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Six Cal Poly Engineering Champions Honored in Sacramento

Feb 24, 2017

Twenty Cal Poly students, including six engineering majors, were recognized for their awards and other accomplishments by state lawmakers on the floors of the state Assembly and Senate in Sacramento on Monday, Feb. 13.

 “I am so pleased to share with our state leaders the can-do Learn by Doing ethos that this group of dedicated and talented students exemplify,” said university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, who accompanied the students to both legislative chambers. “These fine young men and women from all six of our colleges will be future leaders in their respective fields.”

The group was introduced in the Senate by Majority Leader Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton. Both men represent San Luis Obispo County. Ceremonies were held in each chamber Monday afternoon. In addition, the students met with the Office of Gov. Jerry Brown and with representatives from each student’s respective Senate and Assembly districts.

Most of the students call California home — from Solana Beach, in San Diego County, to Roseville, near Sacramento — including one from the Central Coast. Four others are from outside the Golden State — Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey and Oregon.

Each has distinguished him- or herself as an individual or on a team that has received a national industry award or was involved in other high-profile events, including the Tournament of Roses Parade, with a worldwide TV audience of 100 million.

The group also greeted family, friends and alumni at a series of receptions in the East Bay and Sacramento area Sunday and Monday.

The Cal Poly Engineering honorees include:

  • Dorian Capps (Maplewood, N.J.), a mechanical engineering major, was part of Cal Poly’s top-scoring American entry that finished third overall at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Detroit. The 10th annual contest attracted more than 1,000 students and a record 124 teams from seven countries who competed in energy-efficient gasoline-fueled vehicles they designed and built themselves. He was also the president and powertrain lead of Cal Poly’s entry that achieved 1,215 miles per gallon — the top-scoring American entry and third highest overall in the Prototype class, which is for futuristic vehicles. Cal Poly was also recognized by event organizers for participating every year in the Americas competition and being the first-ever winner. Capps also has a passion for aerospace. He is particularly interested in high-performance rocket engines and designing earth-to-orbit launch vehicles that reduce launch costs enough to facilitate large-scale space colonization.

  •  Elizabeth Coffey (Fremont, Calif.), a civil and environmental engineering graduate student, was a member of the Steel Bridge team that finished second at the annual American Society of Civil Engineers National Student Steel Bridge Competition. The contest brought together 48 student teams from across the world. Cal Poly’s strong showing marked the school’s sixth consecutive year of finishing in the event’s top 10 and second straight year as runner-up. Coffey served as the team’s machining lead in a competition designed as a real-world project that required structural design, fabrication, construction planning and execution, and load-testing expertise. It’s an extreme test of teamwork and project management that challenges students to produce a scale-model bridge that satisfies stringent requirements in the categories of stiffness, lightness, construction speed, display, efficiency and economy.

  •  Salvador Cortes Soancatl (Livingston, Calif.) received the 2016 Cisco Scholar Award for Outstanding Achievement by the California State University Board of Trustees — one of the system’s highest distinctions given to a student who overcomes adversity. Soancatl was inspired to pursue electrical engineering after writing an essay on Nikola Tesla, whose experiences as a young immigrant in America resonated with the then-seventh-grader.

  • Rebecca Kandell (Ridgecrest, Calif.), a biomedical engineering senior, was part of the team that received the Gold Award, for outstanding overall programming from the Society of Women Engineers. In addition, Kandell, the SWE chapter president, received the Outstanding Collegiate Member Award for her contributions to the organization, the engineering community and the Cal Poly campus. She credits her Latina heritage, her family’s strong work ethic, and her mother — a first-generation electrical engineer and Cal Poly alumna — with inspiring her advocacy for women in engineering.

  • Nelson Lin (Escondido, Calif.), who is studying mechanical engineering, was part of the team that won the 2016 American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Student Design Competition. The five-member team, which also received the $4,000 top prize, displayed a battery-powered, model-sized manufacturing system that fired paper projectiles through the air. The team competed against some 200 engineering students from colleges and universities from 11 countries.

