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EJ Rainville in the Arctic

Arctic Exploration

Oct 11, 2018

EJ Rainville helped scientists perform oceanic research in the Arctic.

Traveling through the North Atlantic, the captain of research vessel Neil Armstrong had to repeatedly navigate around harsh weather that would entail winds near 60 mph and 24-foot swells. But those stormy seas, EJ Rainville said, will provide key data on the impact of climate change.

“On the particularly drastic side, it the polar-subpolar regions warm too much, the formation of cold deep waters will be reduced, which could slow down ocean circulation or change it in some way that could have profound effects on our climate,” said Rainville, a mechanical engineering student.

Beginning in August and ending just last week, Rainville was aboard the 238-foot Neil Armstrong, working with the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP), spearheaded by more than 20 scientists from around the world. OSNAP has monitored the ocean’s movements across the Arctic and North Atlantic Ocean, knowing that variations in world climate and weather are caused by changes that occur in the ocean and its overall circulation.

The North Atlantic has been called the engine that drives the global oceanic circulation, which makes it pivotal for the state of the earth’s climate.

“The goal of the project is to understand the ocean overturning circulation – the formation of cold deep waters from warm equatorial waters in near-polar regions – and to understand the water mass and heat budgets in the subpolar North Atlantic region,” Rainville said.

While Rainville grew up in land-locked Colorado, at Cal Poly, he became involved in ocean measurements through Ryan Walter, an assistant professor of physics, who studies physical oceanography.

EJ Rainville's time on the RV Neil Armstrong offered amazing views, including this rainbow.

“Locally, we are investigating how hydrodynamics influence local ecological habitats,” Walter said. “We are also looking at how a particular type of underwater wave in the ocean is affected by kelp forests.”

For that, Rainville has helped with analysis of ocean currents and internal waves in underwater kelp forests and with driving activities related to setting up underwater instruments, among other things. He has also helped with outreach efforts at the Cal Poly Pier Open House.

In December, an oceanic paper Rainville presented about their research at the American Geographical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans won the Outstanding Student Paper Award. The summer before that, in 2017, he worked in the physical oceanography department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA, as a student fellow. The chief scientist on the last leg of the OSNAP was from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which also operates the Navy-owned Neil Armstrong.


A view from the research vessel Neil Armstrong.

The crew boarded the vessel on August 24 in Iceland, then headed for the western coast of Greenland in the Labrador Sea. Rainville worked as a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) watchstander, which means he helped operate the CTD instrument, which allowed the team to measure profiles of temperature and salinity.

Rainville worked the watch from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m. And when he wasn’t working, he read, worked out in the ship’s gym or talked with scientists. He also took in the breathtaking sites.

“The landscapes are very dramatic,” he said. “It seemed like every time you would look up, there was a new mountain range or new glacier.

While the landscapes would be serene, the ship often had to return to shore or protected areas to avoid the not-so-serene weather.

“What surprised me most about working on the ship was how fast plans can change,” he said. “We needed to be very flexible in order to accommodate the drastic changes in weather, so we always needed a plan B or plan C.”

Continue reading Arctic Exploration...
Brian Hillenbrand working with Haas CNC Machine

An Automated Upgrade

Oct 9, 2018

Brian Hillenbrand, a manufacturing engineering student, demonstrates how the new Haas CNC machines work.

A fleet of newly purchased Haas CNC machines will help teach engineering students how mechanical parts are designed, manufactured, and inspected -- better preparing them for their future careers -- said Trian Georgeou, a lecturer in the Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering department. Meanwhile, a new $40,000 working scholarship will fund student lab technicians, complimenting Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing approach with an Earn by Doing incentive.   

The additions, Georgeou said, mark the completion of the first phase in a three-phase upgrade to the IME Material Removal labs. 

The six new CNC mills replaced older, open-frame manual mills that were 25 years behind today’s current CNC mill technology, Georgeou said. The older mills also posed safety concerns due to the open frame construction, he added.

“It is our job as manufacturing engineering educators to stay abreast with advanced manufacturing topics,” he said during a sneak peek Thursday. “If we don’t keep up to date with advanced manufacturing topics, it could be a threat to our nation’s security, not only in defense but commercial goods and services as well.”

Students listen to a shop tech talk in front of the new Haas CNC machines.

