Priscila Munoz, a gender, ethnicity and multicultural studies senior, was feeling the pressure to graduate and the weight of the pandemic during her senior year. After transferring from Mt. SAC in fall 2019, she experienced on-campus life for one semester and soon after, shelter-in-place took effect. In a few short months, she lost her part-time job and missed out on opportunities to flourish on campus — in short, she was stressed out and anxious.
“The pandemic hit me really hard emotionally and made me feel like I’m not going to do the things the way I want to do them,” Munoz says. “I feel like I missed out on my full experience at Cal Poly Pomona because I no longer could go to school. I’m not really able to celebrate my graduation and graduate the way I want to.”
A peer from the Reading, Advising and Mentoring Program (RAMP) referred Munoz to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which is a free resource to students. Munoz speaks with a counselor twice a month, which makes her feel supported knowing that someone will listen to her challenges and offer the help she needs.
“Now that I’m getting support from CAPS, it’s been really helpful for me to feel better about my senior year,” Munoz says. “It makes me feel more happy and safe that if I have a crisis then I have CAPS’ support and a counselor’s ear to get me through whatever happens between now and graduation.”
Ask for Help
Cal Poly Pomona offers a wide range of student services to alleviate student stress and challenges they may experience over time, from applying to college to accessing programs and resources specific to their needs, including financial, housing and mental health assistance. These services aim to help students reach their aspirations while providing needed support systems to help them stay the course to graduation.
For Munoz, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and PolyTransfer provided essential support to her as a first-generation transfer student and assisted her in her graduation and career goals. With the encouragement of her friend, Munoz became the College of Education and Integrative Studies (CEIS) Senator. With the leadership skills she gained from the position, she advocated for student parents, such as herself, including a club, graduation stoles and a potential scholarship.
“Being a CEIS senator helped me become a lot more confident in myself, be more comfortable working with people and understand who I am with my identity,” Munoz says.
Students using resources from CAPS sometimes do not seek out traditional therapy but know that they want help and guidance on where to go and what to do, says Nancy Robles, CAPS director. In addition to treatment, counselors lead psychoeducational workshops and point to resources like food pantries and social and family services. A wellbeing coach also links students to on- and off-campus resources and provides life skills coaching, including how to approach test anxiety and time management.
“The counseling center has been a really good place for many students to talk about getting help,” Robles says. “We help students discover what resources and services are most useful to them at Cal Poly Pomona and, since most students are learning from home, sometimes services that are close to them are a better fit.”
Since the pandemic, Robles has noticed that students overall are feeling more stress, anxiety and fear. Confidential therapy, provided virtually and through the phone, is one way for students to address their feelings.
“You can talk about things important in your life with someone who is going to be objective and help you figure things out based on your own belief system and values.” Robles says.
“The last year has been a tough year on students in terms of racial and social injustice, and they were coming in needing a space to talk about it,” Robles says. “Our minds and bodies are connected, and healing needs to happen on both levels. For some, talk therapy works. For others who were not comfortable talking, they needed an alternative safe space.”
Munoz credits CAPS for helping her cope with the pandemic and manage her last year at Cal Poly Pomona. But first, she needed to ask the people around her for help.
“I just admitted that I needed help and looked for and relied on the resources around me, but it was a long process,” she says. “It might seem that maybe you won’t get the support, or you might feel overwhelmed and you can’t handle it, but if you never speak up and admit it, you’ll never get that help.”
Poly Pantry 2 Go
The Poly Pantry plays a critical role to more than 1,000 students, distributing more than 43,000 perishable and non-perishable food, cookware and hygiene supplies last year through its storefront in the Bronco Student Center.
When the campus shifted to remote and virtual operations, the pantry’s staff knew it needed to find a way to safely serve campus’ most vulnerable students, many of whom lost their jobs and no longer had a reliable source of healthy food.
In the fall, the pantry re-opened as “Poly Pantry 2 Go” with no-contact, curbside pickup. The service is open two days a week by appointment, servicing nearly 40 students a day.
Like many Cal Poly Pomona students, Iris Avalos has felt the squeeze as the pandemic restricted movements, closed school campuses, and forced people to stay home. Every day for the past year, Avalos and her daughter, Jayleene, sit together in the living room or kitchen, both wearing Bronco sweatshirts and ready to learn: Avalos taking sociology classes and Jayleene in 5th grade.
Before the pandemic, if you asked Avalos what her biggest hurdle to online education was, she would have said having only one home computer. With two students in the house, she would have paused her own education to make the path easier for Jayleene to graduate over herself – an easier decision to make than purchasing a second computer.
Now, Avalos has her own laptop and hotspot, thanks to the University Library loaner program. Jayleene can also see her mom persevere through college and a full-time job during the pandemic.
“I’m very grateful to Cal Poly Pomona for providing these resources because if I didn’t have a personal laptop or internet, I probably wouldn’t have continued fall semester,” Avalos, a sociology student, says.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Cal Poly Pomona has focused on supporting students like Avalos by closing technology gaps and increasing support for the Basic Needs Program to ensure that they can focus on their education.
More than 1,000 students have received over $450,000 in emergency grants to support their housing, financial and food needs in the past year. The University Library loaned more than 250 personal devices, which includes Dells, Macs and Surface Pros, and 371 hotspots, in addition to college-led efforts that raised more than $50,000 for computers. The Bronco Fund, with the support of 210 donors, provided grants to more than 100 students to purchase a computer through the Bronco Bookstore’s discounted laptop program.
Critical donations from alumni, faculty, staff, fellow students and corporate partners helped fill the equity gaps uncovered by the sudden shift to virtual education.
After receiving the laptop and hotspot from the University Library, Avalos did not want to lose momentum in completing her degree.
She graduated high school in 2008, had Jayleene while she was in community college, and paused her education to focus on providing for her daughter and having a stable job. Once Jayleene was older, Avalos adjusted her work duties at an office to complete her associate’s degree at Chaffey College and transferred to Cal Poly Pomona in fall 2019.
In fall 2020, Avalos took 19 units (15 units is standard for full-time students) and plans to earn her final 16 units to graduate in May. Online classes and having a personal laptop gave her the flexibility to learn and complete her class work anywhere, including during breaks at work or when it wasn’t too busy.
“When I heard we’re going virtual for fall semester, it was a blessing in disguise,” Avalos says. “I don’t have the luxury to not make it work — my options were limited with in-person instruction with a fulltime work schedule. I’m also a mom, and my priority is making sure my daughter is taken care of. With all the support groups and systems at Cal Poly Pomona, it was a relief to know that they were there to help us.”
The collective support of our Bronco community helped our students maintain their academic goals and ensure their essential needs are met. Whether during or after the pandemic, there are still students who need to make a difficult decision of continuing their education and struggle financially or leaving school to have more time to support themselves and/or their families.
You can help make that decision easier by giving to three programs that help students in three ways:
- The Broncos Care Program provide financial, housing and food security to students. Contact Krista Spangler at email@example.com or 909-869-4450 for more information on how you can help.
- The Bronco Fund provides flexibility for Cal Poly Pomona to provide immediate assistance to the area of greatest need. Donate online.
- You can also give to other areas on campus, including colleges and athletics programs.