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Engineering A D V A N TA G E

CENG Takes Flight Special Section

Coping with COVID-19: The New Reality

Engineering A D V A N TA G E


The New Reality

The COVID-19 pandemic has Cal Poly Engineering faculty, students and alumni working to meet the challenge.

Learning from Afar


From the lab and classroom to the computer screen, engineering faculty are putting a new focus on improving online education.


Stepping up During a Crisis

Whether it’s printing masks with a 3-D printer, designing and building a better face shield or creating a ventilator from cheaper parts, engineering students and graduates join the battle against the pandemic.


High Tech for All

Liberal arts student Katrina Dickson is building diversity with STEM scholarships supporting students who are invested in racial and gender inclusivity.


Building a Sense of Community Three-year-old program is helping students feel more connected to the university.


Embracing the Challenge

After conflicts with her major, student uses her position as vice president of Women Involved in Software & Hardware to encourage others who are struggling.


SURP Continues to Soar

Program helps students gain a set of skills they can’t find in the classroom.


FROM THE DESK OF DEAN AMY S. FLEISCHER Amid the widespread disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, engineers work to meet dramatic new challenges.


HONORED ALUMNUS: FARZAD NAZEM Computer science alumnus is a pioneer in software and web infrastructure and passionate about the advancement of individuals and communities.


AROUND CENG The Dean’s Office kicks off a new recognition program and plans to turn the Computer Engineering Program into a department.

24 26

CLUB SUPPORT Overcoming last-minute technical problems and wind, Cal Poly Human-Powered Vehicle sets a national collegiate speed record

28 29

ALUMNI SUPPORT: DAVID TAYLOR Electronics engineering alumnus has found a tasty new career at his Paso Robles winery.


CORPORATE SUPPORT: ZURN WILKINS AND VIASAT Cal Poly students are prepared for industry after graduation, thanks to corporate support.

ALUMNI SUPPORT: BILL AND CHERYL SWANSON Alumnus Bill Swanson and his wife, Cheryl, are leaving a legacy across the campus.

ALUMNI SUPPORT: JAKUB TRUTY Hands-on lab experience prompts biomedical engineering grad to give back.

32 STUDENT SUCCESS: AMMAN ASFAW Officer in National Society of Black Engineers experiences diversity while studying in Spain. 34 A BETTER FUTURE: TAUFIK Electrical engineering professor’s device to help bring light to people living off the grid. 36

LEARN BY DOING: MARIA PANTOJA AND PAULINE FAURE Two CENG professors honored with Lockheed Martin Endowed Professorship Awards.

40 GIVING IN MEMORY Rheinisch family establishes a scholarship for fire protection engineering students. 42 CLASS NOTES

CENG&COVID-19 College of Engineering alumna Shaunessy Grant (right) helps package a ventilator designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. For stories on how CENG students, faculty and alumni are facing the challenge of COVID-19, see Page 12.

Engineering Advantage

is published biannually by the Cal Poly College of Engineering

1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 (805) 756-2131 | engineering.calpoly.edu

THE COLLEGE DEAN Amy S. Fleischer | afleisch@calpoly.edu EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN Rakesh Goel | rgoel@calpoly.edu ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR INNOVATION INFRASTRUCTURE Bob Crockett | rcrocket@calpoly.edu ASSOCIATE DEAN OF DIVERSITY AND STUDENT SUCCESS Eric Mehiel | emehiel@calpoly.edu ASSISTANT DEAN OF ADVANCEMENT AND EXTERNAL RELATIONS Amy Blosser Spikes | spikes@calpoly.edu EDITOR Charlotte Tallman | ctallman@calpoly.edu STAFF CONTRIBUTORS Pat Pemberton | ppembert@calpoly.edu Cara King | cking29@calpoly.edu DESIGNER Dennis Steers | dsteers@calpoly.edu WEB COORDINATOR Moncerratt Peralta | moperalt@calpoly.edu COLLEGE ADVANCEMENT ADVISORY BOARD Beena Ammanath, Beth Anderson, Mark Czaja, Noel Ellis, Michael Hirahara, Todd Janzen, Deborah Kilpatrick, Kevin Mickey, Kevin Neifert, Wilbert Odisho, Scott Perfect, David Rosa, Kim Vorrath, Bill Watkins, Kyle Wiens, Dee Wilson SOCIAL MEDIA facebook.com/CalPolySLOEngineering linkedin.com/school/calpolyengineering twitter.com/PolyEngineering instagram.com/polyengineering


Paulo Iscold, an associate professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department, prepares his sailplane for a test flight. Iscold is hoping his design will break distance and speed records. Photo by Joe Johnston | Cal Poly. CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SPRING 2020 3


The Challenge of Our Times Unprecedented times, pivot, pandemic, unchartered territory, social distancing, shelterat-home, masks, ventilators, flatten the curve, quarantine, COVID-19. These words were not a part of the daily vocabulary when we started the stories for this year’s Engineering Advantage. Times have certainly changed. In March, when we were just about to send this edition of Engineering Advantage to press, our campus was teeming with activity, as engineering faculty and students worked together to solve technical challenges — including many with important, real-world ramifications. Now, as we continue our COVID-19 safeguards, I can no longer walk across campus and witness the Learn by Doing collaborations I have seen in the past. However, now connected to each other through the virtual world, I marvel at the resilience and the creativity of our students, faculty and staff more than ever. The widespread disruptions have affected our lives, but as engineers, we are continuing to brainstorm, collaborate and solve the world’s most complex problems as we Learn by Doing. The photos throughout this edition are a reminder that things have changed. But they are also a reminder that our students, faculty and staff are doing amazing things, even during these unprecedented times — proving their preparedness and adaptability. As you look through the pages, you will find our special CENG & COVID-19 section that highlights some of the tremendous work our faculty, students and alumni are doing, and throughout the magazine, you will see updates related to COVID-19, virtual learning and collaboration.

I hope this edition, and the good news shared throughout the issue, will offer many reasons for you to be proud as an alumni or friend of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering.

During the shelter-in-home order, Dean Fleischer enlisted the help of her daughter Katie Fleischer to capture the perfect working remote photo.

Amy S. Fleischer Dean, College of Engineering

Join Dean Fleischer on social media: Instagram: dramyfleischer Twitter: @amyfleischer LinkedIn: Amy Fleischer 4 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

AERO students Alyssa Ralph, Lauren Fukaye and Alex Nikolaev check out the glow of splitting oxygen molecules in the Material Atmospheric Experimentation Chamber (MAX) in the Thermodynamics and Space Environments Lab.

EMPOWER THE FUTURE As we adapt to offer remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, please help support the college’s discretionary fund, which is currently providing money for online coursework. Please click HERE to donate now. For more information, contact Amy Blosser Spikes, assistant dean of advancement, at spikes@calpoly.edu or 805-756-2163



“Cal Poly has always been very dear to my life because it’s where I picked up the true skills that I have and my love for computer science.”


hen Farzad (Zod) Nazem (Computer Science, ’81) graduated at age 19, he became a pioneer in software and web infrastructure — truly carrying the Learn by Doing determination he found as a student. To honor his work, as both a professional and a philanthropist, he was named the 2019 College of Engineering Honored Alumnus. “Cal Poly has always been very dear to my life because it’s where I picked up the true skills that I have and my love for computer science,” Nazem said. “Learn by Doing is basically my life motto, and that’s why I picked Cal Poly.” Nazem, who immigrated to the United States from Iran, graduated with high honors and quickly began his career as a software engineer in the Rolm Corp. before holding software development and executive management positions at Oracle Corp. From 1996 to 2007, Nazem was the executive vice president of engineering and chief technology officer of Yahoo. During his tenure, he expanded the engineering department from six to 6,000 engineers (encompassing half of the company’s employee base) and helped acquire and integrate more than 50 companies.

been a prolific angel investor and advisor to more than 100 early-stage tech startup companies. In 2003, Nazem and his wife, Noosheen Hashemi, co-founded the HAND Foundation, an advisory and grant-making organization focused on the advancement of individuals and communities. “Together they advocate, advise and invest in areas including education, entrepreneurship, prevention of child abuse, advancement of women and girls, and crisis management and rebuilding,” College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer said. “They truly are advocates for those who often go overlooked, and their shared passion for strengthening communities by strengthening individuals is making global impacts that continue to expand.” Nazem serves on the board of trustees of The Nueva School, an institution for gifted learners, which incorporates the philosophy of Learn by Doing, Learn by Caring, into the curriculum. “I had the best time at Cal Poly because I was, I imagine, a very thirsty individual that had a buffet of classes available for me. I was like a kid in the candy store,” Nazem said. “It is such an honor to be recognized as an Honored Alumnus by the university that taught me so much.” n

Nazem, who also holds several patents, retired from Yahoo! in 2007 and has since

Farzad Nazem (Computer Science, ’81) spoke at the Honored Alumni celebration in November 2019.



Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Mission Statement


The Cal Poly College of Engineering fosters an environment based in love, empathy and respect where all are supported, energized and empowered. Opportunities to contribute exist for all and a broad range of voices and experiences are necessary as we co-create our future. We are developing an inclusive community where everyone can be their own unique selves.

COLLEGE INITIATIVES Cal Poly’s College of Engineering initiatives to encourage inclusivity and diversity: Organizations, such as the Multicultural Engineering Program and the Women’s Engineering Program, that build communities and provide the necessary support for each student’s academic, personal and professional success. Clubs with specific underrepresented student missions, such as Women Involved in Software and Hardware, Color Coded, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers, that help students connect with peers while providing graduates, faculty and industry representatives as role models and supporters.

Diversity Statements Promoting the development and adoption of inclusion, diversity and equity statements by departments, individual faculty, student clubs and Instructionally Related Activities.

Pipeline programs to recruit future underrepresented students, including Engineering Possibilities in College (EPIC), a summer camp designed to get middle and high school students interested in engineering, and Cal Poly ENGAGE, a pipeline scholarship program targeting regional community colleges. Recruiting and retaining high-achieving, low-income students from California high schools while providing financial, academic and community support through the Cal Poly Scholars program.

Equity Action Seed Grants


Created quarterly Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Action Seed Grants (IDEAS) for faculty, staff and student projects.

Number of College of Engineering faculty who attended Implicit Bias training.

ASEE Bronze award Recognized by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) as a national leader in inclusive excellence after launching several initiatives to encourage diversity and inclusiveness.

Inclusive Hiring Guidelines Implemented inclusive faculty hiring guidelines, beginning in the fall of 2019.

• •


The college has more than

$40,000 Average amount of annual awards received by Society of Women Engineers members.

DOUBLED its percentage of female students since 2006.

From 2013 to 2018, the total percentage of federally underrepresented students

INCREASED from 16 percent to 18 percent.


CENG Kicks Off New Student Recognition Program Cal Poly Engineering students are changing the world around them, one project, class and club at a time. To help students showcase their accomplishments both inside and outside of the classroom, the College of Engineering kicked off Engineering, by Design, a new CENG recognition program focused on helping students receive credit for all the good things they do. “We partnered with Preciate, a peer appreciation platform where anyone can give and receive recognition, and created six custom badges,” Eric Mehiel, associate dean for diversity and

student success, said. “The badges correspond to the Engineering, by Design value areas, including work experience, leadership, civic engagement, inclusion, professional skills and cultural context.” Engineering, by Design allows students to tap into something valuable: peer- and faculty-verified recognition, further valued by recognition by the Engineering Dean’s Office. n For more on the Engineering, by Design program, visit www.ceng.calpoly.edu/engineering-by-design.

A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR COMPUTER ENGINEERING After much discussion among college leaders, the College of Engineering is excited to announce that the Computer Engineering (CPE) program will become a department. “This promising new direction comes as the college seeks to provide more value to CPE students and will ultimately strengthen the structure, system and culture of computer engineering,” said Dean Amy S. Fleischer. While this is a major development that will take time

to implement, the goal is to have the department operational for the 2021-22 academic year. The department will have a dynamic, flexible and adaptive, interdisciplinary Learn by Doing curriculum that

will prepare students to become industry leaders, all with even stronger collaboration between the CPE, Computer Science and Software Engineering, and Electrical Engineering departments. n

The Cal Poly Computer Engineering Program had 459 students in 2019.






1 — More than 40 engineering students from Cal Poly attended WE19, the world’s largest conference for female engineers sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers, in Anaheim, California, in November.


2 — While out and about visiting San Diego alumni, President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, former Senior Director of Development Amanda McAdams and Dean Amy Fleischer happened upon a unique suspension bridge.


3 — Horns o’plenty: General Engineering Program Director Dan Jansen was easy to find in the crowd at the College of Engineering Student Welcome Assembly in September.

4 — A group of Cal Poly College of Engineering Ambassadors met astronaut Rick Sturckow (Mechanical Engineering, ’84), who piloted the STS-88 Endeavour in 1998, at the Evening of Green & Gold in Los Angeles.




5 — Dean Amy Fleischer, here with Congresswoman Norma Torres, was one of several engineering deans who advocated in front of Congress in Washington, D.C., about the importance of engineering and engineering education.


6 — Cal Poly’s Engineers Without Borders club (EWB) is currently working on four projects based in Nipomo, Fiji, Malawi and Nicaragua. The club, founded in 2005, has served several local and global communities mainly with issues around clean drinking water.

7 — With a record 263 companies on campus recruiting, the 2019 Fall Career Fair attracted more than 4,700 Cal Poly students to the Rec Center in October.

8 — Clad in a twinkling electricorange suit, structural engineer Ashraf Habibullah, president and CEO of Computers and Structures, Inc., delivered a memorable keynote address at the 2019 Winter Commencement.




COPiNG WITH covid-19: the new reality Since I became the dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering two years ago, I’ve seen countless examples of students employing their newfound engineering skills to help make the world a better place. But when COVID-19 threatened health worldwide, the virus presented a challenge like none other — and many of our students rose to that challenge, helping the scientific community battle this troublesome crisis. Industrial and manufacturing engineering students meet on Zoom while working on six pandemic-related projects, including a lab facility to sterilize donated nonmedical masks.


Meanwhile, when we learned that the campus would have to move to virtual classes as part of a countywide shelter-at-home order, our

faculty quickly adapted to virtual teaching with the kinds of creative ideas we have come to expect from our top-notch engineers. Though many of the stories in this edition of Engineering Advantage highlight campus life prior to the pandemic, we wanted to “stop the presses” to include stories about how our CENG community has responded to it. And as we highlight students and faculty, I want to also thank those who have offered financial support. With your generosity, our students will continue to excel — because they can’t wait to make a difference. n

Hans Mayer, a faculty member in the Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering Department, uses multiple camera angles to enhance his virtual lab.



n a lonely lab on a mostly deserted campus, Hans Mayer readies his three camera angles, launches his Zoom meeting, and goes live with his virtual lab.

On one side of the screen, students see numbers from a data acquisitions system, and on the other is a yellow panel featuring a compressor, condenser and several gauges. Currently offscreen is a whiteboard, which Mayer will also use for his heat transfer course.

To help with hands-on learning from afar, some faculty sent equipment to students. Christian Eckhardt, a faculty member in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, sent virtual reality headsets to students for his Mixed Reality class, and the Electrical Engineering Department sent 274 students Analog Discovery 2 devices to generate and measure mixed signal circuits, said Department Chair Dennis Derickson. “For $161, it’s a pretty good instrument,” he said.

