Daniel Kostalnick: 2023 Honored Alumni
Daniel Kostalnick on Cal Poly campus. ABOVE AND BELOW PHOTOS BY SARAH DAVENPORT.
CONVERSATION WITH AN ALUM WHO MENTORS ASPIRING MEDICAL STUDENTS
by NICK WILSON
Dr. Daniel Jon Kostalnick (Biological Sciences, ’96) started his pre-medical education at Cal Poly and deeply values the faculty and staff mentors who helped shape his life and career. Now a physician in Pleasanston, California, he specializes in psychiatry, focusing on psychopharmacology and psychotherapy.
What was it like to arrive at Cal Poly?
I was terrified at first, leaving home for the first time. In the first week, I remember having tri-tip barbecue with professors. That set the tone for the personal relationships that became so important to my own career development. Joining this family of interesting, diverse, intellectual, caring people, with character and integrity, is such a privilege. Over time, I found a home at Cal Poly.
Is there a particular faculty member who influenced you at Cal Poly?
Professor Sam Rigler taught my biochemistry class. She was dynamic, intellectual, academic and committed to students. When I was getting ready for medical school interviews, she wrote me a note with a quote from Emily Dickinson: “We never know how high we are/Till we are called to rise;” And then she added: “You're going to be tall (high) enough, enjoy the views.” Now, I think ‘How do we, together, bring others along to stand tall enough and to enjoy their views?’
Who/what else stands out?
Former Cal Poly President Warren Baker wrote individual letters of recommendation for my medical school applications. That was so amazing. Faculty members Dave Keeling, Andrea Waterbury, Alvin DeJong, Dr. Robert Brown, Rojean Dominguez and Joan Cirone at the health center — they were all so caring and supportive. I saw Phil Bailey (emeritus dean) and Tina Bailey (emerita chemistry and biochemistry chair) as the “mom and dad” of the college in so many ways. It’s very fitting and appropriate to have our college named in their honor.
How did you decide to specialize in psychiatry?
Psychiatry is the most complete medical specialty. We're concerned with neurochemistry, medications, anatomy and physiology — every aspect of the human experience. It’s a privilege to be invited into people's lives and to walk with them through some of the wonderful and the worst parts. I try very hard to build a trusting relationship … and worry about them — a lot. Lives are in my hands and the decisions I make impacts not only their mental health, but also their physical health.
Why have you chosen to support students?
We established the Daniel J. and Suzanne M. Kostalnick Family Endowment to help Cal Poly students applying to medical school to cover costs for things like airfare, new clothes, shoes and travel funds, all of which can prevent student access. I hope to encourage others to donate and build an ongoing network of mentorship. My message to alumni in medicine is to please contact me to be part of this Cal Poly mentorship family.
We established the Daniel J. and Suzanne M. Kostalnick Family Endowment to help Cal Poly students applying to medical school to cover costs for things like airfare, new clothes, shoes and travel funds, all of which can prevent student access.
Dr. Daniel Kostalnick
Biological sciences (’96), pictured with family
What’s your hope for Cal Poly’s future?
I want my three daughters and Cal Poly students to go far beyond anything that I could have ever done — not only intellectual and academic achievements, but also character, integrity and who they are as “people of impact." That's what leads to intellectual and compassionate physicians, who truly are exceptional medical professionals who serve their communities.