- Communications professor at Cal Poly for approx. 16 years
- Government official and writer
- Students enjoy his life-stories
- 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:
- 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.
“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:
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.