  • Jennifer Tuttle (Anchorage, Alaska), a civil engineering major, led a 20-member student team whose bicycle-powered maize mill won the 2016 Premier Project Award from Engineers Without Borders USA. The Engineers Without Borders-Cal Poly Malawi team designed the mill for residents of Kumponda, Malawi, who face a limited growing season and other food-production challenges.

Cal Poly Engineering’s social media student assistant, Naba Ahmed, was also among the Sacramento honorees. A journalism major and news editor and reporter for the Mustang News, Ahmed was part of the award-winning Mustang News team that received the highest honor in college media at the Associated Collegiate Press/Media Association’s national convention, first place for Best Social Media Strategy, and more than 16 other college media awards.

For a complete listing of honorees, go here.

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Civil Engineering Alum Making Waves

Jan 5, 2017

It was as a student at Cal Poly that Ben Nielsen (Civil Engineering, ’05) first discovered the joys of surfing, without knowing he was already getting his feet wet in his future career. Now living and working in Denver, Nielsen may be far from the ocean, but he’s making waves — that’s his job. As the project engineer for McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group (a division of Merrick & Co.), he designs and engineers river projects with recreational whitewater, including the Boise River Park “which was ground zero for river surfing projects in America,” he said. 

“The recent explosion of river surfing has required a totally fresh approach to wave design,” said Nielsen, “and that’s where Learn by Doing kicks in: Surfing requires a much higher-performing wave, and our wave designs are an innovative application of fluid dynamics theory, with no manual or criteria to draw from.”

The projects are known not only for their innovative “pure wave” hydraulic jump engineering but also for design that complements the river environment.

“Our focus is urban river revitalization,” said Nielsen. “There’s been a huge push throughout the nation to re-engage these rivers and enhance them for people and the environment.  Most of the features we design, such as the South Platte River Run project near Denver, are integrated into other infrastructure and perform multiple objectives such as diversions, river stabilization, fish passage and flood control.” 

A presenter at many U.S. and international conferences on various topics related to river recreation design, Nielsen recently spoke on the future of river surfing wave design at the prestigious Forum Flusswellen in Germany.

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Civil Engineering Student Honored at 'Fresh Voices' Award Reception

Oct 12, 2016

Civil engineering major Diego Rivera was among 30 Cal Poly students honored at the third annual "Fresh Voices" Award Reception held Oct. 7 in the University Art Gallery.

Cal Poly's "Fresh Voices: Composition" is the 10th edition of the paperback textbook that features a collection of student essays and artwork.

"The essays in the collection are typical of the intellectual engagement encouraged in Cal Poly writing classes," said Brenda Helmbrecht, an instructor in the English Department and director of writing and editor of the compilation.

"These works, selected from hundreds of submissions, represent the effort, commitment and talent of students who complete first-year composition courses," said Helmbrecht. "As the Composition Program reflects, students learn a great deal about writing by reading and studying the work of their peers."

Cal Poly Engineering Ranks High in U.S. News Best Colleges Guide

Sep 14, 2016

Cal Poly Engineering helps put the 'best' in Cal Poly's 'Best in the West' U.S. News ranking.

Cal Poly boasts the best state-funded undergraduate engineering program — and the top environmental engineering program — in the nation, according to the latest edition of the U.S. News and World Report’s American’s Best Colleges guidebook.

Cal Poly as a whole enjoys its 24th straight year as the best public, master’s-level university in the West.

In overall listings, the College of Engineering moved up two spots, placing fifth behind private institutions Rose-Hulman, Harvey Mudd College and Olin College and the federally funded U.S. Military Academy. Among state-funded schools, Cal Poly’s civil, electrical and mechanical engineering programs maintained their No. 1 positions.

