The University Advising/Retention team is committed to helping students navigate their journey at Cal Poly. Whether you are considering taking time off, wondering how complex campus policies impact you, or wanting to build your network of support and resources, our goal is to make sure you have the tools and information you need to make decisions about your academic success. If you have questions that you aren't sure who to ask, connecting with a Retention Specialist is a great place to start!
Charlotte Rinaldi (she/her/hers)
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Charlotte grew up in Connecticut where she attended Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. A first-generation student, she studied Sociology, with a focus on Stratification. Then, after moving to California (for the summer), Charlotte chose to stay and pursue her MA in Education Counseling at Cal Poly, where she could learn to increase life chances for students from underrepresented communities. Before her current, 6-year role as a retention specialist, she spent 18 years as Career Counselor and then Assistant Director of Career Services. Charlotte's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion underscores her time on campus as a founding member of the Pride Faculty Staff Association, co-organizer of the first-ever Cal Poly CultureFest, instructor for the Bakari Mentoring and Master's in Education programs and as initiator of Career Services' cross-department, Diversity Incubator efforts. She loves working with the amazing Retention Team and being part of equitable change at Cal Poly!
Tiffany Kwapnoski (she/her/hers)
Contact for students in the Bailey College of Science and Mathematics.
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Tiffany has lived in Missouri, Nebraska, and the Bay Area of California, but SLO has been her home the longest. She is a two-time Cal Poly graduate, earning her bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in women’s and gender studies, and master’s degree in counseling and guidance in higher education/student affairs. Tiffany began her career at Cal Poly in CESAME as the MSTI/LSAMP Coordinator - a dual role focused on providing opportunities and support for students, especially those who have been historically underrepresented, as they prepared for credential or graduate programs in STEM fields. She then became an academic and pre-health advisor for the College of Science and Mathematics. As the CSM retention specialist, she gets to combine her passion for working with students with her love of spreadsheets, all while advocating to make Cal Poly a more welcoming, inclusive place for all.
Nury Baltierrez (she/her/ella)
Contact for students in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences.
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Nury is a two-time alum from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and local from the central coast. She was born in Mexico and raised in the beautiful central coast. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science and Master’s in Counseling & Guidance in Higher Education/Student Affairs. She is a daughter of immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from a university. She is proud to identify as first-generation and understands the challenges and strengths first-generation students bring to the institution. If barriers arise, she will advocate for you and help you overcome these. When Nury is not at work, she enjoys spending time with my family, running, and being outside. She looks forward to working with you and being a part of your college experience!
Sarah Vilardo (she/her/hers)
Contact for students in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design
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Sarah is originally from the inland empire area of southern California. As a first-generation college student, she received a B.A. in English and Feminist Studies from UC Santa Barbara. During her time as a leader on campus, she discovered a passion for supporting students and building community. She has worked in residence life for over 10 years at various institutions including University of Redlands, UC Santa Barbara, University of Wyoming, and USC. Sarah has an M.A. in Higher Education and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. Her work focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sarah is looking forward to connecting with students at Cal Poly and helping them find success in their higher education journey!
Emily Dandekar (she/her/hers)
Contact for students in the College of Engineering.
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Emily was born and raised in San Luis Obispo County. She went to Cuesta College after finishing high school and then transferred to Cal Poly where she earned a BS in Psychology. Emily used her time as an undergraduate to participate on a research team that focused on the LGBTQ+ healthcare experiences of our local community and as a mentor for students on Academic Probation. Prior to joining the Retention Team as the graduate assistant, she served in job roles that focused on customer service in retail and veterinary medicine, as well as academic advising. It was due to her experiences as a community college student that she discovered a passion for working with students in Higher Education and this led Emily to pursue an MS in Higher Education Counseling and Student Affairs at Cal Poly. During her graduate studies, she interned with the advising center for Cal Poly’s College of Science & Mathematics, Cal Poly’s Retention Office, and Cuesta College’s Counseling Center. As the Retention Advisor, she works closely with the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) and also serves as an academic advisor for Engineering Student Services.
