Cal Poly unveils a Blakeslee public policy institute



Cal Poly’s latest undertaking pledges to bridge the gap between technology wonks and often-myopic legislators, founded and led by the Central Coast’s former state senator, Sam Blakeslee.

University President Jeffrey Armstrong announced on Oct. 9 the official unveiling of the new Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy, which Cal Poly promises will be multidisciplinary and—importantly—nonpartisan.

“Cal Poly has long been a recognized leader in the fields of innovation and technology, and this institute is another important way our faculty, staff, and students can demonstrate leadership in developing and evaluating technologies to inform public policy,” Armstrong said in a press release. “Cal Poly’s tradition of Learn by Doing and real-world engagement makes us a natural home for this institute.”

Blakeslee, with his professional background as a strategic planner and senior research scientist for Exxon, earned a patent for his work in geologic imaging. He holds a doctorate in geological sciences and also operates a multi-branch investment and financial planning firm.

Blakeslee said he’ll continue working with the institute on a volunteer basis. As a former assemblyman, and later state senator for the Central Coast, Blakeslee said he knows first-hand the gap that exists between the scientific community and Sacramento, and how legislation sometimes impedes the application of emerging technologies.

“My experience in the Legislature demonstrated for me the need for more thoughtful public policy,” Blakeslee told New Times. “The vast majority of bills were written by special interests or legislators who were simply responding to the latest headline. We saw that day in and day out—legislators trying to get themselves into a story.”

He added that while some academic institutions were active in the public policy process, the California State University system was largely absent.

“In my experience, the most exciting new ideas are driven by technology, and Cal Poly was obviously the right place for this,” Blakeslee added. “It’s the premier science and technology school in the CSU system.”

On Oct. 4, the university played host to a symposium co-sponsored by the institute, as well as the university’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences, and the CSU system’s Council on Ocean Affairs, Science, and Technology. The topic of the day: brainstorming ways the academic and scientific community can better communicate their work to policymakers and members of the media. Blakeslee was on hand.

“The big takeaway was the importance of relationships, that a good idea is not sufficient in and of itself to rise to the top in a place like Sacramento,” Blakeslee said following the event. “More needs to be done if we’re going to get something meaningful to the public.”

In keeping with its nonpartisan ethos, the institute’s advisory board includes big names from both the scientific and public arenas—“the who’s who of doers and people with substance,” according to Blakeslee.

Those names include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom; former California Energy Commission member and former California Resources Agency chief of staff James Boyd; Alissa Black, director of the New America Foundation’s California Civic Innovation Project; former director of governmental affairs for the California Public Utilities Commission Delaney Hunter; former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission Dan Schnur; former Boeing vice president for public policy and analysis Bob Vilhauer; and others.

Currently on the institute’s plate: projects that include improving access to the massive volumes of video data and other media buried in the Legislature’s archives, research to help develop a set of energy-related initiatives and policies from an integrated systems perspective to create a “21st Century energy economy,” and a project to explore potential advances in tablet technology to help close the achievement gap among Spanish-language students in the Central Coast’s migrant farmworker communities.

“With the help of this distinguished and diverse board of advisers, I am confident that this institute will craft balanced, implementable solutions to pressing problems,” Armstrong wrote.

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