“It is so exciting and such an honor to see Cal Poly Engineering’s continuing and growing prominence in the prestigious U.S. News rankings,” said Debra Larson, dean of the College of Engineering. “Our engineering programs exemplify the innovation, staying power and success of Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing model, which attracts those who like hands-on experimentation, complex projects and dreaming — and doing — big.

“What we're doing is all the more notable when you factor in scale,” said Larson. “Based on 2015 data, Cal Poly Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment was 5,974, while the combined enrollment for the top four schools totaled 4,070.”

The 2017 guidebook lists Cal Poly in a tie with Saint Mary’s College for ninth place overall in the West for regional universities, public and private, up from 10th place last year. The Western regional list includes 124 public and private institutions in 15 states that provide “a full range of undergraduate and master’s-level programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.” (Universities that grant doctoral degrees, such as those in the University of California system, are listed in a separate category.)

Cal Poly ranks in the Top 10 behind (in order): Trinity University, Santa Clarita University, Loyola Marymount University, Gonzaga University, Mills College, Chapman University, University of Portland, and Seattle University.

Cal Poly also ranks sixth in the West (up from 10th last year) for most veteran-friendly universities — a listing that shows military vets and active-duty service members which top-ranked schools offer benefits that can help them make pursuing a college education more affordable. Cal Poly is also the top-ranked public university in this category.

The U.S. News rankings are available at the U.S. News & World Report website.

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Cal Poly is Top U.S. Team at Steel Bridge Competition

Jun 15, 2016

Cal Poly’s Steel Bridge team was tops among national competitors and finished second overall at the annual American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) National Student Steel Bridge Competition, which brought together 48 student teams from across the world.

École de Technologie Supérieure, from Montreal, placed first, and the University of Florida finished third at the competition hosted by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, May 27-28.

Cal Poly’s strong showing marked the school’s sixth straight year of placing in the event’s top 10, and its second straight year as runner-up.

The competition—which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year—is designed as a comprehensive, real-world student project that includes structural design, fabrication, construction planning and execution, and load testing. It’s an extreme test of teamwork and project management as students race to produce a scale-model bridge that satisfies stringent requirements in the categories of stiffness, lightness, construction speed, display, efficiency and economy.

Cal Poly Steel Bridge team members included senior captains Steven Haugaard, project manager; Elizabeth Coffey, machining lead; Drew Glover, welding lead; Jimmyhee Quach, construction lead; Tyler van Iderstein, design lead; junior captains Matthew Ramos, Stephen Hager, Jessica Ramirez, Hannah Lancaster, John Stern, Jonathan Diaz, Sara Lashanlo, Kai Ling Liang; and rookie captains Michael Clark, Sarah Shaffer, Gabriela Pascualy, Mitra Fakhry, Brandon Marchell, Julian Lodi, Elaina Ryan, Hayat Hakim and Ryan Harrington. Eric Kasper is faculty advisor.

Complete rankings are available at Next year’s national competition will be held May 26-27 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

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Elizabeth Coffey, a Cal Poly Steel Bridge captain, holds the ASCE Pacific Southwest Conference award. It was the team’s ticket to the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, where Cal Poly placed second overall and was the top-performing U.S. team. Other team captains pictured, left to right: Drew Glover, Tyler van Iderstein, Jimmyhee Quach and Steven Haugaard.


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Cal Poly ITE is Top Student Regional Chapter for Third Straight Year

Jun 2, 2016

For the third year running, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) of Cal Poly reigns as the western region’s top student chapter.  The club won the Western District Student Chapter of the Year award based on the club’s annual report, which ranked first out of 23 reports received from universities across the 13-state region. The event was held in Albuquerque, N.M., July 10-13.

“Overall, this year’s report reflected our interest in boosting the profession and not just our chapter,” said Krista Purser, president. “We coordinated a nationwide teleconference, for example, to discuss effective leadership, organization and successful events with other campus’ student leaders.”

