President Coley and Ron Coley
CPP Magazine

A Geiger Counter for Student Success

Cal Poly Pomona’s First Couple Establish Endowment to Support Innovative Learning Experiences

By John Replogle

In 1908, two physicists at the University of Manchester in England developed a technique for measuring the radiation emitted from the nucleus of an atom. By deciphering the invisible particles emanating from a nucleus, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden revolutionized the world’s understanding of atomic structure. Two decades later, Geiger invented an instrument that accurately and efficiently measured radioactivity. Today, it is called a Geiger counter.

Measuring invisible rays and particles transformed scientific knowledge. As a longtime educator and university administrator, Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya Coley is inspired by this world-changing device. As she explains it, President Coley has spent her entire career striving to be a Geiger counter — not for atomic particles, but for talent.

“Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,” she says. “One of our most important meta-objectives at Cal Poly Pomona is to find and nurture the talent in each of our students. By maximizing their potential and removing institutional and other barriers, our students make creativity, discovery and innovation a reality of their educational experience while also preparing for success in their chosen fields.”

Similar to a Geiger counter that recognizes unseen particles, purposeful programs can find, foster and inspire talent so students’ potential can be realized. To uncover those interests and abilities, President Coley, and her husband Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ron Coley created the President Soraya & Ron Coley Discovery Fellows Endowment Fund to support Cal Poly Pomona students engaged in the innovative Learn Through Discovery (LTD) initiative. As part of LTD’s “Projects Hatchery,” interdisciplinary cohorts of students from diverse backgrounds work collaboratively to create innovative solutions to challenges in their communities. With the support of the Coleys’ endowment, students can focus on executing their ideas and research and applying it in the field without worrying about funding to continue their project.

“The Projects Hatchery transforms the lives of our diverse student body, while promoting a positive impact on the target communities,” says Mr. Coley. “Soraya and I believe so deeply in the lifechanging effect of this program that we wanted to find some way to make it accessible to even more Broncos, especially underrepresented students.”

The Coleys’ commitment to nurturing talent and transforming lives through educational and other opportunities was born deep in their own experience. Growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, President and Mr. Coley lived through the “Jim Crow” era of de jure segregation, which mandated where Blacks and other people of color lived, worked, went to school, and most importantly, limited the life options and opportunities available to them.

Their experience inspired them to work to eliminate barriers that separate people and to seek ways to help others discover and develop their talents and fully use them for the betterment of their communities, our country and globally.

“We know that the passage of federal laws during our early adult years opened a small crack in the door leading to expanded opportunities,” President Coley recalls. “Thus, our mission focused on advocating for fully opening the door and encouraging and assisting others from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds to recognize, seek and seize the opportunities that best utilize their talents.”

The Coleys are drawn to the Projects Hatchery based in part on its proven outcomes. Surveys of more than 9,000 Cal Poly Pomona students revealed that students who participate in projects like those featured by the Projects Hatchery are six times more likely to graduate. Likewise, the interdisciplinary nature of the program ensures that students from across the entire campus benefit.

“These are typical of the results we find throughout Cal Poly Pomona,” Mr. Coley explains. “We support the Projects Hatchery because it works as a force multiplier for student success.”

It has been a century since Hans Geiger and his colleagues changed the course of scientific history. Soraya and Ron Coley are hoping to continually change the course of history for students through their investment in Cal Poly Pomona’s inclusive and diverse polytechnic educational experience. A commitment made during President Coley’s presidential investiture, the couple established the President Soraya & Ron Coley Discovery Fellows Endowment Fund to help students discover and develop their talents as they proceed to graduation and to ensure that the LTD Projects Hatchery — a true Geiger counter for talent — continues to thrive. They welcome and encourage contributions from those who share their vision and commitment.

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