The official unveiling was attended by students as well as representatives from Haas and the College of Engineering.

The Ventura County-based Haas Automation is now the largest machine tool manufacturer in the U.S., having sold over 200,000 machines worldwide since it opened in 1983.

The company sold the College of Engineering the six machines at “heavily discounted” prices, said Scott Coventry, district manager at Haas Automation. CNC– short for “computer numerical control” – is a manufacturing process in which pre-programmed computer software dictates the movement of factory tools and machinery.  With CNC machining, three-dimensional cutting tasks can be accomplished in a single set of prompts.

“The code tells the machine everything it needs to do,” said Kathy Looman, director of the Gene Haas Foundation, which has donated $52 million to manufacturing education efforts. “And the machine knows exactly what tools to use.”

Learning on these machines will better prepare students for work in industry after graduation, Coventry said. “Once you learn these machines, you can go anywhere around the world and work.”

Lecturer Trian Georgeou shows College of Engineering Dean Amy Fleischer some of the parts made with new Haas CNC machines.

Georgeou worked with Coventry to not only bring new machines to Cal Poly but to also create new curriculum that would take advantage of them. Roughly 700 freshman a year are expected to go through the IME Material Removal lab. While machines also exist in the Aero Hangar and Mustang ‘60 shops, those are primarily used for club and senior projects, whereas these will be used to teach students.

“A lot of them have never touched a machine before,” said Brian Hillenbrand, a manufacturing engineering student.

Hillenbrand was one of several students hired as techs with the $40,000 in grant money provided to Cal Poly manufacturing and mechanical engineering students by the Gene Haas Foundation. The techs were trained to use the new machines over the summer and will now  help other students with their machining lab projects.

Hillenbrand said working as a teacher helps him learn even more about machining – while providing extra incentive with the so-called Earn by Doing money.

“It’s very rewarding to teach,” he said. “But when you have the incentive of getting paid, you put in a little more.”

Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation have been frequent university supporters.  Gene Haas, who founded the company, might be better known for founding both formula one and NASCAR race teams.  But he’s also still involved in manufacturing and philanthropy related to the field.

“Gene is passionate about the manufacturing industry,” Looman said.

And he knows that in order to remain competitive globally, U.S. students have to work with current technology.

“If you want to win a race, you don’t drive a 1950s pickup – you drive a current Ferrari,” Coventry said. “And these machines are race cars.”

Future upgrades to the lab will entail eventually replacing the twelve outdated manual engine lathes with six new state-of-the-art Haas CNC versions as well as adding two new Omax Protomax waterjet cutters, two polymer laser cutters, and two small scale injection molding machines, Georgeou said.

“This will allow us to teach the freshman engineering students about the advanced material removal processes and some of the polymer processing processes that are heavily utilized in industry.”

Continue reading An Automated Upgrade...
Dr. Amy Fleischer at Engineering Plaza

Five Questions with Dean Amy Fleischer

Oct 4, 2018

After 18 years at Villanova as a mechanical engineering professor and department chair, Amy Fleischer is now at the helm of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering. Cal Poly Magazine got to know the new dean, her vision for the college, and her impressive Lego collection. See Full Story from Cal Poly Magazine

Photo by Jenifer Olson.

Russell Westphal and Boeing's Kevin Mejia

Taking Flight

Oct 2, 2018

Russell Westphal and Boeing employee Kevin Mejia, a Cal Poly graduate, work with a BLDS device attached to the rudder of an airplane. (Photo courtesy of Boeing).

Surveillance planes searching for wildfires, missing persons or military targets need as much time in the air as they can get, said Russell Westphal, a mechanical engineering professor. So aircraft companies seek to maximize aerodynamic performance, making their planes use less fuel.

 “That translates to more time in the air,” Westphal said.

For a decade, Westphal has worked with students on his creation, the Boundary Layer Data System (BLDS), which employs small, self-contained, autonomous instruments to help aircraft companies measure the aerodynamics of their planes. And, as Westphal seeks funding to modernize his creation, the BLDS is in the midst of one of its busiest years, having completed three flight test programs in 2018.

On one of those, the BLDS was one of some 40 technologies evaluated as part of Boeing’s 2018 EcoDemonstrator flight test program, which employed a new 777 freighter aircraft built for FedEx.

