Skip To Content

Lasting Impressions: Great Professors at Cal Poly Pomona

What makes a great professor? The answers are as varied as the students in class, but it’s doubtful that “knows the material” would top anyone’s list. Greatness transcends the mere imparting of knowledge.

We asked a sampling of alumni to share their reflections about the professors who made a difference in their lives. If you would like to share yours, we would like to hear them. Share your memory with us, and we’ll post it on our online Memory Wall. Don’t worry; there won’t be a pop quiz.

College of Science

Gregorio V. Sanchez Jr., ’01, on Professor Barbara Burke

Professor Barbara Burke

“Before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona in 1997 from a local junior college, I lacked any real academic and career guidance. The SEES program provided me with the necessary mentoring and focus I needed to complete my undergraduate degree, but it was Dr. Burke who identified my potential to do more than just obtain a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As a result of her guidance and nurturing, I gained the confidence in my abilities to apply for graduate school. Even during my doctoral program she would still reach out to make sure I was doing well and provided encouragement when needed. Today I have my doctorate in chemistry from the University of Southern California and enjoy a career as a scientist in the research and development organization of a Fortune 500 ‘Top 10’ pharmaceutical company.”



Chung-Hsieo (Sean) Yu, ’01, on Professor David Speak

Professor David Speak

“Through the countless office hours I spent with Professor Speak, I not only developed the ability to think analytically (something crucial in my profession), but I developed a strong sense of charitable responsibility. Because I am a financial advisor, I am constantly around the wealthiest people in the world. My client base is almost all highly educated, and their net worth can range from $1 million to $500 million. Consequently, it can be very easy for someone to lose true perspective on the struggles that many experience every day. However, the values Professor Speak instilled in me about charitable giving greatly influences how I advise my clients and how I live my life. One of the principal goals in my business is to encourage my Taiwanese and Chinese American clients to contribute portions of their vast wealth to programs that assist underprivileged youth in areas like education. Additionally, the social responsibility Professor Speak taught through example has inspired me to establish several scholarships for underprivileged youth at Cal Poly Pomona. Because of Professor Speak’s generosity, I am fortunate to be very successful in my profession. He gave me an opportunity to succeed when I was a student struggling to make ends meet. In return, I hope to provide the same helping hand I was given to others in my position.”



Elizabeth Rodarte, ’85, on Professor Tony Avina

Professor Tony Avina

“When I met Dr. Avina, I was a full -time mother, wife and special education educator working beyond the bell. I was very hesitant about going back to school and obtaining a credential in a field [administration] dominated by males and where a 10- to 12-hour day is the norm. One thing that especially impressed me about Dr. Avina is his passion to inspire female educators to pursue higher education and not be afraid to take on leadership positions … Many times throughout the program I questioned whether I was fit to become an administrator and if I truly believed in a school system that is constantly changing and is influenced by external factors that are irrepressible. It was Dr. Avina who continuously reminded me that in order to create change we must become change agents to inspire positive movement. Without a vision there is no purpose. Through Dr. Avina’s encouragement and support, I am proud to say that I was recently appointed as assistant principal of Schurr High School in Montebello Unified School District. In fact, on July 11, the board of education appointed four assistant principals and one principal. Three out of the five individuals appointed are former students of Dr. Avina. He is truly an exceptional mentor who goes above and beyond to support and inspire students in the administration credential program. Dr. Avina is a change agent who has inspired many educational leaders and, without a doubt, will continue to inspire generations to come.”


College of Business Administration

Joe Guerra, ’84, on Professor Emeritus David Parry

Professor Emeritus David Parry

“He was a gem of a guy. He demanded competence and thoroughness. He was tough and didn’t like to give partial credit, and for good reason: You don’t get partial credit as a developer. … The way he taught about benchmarking real estate supply and demand was phenomenal and hooked me for life. I am at the top of my field in a specialized class of real estate. I’ve transacted over a billion dollars’ worth of golf real estate and use all the same fundamentals I learned from Professor Parry and other professors to accomplish this.”


The Collins College of Hospitality Management

Sara Madden, ’99, on Professor Robert Small

Professor Robert Small

"My junior year, I took his wines & spirits course. Little did I know that class would open my eyes to a whole world of opportunity. Every bottle of wine has a story, so learning about the different varietals, regions and wine-making process, paired with Dr. Small’s personal anecdotes, piqued my interest in beverage, food and travel. The following quarter I was his teaching assistant in the very same class and was privileged to attend a wine education trip he conducted through the Central Coast. This was the first of many wine-focused trips for me, which I attribute to the initial experience with Dr. Small. His passion for food and wine was infectious. Now, 15 years later, I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming Food and Cultural Tour of southeastern France, which will be led by Dr. Small this fall. He is an accomplished educator, author and business owner. He has inspired me to continue to learn, evolve, teach and take risks. I am infinitely grateful for those gifts!”

— Sara Madden, ’99


Students Speak: "My Favorite Professor"

Four undergraduates talk about their most motivating professors at Cal Poly Pomona.

Related Links

Who is your favorite professor? Tell us your story.

Provost Award winners

Outstanding Advisors

Hart Award winners

Related Links