Other 2015-16 Cal Poly ITE officers included Ashley Kim, vice president; Ryan Caldera, secretary; Edward Tang, treasurer; Nivedha Baskarapandian; Luis Descanzo, historian; Amy Chin, professional coordinator; Erica Madrigal, social coordinator; Jonathan Howard, coordinator of the Transportation Engineering Student Project Area; Mark Howard, marketing coordinator; and Kevin Carstens, past president.

The chapter collected a total of seven awards at the event, including:

-  First place in the Collegiate Traffic Bowl, a “Jeopardy!”-style competition designed to test students’ knowledge of transportation engineering. Team members included fourth-year student Jonathan Howard and graduate students Kim and Purser, as well as fourth-year student Caldera, an alternate team member.

- Outstanding student awards that honored Carstens as outstanding graduate student, and Kim as outstanding undergraduate student.

- Student Chapter Annual Meeting Award for the highest amount of participation in the event’s competitions, student sessions and student presentations.

-  Student Website Award — a first for the chapter — recognizing the effectiveness of the website’s design and communications produced by Baskarapandian, webmaster; Descanzo, photographer; and Mark Howard, social media coordinator.

The Cal Poly chapter will compete at the international level at ITE’s annual conference August 14-17 in Anaheim, Calif.

The Institute of Transportation Engineers is an international association of nearly 17,000 transportation professionals and more than 140 student chapters.

Related links:

Cal Poly ITE Student Chapter

Institute of Transportation Engineers



Photo: Cal Poly ITE student chapter members accepted the regional Student Chapter Award, Student Chapter Annual Meeting Award and Student Website Award among numerous others at the ITE Western District annual conference.


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Cal Poly Engineers Without Borders Team Wins 2016 Premier Project Award

Mar 24, 2016

Cal Poly students’ bicycle-powered maize mill won the 2016 Premier Project Award from Engineers Without Borders USA. Cal Poly was one of three student chapters out of more than 200 nationwide to receive the award. 

The Engineers Without Borders-Cal Poly (EWB) Malawi team designed the mill for residents of Kumponda, Malawi, who face a limited growing season and other food-production challenges. In order to ground maize into flour to make nsima, a food staple of the region, villagers must travel hours by foot twice a month to access a costly electric maize mill that is also unreliable due to power outages.

The student-designed bicycle-powered mill makes maize production more economical and reliable. The EWB Malawi team, made up of some 20 students, designed and developed prototypes on campus with help from mentors in industry. “Throughout the year, we continually communicate our progress and incorporate suggestions from Kumponda via our NGO partner, Action for Environmental Sustainability,” explained team member Chris Apple. 

Last December, four team members traveled to Kumponda in southwestern Africa to present the prototype and provide instruction on how to build mills using locally available, low-cost parts. The visiting EWB students included team leaders Jennifer Tuttle and Spencer Jemes, both civil engineering majors; and environmental engineering majors Apple and Cate Kraska.

“The community members have shown unbelievable commitment and enthusiasm toward the project,” Jemes said. “They impressed us every single day with their ideas for the mill, while keeping an open mind for collaboration.”

Noted Kraska, “When our implementation visit was over, everyone was excited about the progress we and the Kumponda community made towards implementing a sustainable solution to hunger.”

Engineers Without Borders – USA is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that partners with developing communities across the globe to improve their quality of life. The partnership implementing sustainable engineering projects, while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students. 

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Photo: Spencer Jemes and villagers inspect the mill prototype.

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Cal Poly Students Sweep Residential Energy Modeling Competition

Mar 21, 2016

Cal Poly students swept the Residential Energy Modeling Competition sponsored by the California Association of Building Energy Consultants (CABEC). 

General engineering senior Mia Sheperd placed first; Aaron Feinstein, a mechanical engineering junior, placed second; and civil engineering senior Chase Hemming placed third. 

