News & Notes - Cultivate Spring 2024


The college hosted the sixth annual Aspire to Grow Conference in February with featured speakers Monica Chacòn-Baucke, senior strategic inclusion manager at Nutrien; Gina Bella Colfer, sustainable solutions manager at Wilbur-Ellis; Jonnalee Dunn, growth and development manager at Henderson Farms, Inc.; Rob Goff, vice president, West Valley Farming and research and development at Wonderful Orchards; Joelle Mosso, vice president, science programs at Western Growers Association; Katie Tougeron, Asia regional business manager, global launch manager at Valent BioSciences; and Blong Xiong, state executive director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. The Aspire to Grow Conference, planned by students, aims to inform and empower students from across campus about the many and varied career opportunities in these industries.


The college hosted an Alumni and Friends Reception and a tradeshow booth at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in January in Sacramento. The two-day trade show is the largest wine and grape conference in the nation.

More than 200 alumni and supporters joined the college for a reception at the World Ag Expo in Tulare in February. A team of CAFES Ambassadors also hosted an informational booth during the weeklong event which is the largest annual outdoor agricultural exposition with over 1,200 exhibitors and an attendance of more than 100,000 each year.


Ron Caird (Ornamental Horticulture, ’65), owner and CEO of Por La Mar Nursery in Santa Barbara, was celebrated as the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences’ 2023 Honored Alumni nominee in October. Caird has invested time, experience and financial support in the college’s Plant Sciences Department, as well as other departments given his multigenerational Cal Poly legacy. He has been engaged with advisory councils, currently serving on the Plant Sciences Department advisory council and formerly chairing the council. Por La Mar has now welcomed the third generation of the Caird family with the addition of three grandchildren to its operational leadership ranks, all of whom attended Cal Poly in various CAFES majors (as did several of the second generation).


New Faculty

MOHAMMAD AGHAEE, Research Entomologist

DEPARTMENT: Strawberry Center

AREA OF SPECIALTY: Agricultural entomology, integrated pest management

EDUCATION: Ph.D. in entomology from UC Davis

HOMETOWN: Oakland, California

FUN FACT: I function optimally when I consume between 150-200 mg of caffeine between 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. And making jalapeño cheddar is way more difficult than advertised. Don't do it.

ASHLEY GRUPENHOFF, Assistant Professor

DEPARTMENT: Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences

AREA OF SPECIALTY: Wildland fire management, prescribed fire, post-fire recovery

EDUCATION: Ph.D. in ecology from UC Davis

HOMETOWN: Herndon, Virginia

 FUN FACT: I grew up with a cotton-top tamarin.

SUSAN HAWK, Professor

DEPARTMENT: Food Science and Nutrition

AREA OF SPECIALTY: Clinical nutrition

EDUCATION: Ph.D. in nutritional biology from UC Davis, R.D., B.A. in biology from Reed College

HOMETOWN: Portland, Oregon

FUN FACT: I worked with NASA on a spaceflight project to send frogs into space that launched in the Endeavour when I was only 21.

MILENA RAMIREZ, Associate Professor

DEPARTMENT: Food Science and Nutrition

AREA OF SPECIALTY: Beverage processing, phytochemical and aroma profiles in food

EDUCATION: Ph.D. in food science from University of Florida

HOMETOWN: Puebla, Mexico

FUN FACT: I love abstract acrylics painting.

NICOLE RAY, Assistant Professor

DEPARTMENT: Agricultural Education and Communication

AREA OF SPECIALTY: Agricultural education, teacher education

EDUCATION: Ed.D. in agricultural education from a joint program between Texas Tech and Texas A&M

HOMETOWN: Porterville, California

FUN FACT: Cookies and cream is my favorite ice cream flavor.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

APRIL 11-13 Cal Poly Open House
APRIL 12-13 Poly Royal Rodeo
APRIL 27 EIM Auction and Dinner Fundraiser
JUNE 1 Performance Horse Sale 
JUNE 15 Commencement


Visit Cultivate Spring 2024 to read more stories.

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