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Environmental Engineering commemorated its 50th anniversary with a May 4-6 celebration and renamed the Air Pollution Control Lab for Professor Emeritus Hal Cota, one of the founders of the program.
Cota was hired in 1966 and taught advanced courses in what was then the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Department. Cota helped spearhead the addition of the air pollution control concentration in the department, which would later become an important part of the curricula for the environmental engineering program.
With his help, former AC&R Department Chair Jim McGrath and then-university President Robert Kennedy in 1968 established the Environmental Engineering Department.
Cota believed that a curriculum that combined chemical and environmental engineering was best for providing students the training needed to tackle the nation’s environmental issues.
Fifty years ago, there were no undergraduate environmental engineering programs in the country, making Cal Poly’s one of the first of its kind. The first environmental engineering class of 14 students graduated in 1968. Between 1968 and 1982, environmental engineering was its own department until civil engineering was added.
His contributions have made a lasting impression on generations of students over the years. In the past 50 years, more than 1,500 students have graduated thanks to Cota’s efforts. College of Engineering officials say renaming the department lab will keep his contributions alive for generations of students to come.
“He had such a big impact on my life because he created this program in a way that fits me personally. He created something unique – a combination of environmental and chemical engineering,” said Yarrow Nelson, a Cal Poly environmental engineering professor.