Journalism Department Advisory Board Welcomes Five New Members

The Journalism Department recently welcomed five new members to the Department Advisory Board. They shared career highlights, favorite memories, and inspiration. 

Melissa Chechourka
Melissa Chechourka, Advisory Board Chair

Melissa Chechourka, Advisory Board Chair

The new chair of the Cal Poly Journalism Advisory Board, Melissa (Figueroa) Chechourka (JOUR 2002) has worn many hats in the world of media.

After graduating from Cal Poly, Melissa worked as a television news producer, and later in her career made a shift to work in the communications field. She worked as Communications Director for the California State Senate before being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and later by Gov. Gavin Newsom to posts in their administrations. Melissa currently serves as the Chief of Strategic Communications for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Favorite college memory: My favorite college memory is working with my fellow classmates to restart CPTV. We ran around campus and SLO to shoot packages, produced and reported live election coverage, made the switch to digital editing and Mac computers, made lifelong friends and for me -- it's where I met my husband (Justin Chechourka, JOUR 2002) as well.

Most daring career move: I think the most daring leap of my professional career turned out to be the most beneficial. A bit more than 10 years ago, I left a career as a producer in television news to become a communications director in the California State Senate, which then transitioned to a career as an appointee of both Governor Brown and now Governor Newsom. It's turned out to be the best choice I could have made both professionally and personally. I became a journalist to inform the public about important issues that face their day to day lives -- today, I'm helping communicate important policy and pass state laws that impact Californians statewide.

First job after graduation: My first job after graduation was as a newscast producer for KSBY-TV. I started producing weekends, then moved to the 11 p.m., 6 p.m. and when I left I was the 5 p.m. producer. We had some big issues happen while I was in the newsroom, a deadly shark attack at Avila, the Michael Jackson trial, the Lacy Peterson trial, the San Simeon earthquake, a major landslide at La Conchita that buried homes and covered the highway. I even got sent to New Orleans for a week to help the company's sister station in Lafayette, LA, after Hurricane Katrina. It was a crazy time to work in SLO in that newsroom, and I loved every minute.

Inspiration: My fellow women. I've been so fortunate to work alongside some brilliant women. Family, friends, colleagues, former professors, women in history whom I've never met. I feel this personal obligation to do everything I can to break through the glass ceilings so that my kids don't think twice about having a female president or governor or CEO. I take little pieces I've learned from women in all of these areas to shape who I am and who I want to become when I grow up.

Most interesting read/watch this week: There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal called "The Challenges Working Mothers Still Face" -- it hits at the core of one of the questions I get asked most often: "How do you manage work life/balance as a mom?" The truth is you don't, you never can. The needle will always go one way or another, you just have to make peace with it. You have to believe in what you do, set realistic expectations and work for bosses who allow you to be a parent and a valuable member of the workforce. I feel so fortunate to have found that support in my current workplace, but that article is a stark reminder that as women, we must continue to stand up for ourselves, for equality and for the future generation of young women and girls who deserve even better.

Best/worst purchase: Best purchase was an SUV with a DVD player in the back - it makes long drives with 3 kids tolerable. Not great -- but tolerable. It might also qualify as the worst, too, because I can't split the audio, so when they're watching a movie, I have no control over the stereo. I should have researched that more first.

Most useless talent you have: Does still remembering the number to Woodstock's Pizza almost 15 years after leaving SLO count?

by Sydney Brandt

Atif Elkadi, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Ontario International Airport

Atif Elkadi
Atif Elkadi, Deputy CEO, Ontario International Airport

Favorite college memory: My favorite college memory is walking onto the Cal Poly campus for the first time. I was told that I would not get into a school like Cal Poly, and I made it my mission to prove all of the doubters wrong.

Most daring career move: In June 2008, I packed up my stuff in Santa Monica and flew to Dubai to start a brand new job in a new country (United Arab Emirates). Little did I know that move would put me on my journey in the aviation industry.

First job after graduation: I was a Marketing Coordinator for the Pepsi Bottling Group in San Diego.

Podcasts on play: I am a big fan of podcasts, but with six kids and the work, I have not been able to start any new podcasts.