“Okay, so this is what you would be standing in front of if you were in the lab with me today,” the mechanical engineering assistant professor tells his students.

Other electrical engineering students received radios purchased by Raytheon.

When the Cal Poly campus went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty had to practice Learn by Doing of their own, quickly figuring out how they were going to teach classes remotely.

While students say they prefer the structure and facilities on campus to online instruction, electrical engineering lecturer Steve Dunton said he has learned from the challenge.

Mayer decided to employ multiple angles.

“I know I’ll come out of this with better presentation materials than I otherwise would have developed.” n

“I wanted to give my students the closest possible thing to actually being in the lab,” he said. “We’re all trying our best for our students, whatever form that may take.” CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SUMMER 2020 13



After he had to return home due to the coronavirus, Kadin Feldis, a mechanical engineering student, began helping his community by designing and producing protective shields for medical professionals.



oon after Cal Poly’s campus went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, engineering student Cristian Sion began using his Learn by Doing skills to make respirator masks for medical professionals in San Luis Obispo. Meanwhile, 3,300 miles away in Alaska, fellow student Kadin Feldis began making protective face shields for hospital employees in his hometown of Anchorage, and Shaunessy Grant, a 2017 graduate, was helping NASA design a ventilator in Pasadena that could be easily mass produced. 14 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

The three not only showed how quickly engineers can adapt to unforeseen scenarios, they also demonstrated how their training can be applied for good causes. “I am glad that I am in a position to help, and am proud of the skills I have developed at Cal Poly and elsewhere that allowed me to take on this project,” said Feldis, a mechanical engineering major. As countywide sheltering-at-home orders were taking effect in March, Cal Poly’s campus went virtual, compelling students to

“I am glad that I am in a position to help and am proud of the skills I have developed at Cal Poly and elsewhere that allowed me to take on this project.” — Mechanical engineering student Kadin Feldis

continue learning remotely. Around that time, a hospital facilities engineer in San Luis Obispo asked Sion if he could help design and create respirator masks. “I jumped at the opportunity and made a few prototypes for him the same day,” said Sion, a double major in materials and manufacturing engineering. Not only did Sion and Feldis create needed equipment, they also improved on existing designs. Sion’s mask, for example, made it easier

Engineering student Cristian Sion is using 3D printers in his garage to make the N95-style respirators that medical professionals are finding in short supply.

for medical professionals to breathe, while Feldis’ creation was more durable and covered more facial area than existing shields. For both projects, input from medical professionals was crucial to the designs. “As we gather feedback, we make modifications to the design for our next production batch,” Feldis said. Professionals at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab also consulted with medical experts when they set out to design an easy-to-make prototype ventilator tailored to COVID-19 patients, addressing a critical nationwide shortage. Grant, who graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, had previously worked on groundbreaking projects involving Jupiter and Mars. But once the pandemic broke, she became one of 175 on the ventilator team and one of 20 who performed hardware work in the lab as a quality assurance engineer. Their ventilator, designed in 37 days, was recently approved by the FDA, and the license was made available for free so others could quickly mass produce it. Cal Poly Engineering alumna Shaunessy Grant poses for a photo at the Spacecraft Assembly Factory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Grant and a team of engineers at JPL designed an easy-to-make ventilator that others can manufacture.

“I think this is an amazing opportunity to give back during this unsettling time,” she said. n CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SUMMER 2020 15




atrina Dickson is a liberal arts graduate in a STEM world. And working at Apple Inc. has given her great insights and appreciation for tech careers.

“I entered the industry in 2008 through a graphic design position, which happened to be situated in a software organization,” she said. “I witnessed not only how technology had the potential to radically transform the way we live, I also became aware of the economic transformation it offered individuals who contributed to building those technologies.” Since she benefitted from that field — and her education at Cal Poly — Dickson decided to give back, donating money for Cal Poly students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women in computing. “When you get to the conference, you are surrounded by thousands of amazing, talented women who you are going to find you have perhaps a surprising amount in common with,” she said. The shortage of diversity in tech has been well documented. Dickson said that it impacts innovation and progress — from facial recognition technology that has higher error rates for dark skin to NASA’s recent cancellation of an all-woman spacewalk because they only had one space suit designed for a woman.


Katrina Dickson, right, with Ines Simbi at the HackerNest hackathon.

“No matter your field, the fact is that having a diverse team enables you to build the best product.”

Greater diversity will ensure that technology is designed for everyone, said Dickson, who recently set up a scholarship to support students who are invested in racial and gender inclusivity while pursuing degrees in computer science, computer engineering and aerospace engineering.

Cal Poly Scholars: Building a Sense of Community

The Cal Poly Scholars program helped mechanical engineering student Dylan Ruiz feel more connected to the university.

“No matter your field, the fact is that having a diverse team enables you to build the best product,” she said. More diversity in tech could also offset a societal imbalance, she said. “As a country, we have a major opportunity gap and growing income inequality that disproportionately impacts women, communities of color and rural communities,” she said. “A STEM education and career is not a magic wand, and it may not be of interest to everyone, but anyone should be empowered to participate.” As a child, Dickson was interested in both arts and technology. “When I was in elementary school, my dad brought home an old computer from work, and as I played around on it, I found I was equally as interested in designing logos and letterhead for imaginary businesses as I was in figuring out how to ‘hack’ the startup screen to display a custom image,” she said. At Cal Poly, art initially won her over. “When I started, I thought I would get a degree related to design and then apply that to the music industry,” said Dickson, who was general manager at KCPR as a student. “I wanted to start my own record label.” Then Apple called. n

CENG&COVID-19 Since our initial interview with Katrina Dickson, she has been continuing her work for Apple from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she reports: “Currently working remotely and appreciating the FaceTime app for staying connected with loved ones!”

Growing up, Dylan Ruiz would often ride dirt bikes with his father, leading to a lifelong hobby and an interest in how things work. “My dad was mechanically inclined, so he would teach me about the different parts of the bike,” Ruiz said. While his father never went to college, his lessons sparked Ruiz’s interest in mechanical engineering. Meanwhile, the Cal Poly Scholars program offered the first-generation college student a sense of belonging. “The scholars program definitely helped me feel more connected to this university,” Ruiz said. “It introduced me to many great people from the start of the school year. It also gives opportunities to make you feel more included with its different activities.” Cal Poly Scholars is a program that recruits high-achieving students with financial needs from California high schools. In addition to providing students scholarships, the program seeks to retain them by offering helpful workshops and housing them together. “From the beginning, you are meeting your fellow scholars by living with them,” said Ruiz, from La Quinta, California. “It also gives opportunities to make you feel more included with its different activities.”

Ruiz, who was supported specifically by Boeing’s Cal Poly Scholars scholarship, is currently a member of Cal Poly Racing, which builds cars for competition. While his father inspired a lifelong dirt bike hobby, Ruiz now has bigger wheels in mind. “My dream career is to work with cars or motorcycles,” Ruiz said. “I want to be involved with the design or creation of new models.” n

Support Cal Poly Scholars The Cal Poly Scholars program, gives high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds opportunities they have earned through hard work and dedication. A gift of $12,500 supports one Cal Poly Scholar for up to five years, while a $75,000 gift establishes an endowment fund to support one Cal Poly Scholar annually. Cal Poly will match scholarships up to $2,500 a year. The program provides an annual scholarship, a two-year living-learning community for incoming freshmen, and workshops to support development and retention. For more information, visit the Cal Poly Scholars page at giving.calpoly.edu.



USING FAILURE FOR SUCCESS VICE PRESIDENT OF WISH EMBRACES COMPUTER SCIENCE — AFTER NEARLY ABANDONING IT Computer science student Louise Ibuna is vice president of Cal Poly’s Women involved in Software & Hardware.


fter an early quarter that resulted in a jolting 0.35 GPA, Louise Ibuna didn’t feel like she belonged in the Computer Science Department — and it wasn’t just because of her grades.