The contest required students to create an energy model for a single-family residential project using the California Energy Commission-approved compliance software tools. 

“While California requires an energy budget filed for every new or altered building, there are currently fewer than 200 people statewide registered as certified energy consultants,” noted Melinda Keller, an instructor in Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering Department. “With this energy modeling competition, CABEC is striving to encourage new people to learn the trade.” 

First place winner Sheperd is president of the Cal Poly Zero Waste Club. “I have wanted to get into energy modeling since I first heard about it,” she said. “My goal is to become a certified energy engineer. Thanks to my major, general engineering, I’ve had the chance to get my hands on more energy-related projects.”

Feinstein entered the contest to learn EnergyPro, energy compliance software approved by the California Energy Commission. “It was interesting to see how the energy consumption of a building could change based on factors we were altering in the program,” he said. “Cal Poly has contributed to my success because professors like Melinda Keller take the time to coach and help students learn, even outside of the classroom.” 

“As a civil engineering major,” said Hemming “it was useful to get practice reading plan and elevation drawings and then inputing that information into the energy modeling program. In the future, I’m interested in designing sustainable infrastructure. This competition helped introduce me to the energy side of that field.” 

The students won free trips to Lake Tahoe in April to participate in the CABEC conference, where they will be presented with the awards and monetary prizes. 

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Photo (left to right): Melinda Keller, Chase Hemming, Mia Sheperd and Aaron Feinstein.


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Five Cal Poly Engineering Students Win Scholarships from the American Council of Engineering Compani

Mar 17, 2016

Cal Poly students received five of 11 scholarships awarded by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) California. The group’s foundation awards scholarships annually to graduate or undergraduate college students working toward a degree in engineering or land surveying.

The Cal Poly recipients include Audrey Fremier, environmental engineering junior; Youlen Ghazalian, industrial engineering senior; Chase Hemming, civil engineering senior; Jennifer Laybourn, civil engineering senior; and Amy Poehlitz, architectural engineering senior. The Cal Poly students won a total of $8,000 in scholarship funds.

"These accomplished students represent California's bright future, and I'm proud ACEC California can play a role helping them achieve their full potential," said Brad Diede, executive director at ACEC California. "The engineering and land surveying industries play an important role in California's economic strength, and it is critical to support students who are working hard toward entering these professions." 

In addition to Cal Poly, the scholarship recipients represented CSU Chico, Santa Clara University, Stanford, and Cal Poly Ponoma. 

About ACEC 

ACEC California is a statewide association representing more than 950 private consulting engineering and land-surveying firms. ACEC California is dedicated to enhancing the consulting engineering and land surveying professions, protecting the general public and promoting the use of the private sector in the growth and development of the state.


Photo left to right: Audrey Fremier, Amy Poehlitz, Youlen Ghazalian, and Jennifer Laybourn. Not pictured: Chase Hemming.


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Four Cal Poly Engineering Champions Honored in Sacramento

Feb 3, 2016

Twenty-one Cal Poly students, including four engineering majors, were recognized for their awards and other accomplishments by state lawmakers on the floors of the Assembly and Senate in Sacramento on Monday, Feb. 1.

“These fine students are indicative of our Learn by Doing philosophy and reflect what their peers are also accomplishing at Cal Poly,” said university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, who accompanied the students to both legislative chambers. “We want to honor these students for their success in the classroom and for their extracurricular activities that have been honored regionally and nationally."

The group was introduced to the Senate by Majority Leader Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and to the Assembly by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo. Both men represent San Luis Obispo County. Achadjian is a Cal Poly graduate.  In addition, the students met with the Office of the Governor Jerry Brown, Office of the Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and representatives from their respective Senate and Assembly districts.

As an individual or team member, each of the honorees has received a national industry award or been significantly involved in such high-profile events as the Tournament of Roses Parade, with its TV audience of 100 million, and the team that raised $600,000 for a net zero solar home that was judged third best in the nation.

