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Professor Jim Meagher Named Interim Dean

February 24, 2017

Jim Meagher, professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, has been named interim dean of the College of Engineering by Cal Poly Provost Kathleen Enz-Finken. Meagher follows former Dean Debra Larson, who recently left Cal Poly to take a position as provost at CSU Chico. Meagher’s appointment was effective Feb. 13.

“Jim has provided excellent leadership and outreach throughout his time on campus,” said Enz-Finken. “His measured and collaborative approach to leadership, support for diversity and inclusion efforts, and experiences in philanthropy will be assets at the college level.”

Meagher joined the Mechanical Engineering Department in 1988 as an assistant professor; he was awarded tenure and promotion to full professor in 1994. For the past three years, Meagher served as department chair. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Akron and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. His areas of scholarship include rotor dynamics and modeling of high-speed rotating machinery.

During his career at Cal Poly, Meagher helped establish the Donald E. Bently Center for Engineering Innovation, a research center in the Mechanical Engineering Department, the Bently Computational Facility, and the Solar Turbines/Bently Nevada Vibrations and Rotor Dynamics Laboratory.

“It was a great privilege to work with Don Bently, a giant of industry,” said Meagher. “I am also gratified that my early collaboration with Munich University of Applied Sciences evolved into a rich exchange of students and faculty. Hundreds of students and half of the mechanical engineering faculty have had the opportunity to study and teach abroad as a result of this ongoing partnership.”

In addition to his teaching and research activities, Meagher served as faculty advisor to the Cal Poly chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for 25 years. “In this position, I’ve seen first-hand how Cal Poly engineering students collaborate on award-winning projects,” he said. “In fact, what brought me to Cal Poly in 1988 still motivates me today: contributing to student success along with a passion for the discipline.

“As interim dean, I want to continue the positive trajectory set by Dean Larson. I hope, especially, to add momentum to the development of a new Engineering Projects Center, and to enhance diversity and promote inclusivity in the college.”

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Six Cal Poly Engineering Champions Honored in Sacramento

February 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.


Photo: Back row, from left: Dorian Capps, Rebecca Kandell, Nelson Lin; front row, from left, Elizabeth Coffey, Jennifer Tuttle and Salvador Cortes Soancatl.

Civil Engineering Alum Making Waves

January 05, 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 project engineer for McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group (a division of Merrick & Co.), he designs and engineer 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.


Photo: Cal Poly civil engineering graduate Ben Nielsen hits the water at the South Platte River Run project near Denver. (Photo: Dan Mateer)

Civil Engineering Student Honored at 'Fresh Voices' Award Reception

October 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."


Photo: "Fresh Voices" honoree Diego Rivera, a civil engineering major, flanked by his parents at recent awards reception.




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

September 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.