Connecting  a Community<br> of Support


By Diego Abeloos | Video by Matt Yoon

The student volunteers of Cal Poly’s Phonathon are all about building relationships — and they want to talk to you.

They’re the voices on the other end of the phone line. To countless new Cal Poly parents and alumni, they’re the first step in establishing a connection to the university through a program critically important to student success.

They’re the Cal Poly Phonathon team, a group of 50 students who staff and manage the on-campus call center in support of the Annual Giving program. Six days a week, this student-led operation can be found in Jespersen Hall, producing keyboard clicks, office chair squeaks, and a steady hum of voices in conversation.

The call center offers students a fun and collaborative working atmosphere. But when it comes to building connections between alumni and Cal Poly, the students are all business.

Fourth-year business major Jacob Sanchez has made it a habit of following up with the parents and students he encounters on the job — and has learned a thing or two from alumni about navigating college life as well.

How Annual Giving Makes a Difference
Here are just a few of the many ways Annual Giving impacts Cal Poly.

Cal Poly Cares
This spring, callers embraced the Cal Poly Cares campaign for Student Affairs, generating student-specific funds for emergency grants, housing and meal plans, textbooks, and the Food Pantry
for those in need.

Orfalea College of Business Industry Tours
In the Orfalea College of Business, Annual Giving supports one-day learning trips during which students visit companies in the Bay Area and Southern California and see real-world industry best practices in action.

College of Engineering Student Clubs
Annual Giving helps the College of Engineering support student clubs that take the Learn by Doing experience out of the classroom. In addition, funds directed to the College of Engineering help fund labs, projects and student travel to industry competitions.

Solar Decathlon 
Directed gifts through Annual Giving helped Cal Poly’s interdisciplinary team finish third among 16 participating universities in the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition.

“With alumni, it’s fun to hear about what they’ve been involved in and what they ended up doing in life,” says Sanchez. “As a student, it’s cool to hear about the steps they’ve taken to get where they are.”

Annual Giving Director Chris McBride notes that the program often serves as a first step toward greater university involvement for new Cal Poly parents. For alumni who may have lost touch with Cal Poly over the years, the program provides an opportunity for re-introduction to the university.

“We are fostering relationships,” says McBride, a Cal Poly alumna who has served as Annual Giving director for nearly five years. “There’s a real sense of community and connection between our students and the alumni, parents and recent grads they call.”

In addition to serving as a point of contact with the university, the student callers also discuss ways that the individuals they call can get involved and support Cal Poly. “The real power of Annual Giving is that you can direct your gifts toward an area you care about — whether it’s a meal plan fund for students in need, support for faculty and student research, or travel expenses for performing arts and debate teams,” says McBride. “Donors can also make a general contribution, and a dean can direct those funds to the greatest needs.”

While gifts provide immediate benefits to the success of students and the campus community, they also have a trickle-down benefit of impacting Cal Poly’s national rankings — thereby adding value for those who already have a Cal Poly degree. Donors may also be able to double their gifts through their employers’ matching gifts programs. “Every contribution, no matter the amount, really does make an important difference,” says McBride.

Third-year journalism major Mare Alamshahi says she’s learned through many conversations with alumni that Cal Poly remains important to them and their families long after they leave campus.

“I remember speaking with a grandmother who graduated from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. Her children graduated from Cal Poly, and now her grandchildren are Cal Poly graduates,” says Alamshahi, who also serves as a university ambassador through the Poly Reps program. “She would make a donation every other month for years — literally years. That level of commitment blew me away.”

With this in mind, Alamshahi says the Annual Giving program isn’t just about donations; it’s about generations coming together with one common interest — Cal Poly.

“I’m not going to advocate for something I don’t believe in,” she says. “It’s so cool to be here as a caller and as a student and see how it benefits us in the classroom. This is not about just fundraising, it’s also about building and maintaining a relationship between Cal Poly and alumni.”


Learn more about Annual Giving at Gifts made through the Annual Giving program are tax deductible. To learn if your company will double your contribution with a matching gift, visit


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