Some of the most interesting people you'll ever meet

  • Graphic Communications professor at Cal Poly
  • Students love him for his humor
  • Believes GrC to be a changing industry
  • Taught in Russia and the Ukraine
  • Plays the banjo and guitar

Ken Macro is a Graphic Communications professor at Cal Poly. His name ranks high on students’ lists of favorite professor because of his humor and willingness to help.

The Indiana, Pennsylvania native earned his undergraduate degree in Russian Technology Translation at Penn State. Macro received his Master of the Arts in English at the University of Akron and his PhD in Education at Walden University.

Macro says his path to Graphic Communications began when he was a sales coordinator at Kinko’s in the 80’s. He then started his own printing company and began the transition to graphic design. “It found me” said Macro.

He says he finds Graphic Communications interesting due to the current shift into a digital world. Macro believes that Graphic Communications is a “changing industry” and the evolving business is exciting.

Macro began his journey to becoming a professor at the University of Akron where he gave his first lectures. At first Macro aspired to be a Math professor but “I wasn’t good enough” he said. Fortunately for Cal Poly, he transitioned to Graphic Communications and joined the faculty.

Macro says that he loves the university because of the location.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere and close to everywhere at the same time” said Macro.

He also loves Cal Poly because he believes the Graphic Communications department is internationally renown and considered the best on the West Coast. When asked what he would change about the university, Macro said “I’d let everybody in”.

Macro believes that it is crucial to establish an open dialogue with students. Students agree that feeling comfortable when talking to professors is important.

“If I’m too intimidated to talk to a professor then it’s hard for me to ask questions and ultimately hurts my understanding of the curriculum” said freshman Nutrition major Christine Gilbert.

Sign for Macro's Office

Macro’s office has an informal feel with colorful decorations and complimentary coffee for students. He says that he wants to “be the professor they never had”. Macro’s ultimate goal is to show his students that he genuinely cares about them and their futures.

Macro recently returned from a trip to Russia and the Ukraine where he taught lectures at three different universities over a span of six-weeks. He experienced many cultural differences throughout his trip. One of the most glaring was the lack of the most modern technology among the student population. Macro says that he rarely saw smartphones or lap tops whereas a large majority at Cal Poly own both.

Macro plans on returning on a faculty-led field trip which he hopes will be open to all disciplines. He says that the trip will most-likely last 2-3 weeks.

When Macro isn’t teaching or doing activities related to Graphic Communications, he enjoys playing the banjo and guitar.

Cal Poly English professor Dawn Janke keeps students awake during class by being energetic and incorporating humor. Watch this clip to learn a bit more about her.

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  • Job description of professors
  • Why they’re important
  • How to get along with them

What Do They Do?

While they have many other obligations, Professors have 3 main duties: teaching classes, doing research and writing about their field, and service to the university.

1. Teaching – Professors have the huge responsibility of educating college students and preparing them for their careers. Teaching is an incredibly large time commitment – grading papers, preparing curriculum, office hours, and class-time consume their days.

2. Research – Professors are almost always required to research and write about their field. The pressure to publish is more intense at four-year and prestigious universities compares to community colleges.

3. Service – Professors are expected to complete service at their university or college. This can be done by helping out with student organizations or participating in committee work.

Why They Are Important

Professors are important for many reasons but here are the top 3 that Cal Poly students commonly expressed:

1. They educate students about their major

“We need intelligent professors there to…guide us along the way to make sure we’re fully understanding what we are getting into and so that when we leave Cal Poly we are knowledgeable about whatever our major is and what we plan to do in life” said freshman Politcal Science major Markie Jorgensen

2. The explain the gibberish in textbooks

“Professors fill in the blanks that textbooks can’t really provide. You can read a textbook but the professor puts it all together and makes it easier to comprehend” said freshman Chemistry major Alex London

3. They’re knowledgeable

“They’re experts in their area so they can answer virtually any question that you have” said freshman Communications major Danielle Biesanz

Professors educate college-aged generations so in a sense, they are responsible for molding the minds of our future society.

Check out why more Cal Poly students think that professors are important:

Texting in class will put you on their "bad list" Their Pet Peeves

It’s important to establish the best relationship possible with your professors, after all, they have the grade book. Avoid some of these common pet peeves of professors:

  • Whining – complaining about assignments or grades can come off as the student being lazy or high maintenance
  • Chatting – talking about your weekend while the they are teaching annoys not only your professor but also your fellow classmates
  • Texting – sends the message that you think the professor is boring and not worth your full attention
  • Being Late – annoying because it is distracting to the rest of the class and shows you don’t care enough to be on time
  • Rude Comments – does anybody like them? Your professors especially don’t because it challenges their authority

If you’d like more tips on how to get along with your professors, check them out here.

