Honored Alumni 2016


The Honored Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed upon Cal Poly alumni by the university's Alumni Association, and was established more than 50 years ago. The award recognizes alumni from the university's six academic colleges. The Alumni Association also recognizes alumni through two distinguished awards, as well: The CPAA Distinguished Service Award and the Sandra Gardebring Ogren Leadership Award.


The 2016 Honored Alumni

Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences

Cotton Rosser

H.C. ScD, Animal Husbandry, 1952
Flying U Rodeo Company, Owner 

Cotton Rosser is a 1952 graduate in animal husbandry. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cal Poly in 2013. At Cal Poly, Rosser was the captain of the Rodeo Team and won the All-Around and National Saddle Bronc Championship. He was responsible for establishing the traditional Poly Royal Rodeo event in 1951. In 1956 he purchased the Flying U Rodeo Company and since then his name has become synonymous with rodeo. Rosser is known for his innovations, introducing crowd-friendly components that are now standard in the sport. In total, he has produced more than 3,000 rodeos. Rosser has been inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Hall of Fame. In 2015 he was elected into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He is a consistent and enthusiastic supporter of the Cal Poly Rodeo Team and a key reason that the team enjoys such a prestigious reputation today.



Architecture and Environmental Design

Wendy Ornelas, FAIA

B.S., Architecture, 1980
Professor of Architecture at Kansas State University

Wendy Ornelas, FAIA graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1980. Ornelas is a licensed architect in California and Kansas and is a professor at Kansas State University. Elevated to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows in 2005, Ornelas is the first and only female and first and only Latina fellow in the state of Kansas. Ornelas is the recipient of numerous awards, including Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. She is a member of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), serving as president in 2009-10, and is the faculty advisor for AP Design’s Women in Design chapter. She served as the central states regional director for American Institute of Architects (AIA); as co-chair of AIA National’s Diversity and Inclusion Council; as the board liaison to the Young Architects Forum; as academic advisor for Central States Region’s Emerging Professionals Committee. She served two terms on the Kansas State Board of Technical Professions, and in 2015 received the AIA Richard Upjohn Fellowship.



Orfalea College of Business

Scott Cooper

B.S., Business Administration, 1991
Allegro Ophthalmics, LLC, CFO

Scott Cooper graduated with a degree in business administration in 1991. He is the CFO of Allegro Ophthalmics, LLC. He spent eight years as the CFO for WaveTec Vision Systems, Inc., where he raised more than $60 million of new venture-capital backed equity in four financing transactions; secured more than $10 million with three venture-debt facilities; and helped develop the company to grow from zero revenue to $15 million. WaveTec was sold for $350 million to Alcon. A former football player, Cooper is a supporter of the Accounting and International Fellowships, Cal Poly Athletics, and Construction Management. He served on the Accounting Department Advisory Board from 2010-15 and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council. Cooper and his wife, Laura (CM, ’91), have two children. Their son Thomas is enrolled at Cal Poly. 


College of Engineering

Karen Bartleson

B.S., Engineering Science, 1980
President-elect, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Karen Bartleson graduated in 1980 with a degree in engineering science. She is the president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and recently retired as senior director of corporate programs at Synopsys. Bartleson has more than 35 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. She has worked extensively within IEEE to develop strategic plans, finalize membership in the global Standards Collaboration and to raise IEEE’s influence and profile in the areas of Internet governance, cybersecurity, and cyberprivacy policy development. She is the author of numerous articles and a book about standards and universities and is the recipient of the Marie R. Pistilli Women in Electronic Design Automation Achievement Award. 