“The 777 flights represent the biggest challenge that BLDS has yet taken on to date,” Westphal said. “The flights set numerous BLDS records and firsts, solidifying the unique BLDS approach as an established flight test paradigm.”

The BLDS device Westphal created provides data so airplane manufacturers can maximize aerodynamic performance.

Ten years ago, the idea for the BLDS came to Westphal when approached by Northrop Grumman. Aircraft companies make predictions on aerodynamics, but they need something to test those predictions. So Westphal came up with the BLDS, which specifically measures near-surface airflow within the boundary layer of a full-scale aircraft during flight. (The boundary layer is a thin layer of air immediately above the surface that is responsible for friction – also known as drag – of an object moving through air.)

“The idea I had for quite a while was to have a cigarette pack-sized instrument,” Westpal said.

Weighing less than a pound, the BLDS could be attached on planes with removable adhesives.

“BLDS instruments have been attached on wing surfaces, the vertical tail, or the fuselage, to make measurements on those surfaces,” he said.

Data gathered from those devices can be used to validate and improve engineering tools as well as provide research data on issues such as the influence of manufacturing imperfections – and even insect strikes -- on the flow. But the main goal is to reduce drag.

“Companies are seeking to improve performance and especially to reduce fuel burn,” Westphal said.

The project was originally created as a vehicle to involve students in unique and exciting engineering work, Westphal said. Each year, between 6-8 students work on the BLDS.

Over the summer, Robseth Taas, an aerospace engineering student, worked on the project, examining several types of battery cells that are potential new power sources for the BLDS.

“I put the batteries through different conditions and measured their responses in order to gauge their viability,” he said.

Led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Russ Westphal, left, a recent Boundary Layer Data System project team includes undergraduate and graduate engineering students Andrew Elliott, Julia Roche, Thomas Niemisto, Paul Kujawa, Jakob Graf and Winthrop Townsend.


Several students who worked on the project in the past have gone on to work in the aerospace industry.

Brittany Kinkade, who earned a masters degree in mechanical engineering, worked on the BLDS for two years, during which her interest in aerospace engineering grew. Now she works as a wind tunnel test engineer for an aerospace company in Los Angeles.

“Dr. Westphal’s program really opened my eyes to the wind tunnel testing realm, and I learned so much through him and other students involved that I wouldn’t have normally learned through my coursework,” she said.

Ryan Murphy, who worked on the project from 2014-2015, still keeps in touch with Westphal and some of the other BLDS students and works as an aerospace structures engineer for the United States Air Force.

“Working with Dr. Westphal prepared me for my current position by strengthening my ability to innovate and push the edge of the envelope,” he said.

While the design for the BLDS froze in 2009, technology has advanced in microcontrollers, wireless communications, low-power electronics and digital sensors.

“So the challenge now is to exploit the advantages that these advances enable to create an all-new next generation BLDS,” Westphal said.

His team has assembled a proof-of-concept prototype of the next generation of BLDS – called BLDS-M (modular) and is seeking support to build out the concept in a collaboration with the Cal Poly Autonomous Flight Lab.

“The compact, modular nature of the next-gen BLDS devices can enable flight test measurements on small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that are impractical today, enhancing the performance of future UAS,” said Aaron Drake, an aerospace engineering professor, who directs the Autonomous Flight Lab. “Also, the availability of UAS here at Cal Poly will allow more rapid testing of BLDS devices in flight, leading to more opportunities to involve students in exciting engineering work and accelerating the development of the next-gen BLDS.”

Continue reading Taking Flight...
Lance Iunker making announcement

Helping Wounded Vets

Sep 28, 2018

Lance Iunker, West Coast program manager for the Quality of Life Plus lab, announces this year’s challenges.

After he lost his left hand during a 2004 training accident, Toshiro Carrington returned to active duty just three months later and remained one of the Navy SEAL’s top snipers.

But today, when he teaches others his skills, he can’t relate as well, using only one hand and a makeshift replacement for the other.

Students listen and take notes during the QL+ lab's presentation of "challenges."

“Currently what I’m using is a hook that I designed,” he said, showing a metal hook that replaced his hand. “It’s pretty simple.”

What he needs, Carrington explained in a video, is a waterproof “hand” that’s lightweight and durable and would allow him to show his students how to load a weapon.

It doesn’t have to look like a hand, he said, just function like one.

