Cal Poly Float Wins Past Presidents Trophy at 2018 Rose Parade

Cal Poly universities’ milestone 70th float, “Dreams Take Flight,” received the Past Presidents Trophy for the most outstanding innovation in the use of floral and non-floral materials at the 129th Rose Parade® held New Year’s Day.

The float, designed and built by teams of students from Cal Poly and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, invited onlookers to take flight on the airplane wings of a trio of cuddly critters — a koala bear, sea otter and red panda. It celebrated the 2018 parade theme, “Making A Difference,” honoring those individuals in our communities who act in selfless, generous and kind ways to benefit others.

Fifth-year mechanical engineering major Ali Harake, president of the SLO campus Rose Float Committee, especially likes to point out that the colorful menagerie are “animals you’d typically not see together,” reflecting the diversity of the 61-member Rose Float Committee in terms of both majors and backgrounds. “We’re one of the most diverse teams on our campus,” he said.

 “Dreams Take Flight” was among 44 floats in this year’s parade.

The 18- by 54-foot entry used animation to breathe life into its trio of amiable aviators as they swooped and swayed amid the clouds. Paula the Koala, the largest element on the float, flew a striped-red biplane, controlling the craft’s flaps, rudders, ailerons and elevators as she glance between the sky and the audience. She led Ollie the Otter’s seaplane, which emerged from a cluster of moving clouds, while Rusty the Red Panda soared behind, banking left to right, some 28 feet above the float.

The concept was selected from more than 100 ideas submitted last spring by students, local communities, alumni and friends of the Cal Poly Rose Float program.

The design included a nod to Cal Poly’s rich parade history. Stamps of past Cal Poly universities floats were depicted on the planes in tribute.

During the recent Decorations Week in Pasadena, the float was adorned with thousands of colorful blooms — including 10,000 roses, 10,000 Gerbera daisies and 1,000 irises. The bulk of the float was festooned with mums: 12,000 chrysanthemums; 7,500 yellow button mums; 3,000 green button mums; 1,000 orange cushion mums; and 500 purple cushion mums.

Cushion mums, button mums, lemons, oranges and ilex berries covered the airplanes. A dense border of red roses surrounded the cockpit of the koala’s scarlet plane. The animals’ fur was a combination of buffalo grass, redwood bark, sheet moss and gorilla hair. Side elements used a combination of dry and fresh materials. Dried coconut and baby’s breath brought out the fluff in the clouds. Ti leaves, statice and strawflower decorated the kites and paper airplanes.

Awards were announced by 2018 Tournament of Roses President Lance Tibbet about 6 a.m., two hours before the start of the 5½-mile parade down Colorado Boulevard.

“This is a fantastic award, not one that we’ve ever won before,” said Josh D’acquisto, Cal Poly’s Rose Parade float advisor. “It’s huge.

“The students put an exceptional amount of planning and effort into their floral plan this year creating a fading effect from the front of the float to the rear, where it’s faded from yellow to orange to peach to pink to purple in this fantastic blend of roses and Gerber daisies. I think that played into it.”

A large group of Cal Poly students cheered the announcement, he added.

“We’re pumped,” said mechanical engineering major Sara Novell, the engine operator who rode on the float with a team of other students.

The schools were also honored for their commitment to California’s flower farmers. It’s the seventh consecutive year the float has 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. The Cal Poly universities’ float has about 97 percent of cut flowers and plant materials from California, including white and lavender statice grown by students on the San Luis Obispo campus.

The schools enjoy a rich history in the Tournament of Roses® Rose Parade. Cal Poly universities has the sixth highest number of appearances behind the city of Los Angeles (120 appearances), South Pasadena (108), and the cities of Alhambra (90) and Burbank and Sierra Madre (both 86 years).

Since the fall of 1948, students from San Luis Obispo and Pomona have come together across 240 miles to produce the float — one of only six self-built entries — for Pasadena’s signature event. Since then, the two schools’ entries have earned more than 50 awards, including the Founders’ Trophy for the most beautiful float built and decorated by volunteers from a community or organization in 2017.