Katie Jennings (she/her/hers)
Contact for students in the College of Engineering.
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Katie is originally from Irvine, California, but she now calls the Central Coast her home. After earning her BS in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration, Katie worked for three years with Cal Poly Career Services where she helped plan career fairs and support students with their search for a job or internship. After realizing her true passion of supporting students, Katie decided to pursue her MA in Counseling and Guidance at Cal Poly. While pursuing her Master’s, Katie held internships with Cuesta College, Cal Poly Disability Resource Center, and Cal Poly Career Services. As a Retention Specialist, Katie currently works closely with Engineering Student Services and the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP). She is the club advisor for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Cal Poly Scholars Engineering Transfer Advisor.
Alicia Cruz (she/her/ella)
Contact for students in the Orfalea College of Business.
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Alicia was born and raised in Toluca, Mexico and moved to the California Central Coast at the age of 9. She navigated higher education as a first-generation, low-income student as she attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with minors in Child Development, Psychology, and Spanish. Her interests in education and supporting families and children led her to work at Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) as a Family Service Advocate, where she supported families through case management and connections to childcare services. Alicia then returned to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to pursue a Master’s degree in Higher Education Counseling & Student Affairs. During the time she was in graduate school, Alicia was involved in academic advising roles with the College of Science and Mathematics Student Services, the Mustang Success Center, and the Orfalea College of Business Student Services as well as career counseling roles through Career Services. Prior to joining the Retention team, Alicia worked at the Mustang Success Center as an academic advisor.
When Alicia is not at work, she enjoys sunset walks at the beach, spending time with her family, dancing, and spending time outdoors. Alicia is excited to work with students and empower them through their academic journeys!
Kara Hitchcock (she/her/hers)
Contact for students in the College of Liberal Arts.
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Kara was born and raised in Santa Clarita, California but has enjoyed living in SLO for the last few years. After graduating from Azusa Pacific University (APU) with her bachelor's degree in Psychology. she completed an internship at UCLA working as an academic mentor for NCAA student-athletes where she realized that she was most passionate about supporting college students in their personal, academic, and professional growth. From there, she returned to APU where she received her master's degree in Leadership with an emphasis in Leadership Development and worked as the Program Coordinator and primary advisor for the Liberal Studies Department. Kara has most recently worked at Cal Poly as an academic advisor for the Mustang Success Center, specifically advising and empowering Cal Poly Scholars and first-year students on academic probation. Kara cares deeply for the Cal Poly community and for the students that choose to come here. She commits to listen, to learn, to advocate, and to work with dedication every day on behalf of those that she serves.
Ryan Ichinaga (he/him/his)
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Ryan Ichinaga is in his second year of Cal Poly's Higher Education Counseling and Student Affairs program. He is originally from Torrance, California and graduated in 2020 with a BA in International Studies. Prior to enrolling at Cal Poly, he worked for College Possible, a nonprofit organization, sponsored by AmeriCorps, as a college access coach for students across four high schools in rural Oregon. His goal is to become an academic advisor or work in a multicultural center after he graduates from the HECSA program. Ryan hopes to work with students from historically underrepresented backgrounds and support them holistically throughout their journey in higher education.
Allie Winding (she/her/hers)
Retention Graduate Assistant | email@example.com
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Allie is originally from the Bay Area, but has spent the last few years living in various California cities as a result of her academic pursuit. She began her collegiate journey at Los Medanos Community College, where she explored multiple areas of study within the behavioral and social sciences. In 2020, she transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles and studied Sociology with an emphasis in social influence. While at UCLA, Allie found herself navigating new challenges that inspired her to pursue her career in college counseling. Having received her BA, Allie moved to San Diego where she worked in leadership positions that increased her passion to be a supportive resource for students. Allie’s academic journey continues as she moves up to San Luis Obispo to begin her first year in the Higher Education & Student Affairs graduate program at Cal Poly. She hopes to connect with you soon!