The Filipina transfer student was not only a woman of color, making her a rarity in her computer science classes, but she was also a 18 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

transfer student unprepared for the intensity of the highly competitive program. “It was definitely 100 percent ‘Imposter Syndrome,’” she said. But as she considered changing majors, a visit to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference caused her to

CENG&COVID-19 WISH members have continued to stay connected virtually during sheltering, said Vice President Louise Ibuna. “We recently started office hours with Cal Poly Robotics so members from both groups can come and hang out,” she said. “We’ve also held game nights every couple weeks to incorporate a fun environment.” Meanwhile, every other week, WISH advisor Zoë J. Wood hosts WISH alumni panels with three to four alumni discussing their experience in industry, with advice for members.

pause and rethink her future. And now, as vice president of Cal Poly’s Women Involved in Software & Hardware (WISH) club, she’s hoping to inspire other women to succeed in the historically male-dominated tech program.

“I feel a lot more confident now,” she said. “One of the big things I want to do before I graduate is to inspire people. Yes, I went through some pretty hard times as a software engineering major, and I had to go through these obstacles, but I pretty much had that motivation to not give up.” Ibuna’s parents grew up and went to college in the Philippines, where her mother became a nurse and her father became a mechanical engineer. Her mother moved to the United States, seeking the American dream before Ibuna was born, and her father followed as a legal citizen when Ibuna was five. While there was cultural pressure to follow her mother’s path to nursing, Ibuna wasn’t interested. “I did not want to do nursing or anything in the medical field because I didn’t want to deal with blood,” she said. “Engineering was really cool to me because I wanted to build something from the ground up.”

“I was very hesitant about going there because it was me missing a week of school to go to Florida,” she said. “And so I was thinking back to myself, ‘Is this actually worth it?’” She did go. And while there, one of the speakers, from tech company Cisco Systems, gave her some sage advice. “She said, ‘The biggest thing is to use your failure as a compliment to success,’” Ibuna recalled. Meanwhile, a former career counselor at Hancock helped further, saying, “You told me you had a goal that you wanted to inspire other women. Why are you quitting on the school right now?” Ibuna decided not to change majors. She became more involved in WISH, eventually becoming vice president. And, as she felt more accepted, her grades improved. When Oracle and Yahoo! Pioneer Farzad (Zod) Nazem was recently presented with an Honored Alumnus award on campus, Ibuna was invited to speak. “WISH has been a safe space for myself and the like-minded women around me who are handling the struggle of being underrepresented as a computing major,” she said during that speech. “The fight for equality in computing is still a long path, but one day, organizations like WISH will be the reason why there is a community that wants to make that change.”

While it was difficult to open up about her experience, Ibuna said Ibuna first went to Allan Hancock College, close to her native Arroyo now she does so with confidence. Grande. The community college, located in Santa Maria, was more diverse and tight-knit compared to “WISH has been a safe space for myself and the Cal Poly, she said. Once she transferred to Cal Poly, she often found like-minded women around me who are handling the herself in classes with students who had already forged connections struggle of being underrepresented as a computing major. with their peers. Already feeling like an outsider, that disposition intensified in the spring of her first year, when her poor grades put her at risk for disqualification.

The fight for equality in computing is still a long path, but one day, organizations like WISH will be the reason why there is a community that wants to make that change.”

“I just remember crying,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t belong in the major because of my identity or my motivation to work in an intense environment like Cal Poly.”

“I’m an underrepresented minority, I’m a transfer student, and I’m a woman in tech,” she said. “And this is how I handled it — basically by not giving up.” n

On the edge of switching her major, she decided to attend the Grace Hopper conference.

For more on Women Involved in Software & Hardware, visit calpoly.edu/~wish.




Biomedical engineering student Alyssa McCulloch checks out a solution in the lab as part of her SURP project.




A — “Scaled Autonomous Vehicle Development and Testing” was the summer focus of four mechanical engineering students. B — Engineering students worked out at the Cal Poly Educational Flight Range on a SURP project titled “Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.” C — Sponsored by Poly Gives, Professor Theresa Migler and a group of computer science and math students worked on the “Construction of a Cal Poly Academic Collaboration Network.”



n a foggy day in Avila Beach, California, during the summer of 2019, materials engineering students Matt Fuentez and Kevin Iu pull a line out of the 40-foot water at the end of the Cal Poly Pier.

industry- and faculty-sponsored research. Expanding SURP, which will occur virtually in its third year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the College of Engineering’s three primary campaign goals.

They’re not fishing for rockfish or salmon; their “catch” is a titanium coil that’s been submerged in the ocean for the past seven weeks. As part of their Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), they are testing the impacts of seawater on the coil for a Cal Poly alumnus who plans to use titanium to make artificial reefs.

“The challenge we have is that our engineering students are in such demand at the junior and senior level, that the younger students don’t have an opportunity to go out and get an internship because all of those are taken,” said Bob Crockett, associate dean for innovation infrastructure. “SURP lets the students not only build a resume but also build a set of skills that they might not get in the classroom.”

“We found some barnacles,” Fuentez says, after the team performs initial inspections. “We found some little scallops as well. And we’re trying to measure how well the titanium is suited in a marine environment.” SURP pairs newer undergraduates with

Expanding the popular program, though, requires more sponsors, Crockett said. Currently, the College of Engineering funds roughly half the projects — and the demand is there for many more.

“ SURP lets the students not only build a resume but also build a set of skills that they might not get in the classroom.”




Materials engineering students Dylan Elland, Matt Fuentez, Vincent Guarino and Kevin Iu hoist a titanium coil from the water off the Cal Poly Pier as part of their SURP project to build an artificial reef.


When it became clear that shelterat-home orders would impact the SURP program, the College of Engineering quickly worked with sponsors to transform this year’s program to virtual projects. Not only did sponsors develop projects that could be done remotely, they also offered increased financial support so more students than anticipated could participate. This year, the number of project proposals increased from 42, prior to the sheltering orders, to 50 revised virtual projects. Seventy students will participate in SURP 2020. This year’s program includes projects that will study the motion of baseball pitchers, use artificial intelligence to recognize sharks in aerial drone footage, and develop a deep space communication system for small spacecraft.





A — Computer science student Gabriel Medina-Kim explains his SURP networking project to College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer. B — SURP students competed in a poster contest during the SURP Symposium. Posing with program director Bob Crockett, right, are third-place winner Alec Williams, left, and May Kyaw, who won first place with team members Arielle Sampson and Runjia Chen for her Applications of Unmanned Vehicles poster. C — Biomedical engineering student Maddie Jackson employed a drill as part of her SURP project on microscopy of vascular networks. D — Mechanical engineering student Abigail Jones worked with Professor Jacques Belanger on a project that aims to make the Cal Poly Gold Tree Solar Farm more efficient.

For 2019, the college had to limit the number of students in the program to 73, yet there were 350 students who wanted the opportunity, Crockett said. With the pandemic impacting internships and service jobs, the number of applicants for SURP 2020 increased to around 500 for 70 positions. “So sponsorships let us offer the same experience to a wider range of students.” Each project costs $10,000 for two students and one faculty member. While the main goal is to give students experience with research, many of the projects have potential impact beyond. Abigail Jones, a mechanical engineering student, worked on a project that would make Cal Poly’s solar farm more efficient.

