Outstanding Cal Poly Student Endeavors Honored in Sacramento

Five engineering majors were among 19 Cal Poly students recognized for individual or team accomplishments by state lawmakers on the floors of the state Assembly and Senate in Sacramento on Monday, Feb. 12.

“I was proud to accompany these fine young men and women who are among our best and brightest students,” said university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “These campus leaders, representing each of the university’s respective colleges, were able to share with state representatives the value of a Learn by Doing education. In just a matter of months, several will make the transition from campus to careers, where the skills they developed as students will make them future industry leaders.”

The group was introduced to the Senate by Majority Leader Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and to the Assembly by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo. Both men represent San Luis Obispo County.

Honorees represented outstanding work accomplished by their respective teams or their own individual achievements — ranging from the Cal Poly Concrete Canoe Team national championship to Cal Poly’s award-winning entry in the Tournament of Roses Parad

Among the Cal Poly Engineering student representatives on the tour:

  • Ian Buchanan (San Diego) led Cal Poly’s Concrete Canoe Team to a win at the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering” — the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 30th annual National Concrete Canoe Competition held last June in Golden, Colo. Seeing his team’s entry “Meraki” — Greek for pouring one’s heart and soul into a project —“translated into a major win that was especially uplifting,” said the 23-year-old civil engineering student will receive his master’s degree in June. It’s tricky business crafting a canoe from scratch, its hull thickness smaller than the width of a dime, and a sleek design that can both float and quickly slice through water, but the team has a legacy. The 2017 competition was the team’s fourth national title since Cal Poly first advanced to the finals in 1998. As project manager, Buchanan oversaw the team’s fundraising, finances, scheduling and material procurement for the yearlong project. He also made oral presentations to judges at the regional qualifier and national competition. He ultimately hopes to become a principal partner in a structural engineering firm. Buchanan said it is an honor to represent Cal Poly and the team.

  • Ali Harake’s handiwork over the past four years has been seen in person by more than a million people — and, by some estimates, hundreds of millions of people throughout the world (on TV). The mechanical engineering major, from Moreno Valley, Calif., graduates and starts a full-time job in June. As president of the 2017-18 Cal Poly Rose Float team, he upheld a uniquely collaborative tradition: Working  in tandem with counterparts at Pomona’s California State Polytechnic University, the two campuses produce a succession of innovative, stunningly beautiful floral creations that drive down Colorado Boulevard each New Year’s Day during the classic Pasadena parade. Cal Poly universities’ milestone 70th float, “Dreams Take Flight,” received the Past Presidents Trophy this year for the most outstanding innovation in the use of floral and non-floral materials. The award was icing on the cake for Harake who celebrated his 23rd birthday on the day of the parade. The scale and scope of the entries has burnished both universities’ reputations for creativity and ingenuity among professional float builders. Harake valued meeting lawmakers. “It means a great deal to me to have the honor to represent my college as well as my team for our great achievements,” he said. “Our hard work and dedication has definitely paid off, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to attend such an amazing university that allows us these kinds of opportunities.”

  • Civil engineering major Laney Nelson (Chico, Calif.), president of Cal Poly Rainworks, was on the team that won the WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff Student Design Competition, a key student event held during the annual World Environmental and Water Resources Congress held last May by the Environmental and Water Resources Institute, a technical institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The competition challenges undergraduate students to solve real-life infrastructure problems with “practical yet innovative” solutions. Nelson, who is also pursuing her master’s degree in a blended undergraduate-graduate degree program, was one of the leaders of the site design team for the club’s Creekside Revival project — a stormwater management plan that uses green infrastructure and Low Impact Development (LID) techniques to manage and treat stormwater from an on-campus site. LID design uses or mimics natural processes “that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater” to protect water quality and aquatic habitat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The competition was a step along the pathway to her dream job as a water resources engineer. “I would like to work on the most important water projects in the state to help secure a sustainable water supply for all Californians,” said the 22-year-old who will graduate in June.

  • Electrical engineering senior Melinda Ong (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) is a member of the Cal Poly collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers that received the Mission Gold Award — the highest possible collegiate recognition — at the national organization’s annual convention, held last October in Austin, Texas. The award recognizes student chapters that best embody the organization’s core values and demonstrate improvement and growth as they work to further SWE’s goals. Ong, who is serving as the group’s president, plans to graduate in June, with a goal of becoming a program director and technical expert in electronic systems. The group also received the Boeing Multicultural Award for “best multicultural program to increase and maintain a diverse membership” and picked up two Best Practices awards for leadership development and public policy. In addition, it placed second and third, respectively, in the technical poster and Team Tech competitions. “Cal Poly Engineering and Cal Poly SWE provide a thriving environment for preparing women to be all they can be in their present and future lives and endeavors,” she said. Ong said representing her peers to state lawmakers in Sacramento “was an incredible honor” —and opportunity to share her insights. “The state and federal lawmakers set and assign significant standards to many aspects of the technology field for sustainability, safety and quality, she said. “I am very interested in learning how the importance of our national security is affecting the advancements in technology.”

  • Colleen Richards (Centennial, Colo.), a biomedical engineering junior, is the president of Cal Poly’s Panhellenic Executive Board of Directors. The campus Panhellenic Association, which oversees the 11 campus chapters and their approximately 2,500 sorority members, received the “Best in the West” Sutherland Award from the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values, an organization that provides experiences that challenge and encourage fraternity/sorority members to live ethical values and implement best practices. The award recognized the organization for academic achievement, council management, leadership and educational development, membership recruitment, public relations, risk reduction management, self-governance and judicial affairs in its division. “This recognition validates the efforts of Cal Poly’s Greek organizations,” said Keith Humphrey, vice president for Student Affairs. “Their leadership has positively impacted both our campus and the San Luis Obispo community.” Richards, who is seeking a career in research and development, served as Alpha Phi’s vice president of programming and education on the sorority’s executive board. “”I’m excited to give back to my university,” she said. “I’ve always felt so much support from Cal Poly, Panhellenic, the engineering department, and all of the students and staff I’ve interacted with here.”

  • Civil engineering major Vanessa See (San Francisco) was a member of Cal Poly’s Institute of Transportation Engineers club that for the third time in four years was ITE’s International Chapter of the Year among more than 140 student chapters. The group was honored for the outstanding activities and achievements reflected in its annual report at the organization’s annual conference, held last summer in Toronto. The club also won the ITE Collegiate Traffic Bowl Grand Championship, a Jeopardy!-style competition and became the only student chapter to win the grand championship twice. See, who is this year’s chapter president, plans a career as a transportation engineer after graduting in June 2019. “Transportation is experienced by everyone,” the 20-year old said, “whether it’s noticing a new signal timing feature that makes crossing the street safer, complaining about a late bus or train, or advocating for safer ways to bike, walk or take transit. To me, it's all about the direct impact on the people that makes learning about and working in transportation so rewarding.” Meeting state lawmakers give her more insight into the decision-making process, and underscored the fact that, ultimately, “transportation is as much engineering as it is politics.”

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