Ok, we know it’s been a rough couple of years. But all the gloomy headlines often overshadow the fact that even in difficult times, there’s always a reason for optimism. We spoke to faculty and student leaders from around Cal Poly and asked them to share news from their corners of campus or their areas of expertise that give them hope for 2022.
Kim Bisheff, journalism lecturer, expert on media literacy and misinformation
“Misinformation and disinformation have gone mainstream in a good way—the public now understands what those terms mean and the general threat they represent. I see some evidence that the widespread media-literacy efforts of the past several years are starting to have an impact. As programs like the News Literacy Project and MediaWise gain momentum, consumers of information are becoming savvier every day. Mass-market films like The Social Dilemma have lowered the barrier to entry for important conversations about how information comes our way and what steps we can take to become more responsible consumers. There is still a ton of work to do, but any sign of progress is worth celebrating.”
Mike Latner, professor of political science, expert on voting rights and political participation
“Despite seeing continual setbacks to voting rights and democracy in the U.S., there have been a few victories. I have been working with the Brennan Center for Justice as an expert witness in Ohio, and we have twice succeeded in convincing the Ohio Supreme Court to reject the partisan commission’s maps. More importantly for the long game, I have had the opportunity to work with students in my Voting Rights and Representation course, in addition to doing some guest lecturing. The energy and commitment that Cal Poly students, and young people more generally, are bringing to the fight for political equality is inspiring. The next generation of democracy warriors is learning and preparing to do their part in this continual struggle.”
Rebuilding Community on Campus
Lauren Barrera Reny, fourth-year biomedical engineering major, president of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers
“As this year’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers president, there are many things to look forward to in our organization. As we navigate a hybrid situation in our organization, we are still planning to attend our regional conference in Portland, Oregon as COVID safe as possible. We have also added brand new positions to the already extensive board and will continue to promote our club at PCW and Open House. We are so grateful for the familia we have created on campus and look forward to the future of this organization.”
The Pandemic and Public Health
Aydin Nazmi, professor of food science and nutrition, expert on public health and epidemiology and Cal Poly presidential faculty fellow for COVID-19 response
“Decreasing incidence rates of COVID-19 in the US give me hope that 2022 will be at least somewhat easier than 2021 or 2020. My enthusiasm is tempered by the lagging vaccination rates nationally and globally, and the continued and malicious efforts aimed at undermining public health — or perhaps more appropriately, aimed at creating confusion and anger. Also, I am hopeful that due to everything we’ve experienced with pandemic, that the public and lawmakers will come to comprehend the benefit of common sense, smart investment strategies to improve our national health profile and save money in the long run by significantly boosting primary public health efforts, increasing public health funding, and ensuring that all people have the opportunity to keep themselves and their communities healthy. This includes universal access to basic needs such as housing, food and access to healthcare.
In public health and epidemiology, the pandemic has shown us that our profession and expertise is obviously useful for society, but with a major caveat that most people don’t know what we do and why, and we certainly don’t communicate it very well. I think we have learned that the familiarity and trust between the general public and our profession, which is critical if you’re going to help set policies and guidelines for the population, is something that we have to work on — and I see this as something that we are working on and as something that will be improving over the next years given the concerted effort being put forth by academic programs and professional organizations.”
Amber Williams, professor of psychology and child development, recent winner of Cal Poly’s MLK Legacy Award
“The students in my multicultural psychology class give me hope. It’s really the best feeling to see them realize, “Oh, this is what systemic inequality looks like, and this is how my privilege contributes to it. And I have a part in correcting past damage.” Seeing them think about these things in ways that are inconvenient. They may not have to, especially if they come from a very privileged racial or socioeconomic background, but they are still often deeply affected by this inequality and wanting to pursue what they can do to address it. I’ve had students go beyond the materials we discuss in class, asking for what else they can watch or read to learn more.
That just really fills me with hope that in the next generation, we have a fighting chance. Some things look bleak right now, especially with recent attacks on critical race theory and the idea of teaching children about race, with books about race being banned from elementary and middle schools in my home state of Texas. But I’m hoping that as we teach them in these college institutions, even if it’s coming late, that’s still better than not at all.”
Chris Dicus, professor of natural resource management, expert on wildland fire mitigation
“I am encouraged by the increasing financial investment that California is providing to mitigate the risk of wildfire losses across the state. As many now recognize following the prevalence of large and destructive fires in recent years, we Californians can’t reasonably expect a firetruck to show up in our personal driveway to protect our homes during a wildfire. Instead, increasing commitment to varied pre-fire measures will help shape the proverbial wildfire battlefield for our beleaguered firefighters, thereby aiding their success in protecting both the built and natural environments where we live and play.”
Taufik, professor of electrical engineering, director of the Electric Power Institute
“With the recently completed 4.5-megawatt electrical generation from the Gold Tree Solar Farm and other renewable energy projects on campus, Cal Poly is on track in contributing to global efforts for net-zero emissions. Coupled with world’s projection for steady growth of renewable energy mix in electricity generation and a growing debate over shutting down existing nuclear power plants — including our own Diablo Canyon, the last one in the state — I am optimistic that 2022 will be a great year for renewable energy. Integration of utility-scale renewables with advanced battery technologies and microgrid will also be exciting to see in 2022. What’s even more exciting is I believe 2022 is when we’ll be making great progress on vehicle-to-grid technology to push back energy from an electric car to the power grid. What else I am optimistic about 2022? It is the year that global chip shortage will end!”
A Brighter Human Future
Ryan Alaniz, professor of sociology, expert on community social health, inequality and social change
“In my sociology classes I describe the six global challenges in what some have called the penultimate moment of human existence — rising inequality, racial injustice, gender oppression, the pandemic, growing political authoritarianism, and the climate crisis. Ugh.
But look at where we came from. There is no call to Make the Earth Great Again because humanity is “mostly” better off than before. And if history is a guide, we are a resilient and creative species. So I remind my students (and myself) of the following reflection connected to the martyred Salvadorian Archbishop, Oscar Romero.
‘We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.’
Be kind. Be brave. Work for justice.”