“It’s really important for me to be involved in a project that makes a difference for Cal Poly and California and to show that we, as a university, need to think about these things for our future,” she said. Roger Benham, the alumnus who sponsored the artificial reef project, knows how difficult it can be for undergraduates to get relevant summer work. “I know it’s a good program, and I hope Cal Poly can put more resources toward it,” said Benham, who owns LCS Inc., a corrosion control company in San Diego. “I remember being a student and not being able to get internships and working at a bike shop or a plating shop or construction jobs over the summer.”n





n its last possible run and after battling last-minute technical difficulties and some frustrating wind conditions, a human-powered vehicle (HPV) created by a team of Cal Poly engineering students broke the American collegiate speed record in September, setting a mark that hadn’t been bested in nearly three decades. The new record, 63.68 mph, was set during the 20th annual World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada. The previous mark was 61.29 mph, set by a team from UC Berkeley in September 1992. An HPV is any vehicle powered by muscular strength. The most common HPV is a bicycle. Cal Poly’s HPV, a front-wheel drive recumbent bike covered with a bullet-shaped shell made from carbon fiber and Kevlar, is named Ambition. The Cal Poly team split into subgroups specializing in different areas, such as the shell and drive train. Mechanical engineering seniors Derek Fromm and Michael Juri developed the drive system. Custom tailored for its driver, biochemistry student Josh Gieschen, the team worked on Ambition for a year. And in the


days leading up to the race, the team had to make multiple significant changes, adding a new windshield and fixing a chain that repeatedly fell off. There would be other factors — some out of the team’s control. To qualify for a record, the wind can’t exceed be 3.7 mph. During the week, Ambition actually surpassed the record on an early run, reaching 66.43 mph. But the wind speed disqualified it as a record-breaking attempt. As the final day approached, wind was forecast to be above 3.7 mph in the evening. But the Cal Poly team had a window of opportunity earlier in the day. “It was literally our last chance,” Fromm said. Gieschen got off to a good start, and his speed continued to increase down the five-mile stretch of State Route 305 until finally exceeding the 27-year record with “legal wind.” “We are all super proud of everything the team accomplished,” said mechanical lead Kyra Schmidt. “And we are excited to continue improving and come back even better next year.” n

Team Effort: Cal Poly HPV Club Sponsors CHAMPION LEVEL • Advance Tube Engineering • Lightning Cycles • Safran CHALLENGER LEVEL • Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering Student Fee Allocation Committee • ICX Transportation Cal Poly HPV driver Josh Gieschen, above, needed help from team members Kyra Schmidt, Derek Fromm and Keyanna Henderson to get into the vehicle for a practice run. Below: The newly painted HPV cruises down State Route 305 outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada, on its record run.

RACER LEVEL • Cateye • Foothill Cyclery • Tenergy



serving up success



fter the Cal Poly Women’s Beach Volleyball Team recorded its best season ever in 2019, the university brought a little bit of the beach to campus.

Roughly 3,300 tons of it, actually. The new beach volleyball complex, complete with palm trees and 6.6 million pounds of sand, was supported by donors — most notably, Bill and Cheryl Swanson. Bill Swanson, currently chairman of the Cal Poly Foundation Board, is an industrial engineering graduate (1971), who went to work for Raytheon right out of Cal Poly, eventually serving as CEO from 2004 until 2014. Now retired, Swanson and his wife are major Cal Poly supporters, with gifts that include a $10 million donation to the golf program — the largest Cal Poly Athletics has ever received. The Swansons are also supporting a new 2,400-squarefoot clubhouse for the golf teams at Dairy Creek Golf Course that includes a team lounge, hitting bays and coaches’ offices. They are offering major support for the new Center for Wine and Viticulture, and the couple has helped Bill Swanson’s former college with a $200,000 gift to establish the Systems Engineering Innovation Challenge Fund. That fund, at the direction of the dean, challenges stu-


dents to work on interdisciplinary teams to identify high impact issues with possible technological solutions. “The challenge fund donation is an excellent example of a pay-it-forward gift because it will help students help others,” said College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer. “Not only do we appreciate the way the Swansons have supported our engineering students, we’re also proud that one of our graduates is having such an impact universitywide, and we can easily see that legacy every time we walk around the campus.” The Mustang Beach Complex, supported by $3 million in total donations (and $1 million from the Swansons), features five regulation-sized NCAA beach volleyball courts, seating for up to 250 spectators, lights and a stateof-the-art LED scoreboard bearing the Swanson family name. Since the program’s 2014 inception, the volleyball team has played all of its home matches in Pismo Beach, which is roughly 10 miles from campus. The new facility is expected to help the team recruit top talent. The team already has built its reputation by hiring Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers as its coach and by finishing the 2019 season ranked No. 8 in the nation. That team, which won its first Big West title with a 25-12 record, also earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament. n

DAY IN COURT Bill Swanson, industrial engineering alumnus and chairman of the Cal Poly Foundation Board, checks out the sand at the new Mustang Beach Volleyball Complex before the Center of Effort Volleyball Challenge in late February. Swanson, the lead donor for the project, watched the Mustangs defeat Top 10 teams Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. The Mustangs were 8-2 this year before their season was cancelled due to the coronavirus.




After more than 30 years as a technology entrepreneur, electrical engineering alumnus David Taylor has found a new career at his Cordant | Nelle Winery in Paso Robles.


hese days, it’s easy for David Taylor to toast more than 30 years of experience in technology. All the 1981 Cal Poly electrical engineering alumnus and business entrepreneur has to do is uncork a bottle of one of the dozen Rhone-style wines produced at his latest venture, Cordant | Nelle Winery in Paso Robles, California. The son of a civil engineer who grew up in Bakersfield, Taylor has had a longtime passion for wine. Cordant | Nelle, which now produces around 3,000 cases a year, comes at the end of a road marked with the sweat and sacrifice of working with seven startup companies in Silicon Valley and San Diego. Among the startups was CineForm Inc., which developed a video compression format used in movies like Slumdog Millionaire, the first digitally produced film to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and was eventually sold to GoPro.

“CineForm was a 10-year labor of love, during which the founders didn’t collect a salary for two years,” Taylor said. “We just knew we had something, and we were a cat with nine lives that somehow managed to thrive after years of struggle.” Taylor said that struggle and others he experienced along the way — “As everyone says, you do learn from your successes but you learn a 28 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

lot more from your failures” — prompted him to get involved with the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). “In your early days, of course, you work like crazy. Now in a later part of life, you’re not the worker bee but you can contribute as a mentor,” he said. “That’s why I’ve become re-engaged with Cal Poly. If there are stories or mentorship opportunities to help others train as they come up, then that’s what I want to do.”

ABOUT CIE The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) helps students and community members acquire the entrepreneurial skills needed to successfully develop a business. As part of the CIE process, students are immersed in three distinct innovation programs: Learn, Prepare and Launch. For more information on the CIE, visit: cie.calpoly.edu.

