If you happen to live in a neighborhood that’s reasonably close to Cal Poly, you may think partying and puking are the curriculum of choice for students. And while it’s true that the National Institutes of Health has found that adolescent brains don’t really evolve a sense of sound judgment until the mid-20s, Poly really can’t claim the dubious distinction of being known as a party school.
Not only is the university one of the toughest public institutions to get into because of its “learn-by-doing” job placement record after graduation, but it also accepts only the best and brightest.
Consider the College of Engineering at Poly, the largest of the university’s six colleges.
U.S. News & World Report ranks it as the third public and sixth public or private program in the nation for schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Freshman applicants for 2010 had an average GPA of 4.03, and the average SAT score for those who were admitted was 1372 out of 1600, according to the magazine.
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OK, so the program has excellent professors, is nationally recognized and can afford to cherry-pick the best and brightest. The question arises: What makes a person want to be an engineer, other than it being one of the most sought-after professions among the emerging nations of the world?
My guess is that these are people who even as little kids liked to figure things out and loved to have some kind of mechanical or building challenge in which they could tinker until a solution was found. In short, I think they harbor a profound sense of wanting to make the world a better place.
Toward that end, take the engineering students who each year rehab someone’s house — totally free — as part of the PolyHouse program. Students in Professor Roya Javadpour’s industrial and manufacturing classes have taken on the Gordian knot known as Sunny Acres as their project this year.
Good on them, and good luck. But if there is any group of problem-solvers more up to the task, they haven’t yet surfaced, and luck won’t be a factor in these students’ success at Dan De Vaul’s ranch.
Then consider the Cal Poly chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), some 220 engineering students and several other students from across the campus, which was recently recognized as the nation’s premier student chapter, the highest recognized honor by Engineers Without Borders-USA. For the past couple of weekends — through the coordinating efforts of students Allie Davis, Logan Grant and Sam Tolley — EWB, collaborating with the College of Engineering and the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, has dedicated 2,000 hours of community work through the chapter’s first “Think Globally, Act Locally Challenge.”
From building wheelchair-accessible bocce ball courts at the Colony Park Recreation Center in Atascadero, to painting and serving breakfast at the Prado Day Center in San Luis Obispo, to trail maintenance on San Luis Mountain, to beach, creek and bike path cleanups, to helping set up Teen Closet — a nonprofit in Arroyo Grande that offers free donated clothes for homeless teens, EWB and civic clubs and organizations worked to make a positive difference around the county.
Now, here’s the kicker, what adds an extra dimension to these engineering students’ efforts: Pledges they received for the hours they put into making an impact locally will be used to build clean drinking facilities in Thailand, a sanitation project in India and a health clinic in Nicaragua.
Did I mention these students are problem-solvers who want to make the world a better place?
If you want to be part of this energy, contact the Poly EWB team at www.ewb-calpoly.org/CHALLENGE or email them at EWBchallengeSLO@gmail.com to find out how to sponsor their efforts.As Logan Grant says: “Nothing beats the feeling of making a difference.” Amen.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.