College of Liberal Arts

Jim Kouf

B.A., English, 1974
Screenwriter/Producer/Director, Kouf-Bigelow Productions

Jim Kouf graduated in 1974 with a degree in English and a minor in history. He is a screenwriter, director and producer. Kouf began his career in film in 1981, producing several hit movies, including the 1997 film “Con Air.” His writing breakthrough came in 1987 when he wrote the buddy cop comedy “Stakeout,” for which he earned the 1988 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. He went on to write 20 feature films including “Rush Hour” “National Treasure” and most recently “Money Monster.” In the last decade, Kouf has worked in television, producing and writing “Angel” and “Ghost Whisperer.” In 2011, Kouf created, wrote and produced the pilot for “Grimm” with his partner, David Greenwalt. The show is now in its sixth successful season. Kouf devotes significant time and energy to the Cal Poly English Department’s Career Connections Program. 


College of Science and Mathematics

Nohemy Ornelas

M.A., Education, 2007
Assoc. Superintendent/VP Students, Allan Hancock College

Nohemy Ornelas graduated in 2007 with a master’s in education. She has advanced in her career quickly, from student to associate superintendent/vice president of student services at Allan Hancock College in eight years. Ornelas is a proud advocate for community colleges and knows how important Student Services is to student success. She is a member of the Counseling and Guidance Advisory Board at Cal Poly, helping to guide curriculum and keep it current and cutting edge. She provides an enormous amount of mentorship time to Cal Poly students as well as supporting the Counseling and Guidance InternshipProgram at Allan Hancock and Cuesta colleges. Ornelas has been instrumental in helping recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds to Cal Poly.  



James Newkirk

B.S., Social Sciences, 1962
Newkirk Enterprises, Owner

James Newkirk graduated with a degree in social sciences in 1962. He is a self-made man and philanthropist, with interests ranging from art to education and athletics. After graduation, Newkirk taught at the high school level while at the same time investing in real estate. From his first duplex, he grew Newkirk Enterprises into a large company operating thousands of rental units in Southern California. A baseball player while at Cal Poly, Newkirk is a longtime supporter of the team through funds and his time and energy. Newkirk and his wife, Martha, also support local high schools and community colleges in their community and are major supporters of UC Irvine, of which Martha and their son Joe are graduates and Newkirk is an honorary alumnus.


CPAA - Distinguished Service Award

Charles E. Bell Jr.

B.A., Political Science, 2004
Deputy City Attorney, San Diego


Charles E. Bell Jr. graduated in 2004 with a degree in political science and minor in ethnic studies. Bell is currently a deputy city attorney for the City of San Diego, Office of the City Attorney. He is the co-founder of the Cal Poly Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Chapter and an avid volunteer coordinator for Cal Poly’s annual Black Legacy Weekend. Through his leadership, he has expanded participation and promoted recognition of the chapter’s alumni activities including recruiting, mentoring and supporting students. Bell is a longtime volunteer for the Cal Poly Admissions Office, partnering to improve outreach to African-American high school students. Bell serves on the Crawford High School Law Academy Advisory Board of Directors and as the Mentoring Program’s co-chair. He has served on the California Western School of Law Alumni Board of Directors and is the immediate Past President of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Foundation, San Diego’s black lawyers and judges association. 


CPAA - Sandra Gardebring Ogren Leadership Award

John A. Ronca Jr.

B.S., Business Administration, 1975
John A. Ronca, Jr. Law Corporation, Owner

John A. Ronca Jr. graduated with a degree in business administration in 1975, a doctor of jurisprudence from Pepperdine University School of Law in 1978 and a master’s in the Laws of Taxation (LLM) from the University of Denver School of Law in 1979. As ASI vice president, Ronca implemented a legal aid service for students and was a member of the Society for the Advancement of Management. Ronca has served as chair of Cal Poly’s Athletic Directors Council since 2007. He is a member and secretary of the Cal Poly Foundation Board, and chair of the Governance Committee. Ronca has contributed to the community in many ways. He has served as chair of the French Hospital Community Board of Directors and is on the Mission College Preparatory High School Board of Regents. He is the President of the Northern California Golf Association Board of Directors and member of the board since 2006. Ronca and his wife Tracy are the proud parents of alumna Stephanie (Journalism ‘13) and Rachel (Boston College, ’14).