“He wants to be able to show someone with two hands how it’s done,” said Lance Iunker, West Coast program manager for the Quality of Life Plus.

The program, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, detailed this year’s “challenges” for students looking for interdisciplinary senior design projects Tuesday. Founded by Cal Poly graduate Jon Monett, the lab challenges students to help wounded vets, first responders and law enforcement, often with prosthetic technology.

Jon Monett founded the QL+ Lab ten years ago.

After Monett launched the QL+ lab at Cal Poly, a dozen other schools nationwide added their own QL+ programs.

“This year we have 26 challengers who make up 35 projects,” Monett told the audience, which assembled at the ATL auditorium Tuesday.

Four challenges were presented, some of them via video, to the interdisciplinary students at Cal Poly. They were:

  • Tosh Carrington. In combat deployments, he was a team medic, point man, sniper and case officer. But in 2004, after returning from Iraq, he lost his hand in a training accident. He did four more deployments even after his injury, and two tours as a sniper instructor before retiring.  Now he is president of Strategic Operations Training in San Diego, where he teaches law enforcement and civilians. For that role, he said, he needs a more functional prosthetic.
  • Jorge Segura. As a Marine, he was ambushed in 2010 by a Taliban soldier, whose rifle took 45 percent of his right arm. After undergoing 26 surgeries to try to salvage the limb, he had it amputated above the elbow – a decision he considers one of the best he’s ever made. But Segura loves to cook and hopes students will devise a prosthetic that will facilitate his culinary hobby.
  • Van Curaza. Known for surfing waves over 20 foot, Curaza founded Operation Surf in San Luis Obispo to help wounded vets heal physically and mentally through surf camps. While prosthetics usually help leg amputees stand straight and walk, they do not provide great balance for surfing, Caraza said in his video. “I have a pretty good idea of what works and what does not work,” he said. He challenged students to design a prosthetic that bends at the knee that will maximize amputee surfing experiences.
  • Craig Brady. In 2010, the Marine, from New Hampshire, lost his lower right leg from an improvised explosion device. Brady, who has excelled in sled hockey, loves to walk on the beach with his wife and children.  But walking on sand with a prosthetic is difficult – and hurts his back. So he challenged students to devise a “sand foot” that is waterproof, stable in sand and comfortable.

Two other challenges were presented to mechanical engineering students:

  • Taylor Morris. After stepping on an IED while serving in Afghanistan in 2012, Morris lost all or parts of four limbs. The Navy vet, who has had Cal Poly students address previous challenges, has multiple trailers for different purposes. He is seeking a solution for easily changing the hitch for each trailer.
  • Danny Knutson. The former Navy fighter pilot and avid cyclist was struck by a hit-and-run driver nine years ago, rendering him an incomplete quadriplegic. He challenged students to devise a mounting system that would allow him to get in and out of his recumbent bike independently.   


After hearing the presentations, students will be allowed to state their interest in working on the challenges. Then faculty will decide which ones are assigned to each. Monett, who managed a quick reaction lab during his career with the CIA, told students they would have to work quickly.

“So we’ll give you nine months, which was a long time for us,” he said. “But you’ve got to come up with a solution and build it and produce it and give it to the challenger.”

Continue reading Helping Wounded Vets...
Rocket Launch

DAVE in Space

Sep 20, 2018

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission – along with a CubeSat from Cal Poly -- lifts off from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sept. 15.

Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

Students from PolySat are already communicating with their satellite, known as DAVE, which was launched into space last weekend.

Cal Poly was one of three universities to launch a CubeSat into space Saturday. The mini-satellites were launched at Vandenberg Air Force Base, aboard the Delta II rocket.

PolySat is a student-run research lab and the CubeSat development team at Cal Poly. The concept for CubeSats – miniature satellites that could be launched by rockets carrying out other missions -- was co-created by recently retired aerospace professor Jordi Puig-Suari.

Cal Poly’s first CubeSat was rocketed to space in 2006.

“For a long time, we were the only game in town as far as putting these things in space,” Puig-Suari said in June.

Eventually, others followed, including universities, high schools, government agencies and other nations. Saturday’s launch marked the 13th time Cal Poly has put a CubeSat into space.

