Cal Poly Can

6. Cal Poly Can Podcast - Anthony Overton

November 17, 2020 Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics Season 1 Episode 6
Cal Poly Can
6. Cal Poly Can Podcast - Anthony Overton
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The Cal Poly Can podcast is produced by the College of Science and Mathematics at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. Assistant Dean of Advancement and External Relations, Kathryn Dilworth, interviews faculty, students, alumni, and friends whose stories and work inspire and uplift. Collaboration and sharing are the themes of this podcast as we examine the power of mutual service and support for solving problems and answering important questions. 

This quarter, our podcast is focused on the theme of EDUCATION. Education is the core of the Cal Poly mission, and our faculty, students and alumni are engaged in various roles supporting teaching and learning. Each show this quarter will take a different look at the issues facing education on our campus and across the country.

This episode features Anthony Overton, a two time graduate of Cal Poly and currently the principal at Paso Robles High School.

If you have any ideas for upcoming guests or want more information on how to support the programs and projects featured in any of the podcasts in this series, please get in touch with us on our website or by email

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Hello out there, we are so happy to welcome our Cal Poly community to the Cal Poly Can Podcast. This podcast features you, our community members on and off campus. We are celebrating the remarkable work you're doing, and giving you the opportunity to give a shout out to those whose help and support is crucial to your success. I'm your host, Katherine Dilworth, your assistant dean of Advancement and External Relations in the College of Science and Mathematics. Welcome, and enjoy the conversation. This quarter our podcast is focused on the theme of education and education is the core of the Cal Poly mission. And our faculty, students and alumni are engaged in various roles supporting teaching and learning and each show this quarter will take a different look at the issues facing education on our campus and across the country. Now, let's get straight to the conversation. Welcome, everyone to the Cal Poly Can Podcast. Th s is Episode Six in our se ies on education. And today I' really excited to welcome An hony Overton as our guest. An hony is a two time graduate of Cal Poly and currently the pr ncipal at Paso Robles High Sc ool. So welcome, Anthony, th nk you so much for being a gu st on the show. Thanks for having me here. Well, I think that everyone would really be fascinated to hear a little bit about the story of how you went from chemistry into teaching. And you know, who at Cal Poly really inspired that and a little bit about, about your path to your current role? Yeah, absolutely. So I was lucky enough to be accepted at Cal Poly and in 2005. And I actually started started Cal Poly as a materials engineer. It was pretty quick into my tenure, I would say I didn't even really get through my first semester when I realized or first quarter when I realized that maybe that wasn't the best place for me. And at the same time, I had already felt like I had found a new home in the department with chemistry, I had to take chemistry is materials engineer. And just the atmosphere of the faculty I had at the time, who would Professor Seth Bush, who would ultimately become one of my mentors, friends and huge impacts in my life, very quickly encouraged me to change my course. And it's, it's something I never looked back on. So I did switch my majors and went into chemistry. And then as progressing through that program, I, you know, that interaction with Professor Bush, I'm just gonna call him Seth, because that's what he thought was that really, uh, he started working on programs that just really sparked my interest. And I loved working on them and the Learn by Doing lab and at the time, we were looking at a program where where people could work on their credential kind of simultaneously, while trying to finish their undergrad and get, you know, in really, he was doing a lot of work around getting highly qualified people into the classroom. And that really just kind of changed my trajectory one more time, ultimately into education. And that hope to become a high school or a chemistry teacher or science teacher. And I just, I think that was huge and and just the amount of time and effort he spent building programs for others with a really like intensive focus of how to build capacity to grow the whole system. And not just one place was huge, and really, I know very impactful for me. So ultimately ended up in the edge, you know, getting my credential and chemistry from Cal Poly. You know, we're probably the next most influential person in my my career in education came in Miss Nancy stout, who works with a single subject program, they're just a phenomenal teacher of decades and and then came to Cal Poly to share her wealth of knowledge with new teachers going into the field and you want to talk about another place where you pick up you pick a profession or a passion to instill greatness in others again, Nancy stouts just every year is working to build the best possible science teachers and really single subject teachers to go out and do the important work in education. So that kind of leads me and then ultimately, I gotta, you know, I was able to do my student teaching at Paso Robles high school. I was a chemistry and then got a job here. I was actually History teacher for eight years, got involved with leadership program here and then ultimately ended up getting my master's in Educational Administration and leadership through Cal Poly. So Wow, that's another one. I don't even know about that one. So there your three time. Yeah. So I got got that and then ultimately works to become an AP and then circumstances happen. And now I'm sitting here in this role as a as the lead administrator here at the high school site, which is exciting, and especially challenging work and this time. Yeah, no, I'm sure it is. And, you know, that's one of the reasons that we thought it would be a really great idea to talk about education is because I think at this time, you know, it's really on everyone's mind, because so many more people, but parents obviously are involved in their their child's education. So you've talked before about this learn by doing lab that you got involved in and how that was a real catalyst. Talk a little bit more about that, because I think