Taylor, who said he is “still amazed” by his Cal Poly education and the 13 job offers he had when he graduated, praised the CIE’s emphasis on combining business skills with engineering chops. “When I started, I wanted to concentrate on the technology, but today there’s so much more,” he said. “Now students can work on technology, evaluate if there’s a market for that technology and then develop a business plan to sell the technology. It’s really good.” n




akub Truty was barely familiar with San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly before a door opened to a professional career. For the then-freshman biomedical engineering student, that door was to Professor Kristen Cardinal’s research lab, where she studies how living cells interact with various materials. Born in Poland and raised in Southern California, Truty said his first impression of the lab was memorable. “It was exciting,” he said. “The prospect of working with human cells and tissue engineering made me think, ‘Wow, how neat is that?’” A faculty member of the Biomedical Engineering Department since its inception in 2005, Cardinal had a quick impression of Truty, too. “From the beginning, Jakub was always interested in learning,” she said. “He wasn’t one of those students who was there just to check a box. He always wanted to engage, listen and discuss. And then when he joined the research lab, he was always really into it.” Truty, who graduated with a biomedical engineering M.S. degree in 2014 and currently works at Endologix Inc., in Irvine, California, is still into it. After reflecting about how his four years of work in the lab were instrumental in guiding his career path, he recently made a gift dedicated to Cardinal’s research. “As I know from my experience, Dr. Cardinal does a fantastic job providing students with experiences that will prepare them for their professional careers,” he said. “In my career, I have worked in the production and development of cardiovascular devices, including guidewires, coronary stents, and currently, aortic aneurysm grafts. The skills that I practiced in Dr. Cardinal’s lab

2014 biomedical engineering alumnus Jakub Truty has taken the critical lab skills he learned in a Cal Poly research lab to Endologix Inc. in Irvine, California.

have directly translated into my job. Knowledge in vascular physiology, creative engineering, interpreting journal articles, project management — and being selfdriven — are all skills I continually lean on.” Cardinal said the gift to her lab was welcome and meaningful. “As a faculty member, to have a young graduate give back specifically to what you’re doing is the most validating thing you can ever imagine,” she said. “And to me, that means they felt the experience made enough of an impact that they want other students to have that same opportunity.” n





“Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing approach to education goes beyond theory and exposes students to the practical side of engineering — a strong advantage for engineers in our business,” he said.

Solutions, a plumbing products manufacturer with multiple facilities and distribution centers across the globe, Zurn Wilkins employs about 180 people, including Cal Poly alumni in operations, marketing, finance and customer care. Having witnessed how Cal Poly makes engineering graduates day-one ready, Corral (mechanical engineering, ’06) wanted Zurn to support the college. So he was instrumental in establishing the Zurn Industries Mechanical Engineering Scholarship.

As part of Zurn Engineered Water

“Zurn prides itself on giving back to

en of the 17 engineers employed at Zurn Wilkins in Paso Robles, California, are Cal Poly graduates — which gives Engineering Manager Chris Corral a pretty good feel for how the College of Engineering prepares students for industry.

Mike Luhrs (left), a mechanical engineering student who interned at Zurn, works with Brian Yale, a design engineer and Cal Poly mechanical engineering graduate.


VIASAT Donation to support IME students, faculty Global communications company Viasat recently continued its long support of Cal Poly by offering a $20,000 donation that will fund student programs and support new and existing faculty in the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department. “Just as we have grown into new areas of knowledge in the field of industrial engineering, Viasat’s support has given us the ability to develop more of our own expertise and bring that knowledge into the classroom,” said Department Chair Dan Waldorf. Based in Carlsbad, California, Viasat provides high-speed satellite broadband services and secure networking systems covering military and commercial markets. It’s also a popular landing spot for Cal Poly graduates — with 122 Cal Poly alumni working there.

its local communities and supporting higher education,” he said. “As a Cal Poly mechanical engineering graduate, I was excited to have the opportunity to allocate a significant portion of Zurn’s annual charitable giving contributions to the university that gave me, and many of my peers, the education and skills needed to become professionally successful.” The scholarship provided three students with $5,000 this school year. The facility has also sponsored a shop tech and a senior project at Cal Poly.

While providing money to students, the scholarship also helps maintain that pipeline to Zurn. “Sponsoring shop techs and providing scholarships are ways Zurn can give back to the community while generating brand awareness,” Corral said. “Much of Zurn’s success has come from the work done by Cal Poly graduates, and we want to keep that trend going by keeping engineering students aware of Zurn and the potential employment opportunities found locally after graduation.” n

“Part of Viasat’s culture is that we are intellectually curious, tolerate ambiguity, and are always striving for a better way,” said Brandon Lobb, a campus specialist for the West Coast. “We face challenges that do not always have a clear process or answer. Similarly, Cal Poly students often are encouraged to take on new problems and work to find new ways to solve them.” The recent $20,000 gift will cover needed investments in faculty professional development for updating skills and researching new methods and trends that can be shared with students, other faculty and the broader industrial engineering community. n






s a leader with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and as the first diversity chair for any IFC Greek fraternity on campus, Amman Asfaw is used to promoting diversity. But during his recent study abroad in Spain, he experienced diversity like never before, forming friendships with students from Australia, France, Germany, Japan and, of course, Spain.

one. It’s on me,’” said Asfaw, a former Referee of the Year with the Conejo Youth Basketball Association who has also officiated intramural and high school games while at Cal Poly.

“We’re all the same in some way, even if we speak a different language and come from a different country,” said the electrical engineering student. “There isn’t really much difference, and the difference has become a beauty.”

While he’d considered trying out for the Cal Poly team, he decided to focus on his studies — his basketball career relegated to pick-up games.

“We’re all the same in some way, even if we speak a different language and come from a different country.”

While Asfaw was born in the United States, he partially learned two different Ethiopian languages growing up. His father, an amateur boxer sponsored by the Ethiopian Navy, emigrated to the United States in 1991 after his short boxing career. His mother followed in 1996. The two worked hard at blue collar jobs and instilled a giving-back mentality in their son. “My dad would always tell me, ‘If you do nice things to people, they will do nice things for you.’”

CENG&COVID-19 Amman Asfaw is continuing his studies online. “It requires a different mindset, approach and study style,” he said. “So I feel like a freshman all over again, trying to figure out how to best do college. Not ideal, but fortunately all my professors are aware of this and have been forgiving, realistic and reasonable in their expectations.”

In high school, Asfaw volunteered at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center. Meanwhile, he has refereed over 200 elementary and middle school basketball games. As a ref, he sometimes dealt with irate players, coaches and parents. But, he said, honesty was his best course.

Asfaw spent even more time on the court as a player. At Thousand Oaks High School, the 6-foot-4 Asfaw was a county all-star and team captain.

“I’ve changed my goals on what I want to be as a basketball player,” he said. “I want to be ballin’ until I’m 70.” Meanwhile, as the diversity chair at the Sigma Nu fraternity, Asfaw helped spread understanding about cultural differences. “I said, ‘Look, if you ask me a sincere question, I won’t be offended because we’re brothers in this fraternity and I know you, but I’m am going to educate you if it is offensive,’” he said. “And because of that people were open — they weren’t afraid to speak of things they weren’t normally able to say.” The former treasurer and current president of NSBE went to Spain in fall 2019 with five other students, including four from Cal Pol’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Just being in Spain, he said, provides cultural lessons for those who are open to it. “It takes being humble to learn other people’s cultures and to be in other cultures,” he said. “You have to accept that you are a guest and that you do not know as much as they know about themselves and their culture.”n

“If you mess up a call and a parent, coach or player yells at you, you have to say, ‘You have a point — I missed that A study abroad trip to Spain, which included a visit to the coastal town of San Sebastian, was eye-opening for Cal Poly Engineering student Amman Asfaw.




bringing light to the developing world PROFESSOR’S DEVICE HELPS PEOPLE LIVING OFF THE GRID


al Poly electrical engineering Professor Taufik knows the power of illumination. Born in Indonesia, where much of the population lives on remote islands with limited electricity, Taufik is working to enable Indonesians, and the more than 1.6 billion people living far off the grid worldwide, to flip on a light switch. “Just keeping a light on at night is huge,” Taufik said. “In the developing world, a little electricity goes a long way.” In 2019, the United States Patent & Trademark Office awarded Taufik and former undergraduate student Owen Jong a patent for a device that helps address the problem. Called the Multiple Input Single Output DC-DC Converter with Equal Load Sharing on Multiple Inputs or MISO, the device makes it possible to effectively and efficiently combine the input of multiple low-power electricity sources into one stronger output source. “MISO allows any type of low-power energy device — solar, wind, water in a stream, even human-powered generators like a bicycle — to be connected to one house,” Taufik said. “It’s collecting multiple little sources of energy into one bigger source.” MISO’s ability to work with direct current (DC) electricity is the key to making it more efficient. Because the grid uses alternating current (AC) and renewable power sources like solar panels and small-scale wind turbines to produce DC power, costly converters that lose energy are required. “Converters add to the expense and are less efficient by 15 to 35% depending on the load,” said Taufik, who runs the DC House project on campus. “It makes no sense for people in rural areas that live off the grid to convert DC to AC. It’s much more efficient to stay with DC power.”

