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Campus and Community

ASI President Tess Loarie Aims to Reshape the Student Experience by Listening

A woman wearing a face covering speaks at a podium in front of a telepromoter
Written By Robyn Kontra Tanner // Photo by Joe Johnston

Even before Tess Loarie added ASI president to her title, she was already making the most of her polytechnic education. The fourth-year student majors in liberal arts and engineering studies with a focus on public policy and public education — while earning minors in dance and religious studies.

Loarie, who previously represented the College of Engineering on the ASI Board of Directors, served as chair of the board when she was a junior. In that role, she helped leverage more than $100,000 to fund the Cal Poly Food Pantry and scholarships for Dreamers and Indigenous students.

Loarie ran her campaign for ASI president and was elected in spring 2021, when remote learning was still the norm for most students. Now that most everyone is back on campus, she’s hoping to lead the Cal Poly student body into a new chapter: not just emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, but setting a tone for a more inclusive student experience and a more accountable, accessible student government.

Cal Poly News caught up with Loarie during a busy fall quarter to talk about her goals for the year ahead.

What inspired you to run for president of ASI? And what was it like to run a campaign while most classes were virtual? 

I felt like my work experience and efforts in basic needs as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus demonstrated my commitment to student advocacy and bettering Cal Poly through tangible change. My goal in running was really to continue bettering both campus and ASI by being honest and critical in our evaluations of how we serve students.

Running a virtual campaign was really interesting! I relied heavily on social media and one-on-one outreach. Although we were so far apart geographically, it was cool to see how many students were engaged and reposting on Election Day.

What are your team’s biggest priorities for this year? 

This year, ASI is focusing on a campus-wide assessment. We recognize our election turnout and number of students who want to be involved in student government have been decreasing. Our retention numbers are lower than they should be. Students anecdotally share they feel ASI is not a safe or welcoming environment. The goal of our assessment is to listen and document student needs and figure out how to better ASI to more effectively represent students. Data is a powerful thing, and we plan to collect a LOT of it!

You’ve said that more concrete data can help foster a cultural shift when it comes to student government. What do you want to change? 

Specifically, I'd like to see a more diverse student government but also offer the resources necessary to make students feel included and to help with retention. I'd like students to be able to participate in our program without fear of rejection, or not fitting in, and that everyone feels they understand how to effectively make change on our campus.

How do you hope to reshape the student experience at Cal Poly?

I hope students in the future are able to actually trust in student government and feel excited to participate in elections. Student government members do a lot for our campus community, and I'd like the general student body to understand how their votes matter and how they can actively engage in change.

Outside of the assessment, I want to model behavior that encourages students to care more deeply about each other and be active bystanders. I feel like building a stronger campus community is a huge task, but I can help those efforts by leading by example.

How do you hope to bring students together at a time when many feel isolated or divided?

[I hope to] show them it's okay to be genuine and struggle in our experiences together. I'm really open and comfortable talking about my mental health, personal life, stressors, etc. I think being genuine and honest when I'm overwhelmed or when I mess up builds authenticity that tells students it's okay to not be perfect all of the time. I often have students share with me that I seem very professional or put together, which can cause intimidation, but being open about my shortcomings and mistakes is vital in being human and connecting with students in a more personal way to build relationships.

Your academic journey has covered a lot of ground. Where do you want to go after graduation?

I will be joining the Teach for America Corps in Colorado Springs teaching either math or science for 7th-12th-graders! My first job in high school was teaching dance, and I absolutely love working with students as they grow and develop their world views and passions. My goal in public education is to support my students as they navigate adolescence and also create a learning environment where failure is something you grow from — not something you fear.

I'd like to teach for a good amount of time to really get to know my district and community, but my long-term goal would be moving into administration and policy at a district or even state level eventually. I think education is one of the most powerful tools we have, but our country's education system doesn't currently provide all students with equal opportunity. My passions for access and equity as ASI president directly relate to my goals to provide accessible and equitable public education systems where all students can thrive, explore and feel safe, regardless of their identity.

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