Following the 2013 Cal Football Spring Game, when most of his teammates were mingling on the field with friends and family, Mitchel Bartolo was racing to get to the airport for his flight to San Diego.
While Bartolo is a native San Diegan, he wasn’t returning to his hometown to visit family. Hours after completing one of his athletic tasks at Cal, he was about to start one of his academic ventures.
Just after landing, Bartolo hopped on a ship that set sail to the Channel Islands, where he would spend a week with a group studying global warming. They deployed robots that automatically sampled water at various depths and analyzed their findings for various parameters related to the carbon cycle and climate change.
Throughout his time as a Cal student, Bartolo never seemed to keep still. He juggled playing for a Division I football team while majoring in environmental engineering science. His efforts in the classroom and on the field helped him earn an Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarship, one that will contribute $5,000 towards his future education.
Bartolo’s colleagues in the academic field, though, were usually a bit surprised when they discovered he played on the football team.
“Most people kind of look at me in shock and disbelief, but I like seeing that look on their face,” Bartolo said. “On my oceanic research trip, I revealed to one of the crew members that I played football, and the word spread throughout the whole ship within an hour. One of the deckhands asked, ‘So are you the exception or the rule?’ referring to a football player who excels academically. I simply expressed that I was trying to reinvent the rule by doing what I loved.”
At an institution regarded as the No. 1 public university, Bartolo isn’t the only student-athlete at Cal to have high academic and athletic aspirations, but even his teammates were often taken aback by his crazy workload. Bartolo said his teammates gave him nicknames like “The Professor” and “The CEO.”
From the time he joined the football program as a walk-on in January 2010, Bartolo did not take anything for granted. Even after a rigorous practice that was to be followed by an intense study session, Bartolo always reminded himself how lucky he was and how many people would love to be in his shoes.
“From day one I had always been so thankful that I was given the opportunity to be where I was – playing Division I football at the best public university in the world,” Bartolo said. “Being a true walk-on really put this in perspective for me since I came in simply as a student. I knew that millions of young men my age would do anything to be in my shoes, so I tried to remind myself of that when I began to take things for granted or when my workload felt overwhelming.”
After graduating this spring, Bartolo will attend graduate school, but beyond that, he hopes to apply what he’s learned to real-world water problems. He has plans to travel to places such as South America, Africa and Southeast Asia helping to improve their water quality and supply.
Bartolo credits his greatest amount of professional growth from his internship with the Oro Loma Sanitary District based in San Lorenzo. He manages several engineering projects totaling over $100,000 of its budget.
“I’m fortunate to have been given such responsibility as an intern, which has really strengthened my technical, organizational and social skills necessary for successful project management,” Bartolo said. “I have overseen various projects from design to construction, and I’m currently working on a pilot treatment plant to remove ammonia from wastewater using naturally occurring rock and bacteria. I highly recommend summer internship experiences because it gives you experience beyond what the classroom is capable of teaching you.”
While his position with Oro Loma had a significant impact on his academic pursuits, Bartolo said his biggest moment with the Cal football team came when the Bears headed to San Diego for the 2011 Holiday Bowl. Despite only getting to enjoy one bowl game in his four years, he said there couldn’t have been a better place for him personally than his hometown and Qualcomm Stadium.
“Growing up in San Diego, the Holiday Bowl was always the biggest sporting event in December, and I remember watching the game as an awestruck little kid,” Bartolo said. “To be treated like a celebrity in my hometown for that entire week leading up to the game was something special, but even more special was running out in the same stadium where I once sat in the stands idolizing greats like LaDainian Tomlinson and Tony Gwynn. I remember pretending my cul-de-sac was Qualcomm Stadium, playing two-hand touch with the neighborhood kids, and now I can say I actually played there with my Golden Bear family. Having my entire extended family to see it was something I’ll never forget.”
Getting to revel in the awe of playing in his childhood stadium was part of what made Bartolo’s time at Cal so memorable. He has worked hard on the field and in the classroom, not only for his personal growth and development, but also to help carry the banner of pride that all Cal student-athletes try to uphold. Bartolo knows it takes more than one person to change a stereotype, but he likes to think he did his part to alter the opinion that football players don’t take their academics as a priority.
Bartolo noted that the increased focus on academics from head coach Sonny Dykes and his staff is helping to change the culture within the program, Last season, Dykes’ first as head coach, Bartolo said he saw more players than in past years taking a real interest in their education.
“It definitely takes the hard work of an entire team and an entire institution to change perceptions,” Bartolo said. “I think football players might get the stereotype the worst, but I know that Sonny Dykes, his staff and all the players are taking the right steps towards proving those stereotypes wrong. Just this past year, I’ve seen guys get excited about finding a major they can be passionate about and doing well in the classroom. Cal is a place where success in both arenas has been a precedent for years and my hat goes off to every other Golden Bear taking care of business, too.”