A Day for Celebration

Portrait of three sisters at Cal Poly

The Arredondo sisters, left to right, include Erica, Stephanie and Clarissa, posing here for a portrait shortly before commencement. (Photo: Jay Thompson)

Written by August 4, 2023

The Arredondo family from Santa Maria had a busy graduation weekend at Cal Poly’s Alex Spanos Stadium last June. Three Arredondo sisters, including business graduate Erica Arredondo, received their degrees on the same day.

The sisters, whose ages range from 21-25, are the family’s first university graduates.

Stephanie, the oldest, and Clarissa, the youngest, watched sister Erica walked across the stage along with 837 Orfalea College of Business classmates Saturday morning, June 17, before taking part in their own ceremonies that afternoon and the following day.

“It was just a coincidence, not something we had originally planned, but a great outcome,” said Erica, a 23-year-old business administration major with a concentration in information systems.

Portrait of Erica Arredondo

Erica Arredondo earned her degree in business administration with a concentration in information systems. (Photo Jay Thompson)

“It was a series of unrelated life events that occurred, so that we all finished at the same time” added Stephanie, 25, a marine sciences senior.

Clarissa, an environmental engineering major, agreed.

“It’s a complete accident,” said the 21-year-old. “We all went through college at different rates. I was the first to come to Cal Poly right after high school — I graduated from Pioneer Valley High School in June 2019 — while my sisters attended Allan Hancock College to receive their AAs (associate arts degrees).”

After Erica’s commencement, the sisters and their family members returned to Spanos Stadium at 12:30 p.m. for Stephanie’s commencement with the 672 other members of the Class of 2023 from the Philip and Christina Bailey College of Science of Mathematics and Sciences.

Finally, the family returned at 4:30 p.m. Sunday to watch Clarissa amid Cal Poly’s largest group of graduate candidates — 1,254 members of the College of Engineering.

“Our family is very proud of us and of the journeys that we took to get to this place in life,” said Stephanie, who seeks to begin her career at an aquarium or zoo.

Added Erica: “They are ecstatic and happy for all of us ending our education at the same time!”

Clarissa, smiling, said: “Everyone seems to find it exciting that we have this unique experience of graduating together.”

The sisters represent some of the varying pathways Cal Poly students take to obtain a degree. Clarissa was a traditional four-year student who began in the fall of 2019 after high school. She was a member of the Cal Poly Scholars program, which provides financial, academic and community resources to students who represent more than 50 majors is all six colleges.

Meanwhile, her older sisters were transfer students from community college who began their Cal Poly studies at the start of the 2021 academic year. Stephanie had graduated high school in 2016 and Erica two years later. Both struggled initially with the transition from semester studies to the faster-paced, 10-week quarter system at Cal Poly, but each found campus resources that helped them get into the rhythm of the university’s unique school year.

Portrait of Stephanie Arredondo

Stephanie Arredondo earned her degree in marine sciences. (Photo: Jay Thompson)

Their other sister also lent a hand.

“Despite being the youngest, I had the cool experience of being able to help my sisters learn where certain things were around campus, inform them of helpful resources and my overall experiences,” said Clarissa. “For most of the academic year, I am on campus seven days a week, whether it’s for my academic sorority or completing my duties as senior captain for my project team. On top of that, I have a part-time job.”

Meanwhile, Stephanie and Erica would carpool, sometimes daily, to Cal Poly from Santa Maria.

All said that the Learn by Doing approach was key to their educational success and will guide their plans as they move forward.

“Learn by Doing taught me how to approach my goals,” said Stephanie, “and helped shape my future goals. It allowed me to volunteer at the Central Coast Aquarium and solidified what I want to do.”

Erica, who is seeking a career in IT, observed that Learn by Doing helped her to put what she learned “into action and apply it to real-life scenarios rather than only reading about it. It will give me an upper hand when applying for jobs.”

Clarissa said the hands-on ethos better prepared her as she starts her career as a transmission line engineer in San Diego later this summer.

“It makes college more enjoyable to get hands-on experience rather than simply theoretical knowledge,” she said. “I was able to join Cal Poly’s concrete canoe project team, where I helped build a nationally award-winning canoe last year and have the opportunity to compete at nationals for another again in June.”

Portrait of Clarissa Arredondo

Clarissa Arredondo earned her degree in environmental engineering. (Photo: Jay Thompson)

The trio is thankful to family who pushed each to work hard and inspired them to do their best, as well as for support from various Cal Poly programs that provided resources and scholarships, and faculty who offered encouragement and advice when coursework proved difficult.

“When I first came to campus, I was shy and had low confidence that I would succeed, especially through all the adjustment from transferring,” said Erica. “And now I am about to graduate, with assurance and confidence of my qualifications. Looking back, I would tell my younger self: ‘No matter what happens, you are going to make it.’ ”

For Stephanie, Cal Poly “has opened up many opportunities that I don’t think I would have experienced at any other college.”

And Clarissa added: “I feel Cal Poly has let me grow as a person in the years I’ve been here. I had independence to figure out who I wanted to be and what my path will be in a greater scheme than just career-wise. I was able to make amazing friends and had fun, unique experiences.”

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