  • English professor at Cal Poly for 21 years
  • Poet
  • Jazz music fan
  • Admired for unique personality
  • Encourages non-conformity

Cushing in his chosen background and pose

Dr. James Cushing has been an English teacher at Cal Poly since 1989. Students and faculty agree that Cushing is one of the most original characters that they’ve encountered on campus, if not during their whole life.

As well as being a professor and poet, Cushing hosts a weekly jazz program called “Miles Ahead” on KCPR.

Originally born in Palo Alto, Cushing’s family moved to Los Angeles where he spent most of his childhood. At the age of 6, Cushing received a typewriter that he still uses to this day.

During his 7th grade English class, a recording of Dylan Thomas reading a short story is what ignited Cushing’s dream of becoming a writer.

In the middle of 8th grade Cushing enrolled in Harvard-Westlake School, which at the time was an all-boys Christian military academy. Coincidentally it is also the school that the Gyllenhaals and Hilton sisters attended. Cushing resented his time at Harvard-Westlake, saying that “They spent a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t important”.

Cushing said that it was his dream of becoming an English professor that kept him motivated during his military school days.

“It was something that mentally and spiritually sustained me because I had a secret. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I had in me and I knew who I was” said Cushing.

Turning ten right before Kennedy’s assassination gave Cushing a front row seat to the 1960’s cultural revolution. He fell in love with the improvisational rock music – specifically with the Beatles, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. “I was struck by the way the instruments could create an entire universe and an emotional experience” said Cushing.

Cushing describes his experience of the 1960’s cultural revolution:

Cushing’s transition to jazz music occurred in 1972 when he went to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go club in LA to watch the Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring John McLaughlin. Cushing says that he loves the unpredictability of the music.

“I like the sound of surprise. I like things that surprise and delight me. I’d also like to do that in my poetry – I’d like to surprise people” said Cushing.

In Cushing’s poetry books The Human The Night and The Music and Undercurrent Blues, he incorporates specific jazz songs into his poems.

Cushing said that his poems are based on his current situation. “I write about things that are happening in my mind at the time I’m writing” he said. Cushing feels a deep attachment to his poems – referring to them as his “kids”. All of his poems undergo a massive revision process because he isn’t satisfied until they convey what’s going on inside his mind on paper.

“I want people to be reading my stuff a 100 years from now as well as today, so I want to put as much meaningfulness and density into it as I can” said Cushing.

Cushing knew since the age of 11 that he wanted to be an English professor because his mother told him stories about her experiences at college and graduate school. “It was the idea that a university is a place where you don’t have to apologize for being smart” he said.

Cushing went to UCSC for his undergrad and then UC Irvine where he received his masters and doctorate. He taught at UC Irvine, Pasadena City College, UC Davis, and Questa before coming to Cal Poly.

In his classes, Cushing teaches Franz Kafka’s idea that “The surfaces of the world we live in are a kind of mask for the bizareness of the truth – the mystery of existence” he said.

“I see everyone’s mind as a house with hundreds and hundreds of rooms. So far in your life experience many of your rooms have been opened, but there are many rooms that haven’t been opened” said Cushing.

His goal is to open some of those doors. “If I can help someone discover his or her own true self…then I think I will have done my duty to the spirit of the poem” said Cushing.

Cushing also encourages students to embrace their individuality. “The most wonderful and natural and difficult thing to do in this life is be true to yourself” he said.

Cushing's sushi themed socks

Students and faculty alike admire Cushing for his unconventional personality. “He is one of the most bizarre and brilliant teachers that I’ve ever seen in my whole life” said English professor Annie Garner.

Students name him one of their favorites because of his apparent eccentric character. “You don’t see especially unique people every day so a quirky professor can be very inspiring” said freshman Parks and Recreation major Amanecer Eizner.

“Unusualness and exceptionalism have been the tail on the dog of my life” said Cushing.

From Bangkok to Europe, Cal Poly professors have studied all over. Check it out by clicking on the blue flag icons!

  • Professor of Graphic Communications
  • Teaching at Cal Poly since 1999
  • 30 years of experience in printing industry
  • Students love for humor and hands-on teaching method
  • Hot-air balloonist and blogger

Brian Lawler in the "traditional professor pose"

Brian Lawler has been teaching Graphic Communications at Cal Poly since 1999. His passion for the subject and humorous personality are what make him a popular favorite among students.

Lawler’s credit as a great professor was confirmed in 2010 when he won the Educator of the Year Award for Higher Education from the Electronic Document System Foundation.