people would be really interested to hear about that program coming out of Cal Poly. Yeah, so I, I do remember one day sitting, I don't remember, I think we're in the computer that chemistry computer lab. And Seth came in and said, Hey, I got this idea for this, this class, it's modeled after this program that was going on it, I think CSU Chico, I think, don't quote me on that. But at, and it's all about providing opportunities for undergraduates, I might think about going into education, this opportunity to do hands on exciting activities, with kids from the local community schools, field trips, things like that. And it's really about boiling down a couple of simple things. And then just making it really exciting for kids. You know, it is a field trip, it's supposed to be fun, but also be educational. And I was all in like, it just it was fun. And and there was I think a cohort originally of 12 of us, that that kind of started that program. And then it has just grown into this amazing, you know, with multiple professors providing multifaceted from engineering to biology to, I'm sure it's even grown more since since I've been connected to it. And it just was like, such an eye opening experience of how just even a small moment, just one short, a little bit of time, can go such a long ways in the life of somebody else. And we were working with kids at that point. But reflecting on the experience, I think as a professional now in the field, I think the maybe what might have been the bigger impact was the gift that was being given to the undergraduates that that that sense of what what you can do, you know, with just a little with just a little bit of this. And then ultimately, you know, I just have to give huge kudos to Seth and his commitment to AI. I've met very few people that are so willing to give, you know, you know, 100 plus percent. And, and it's about the individuals, it's not always it's not always about the big picture about like, how do I help this person, this one kid, this one, and just watching him invest in people that have gone then gone on to do bigger and better things, because he was in their lives. And I think it's those small moments that make such a big difference. And I think, and obviously it it works, because look at how much that learn by doing lab program has grown. It happens during the school year involves, like I said, multifaceted areas now, lots of undergrads, we ran summer camp for a long time, we were doing week long summer camps, that actually then start and I was working with him at that time. And we were actually bringing in not only undergraduates that were thinking about it, credential teachers to help lead it because they knew what their you know, the experience, we were bringing in high school students that were thinking about that they would want to go into the program. And then you have these kids that are coming to just to learn science and get excited about it. That just to see the full spectrum of the path you could take and how that made that impact was huge, was really and also kind of how inspiration is exchanged along that continuum, that you describe these different ages, because, of course, you have the young students and what's so powerful there is that exposure, you know, just that exposure to science, this thing that seems so big and to get to actually have that hands on experience. And then, you know, to the experience that you had as a student instructor, you know, you got inspired to see the impact that that would have that could have and you know, for for really what Seth's mission is here. It's it's responding to a real need and in California and across the country for us. Science trained teachers, you know, so what a what a gift that is to, to future students, you know, and and certainly you represent you represent that, give give us an example of one of the experiences one of the hands on kind of things that you lead with some students because I think people might might like to hear an idea or to do in the kitchen? Well, I think, um, I mean, I think one of the coolest parts of that learn by doing that program is is, we were able to go just kind of that one step further than, you know, their classroom teacher could go that one step further than what they could do is in the classroom, or at even if they're in their homes and their kitchens, because we had access to this amazing Kapali facilities, and resources and materials. And I think, you know, some of like, I think one of the first units we ever did to learn my doing lab was is just all about phase changes, we were looking at just gas to liquid to solid and, and, you know, there's lots of, you know, we were looking at the activities, like, what can you do with that, and a lot of, you know, ice melting, you know, things that kids could experience and really kind of wrap their brain around. But then to have the next layer of access of liquid nitrogen and dry ice and these things that are not part of our everyday experience, and really could use to expand and kind of blow kids minds. And then, in terms of like, really kind of getting them like, you know, it had that whiz bang factor that kind of draws you in, but then relates back to your real world. I think that was I think, and then really that kind of set the tone from that point forward around. What am I doing lab is how could we? How do we kind of challenge the conception, the perception of the world that people lived in, that kids lived in? and make them think a little bit more outside the box about what's going on? How does that work? And and take that little bit deeper dive. But then we worked to develop units around all kinds of other, I put one of my personal favorites was we did a whole set of activities around forensics. So we did fingerprinting and like that, that was really fun. And we were what we had, one of the summers camps we did was completely around a forensics and the kids went through stations, and they learned how to analyze fingerprints, and they learned how to analyze different types of glass. And they learned how to do this and do that. And then at the end, there was this crime scene and the team, the teams had to get together. And you know, they had to run chromatography on the the note to figure out what pen got used. And then, you know, try to identify what kind of fingerprints and then ultimately one of the camp counselors was the you know, the criminal and the, the kids out all got to decide who, you know, figure out who it was in this collaborative, one group did each part but that all the data together helped solve the mystery. It was just a really awesome way to like