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Cover of Engineering Advantage Magazine, Fall 2018 issue

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An Extraordinary E.T.

An extraterrestrial float created by Cal Poly students was also an extraordinary float, judges concluded Tuesday, two hours before millions of earthlings observed it during the much-anticipated Rose Parade.

“The judges even complimented our float during the judging – and that’s not very common,” said Sara Novell, a mechanical engineering student and president of Cal Poly SLO Rose Float. “It’s amazing. We’re so happy about it.”

Cal Poly Rose Parade Float

“Far Out Frequencies,” a float created by students from Cal Poly SLO and Cal Poly Pomona, received the Extraordinaire Award during the 130th Rose Parade Tuesday.

Every year, students from Cal Poly SLO and Cal Poly Pomona team up to work on a float for the parade, held on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. (Of the 32 Cal Poly SLO members on the team, 20 were from the College of Engineering.) This year’s 16-foot tall, 49-foot-long float, featuring astronauts and aliens communicating through music, was honored with the prestigious Extraordinaire Award.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten this award, so we’re really excited about it,” Novell said. “We did build an extraordinary float from an extraordinary team of students from both campuses.”

This year’s parade, themed “The Melody of Life,” was viewed by 700,000 people in person and more than 70 million worldwide on television. “Far Out Frequencies,” the float from Cal Poly universities, featured several animated parts, including an astronaut strumming a guitar, aliens playing an accordion and a spinning flower.

Sara Novell laughing

Mechanical engineering major Sara Novell, president of Cal Poly SLO Rose Float, said this year’s float achieved a first – an award for extraordinary work.

Computer science student Connor Graves said his favorite part of the project is always the first time they get the animations functioning automatically.

“Getting them running is my main task and is generally the last item our construction team is directly responsible for,” said Graves, the electronics assistant lead on the float. “So seeing everything work is a weight off my shoulders and a highly anticipated event.”

While engineering students were heavily involved in the mechanics of the float – which entails welding, metal shaping, machining and more -- they also assisted in decorating it with over 100,000 flowers. Decorations Week took place Dec. 26-30 in Pasadena.

“Deco Week is so fun,” said mechanical engineering student Melitta Kauppinen, who worked as the lead for a water fountain mechanism on the float. “It’s when you get to see the float really come together, and that makes all the hard work worth it. I like to be creative, and this week really lets me.”

Alien playing saxophone

Hearing the accolades and winning an award were definitely highlights for the students involved. But aside from the fun, working on the float is also practical, said Nicolette Ray, an electrical engineering student who was on the construction team focused on animations.

“Rose Float has allowed me to learn how to weld, how to operate machinery, how to solder,” she said. “I’ve developed my problem solving skills a lot. I’ve also become more comfortable leading people and explaining how to perform specific tasks.”

That experience garners a massive audience during the parade, said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, who was in Pasadena for the parade.

“The Cal Poly Rose Float is Learn by Doing on an international stage – one of our most well-known student-designed and -built projects,” he said. “Our extended Mustang family of alumni, family and float fans gush with Cal Poly pride over the hard work that transformed a drawing into a larger-than-life colorful spectacle.”

This was the 130th Rose Parade. Cal Poly first entered the parade in 1949 with a giant rocking horse.

Here’s a list of the Cal Poly SLO engineering students on the team:

Cal Poly SLO Rose Float Leadership Team
Position Name Major
President Sara Novell Mechanical Engineering
Construction Chair Dexter Yanagisawa Mechanical Engineering
Construction Assistant Kara Hewson Mechanical Engineering
Construction Assistant Ben Robinson Mechanical Engineering
Electronics Lead Michael Cain Electrical Engineering
Electronics Assistant Connor Graves Computer Science
Electronics Team Ryan Morosa Electrical Engineering
Electronics Team Jeremy Sim Electrical Engineering
Electronics Team Nicolette Ray Electrical Engineering
Electronics Team Randy Yonce Industrial Engineering
Hydraulics/Engine Lead Weston Montgomery Mechanical Engineering
Hydraulics/Engine Assistant Jason Chang Electrical Engineering
Construction Team Kayla Collins Mechanical Engineering
Construction Team Melitta Kauppinen Mechanical Engineering
Construction Team Tyler Couvrette Electrical Engineering
Construction Team Walter Trygstad Industrial Engineering
Construction Team Kevin Nottberg Computer Engineering
Construction Team Tyler Koski Mechanical Engineering
Design Assistant Judith Lopez Mechanical Engineering
Deco Chair Sydney Strong Industrial Engineering


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