The Cal Poly Engineering honorees:

Kevin Carstens is pursuing master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering,with a concentration in transportation engineering, in the College of Engineering, and business administration in the Orfalea College of Business. His hometown is Rocklin, Calif. He was president of Cal Poly ITE, a student chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers that was named the institute’s 2015 international chapter of the year. Carstens was also part of the foursome that won the title and $2,000 in the ITE Collegiate Traffic Bowl Grand Championships, which was open to teams from throughout Canada and the U.S. In internships with Reinard Brandley Airport Consulting,San Luis Obispo County’s Public Works Department, and Fehr & Peers, his duties ranged from drafting and editing, to guiding lost tourists through the remote Carrizo Plain. Carstens also develops transit analysis apps for Bishop Peak Technology, and assists Cal Poly professors with their research. His career goal is to work for a transportation engineering firm.

Joyce Lin is majoring in civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering. Her hometown is Kirkland, Wash. She was a member of Cal Poly’s Concrete Canoe team that won the Innovation Award and earned second place overall with their 2015 entry, Jumanji, at the National Concrete Canoe Competition, held in Clemson, S.C., last June. It was the 10th consecutive year that Cal Poly placed in the top five at the annual competition referred to as the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering.” Students gain hands-on, practical experience in project management and working with concrete mix designs in the competition. This was Cal Poly’s 16th trip to the nationals, including back-to-back national titles from 2010 to 2012. Lin is project manager for the 2015-16 team, oversing fundraising, finances, scheduling and material procurement. She also organizes Open Shed Fridays and Casting Days to increase student interest on campus.

Morgan Montalvo is a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering. Her hometown is Woodland Hills, Calif. She was Cal Poly Rose Float construction chair for the award-winning 2016 float, “Sweet Shenanigans.” Montalvo, who drove the 55-foot vehicle, had an unusual perspective of the parade with its 700,000 spectators and a TV audience estimated at 100 million. For the fifth consecutive year, the float earned the California Grown designation from the California Cut Flower Commission, which recognizes an entry decorated with at least 85 percent of cut flowers and plant materials from the Golden State. “I think it is important to us to be California Grown, because we are a California float at heart,” she said. “Cal Poly universities, especially in this parade, help to represent the state.” This was the second straight year the entry received the Lathrop K. Leishman Trophy for the most beautiful non-commercial entry. Working on the float team seemed a natural evolution for Montalvo, who has been designing and building robots since the sixth grade. She received a four-year, $70,000 family scholarship — her mother is an engineer — from the SME Education Foundation. “She was a force to be reckoned with from day one,” one teacher wrote in recommending her for the scholarship. “In a class that was filled with mostly boys, Morgan was never intimidated by the boys.”

Ryan Smith is a graduate student studying structural engineering in the College of Engineering. He earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Cal Poly in 2015. His hometown is Carlsbad, Calif. He was president of the Cal Poly Society of Civil Engineers when it received the 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Robert Ridgway Award, which recognizes the most outstanding chapter of 323 student groups in 16 countries. Cal Poly’s group was selected after a rigorous review based on an annual report prepared by student officers. “This distinction is the civil engineering equivalent of the Academy Award,” said college Dean Debra Larson. “It only goes to the best of the best, and it reflects our Cal Poly chapter’s extraordinary efforts, achievements and leadership.” Among the chapter's competitive teams, the Cal Poly Steel Bridge team placed second in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, and the chapter’s concrete canoe team finished second in the Concrete Canoe National Competition. “These achievements go to the roots of Learn by Doing,” said Smith, who served 14 months as president. “We have such a large group — and long history — of devoted student members who invest their time, interest and energies on extracurricular activities like SCE.” He has also served as SCE chapter treasurer and social director.

For a complete listing of honorees, visit

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Pictured, left to right, Kevin Carstens, Joyce Lin, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, Morgan Montalvo and Ryan Smith.  

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