Cal Poly CubeSat DAVE

The latest Cal Poly entry is named DAVE – short for Damping and Vibrations Experiment. It was designed the study the behavior of particle dampers in microgravity conditions. Students began attempting to communicate with DAVE at 5 a.m. Sunday. The group has been posting updates on its Facebook page.

To see a Zero-F flight experiment with DAVE, check out this video.

Other CubeSats were launched for UCLA and University of Central Florida.

Delta II was launched by United Launch Alliance, which provides spacecraft launch services. The Delta II’s primary mission was to launch NASA’s ICESat-2 (Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2), which will provide scientists with data to track changes of terrain, including glaciers, sea ice forests and more. The rocket, which first launched in 1989, took off on its latest mission at 6:02 a.m. Saturday.

Built by Northrop Grumman, the spacecraft has launched more than 50 missions for NASA and has launched 155 times since it was built. A bit of a celebrity rocket, it has roved the surface of Mars and is credited with modern GPS navigation, according to United Launch Alliance.

Continue reading DAVE in Space...
Professor Tryg Lundquist at a dairy farm

An Environmental Legacy

Sep 20, 2018

Tryg Lundquist, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Cows that lived decades ago could potentially pose a risk to the environment and public health, according to a NASA-supported study that involved Cal Poly’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

The new findings, which suggest that emission estimates for California and even globally might be lower than expected, could spark further changes in the way farmers operate.

“One example might be decreasing the amount of manure that is spread on fields as fertilizer,” said Tryg Lundquist, a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department.

The study looked specifically at the impact cow manure – specifically, manure from long ago – has by creating harmful ammonia.

“Air pollution is a major health concern in many regions of California, and ammonia is a contributor,” Lundquist said.

For six years, Lundquist’s department has collaborated with an innovative environmental research firm, Santa Barbara-based Bubbleology Research International, Inc. (BRI), on trace gas emissions measurements. In the NASA-supported study, which involved an international team, researchers targeted subdivisions located on former dairies in San Bernardino County.

In recent decades, urbanization has converted many dairies into suburban communities.

To reach their conclusions, BRI used an automobile-mounted atmospheric chemistry lab, called AMOG, and satellite data to create emissions maps. Information collected from the former dairy land was compared to communities in the area that had never been dairies.

“The main finding of the just-published study is that land that was used decades earlier for dairies and then was converted to subdivisions still emits ammonia,” Lundquist said. “The source might be manure and urine that was applied – or perhaps applied in excess – as fertilizer to dairy cropland.”

Lundquist noted that this was a small first study. But its conclusions prompts questions about the long-term impacts of cattle for further research.

California dairies have 1.7 million milk cows, which generate lots of manure. That manure can be spread on fields to fertilize animal feed crops, Lundquist added.

“This recycles the nutrients in the manure, but some of the manure nutrients are converted into emissions of the air pollutant ammonia gas,” Lundquist said.

Emissions from the former dairies are called “legacy emissions.”

“Legacy emissions means that today’s dairy emissions are not only from the number of cows today and their waste, but also what happened in prior years and even decades,” said Ira Leifer, BRI’s CEO and chief scientist.

While the BRI study suggests emissions might be worse than we thought, Lundquist said the new information will help address the problem while helping farmers.

“In the future, I hope to help on suggesting and testing practical changes to dairy waste management that will further improve the sustainability of the dairy industry while reducing its environmental footprint and maintaining the high quality of California dairy products,” Lundquist said.

Waste management efforts is one possible option. And Lundquist recently received funding to research waste management methods.

Another approach is even more basic: Use fewer cows.

In a separate project, Chris Lupo, who chairs Cal Poly’s computer science and software engineering department, analyzed massive data collected from cattle in an effort to optimize genetic selection, which could help farmers breed the best milk-producing cows.

“If we can produce the same milk with fewer cattle, this has less cost for the farmer and less environmental impact,” Lupo said.

Continue reading An Environmental Legacy...
Ignatios Vakalis talking with Amy Fleischer

Cracking the Code

Sep 17, 2018

Professor Ignatios Vakalis and College of Engineering Dean Amy Fleischer discuss diversity issues.

Ignatios Vakalis, who helped increase the number of females pursuing computer science degrees at Cal Poly by 300 percent over the past decade, will be honored Nov. 2 with a national diversity award.