engage, and once again, engage not just the kids, but engage, you know, high school students and, and working with kids, engaging undergraduates that thought about, we're thinking about teaching and how you apply all this knowledge you have, and actually make it accessible to kids and then credential teachers that were in the field, teaching everybody all the way down, making sure everything was running smoothly. And was it you know, was accessible in that setting? So it was I think it was just a really cool experience, top to bottom, providing those kinds of cool, cool things for kids. But no one had a great experience. Yeah. on all levels, it was just like it benefited everyone. You know, it's I love that. I love the example. I love this program. And I love how you explain it. Because really, it really illustrates philanthropy on its most fundamental sense, which is people taking an action for for others, you know, and I, I wonder, having had that experience and that leadership, from Seth, around this idea of service, how you bring that into your role now. Because you're really, you know, you're in the position to really set the culture in your school and we talk about cultures of service and cultures of philanthropy and I I'm curious to hear kind of how you help lead that in your in your position. Yeah, I think the way I think I try to embody it the most and and bring my people is I think sometimes we often think of service or philanthropy is this big picture, like doing some major thing. And I really just try to bring back to our staff. Because there are so many issues that we deal with that are often so much larger than us. They're really outside of our sphere of control. Or maybe even outside of our sphere of influence. But those aren't the things that are That, to me, that's not where real service lies, real service lies in those one on one moments with a cat or a colleague or an, you know, a parent that just needs that little bit of like push a little bit of help a little bit of mentoring, to get through the challenge of the day. I love working with high school kids, because they're, they're just getting to the point where they really can take in their whole world, but they have such a limited life experience, that sometimes things really feel like, they're really overwhelming to them, even though, you know, in the long term, the you know, some of those things are maybe not as big, you know, they're not that big, but getting to work with people, where you're, you're, you get a help frame of mindset, you get to help frame, how they're going to tackle the bigger problems that are going to come on in their lives. And I think it's just about those little interactions, those relationships. And that's what I try to bring to our staff, it's what I hope, I hope I'm bringing to our staff, that it's not, it's not, it's all the little things add up to make greatness, it's not one great thing. And that's, and as long as everybody's doing their part, we can reach a whole lot of people. People always say, you know, like, how do you how do you? How on earth? Do you keep 2200 students, you know, organized and marching in one direction is like, well, it starts with 100 great teachers that kind of that, you know, and then it's got team effort that kind of makes it happen. Yeah, I mean, you're so right. Whether it's volunteerism or mentorship, or service, or giving it really the power is in all of the little small steps, you know, you can have someone come in, like you say, and do something really sweeping, but even then there's a lot more people involved in a lot more planning, you know, and so if if people feel empowered to take action, certainly, you're an example of that, you know, it really, it really charted out your vision for your professional life, having had that experience. So, you know, what do you tell your students now you're all these inspired youngsters, you know, who want to change the world, and we're so excited that they do you know, how to you kind of inspire them for the journey ahead, because that that journey has a lot of choices and a lot of options and challenges. And so, so what do you do to, to say, that's a really big dream, and that's awesome. And here's here, here's your next step. Well, I think, I mean, I particularly I'm working with, you know, high school students, or, you know, first you know, those first year college students, it's, I, like, often when I talk to them, it's, I always advocate for, how do you keep every door possible, open as long as possible, because you just never know, you know, I mean, I feel like sometimes as a society, we, we tend to ask people to really kind of narrow their focus really early and kind of, really, you know, maybe before they should, or, or before, they've got, you know, all the things that are out there in front of them. And I think the big thing is just the more people and things you can experience and bring into your life, the richer Your life will be, and, and ultimately, the more likelihood you're going to land on something that's really going to give you fulfillment, like give you happiness in life. And I think back to you know, if I had just, I came in, I left high school thinking I'm going I'm going to be an engineer, I'm going to Cal Poly, that's, you know, number one engineering public undergrad engineering school in the on the west coast and, and then within, like, you know, if I hadn't been open minded to think like, well, maybe this isn't a good fit for me, and I'm really digging this over here. So why not, you know, be okay with that shift and, and opening that door that avenue? How much my how different my life would have been, had I not been open to that at least. And even though I thought I was really like, focused in on what I what I wanted, it was it was that that keeping a broad perspective, because you just never know who you're gonna meet. You never know how things are gonna change your life and But the big thing is just keep moving forward, I guess. went one step at a time, one step at a time. But I think keeping open is really is really important because there is that pressure, what are you going to be and and like you discovered yourself? There There are so many, so many things and so many so many directions you can go in and you're fortunate to have to have that good mentorship and and you've clearly taken that on as you Your own vision. So thank you for representing that and for for being out there and, and really taking what you what you learned and what you experienced at Cal Poly and and trying to make that happen for others as well. Yeah, I think I have one more I want to