Dr. Soraya M. Coley became the first female, and first African American president of Cal Poly Pomona in January 2015. She oversees all eight colleges here at CPP and is currently in the process of developing a new master plan.

Prior to becoming the president of CPP, Coley came here with over two decades of experience in higher education. Coley was the vice president of academic affairs at Cal State Bakersfield for nine years. She also worked at Cal State Fullerton as the dean of the College of Human Development and Community Service. Coley’s mission is to  remain “student centered faculty and staff focused and community minded.” Her goal is to have Cal Poly Pomona be a place where opportunity is equally distributed.

Soraya M. Coley has served as president of Cal Poly Pomona for three years. She discussed CPP’s Master Plans for the future. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinki)

Q: What are some of the biggest changes and effects students and staff will see from the new master plan?

The existing plan was adopted in 2000 and the world has changed dramatically since 2000. We want a plan that not only meets the needs of the current students but also meets the needs of students 10 years from now.

Some ideas that are still emerging are this idea of interdisciplinary hubs. We want to look at how we navigate the campus by foot and transportation. How do we better accommodate the movement of people with the current restrictions? How do we create more opportunities for people to congregate?

A strength of CPP is the ability for students to have the opportunity to apply their learning. When we think about places for this to happen, the buildings that were built 80 years ago don’t encompass the changes that have occurred since then.

We want to reflect on ways spaces can be reimagined that match with the academic and co-curricular experience we want students to have.

Q: What is the difference between the Master Plan and the Strategic Plan?

A: The Academic Master Plan is what our academic mission is. It clearly articulates the mission of our academic programs.

The Campus Master Plan looks at how our space is configured to support the Academic Master Plan. We can’t look at the Campus Master Plan without first having a clear vision of our academic mission. It also looks at traffic patterns.

The Strategic Plan looks at the university as a whole. What is the direction of the university? Where do we want to be in the future?

Q: How involved are you in the planning process?

This is a collaborative process that I get periodic updates on.

With the campus master plan, sessions are done with the academic community.

We try to get people who are going to experience it first hand and put them together with people who can listen and help shape and give meaning to it.

Q: When will the final version of the Master Plan be complete?

We think sometime maybe early next semester but definitely this academic year.

Q: This is the largest class of students CPP has ever had. Why do you think more students are choosing Cal Poly Pomona now than ever before? Will there be any parking changes to make room for the growing population of students?

I think it is the sustained excellence that is here, and I think it’s related to the demographic shift that is occurring in the state. When you look at the growth in the population, it is occurring in the Inland Empire.

We are pleased CPP is a destination campus but we can’t just rest on that. We have to communicate what we are doing. As we raise awareness it will increase the value of our degree. People want to have a Cal Poly Pomona student; our alumni are well-regarded and well-respected.

We are looking at parking. We have added some overflow lots. It seems like first two weeks of semester there was a real challenge, then into the second and third week it’s still as problem but it’s not as much of a problem. We are looking at the issues regarding transportation and navigation on campus in the Campus Master Plan. It is something we need to continue to be aware of.

Q: What is your reaction to the push back there has been over the new logo and new tagline?

We don’t have a new tag line. One of the reasons we do branding is not just to recruit prospective students. It’s also about being able to connect with prospective donors.

As an anchor we wanted to stay green and gold, but those base colors originated from our extension of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. We want to stay connected to the heritage of green and gold, but we added a third color to distinguish us as Cal Poly Pomona.

A lot of people say “learn by doing” — that is something that will always be a part of who we are, but that is not only a CPP motto. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo just published a book called “Learn by Doing” and a lot of universities use that term. It will stay part of our identity, but we want to have a much broader concept of what we achieve.

The “I’m ready” was never intended to be the motto, it emerged from conversations with employers. They said one of the things they appreciate about CPP is that students from CPP are prepared and ready when they start working at these companies.

“I’m ready” emerged from an idea for a communications and advertising campaign. It was not intended to be the motto. It was a miscommunication.

The branding is a precursor to us building up for a major campaign that will occur in a year or two in effort to gain external dollars.

Q: In light of the shooting that occurred over summer, have or will any security changes be made?

We are looking at our alert system and making sure people are aware. We are looking at what the steps are for alerting individuals. We are looking at health and safety risks. It is also about making sure people say something if they see something.

We want people to be aware and comfortable. We want to make sure we connect with individuals after an event. We are looking at things we can do to prevent these type of events, and if they do happen what can we do to make sure survivors have support.

If people are in crisis how can we get them help and connect them to resources?

The health, safety and well-being is paramount; we have to look at what we can learn and do.

Q: Describe your typical day.

I wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I am at my desk several hours before I go into work. Once I get into the office then there are always meetings, then sometimes there are unanticipated events like there was over the summer.

One of the things that is interesting is I don’t really have a typical day. I do try to be mindful of each day. When I first started in administration I coined a term that made me be more mindful — “HREDS.” “H” stands for that I focus on my husband. “R” is for getting rest. “E” is for exercise and “D” is for being aware of my diet, and “S” is to focus on the quiet time and spiritual meditation. In the morning I try to focus on the “HREDS.”

Q: Do you enjoy living on campus?

I love living on campus. On the weekends I will be out and about and see students on campus. The manor house is so lovely; we really treat it with respect. It was built many years ago. It’s relaxing. I like to spend time here.

Q: As the first female president of Cal Poly Pomona what advice would you give young women who want to move up in the workplace?

For me it’s about being guided by a set of values and working with integrity. I think you have to start with the individual. I think this applies to all, but having individuals see their own value but not having it defined externally but having the sense you are worthy, valuable and have a contribution to make.

You have to dream outside of your current circumstances, reach beyond and have the expectation that you can achieve what you set your mind to. It’s not enough to have a dream; you have to be prepared and focus your actions toward achieving that dream. Work on behalf of others, make the conditions better for those who come behind you.

If I am able to go through a door, it’s important to keep that door open for those who come behind me. It’s trying to improve circumstances and conditions.

I can remember a number of people who didn’t have the advantages I had, they were older but they believed in me, and wanted me to take a step a little further down the road than they were able to go.

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