The Claire L. Felbinger Award for Diversity and Inclusion is presented yearly by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), based in Baltimore. Vakalis, a computer science professor at Cal Poly, was honored largely for his work recruiting, supporting, empowering, and educating young women to a field that has been disproportionately represented by men.

While women represent 57 percent of undergraduates nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Education, they only comprise 17 percent of computer science students. The problem, Vakalis said, begins in high school, when girls are made to believe the field is heavy on programming and dominated by males who work in isolation.

“They are not being empowered or shown that computer science is engaging,” he said. “It’s creative. It’s socially relevant. It’s collaborative. It’s technical. And software is a key component to almost every major innovation.”

Vakalis began his diversity work as a professor of mathematics and computer science at Capital University in Ohio, where he worked to recruit women into mathematics beginning in the 90s. In addition, he co-organized and chaired three International Conferences on the Teaching of Mathematics, bringing together an almost equal number of male and female mathematics faculty from more than 40 counties.

Vakalis joined Cal Poly in 2006 and served as the chair of the department for 10 years. By 2008, Vakalis -- with the support of his department colleagues -- had developed a multi-year strategic plan to draw more women to the computer science program at Cal Poly. At the time, females accounted for roughly 9 percent of the students in computer science and software engineering. By 2017, the number had increased to just under 30 percent.

“What they understood is that it’s a multi-pronged approach,” said Amy Fleischer, dean of the College of Engineering. “It’s not one thing that’s going to solve the problem, but it’s a lot of things.”

The strategic plan featured several components, including the establishment of a project-based introductory course that would appeal to all prospective students by infusing popular elements, such as art, music, mobile app development, security and robotics. Meanwhile, a multi-faceted mentoring program was established – both peer-to-peer mentoring and also with members of the department’s Industry Advisory Board that Vakalis established. In addition, recruiting efforts included mentoring and sending female computer science students to high schools to offer testimonials that would generate enthusiasm among female high school students. Vakalis has also raised significant funds each year so that more women from the Computer Science- Software Engineering department at Cal Poly could attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration conference, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, which provides inspiration and networking.

Vakalis said encouraging more women in the field is important for two reasons: “There’s a business case, and there’s a humanitarian case,” he said.

Research shows that companies that are more gender-balanced perform better financially, he said, stay under budget more and demonstrate improved employee performance. From a social justice viewpoint, he said, “It’s the right thing to do. The social justice case reflects civil rights and feminism, backed by decades of social progress and research.”

Zoe Wood, another computer science professor – and one of Vakalis’s allies in diversity initiatives – was recently honored with the 2018 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award, which considered her diversity efforts.

Part of the challenge with recruiting women to the field, Vakalis and Fleischer said, is the Hollywood portrayal of computer scientists as males.

“I think it’s starting to change,” Fleischer said.

Recruiting more females to the field is a marketing effort, she added, pointing out the positive aspects of the field.

“If you can show the difference you can make in the world – that engineering is not sitting in a cubicle by yourself, but it’s working in teams and impacting the human experience, that works,” Fleischer said.

Vakalis, whose office features a poster of Lady Gaga –another champion of diversity -- said the field offers a bright future for women, starting with a favorable work outlook.

“The department has 100-percent employment placement after the students graduate,” said Vakalis, who has also brought many female Silicon Valley computer scientists to campus for professional talks. “And the highest paid jobs are the female computer scientists.”

The diversity efforts have made Cal Poly a model for other colleges and universities, said Chris Lupo, the current department chair, who nominated Vakalis for the distinction. “His vision, passion, mentoring and incredible support of women in computing has truly transformed the department to a national leader in this area,” Lupo wrote in his nomination.

Continue reading Cracking the Code...
Student Kairo Phan writes code on the glass walls

Cal Poly Engineering Ranks Among Tops in Nation

Sep 12, 2018

Software engineering student Kairo Phan writes code on the glass walls of a study cube in the Kennedy Library. Also sharing the space are, from left, Erin Greenlee (computer science), Robert Mathews and Zack Cody (software engineering).

Cal Poly has two of the top engineering departments in the country, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report’s annual America’s Best Colleges guidebook.

The Computer Engineering and Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering programs were both ranked No. 1 among bachelors/masters-level universities nationwide, according to the guidebook. Meanwhile, four other CENG programs were ranked in the top ten, including the mechanical, electrical and aerospace engineering departments, which all ranked second, and the civil engineering program, which ranked third.