The Oakland native developed his passion for printing when he was just a child. His mother taught him how to use an old-fashioned printing press that they kept in their basement and he instantly fell in love. Lawler ditched lemonade stands for his own “company” called “The Teenage Printing Press” and made money by creating greeting cards for customers.

His adoration for printing is still evident today.

“It’s fascinating – everything is printed. It touches everything everywhere,” said Lawler.

In 1964 he visited Cal Poly’s campus with his parents and immediately knew he was destined to be here. Lawler remembers standing outside the Graphic Communications department building and thinking, “I’m gonna go here”, and he did. He graduated in 1975 with a degree in Graphic Communications.

Lawler says that he never intended to become a professor, it just happened. In 1999 he was asked to teach one class a week at Cal Poly.

“It was like the drug dealer on the corner saying the first one’s free,” said Lawler.

And he’s been hooked ever since.

Lawler takes Cal Poly’s motto, “learn by doing” seriously. With the exception of Intro to Graphic Communications, all of the classes that Lawler teaches are extremely hands-on. Students create projects from scratch and even learn how to print greeting cards on an old-fashioned printing press. Lawler believes that it gives the students a greater appreciation for the art of Graphic Communications if they connect with its roots.

Lawler encourages his students to aim for high-profit printing instead of slicing pennies. He describes trying to always beat your competitor’s price as “flogging yourself” and thinks that it detracts from the quality of printing. Lawler teaches students that by creating unique and upscale products they will earn profit.

Lawler displaying his love for photography

With 30 years of experience in the printing industry and an extremely extensive knowledge of the industry, Lawler gives students a realistic view of the career field. “He is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the Graphic Communications field….we learned about printing domains that I had taken advantage of prior to his class,” said freshman Graphic Communications major Reina Garcia.

Lawler’s students agree that he creates an engaging environment for learning.”He made getting into my major interesting,” said freshman Graphic Communications major Molly Hitchings.

Students also enjoy the humor that Lawler brings to the classroom, saying that it keeps the class entertaining while productive.”He’s really funny and personable and willing to help you whenever you need it,” said Hitchings.

Lawler said that his goal as a professor is for students to leave the class with some practice, experience, and knowledge of how to learn more.

“I want to expand horizons,” said Lawler.

Along with being an adored professor, Lawler holds a second occupation as a blogger for where he writes about the printing industry.

Lawler is a hot-air balloonist and is a co-owner of a balloon. He also enjoys woodworking, photography, and is a big Giants fan.

  • Communications professor at Cal Poly for approx. 16 years
  • Government official and writer
  • Students enjoy his life-stories
  • Republican
  • Has held 15 plus occupations

Mike Winn has been a professor at Cal Poly for a total of about 16 years. Students identify Winn as a favorite professor due to his life-stories and intelligence on a vast range of subjects that he shares in class.

Besides teaching at Cal Poly, Winn has two other occupations as a government official and writer. He is elected to the Board of the Nipomo Community Services District and also serves as the CSD Director of Nipomo’s Water Resource Advisory Council.

“Everything I do, I care about immensely,” said Winn.

Winn was born and raised in San Luis Obispo. Although he was offered a 4-year scholarship at Harvard if he majored in English, Winn decided to attend UC Berkley where he studied PreMed. He then transferred to a Christian Liberal Arts college and majored in Humanities.

Throughout his life Winn says that he has held 15 plus occupations, including:

  • orthodontist
  • farmer
  • railroad worker
  • ordained pastor

Winn says that this diverse range of careers is due to his inquiring mind. “I’m curious about pretty much everything, except pop culture,” said Winn.

One career that Winn never consciously aspired was being a professor. Although while in high school he would give lectures to his peers when teachers were absent, Winn thought teaching to be a dull profession.

His opinion changed during his first trip to Asia in 1965. Winn travelled to Bangkok in pursuit of a red-haired woman that he was in love with.

He embarked on his journey with 1 dollar in his pocket, a backpack, and a long beard. Soon he ran out of money and so he began his first career as a professor teaching English at a university in Bangkok to keep from starving.

“Sometimes you run into things you thought would be dull and they turn out to be actually very interesting,” said Winn.

Winn said that he found the students to be frustrating because although very obedient, “very few thought for themselves” he said.

In 1968 Winn earned his M.A. in English at Cal Poly and became a professor at the university.

Many students enjoy Winn’s class because of the real-life stories that he tells. “It allows us to connect with him on a personal level,” said freshman Business major Paul Carmazzi.

“I really like when teachers share real-life experiences because it makes them relatable and more personable,” said freshman Political Science major Emily Kenyon.

One experience that Winn commonly shares with his COMS classes is his memory of working at a Cambodian refugee camp in 1980. Although an ultimately beneficial undertaking, Winn described his time there as traumatic.