“The research to get MISO started actually began in 2010 because it’s a critical component in the DC House project, and the patent process took almost three years,” he said. “Different ideas for MISO converters were attempted, and improvements were continuously sought after until we believe we found the best and unique solution.” Taufik shared the credit for the invention. “The work toward this patent would never have been accomplished without the help of many of my former students who took on the challenges in the MISO converter project and in the overall DC House project,” he said. “I truly owe this patent to these hardworking and bright students.” Taufik sees a worldwide market for MISO. “Hopefully, with the help of Cal Poly, we can market this to companies that deal with electrification in developing countries or even rural areas of the U.S. where people want to live off the grid,” he said. “There’s an off-the-grid community east of Santa Maria, Quail Springs, that contacted us because they want to build a DC-powered house. We’ve had a lot of interest in it because, right now, the world is beginning to learn that residential DC power is more efficient — and cheaper.” n

“Just keeping a light on at night is huge. In the developing world, a little electricity goes a long way.”

Taufik, who previously received a patent for a Multiphase DC-DC Converter for Voltage Regulator Module to supply power to microprocessors, said he worked with the Cal Poly Office of Research and Economic Development to secure the MISO patent. CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SUMMER 2020 35




hen Maria Pantoja grew bored waiting for feedback on her doctoral thesis, she began looking into the many ways graphics processing units (GPU) can speed things up with parallel computing.

“At that point, very few people were using it,” said Pantoja, an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department. “I was right there at the right time.” GPUs are specific pieces of hardware used to accelerate graphics.


But Pantoja was interested in more than just graphics. With the help of a Lockheed Martin Endowed Professorship award, Pantoja is now using parallel computing to tackle realworld challenges, helping vineyards improve production, helping locate endangered birds in Hawaii and helping researchers examine earthquake damage. “When I was little, I wanted to change the world,” she said with a laugh. “Now I think I can.”

At UC Santa Clara, her thesis was on image processing — using computers to process digital images through an algorithm. As she patiently waited for critiques, she researched parallel computing. With advances in technology, parallel computing dramatically accelerated problem-solving by using multiple elements to process data simultaneously. Previously, large amounts of data had to be processed by a single source consecutively.

said. “It’s kind of like voice recognition but for birds.” Finally, the earthquake project sets out to help researchers minimize damage in future quakes. When major earthquakes occur, hundreds of thousands of photos are taken of the damage. “What we want to do is identify the type of damage on the image,” she said.

In her pitch to Lockheed, Pantoja pledges to first refresh her department’s parallel computing lab, then put her practice to work, with student help and collaborations from other colleges and industry.

Once again, an algorithm will be able to quickly process that information and allow for quicker study.

She has already begun working on the vineyard project.

While all three projects involve challengers from other fields, Pantoja said she looks forward to problem-solving from even more disciplines.

Supported by an Agricultural Research Institute Grant, she will develop an app to categorize photos taken of grape vines at four California vineyards. In large vineyards, differences in pruning, soil fertilization and other factors create imbalances in the resulting vines. The app will create a map, identifying which areas of a vineyard are faring better, allowing farmers to adjust their practices. “It’s called precision agriculture,” Pantoja said. “You manage more precisely the orchard to balance the production.” Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Hawaii and the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project are trying to identify where three endangered birds are living by recognizing and identifying their calls. Those calls and locations will also be processed with parallel computing.

“I know how to help others with their computational problems,” she said. n

“When I was little, I wanted to change the world. Now I think I can.”

“They put microphones all over the forest, and they send us the audio, and we have to find out if we can identify the birds,” Pantoja

Helping vineyards like Cal Poly’s Chorro Creek Vineyard increase production is the subject of a parallel computing project led by Computer Science Professor Maria Pantoja.



Last summer, computer engineering student Justin Nguyen and professor Pauline Faure worked with a group of Cambodian high school students to establish a ground station in Cambodia to track CubeSats.

expanding space exploration



ast summer, an aerospace engineering professor traveled to Cambodia with a student to help set up a ground station for watching mini-satellites.

The faculty member, Pauline Faure, has worked on mini-satellites — or CubeSats — with over 20 countries. “My main interest is to benefit society somehow,” said Faure, who recently received a Lockheed Martin Professorship Award. “To enable access to space to a larger number of people.” With that goal in mind, in 2018, she became the main technical 38 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

adviser to the first Cambodian satellite project, initiated by the Liger Leadership Academy, a school for gifted, economically disadvantaged students. Last summer she spent 10 days there, with computer engineering student Justin Nguyen, to help the country establish its first space program. Ever since CubeSats were co-created by former Cal Poly aerospace Professor Jordi Puig-Suari, space exploration has become considerably more accessible. And roughly 2,000 have been launched into space, including 10 CubeSats created at Cal Poly.

“It’s not often you get to work on something, and a couple of years later, it winds up in space.”

she and her family watched Hale-Bopp, an unusually bright comet, soar across a night sky in 1997. After studying in France and Japan (Faure speaks French, Japanese, English, Spanish and German), Faure eventually landed at Cal Poly, where she pitched developing satellite kits to help others learn about CubeSats as part of her professorship. She is also an advisor to the Cal Poly CubeSat Lab, where Nguyen has been a regular. “It’s not often you get to work on something, and a couple of years later, it winds up in space,” he said.

Pauline Faure, right, helped high school students at the Liger Leadership Academy in Cambodia set up an antenna array to track CubeSats.

Getting more countries involved, Faure said, increases the diversity of ideas. “More players in space will enable more collaborations and healthy competition,” she said. Faure first became excited about space as a child in France, when

Faure is hoping the Cambodian students will experience that same thrill. Thanks to the training from Faure and Nguyen, the Cambodian ground station — with an antenna Faure and Nguyen helped build — will soon be able to monitor Cal Poly CubeSats. Eventually, she hopes they will create their own CubeSat to monitor. “Looking into the eyes of those kids and seeing how driven they are and how motivated they are, knowing all the difficulties they face, that gives you a different incentive and puts things in perspective,” she said. n CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SUMMER 2020 39


Fanning the flames of education F

Frank O. Rheinisch Scholarships recognize fire protection engineers rom design to installation to maintenance, the late Frank O. Rheinisch was self-taught in everything to do with fire protection. Now, through a generous yearly gift from his family, Rheinisch will help Cal Poly students get formal training in the subject.

Two Frank O. Rheinisch Outstanding Cal Poly M.S. Candidate for Fire Protection Engineering Scholarships were awarded in 2019, a lasting legacy to a man known for his work ethic in creating and nurturing multiple businesses. The son of parents who escaped from East Germany in 1954 with no money and an uncertain future, Rheinisch first became interested in fire protection when he began working for a San Francisco sprinkler company after serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. After learning every facet of the business at sprinkler companies in the Bay Area and San Luis Obispo, he founded the one-man Alpha Fire Sprinkler Corp. in a spare bedroom in 1990. Eventually, that company, plus two newer companies, Alpha Fire Residential and Alpha Fire and Security Alarm, grew to more than 30 employees.