The College of Engineering as a whole was ranked the eight best undergraduate program in the nation.

Trian Georgeou (IME) and ME student Alec Bialek.

Overall, Cal Poly was named the best public, master’s-level university in the West for the 26th consecutive year, and Cal Poly was ranked 12th overall in the West for all regional universities.

The CENG features roughly 6,500 students, more than 80 state-of-the-art classrooms laboratories and work spaces and roughly 80 student clubs, which offer project, leadership, service, conference and competition opportunities.

The median starting salary for graduates is $70,000.


Cal Poly graduate, established the QL+ program at his alma mater in 2008.

Up to the Challenge

Sep 7, 2018

Cal Poly graduate, established the QL+ program at his alma mater in 2009.

In an empty classroom on the third floor of Building 192, Jon Monett sits in front of a camera, artificial light illuminating his face, as he clutches his script. After a final take – Monett improvising much of it -- a filming crew wraps up and prepares for the next assignment.

“They’re making a 2-minute promo of the challengers of the class of 2019,” Monett explains.

That class will consist of 25 new individuals, including wounded veterans, who all have physical challenges they will ask students to address. Cal Poly will tackle the most challenges – up to eight – while the rest will go to other schools that have a Quality of Life Plus lab.

Monett, a Cal Poly graduate, established the QL+ program at his alma mater in 2009. He was inspired by the feature film “Fighting for Life,” a documentary about a soldier who tries to bounce back after losing a leg. Monett only planned on having one QL+ lab, but it has since spread to a dozen other schools: Virginia Tech, Colorado School of Mines, Universities of Dayton, Colorado, Ohio, and Cincinnati, VCU, George Mason, San Diego State, UCONN, UT San Antonio, and Xavier University.

Those with challenges are encouraged to solicit help from QL+ before each school year.

“We have challengers put together a video that says what their challenge is,” Monett said.

Past projects at Cal Poly have included a training fin for a trans tibial amputee who wanted to swim for resistance training, a chair lift for an injured Air Force vet and a lift for a marine missing legs at the hip.

Perhaps the best known challenge was provided by Taylor Morris, a Navy Explosive Ordinance vet who lost parts of all four limbs to an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. The lab garnered headlines when students created a “quick swap” that Morris could use to change prosthetics on his own.

The next year students continued to refine the device while addressing another Morris challenge: cooling the extended limbs, which frequently become very hot.

“That’s how you can tell the QL + program really cares,” Morris said. “They’re not just getting a photo opp.”

Challenges are directed toward Lily Laiho, the faculty advisor to the lab. After the challengers are narrowed down, students indicate their preference on which ones they want to pursue, and faculty ultimately decide where assignments go shortly after the fall quarter begins. The students will then work on the challenge for the entire school year.

For the challengers, it offers an opportunity to have students bring new ideas to their unique problem, and they are motivated to help the students become better engineers.

“The students come in with new approaches and these fresh ideas that haven’t been stomped out of them by working at a company for a long time,” Laiho said.

In turn, the QL+ program provides students an excellent opportunity to do hands-on work while making a difference in someone’s life.

“The whole point of this lab is to help people like Taylor that want to make the best of their situation,” said Greg Orekhov, who is wrapping up his master’s thesis as he begins work on a doctorate. “It’s very fulfilling to be able to help the quality of life for someone through engineering.”

That’s definitely a step up from Monett’s senior project – making production tools.

“The idea was, ‘Why don’t we give them something useful to do?’” said Monett, an ardent supporter of the university.

After graduating with an industrial engineering degree in 1964, Monett spent 26 years working for the CIA Office of Technical Services before launching Telemus Solutions, a global security consulting and intelligence advisory services company.

The lab at Cal Poly is currently being upgraded with new furniture, a workspace area and a new 3D printers But the challenges will continue as planned.

While wars in Iraq in Afghanistan resulted in droves of injured vets, there are still many new vet challenges, Monett said.

“We have a guy who had seven or eight deployments, came back and got hit by a drunk driver,” he said.

Even if wounded vets have been provided with prosthetics that allow them to walk, many want to do more, including amputees who want to do marathons and blind vets who want to kayak.

“A lot of these challenges are to continue to allow them to do the things they love,” Laiho said.

Continue reading Up to the Challenge...


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