach botany without plants or microbiology without microbes.

It’s not the same, of course, and while there’s no substitute for in-person instruction and hands-on learning, I’m incredibly proud of the ingenuity and resilience our faculty, staff and students showed in the transition to virtual learning. I’m equally proud of all they’ve accomplished despite the difficult circumstances and of the continuous improvement and kindness they bring to their classes and research in our mostly remote environment.

Bio stepped up and made a real difference to everyone at the university by combining our expertise to create an on-campus, saliva-based COVID testing program. Nathaniel Martinez, Jean Davidson, Pat Fidopiastis, Jen VanderKelen, Chris Kitts and their students — along with colleagues from other departments — made Cal Poly a safer place to be. They exemplified Learn by Doing at its best.

And to keep us connected to what used to be and keep a smile on our face, Ed Himelblau created a series of nostalgic lab cartoons featuring friendly animals taking a variety of bio labs. No matter your concentration, you’ll find something familiar to smile about in Ed’s work.

We’ve had a productive year of research despite everything. One of the highlights was Clint Francis’ publication in Nature on a continent-wide survey of the effects of light and noise pollution on North American birds. Congratulations to Clint and everyone who kept their research going in these difficult circumstances, including multiple undergraduate and graduate students who won awards for their presentations at professional conferences. 

We’re looking forward to enjoying some new facilities in the fall. The gorgeous new plant conservatory is almost complete, and the lobby of Fisher has been remodeled with more seating for students to study and work together. We also look forward to having some of our faculty move their offices and labs into the new William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation, scheduled to open in October.  

The importance of community has really hit home for me this past year, and you are such an important part of our Bio community. Your financial support and your friendship have helped us through these challenging times. As an example, private donations helped several graduate students complete their thesis research, an essential part of earning their master’s degree. Thank you! 

I’m sure you’re looking forward to a return to in-person life as much as we are. In the meantime, stay well.

All the best,
Ken Hillers

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