Diana Rheinisch, a lifelong teacher and educator who was an instructor in the Cal Poly School of Education for 17 years, said her husband learned Cal Poly was starting a Fire Protection Engineering Program (FPE) shortly before his death in 2010. “Frank was pleased to know Cal Poly would be training engineers in fire protection,” Diana Rheinisch said. “He knew the great value of the degree and longed to have a fire protection engineer on our staff. And he always enjoyed having undergraduate Cal Poly Engineering student interns working in the office.” Fire Protection Engineering Program Director Fred Mower said he draws inspiration from Frank Rheinisch’s life story. “His dedication to his family and hard work in building successful businesses are great lessons for everyone,” Mower said. “It’s very thoughtful of Diana and the Rheinisch family to recognize the FPE program in this way. It’s a wonderful testimonial to his memory.”n

For more information on the Cal Poly Fire Protection Program, see fpe.calpoly.edu.

Diana Rheinisch, left, and Erik Rheinisch, right, present the Frank O. Rheinisch Outstanding M.S. Candidate Scholarships to graduate students David Morrisset and Anna Santoro.



Working on projects that are making a difference, Cal Poly Engineering students and faculty have been in the headlines across the country over the past year. Among the highlights:

STUDENT MAKES COVID-19 MASKS KTUU, Cal Poly Engineering student makes masks for Alaska medical workers, May 3. HPV SPEED RECORD KCOY, Cal Poly breaks collegiate speed record with student-made bicycle, Sept. 16. A RECORD RIDE Davis Enterprise, Davis High grad sets collegiate speed record on custom-built bicycle, Sept. 27. LEADING THE ROSE FLOAT TEAM Rancho Bernardo News Journal, Rancho Bernardo resident led team that created Rose Parade float, Dec. 31. A BETTER JOGGER Fresno Bee, Cal Poly students create jogger for Fresno teen, Jan. 1. FIRE-FIGHTING ROBOT SLO Tribune, Cal Poly students design robot to help fight wildfires — by protecting people’s homes, Nov. 22. SOLAR-POWERED SPACE TRAVEL Sacramento Bee, A spacecraft just made history with solar-powered travel — and Cal Poly students helped, July 23. MOTORIZED ADVENT CALENDAR KSBY, Cal Poly students create motorized advent calendar for Cambria Christmas Market, Nov. 17. ON THE RUN WITH NIKE Oregonian, West Linn grad returns to the Portland area for job at Nike, Aug. 17. ROSE FLOAT WINS DESIGN AWARD SLO Tribune, Cal Poly Float Wins Rose Parade trophy for most outstanding artistic design, Jan. 1. DRILLING FOR WATER ON MARS KSBY, Cal Poly students selected to help NASA find ways to drill for water on Mars, the moon, Jan. 10. n CENG.CALPOLY.EDU SUMMER 2020 41


Kobbe Farwick (EE, ’17)


Eugene Robinson (AERO, ’55)

1950s Eugene (Gene) Robinson (Aerospace Engineering, ’55), now retired, had an extensive career as a propulsion test engineer for Douglas Aircraft/McDonnell-Douglas; Sacramento Test Center general manager; project manager for Legislative Aide Water Resources and Ground Water Contamination for the Sacramento Metropolitan Water Authority; and as a contributor with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for Sacramento’s Moon Rocket and Sacramento Rocket Man by Alan Lawrie.

1960s Robert Garlow (Architectural Engineering, ’66) retired as a U.S. Air Force civil engineering officer in 1986. He then spent 10 years with the city of North Las Vegas as an engineering design and construction project manager for Capital Improvement Program Facilities and Utilities.

1980s Louis Garcia (Electrical Engineering, ’80) retired as the director of engineering at Cadence Design Systems. 42 SUMMER 2020 CENG.CALPOLY.EDU

Valeria Salazar (AERO, ’19)

1990s Rob Christensen (Civil Engineering, ’99) works at VVH Consulting Engineers in Modesto, California, as a senior civil engineer, where he is lead engineer and manager for multiple public and private infrastructure projects.

2000s Sofie Leon (Civil Engineering, ’08) is the director of the Diversity Initiative and Resource Centers at Cal State Fullerton. Fresh off her doctorate, she went to Paris to work as the scientific coordinator at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity. After two years, she moved to Caltech and discovered that diversity inclusion work was what she wanted to do. At Caltech, she helped create a number of programs, including unconscious bias training in the graduate admissions process for faculty as well as a program to recruit rising junior and senior women to campus and encourage them to continue their education and go on to graduate school.

Valeria Salazar (Aerospace Engineering, ’19) is a system engineer working on the Europa Clipper mission at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is part of the system testbed team, performing system-level tests of nonflight hardware and flight software to ensure the spacecraft will work as expected. Kobbe Farwick (Electrical Engineering, ’17) is a software engineer at Garmin. After graduating from Cal Poly, he started work as an embedded software engineer at Garmin in Kansas City. He is the lead developer for the integration of Garmin’s advanced flight deck in a supersonic Northrop F-5 aircraft. In this role, he manages the configuration of this installation and uses his electrical engineering knowledge to assist in troubleshooting of legacy analog and modern digital sensor solutions, including capacitive fuel probes, DC Selsyn position sensors and limit switches. He also developed leadingedge engine/aircraft system displays and crew-alerting system messages for the modern fighter pilot. Jacob Reiter (Manufacturing Engineering, ’10) is an application engineer at Mazak. Harvir Humpal (Biomedical Engineering, ’18) received his 4+1 master’s degree

Jorge Vanegas-Moran (CE, ’15)

Christina Seekely (IE, ’14)

Ashley Threlfall (ENVE, ’11)

Harvir Humpal (BMED, ’18)

in 2018 and quickly moved on to work for Abbott Laboratories in Pleasanton as part of its heart failure division. As a development quality engineer, Humpal supports new product development of mechanical circulatory devices for patients with heart failure. Jake DeBoer (Mechanical Engineering, ’18) works as an analysis engineer at Daimler Trucks North America in Portland. As an analysis engineer, DeBoer is responsible for all aerodynamic simulation activities for the Electric Mobility Group in North America. Jorge Vanegas-Moran (Civil Engineering, ’15) is a transportation engineer at GHD Inc. Matt Steensma (Industrial Engineering, ’19) is an industrial engineer at The Spaceship Co. Christina Seekely (Industrial Engineering, ’14) is a continuous improvement consultant at The Cleveland Clinic. Seekely started as an intern before she was hired full time in 2014. In 2016 she went to the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute (HVI) as a continuous improvement consultant for the HVI Affiliate Team. The team focuses

Matt Steensma (IE, ’19) Ariana Torres (LAES, ’19)

on improving the quality of heart programs across the country, and her role within that is to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs in partnership with clinical consultants. Lindsey Angell (Civil Engineering, ’10) is the senior project civil engineer at Golder in Roseville, California. She works as a licensed civil engineer consultant for a variety of civil and geotechnical products for the solid waste and mining industries. Jose Comi (Biomedical Engineering, ’15) works as a new product development quality engineer at Biosense Webster Inc., part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. In this position, Comi helps design innovative cardiovascular diagnostics and treatments for patients worldwide.

Ashley Threlfall (Environmental Engineering, ’11) works for JSR Micro in Beaverton, Oregon, as an EHS engineer. At her company, Threlfall works to develop environmental, health and safety programs for Oregon operations. Ariana Torres (Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies, ’19) works at Apple Inc. in Sunnyvale as a security engineer, designing and driving resolutions that reduce identified risks. n The College of Engineering wants to highlight the successes and experiences of our alumni on social media and in various college communications. Share your story by visiting https://www.ceng.calpoly.edu/alumni-contact.


California Polytechnic State University College of Engineering 1 Grand Ave. San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0350 PARENTS PLEASE NOTE: If your son or daughter is no longer at this address, please share his or her current address with the College of Engineering.

Celebrating Graduation in the Stadium — Virtually Since on-campus graduation ceremonies were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and faculty in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department recreated Cal Poly’s Spanos Stadium with Minecraft and held a virtual ceremony, where graduates could attend with their avatars.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!

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