Inspiration: My inspiration is my parents for the sacrifices they made in making sure we had everything we needed to be successful. They immigrated to the US for our future, and I always keep that in mind as I strive to do my best.

Most interesting read/watch this week: Working at an airport you are able to witness hellos and goodbyes. This week I witnessed one of our Armed Service members be reunited with his family, and it was an honor that as an airport we were able to be a part of that reunion.

Best purchase: That engagement ring I bought for my wife. At that point in my life I had to make payments, but it was the best purchase I’ve ever made and our family is the most valuable thing in my life.

by Monique Ejenuko

Melissa Geisler, National Managing Editor, The Athletic

Melissa Geisler
Melissa Geisler, National Managing Editor, The Athletic

Favorite college memory: Meeting Weird Al  Yankovic during a KCPR original programming shift.

Most daring career move: Giving up a full-time job with benefits as Sports Editor at my hometown newspaper (The Tribune, San Luis Obispo) for a contract copy editing job at Yahoo Sports.

First job after graduation: Sports Copy Editor at The Fresno Bee

Podcasts on play: The Lead (by The Athletic), Pod Save America, The Jump with Shirley Manson and Lovett or Leave It, to name a few.

Inspiration:Frida Kahlo

Most interesting read/watch this week: “Uncanny Valley,” a memoir by Anna Wiener.

Biggest kitchen screw-up: scratching up the bottom of a very expensive piece of Le Creuset cookware.

Best/worst purchase: Custom lightsaber.

by Ellie Spink

Benjy Egel, Food and Beverage Reporter at The Sacramento Bee

Melissa Geisler
Benji Egel, Food & Beverage Reporter, The Sacramento Bee

Favorite college memory: Studying abroad in Cork, Ireland.

Most daring career move: Packing up my Toyota Prius and moving 1,000 miles from anyone I knew to rural Texas for a year.

First job after graduation: Business reporter at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Podcasts on play:Disgraceland. It’s about famous musicians’ feuds, brushes with the law and general dark sides.

Inspiration: My maternal grandparents.

Most interesting read/watch this week: A documentary called “Three Identical Strangers” about triplets adopted by separate families.

Biggest kitchen screw-up: I’ve run cooking clubs, own dozens of cookbooks and write about food for a living, and I absolutely cannot cut bread in a straight line to save my life.

Best/worst purchase: Crocs are $29.99 and every time I put them on, it’s like I’m sliding a Q-Tip into my ear for the first time. I’ve worn mine snorkeling, hiking and out to a bar in the last month alone.

Most useless talent: I once rolled a 300 ... in Wii Bowling.

by Brooke Cashin


Remi Sklar, Vice President, Worldwide Communications and Public Relations

Melissa Geisler
Remi Sklar, VP, Worldwide Communications & Public Relations

Favorite college memory: I would say that coming into the Mustang Daily newsroom with a story idea or working on a story in between classes was a feeling like no other. The camaraderie and support from my fellow editors and reporters just enveloped me every time I walked through the door. It was a wonderful collective of people who became lifelong friends. I also need to say that studying abroad in London was another life changing highlight of college -- I learned so much about history, a world view of life and myself. And of course, dancing at Hotwheelz concerts is an extremely fond memory.

Most daring career move: I had a great, solid job working for a boss I loved at Warner Bros. in the consumer products group, but when there was a new division being formed for games, I jumped to go lead the PR. It was a start-up division, and you had to make the job up as you went along since we were building a new business.

First job after graduation: Junior publicist at Universal Studios Home Video.

Podcasts on play:Cautionary Tales - learning from mistakes is key! Oprah's Super Soul Podcasts - always a comfort and insightful.

Inspiration: My children. They inspire me to be a more compassionate, patient human every single day.

Most interesting read/watch this week: Reading about testing for antibodies for COVID-19 is intriguing, and it will be interesting to see how and when the conclusive science nets out.

Biggest kitchen screw-up: On more than one occasion I have made perfectly delicious baked goods, but when the timer went off I would turn off the oven but forget to take out the cookies or whatever it was and it dried out or burned. (I have two small children - distractions happen).

Most useless talent: I can beat several video games on the Nintendo NES - Bubble Bobble and all of the Super Mario games included.

by Brooke Cashin



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