just throw in there because I think it's I think it's also important that goes with that kind of keeping an open mind that the second one I really like I tend to advocate for, and it tends to come up a lot in high school, but I think it's really important in all of us is how important it is to surround yourself with good people that you trust and care and care about. And, but know that that and that they care about you too, because I think it's those, those are the people that you surround yourself with that lift you up. And it's really important to stay away from people that put you down. And I think that that would be my other big advice around. And I think it really ties into this. People that have a mindset of, of how can I? How is what I'm doing making everybody better? versus how what am I doing making me better is really the the mindset that if you can surround yourself with people like that, and I can name law far outside of my Cal Poly realm, but now in my professional career of the people that have inspired me to keep me coming to work every day, despite the challenges, and it's because it's we work to make each other better. And that's exciting, because you just never know what every day is remembering. And you know how to how, you know, we say, we, we we always tell students to do that. And, and how do sometimes they don't know, you know, I and I've had that with students who I've engaged with, it's like, I know, I need to find mentors, and I know I need to be in the right place. But what does that mean? And you know, how do they navigate that when they're coming out of, you know, a high school where, you know, they may not have felt that they really knew there, it's a their teachers, it's a big jump, especially at a place like Cal Poly where there are so many close relationships, you know, that form between faculty and, and undergrads. So do you have a little tip to kind of pass along is, especially in this virtual environment? How does a student start to pursue building that kind of support? Yeah, that's a that's a great question. I think. I think it's when you're looking, it's, it's often easy to look at what you're trying to get, you don't need me and I think it's the, I'm trying to give a good analogy here of there are people that fill your bucket. And there are people that take away from your bucket. And it's important to you know, you're looking for people that are gonna help you fill your bucket. But I think it's also important to remember that it's your, like, you have a responsibility to also try to build other people's buckets as well, that it's because if you're only if people are only filling your bucket, that then it's having that self reflection around it. So I think one of the biggest things I think people can do is realize that we're all in this really tough time together. And that we're all doing the best we can. And we're going to need each other, like you're going to need people to help you and that's okay. But there's also a lot of great things that every person has that they can give back. So how do you make that exchange? How do you how do you keep the balance so or everybody's bucket can staple and no one because there are the people that totally their drain, they drain themselves and trying to get back? You know, any mean? But and then they ultimately, they have an empty bucket and they can't give any more. You know what I mean? And I think a big thing right now is just how do we work together, give where you can take what you need. And just have a lot of grace and understanding with people as we as we traverse this. If you go in with a mindset like that, I think it'll be easy to build relationships. I think it would love to get people motivated to want to, to keep that relationship going. Long after this whole pandemic thing was hopefully over. I love it. So maybe the first step to get started is to give is to give of yourself instead of looking for someone to ask, and I think just flipping that is brilliant, because you're right, the way that this works is mutual, you know, mutual giving mutual benefit. So that's super advice. Well, I so it's so easy to do. I mean, it's it's not it because it doesn't have to be a big thing. And maybe the thing you gave is just a small token of appreciation. It's a we just asked our faculty and staff. You know, hey, we've got some of these. We've got students out there and they're trying their best They're working so hard. And some of them are faced with a lot of challenges each and every day. And a small token to try to rise above the digital noise that we live in, is we asked every staff member just to send a postcard to one of their kids, you know, or we gave them a stack of 30 and said, Hey, we'll pay the postage, whatever, the post office will be happy. But, you know, just write one sentence, just thank you for being here. You know, we've never met but i'd love I'm hoping to see you one day, I can't wait till we're back in school, you don't mean just to put those moments out in the world. And I think what has been more touching is the number of responses back the kids that you know, we're asking teachers to put that you know, put themselves out there like that, but then the kids doing it and reciprocal and it's just cool seeing that culture. It feels good. It feels good to do good things for people I'm that's so awesome. And I encourage everyone listening to, to try it out. And you know, reach out to someone you know, to see if you can help and certainly if if anyone listening is interested in learning more about any of the things we discussed today, particularly the Learn by Doing lab and what's going on in chemistry biochem and also the wonderful school of education all all huddled together in the College of Science and Mathematics. So I thank you so much, Anthony for being a guest today and for your story and wish you so much success and success for all your teachers and and all your students. You guys are doing a great job. Thanks for having me, Catherine. It's, it's great to get a talk about this as I know lots of people are struggling right now, but we will get through it together. You know, go Mustangs. That's right. Go Mustangs. We'll have a great rest of your week. You too. Okay. Thanks for listening today. Join us every two weeks for more interviews featuring the remarkable work you do to make the world a better place. If you have any ideas for upcoming guests or want more information on how to support the programs and projects featured in any of the podcasts in this series. please get in touch. Use the link in the description below. Or email me at

Introducing Anthony Overton