Every year, one Cal Poly graduate from each of the university’s six colleges is recognized for exceptional success in his or her career and experiences. Last month, the College of Liberal Arts awarded Michela O’Connor Abrams — president of award-winning media company, Dwell Media — the Honored Alumni Award.
Abrams will be honored at the Honored Alumni Banquet this October during homecoming on behalf of the university’s Alumni Association, said Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Debra Valencia-Laver. Abrams, a journalism graduate who has visited Cal Poly as a speaker in the past, was nominated for the award by the journalism faculty and then selected by the interim department chair.
“She has had some continued relationships and influence in the journalism department,” Valencia-Laver said. “I think she’s trying to bring her experience back to Cal Poly students so they can see the career opportunities that are available to them.”
Graphic communication department chair and interim journalism chair Harvey Levenson said he admires Abrams for her success at Dwell Media, which is “one of the most prestigious publications of its kind in the nation.”
“(Abrams) represents the type of graduate that Cal Poly has become increasingly known for — intellectual, critical thinker, highly intelligent and entrepreneurial,” Levenson wrote in an email. “I can think of no one more deserving of the coveted Cal Poly Honored Alum(na) Award than Michela.”
Abrams, a transfer from UCLA, graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1980 with a concentration in advertising and public relations. She said she immersed herself in working for Mustang Daily — which was not student-run at the time — as the general manager. Besides work, she said her journalism education was invaluable to her success right after graduating.
“The diversity of the curriculum I was allowed to have was significant not only in my breadth of knowledge and exposure to different subject matter that all journalists need to have,” Abrams said, “but it just enhanced my desire to appreciate great journalism, be a good writer and use my skills immediately upon graduating. There weren’t a lot of people doing that at the time.”
After completing her education, she went straight into working for an advertising agency and later began working for Dwell Media, where she has been a leader for 10 years.
Abrams credits Cal Poly with preparing her for a career in business.
“Being able to transfer my writing skills to any medium was really important, and I would not have gotten that any place else,” she said.
In 2005, Abrams implemented Dwell on Design, a U.S. design show that by 2011 was hosting more than 25,000 design professionals and enthusiasts. According to her Dwell on Design profile, she now continues to oversee the development and growth Dwell Media’s digital platforms including web, mobile and tablet products, and serves as a board member of the Magazine Publishers Association’s Independent Magazine Advisory Group and Linguastat, as well as the Board of Trustees for the Marin Horizon School. She also serves on Cal Poly’s journalism advisory board, which provides students with a link to journalism professions outside the classroom.
Abrams looks forward to accepting her award at the Honored Alumni Banquet in the fall, she said.
“It’s not only an honor to receive this (award) because of the recognition of my work, but because what Cal Poly has become is something even greater than it was when I was there,” she said. “I’m definitely honored that the university I credit to being the foundation of my success is now one of the most prestigious educational institutions not only in California, but in the U.S.”