Cambodian Refugees courtesy of United Nations Photo

“200,ooo needed medical relief. About 50 to 60 people would die everyday and trucks would drive by, piled up with dead bodies,” said Winn.

With Winn’s efforts as the director in charge of the medical relief, they were able to bring down the death rate by 2-3%. It was here that Winn realized his ability to function on about 4 hours of sleep. “I never felt tired,” he said.

Winn returned to teaching Communications at Cal Poly when he came back to the United States.

If he had the authority, Winn expressed his desire to make a couple changes to the university’s policies. First, he believes that skateboards should be allowed because they are environmentally-friendly and in his opinion, aren’t any more dangerous than bicycles or cars. He also would change the dining plan because he believes that it “victimizes students”.

Despite these oppositions, Winn loves Cal Poly because of its practicality.

“You learn how to do something. You don’t spend 4 years talking about it,” said Winn.

Winn also enjoys Cal Poly because of the students that it attracts. He finds that most of them are motivated and ambitious, compared to other state schools where professors have described the student body as more apathetic. “Most of them are set out to make a difference in the world,” said Winn.

Winn says that his main purpose as professor is to encourage self-discovery. “I try to give them stimulus to help them figure out who they are,” he said, “Are they going to be good people or are they going to be Democrats?”

Despite his current three occupations, Winn likes to read 3 or 4 books and 2 newspapers every day. Winn also spends about 20 to 30 hours a week writing and is fluent in 5 languages including:

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Thai

He is also able to read and write in Greek and Latin.

Although it is not among one of his talents, Winn also enjoys gardening. He warns against using horse manure. “I killed everything,” he said.

  • English Professor at Cal Poly since 1994
  • Interactive teaching methods
  • Loved by students for humor and kindness
  • Goal for students is self-discover
  • Former Jazzercise teacher

Annie Garner has been an English Professor at Cal Poly since 1994. The Cal Poly graduate also serves as a Faculty Associate for the Connections Learning Community program for the Sierra Madre and Yosemite dorms.

Garner is loved by her students for her interactive teaching methods as well as her compassion for the students. Students also remark on her humorous personality and relaxed demeanor.

Although Garner was born in Vermont, she spent the majority of her childhood in Europe. Due to her father’s job for Encyclopedia Britannica, she was constantly moving as a child. “When I was growing up I just went with the flow,” said Garner.

She went on to study French at universities in Sweden and France. Garner had 4 children before enrolling in a junior college at the age of 30. She then transferred to Cal Poly and received an M.A. in English in 1994.

Garner knew that she wanted to be a professor when she began studying at Cal Poly. “I knew I wanted to teach college-aged students instead of high school because I already had 4 kids, I didn’t want to babysit anymore,” said Garner.

Garner likes to keep students engaged by implementing interactive and original teaching methods. She believes that by keeping class interesting, students can absorb the information and retain it better.

“I have to teach logical fallacies and sometimes they can be deadly boring,” said Garner.

When a particularly interesting speaker is appearing at Chumash Theatre, Garner likes to take the class on spontaneous field trips to listen and then evaluate their speeches.

Games and prizes are also common in her classes. For one assignment Garner asks the students to write a short-story with a twist. The students then read aloud their stories and the class votes on which is the best, with the winner receiving Garner’s homemade brownies.

Garner says that she likes to relate funny stories about her life or kids to the class.Most student’s agree that Garner’s sense of humor keeps the class interesting. “It’s good for a teacher to be funny because it keeps students awake and therefore we learn more,” said sophomore Business major Ryan Barbosa.

Students love the effort that Garner makes to keep the classes both educational and entertaining. “She puts in a lot of effort into teaching. She works hard so we can do well,” said freshman Economics major Alex Watson.

Garner doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on grades because she believes that writing is always a work in progress. “I don’t want a student to get a ‘C’ on a paper and then think that they’re a ‘C’ writer,” she said.

Garner says that one of her goals in the beginning of the quarter is to learn her students’ names as quickly as possible.”I deeply care for them as human beings,” she said.

Students feel comfortable asking her for help because of her benevolent disposition. “She wants to help us and makes sure that she’s available if we need it,” said Watson.

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Annie Garner, posted with vodpod

Garner says that her main goal for students is to gain confidence.

“It’s going to sound cheesy, but my ultimate purpose for students is self-discovery. On that journey I hope that they realize how incredibly wonderful and beautiful they each are,” said Garner.

When she isn’t teaching, Garner likes to write poems and take pictures. The former Jazzercise teacher also expressed her love of dancing. “I just tried Zumba last Thursday and I loved it,” said Garner.

4 freshmen say who their favorite Cal Poly professor is….