Cal Poly Rose Float: Celebrating 75 Years of Learn by Doing
The Cal Poly Rose Float is a long-standing tradition amongst alumni. We are excited to share stories of inspiration, love and Learn by Doing spanning generations. Read on to hear from fellow alumni about their experience working with Cal Poly Rose Float, their favorite memories from years past and how the program has impacted their lives post-graduation.
A memorable SNOWBALL FIGHT
Ian Davison (Mechanical Engineering, ‘16) was walking by the recruiting booth his freshmen year during Club Showcase when someone yelled out “Hey, you want to join Rose Float? You can weld!” Davison started the next day as a volunteer and eventually became president during his final year.
“During the 2016 float Sweet Shenanigans, we decided we wanted to have it look like one of the gummy bears in the ice cream snowscape was having a snowball fight – and actually throwing a snowball. There was a team of two senior mechanical engineers assigned to this task, and it was pretty complicated,” explained Davison. “There were a lot of late nights and a lot of tears but we pushed through it. On parade day, when the float turned the TV corner, we saw the float go past and the snowball shoot and land perfectly for the TV cameras. I looked at the two students that were responsible for that design and it was the proudest moment of my life. I was grinning the biggest smile that I don’t even think I could do today.”
Today, Davison is the Cal Poly Rose Float Alumni President for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and organizes the annual alumni barbecue. His girlfriend hails from both Cal Poly Pomona and SLO as a fellow Rose Float alumna. They first met during his senior year in 2015 and reconnected years later at a Deco Week in December where alumni gathered to help decorate the current year’s float. "I've been to two weddings, I have plans to go to two more, I don't think that the people I've met in Rose Float will ever not be a part of my life."
a lesson in growing mums
Mary Anne Madruga Scaglione (Business Administration, ‘94) had a unique connection to the Tournament of Roses Parade prior to transferring to Cal Poly her junior year. “I played clarinet in the marching band for my high school in Tulare. One year, we were invited to march in the Rose Parade, that was my first experience seeing the floats,” said Scaglione. “When one of my friends asked me to come with her to a Rose Float meeting, I thought ‘Oh cool, yeah I know about this’ and from there I was involved until the year after I graduated.”
“It was the first year down in Pasadena, and I have a fear of heights, but I decided to face that and get up on the scaffolding to help decorate. I think I was working on the rabbit’s nose on ‘Hare Raising Fun.’ It looks wide up there but once your legs start to shake, it’s not so wide! That was the first and last time I got up there, but I remember it to this day.”
When asked about a specific Learn by Doing memory, Scaglione recalled growing mums in the fields at Cal Poly. “I live in New Jersey now, and when we plant mums in the fall I tell my husband ‘It’s time to pop the mums, that will make more buds grow back!’ because I remember doing that in Rose Float. We used to plant the mums in the field then we’d go back and pop them so more would grow, and it works!”
far out flower power
During a Poly Reps tour in high school, Sydney Strong (Industrial Engineering, ‘20) learned about Cal Poly Rose Float and knew immediately that she wanted to get involved. Strong spent her high school career working on set construction for theater productions which made her a natural choice for Decorations Chair. “Overseeing our decorations week is kind of the culmination of that role,” said Strong. “When I was Decorations Chair, we had a bunch of purple cabbages that we cut up into star shapes. You soak them in water, and they look like they bloom – almost like a flower. There are all sorts of creative things that you do to test how we can make something give the effect that you want.”
Strong was the Decorations Chair in 2019, the year Cal Poly Universities won the Extraordinaire Award for "Far Out Frequencies", which is one of the best awards in the parade. “I was very, very proud of our team and all the work we put into it.”
Now living in Arizona, Strong does her best to stay connected to the friends she made during Rose Float and even travels out for Deco Week in December every year to volunteer her time helping the current team with the float. “I’m already planning this year’s trip. I love just spending hours putting material on the float, it’s my happy place.”
IT'S ALL IN A NAME
Dan Harrigan (Materials Engineering, ‘94) grew up in Orange County but had never gone to the Tournament of Roses Parade until he joined the Rose Float club at Cal Poly. “I worked on it pretty much through college. I was on the committee for two years, but I was in the club all four years,” said Harrigan. “It becomes your life. Even during summer, I was up there every weekend working on the float.”
Harrigan spent his second year as the Construction Chair, but his claim to fame was when his idea was selected during his first year. “I actually named the float ‘Squeaking By.’ We were all brainstorming in the same room, and they picked mine. That was pretty cool.”
When asked what his favorite memory of Rose Float was, Harrigan’s answer was easy. “Most of my dear friends are from Rose Float. It’s my treasured memory from college.”
LEARN BY DOING IS THE WAY
Ali Harake (Mechanical Engineering, ‘18, MA Industrial Engineering, '22) joined Rose Float as a participant in 2014, his second year at Cal Poly, and eventually stepped into a presidential role during his last year as an undergrad. “I came back to Cal Poly for my master's and I did more of a participant role. I hung out and helped guide the newbies and taught them how to do things,” said Harake.
Being involved for so long, it was hard for him to pinpoint his favorite memory but the people he worked with were what really resonated. “The people really kind of make the whole program what it is. You’re not just working with engineers, you’re working with artists, designers, architects, managers and every kind of personality there. It really teaches you how the rest of the world is going to be, and I really liked that.”
Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto was a big part of Rose Float for Harake. “One of the best Learn by Doing moments was the first day I joined. I showed up and I said, ‘I don't know how to use anything, teach me something.' And they said ‘Come learn how to weld,’ and I did some welding. Then the next day it was ‘We're taking apart the engine, stick around after and you can help us,’ so, I got to see how an engine works. They were very willing to teach and help me learn, and I had never done anything like that before,“ said Harake. “The whole process of it going from zero to 100 is such a cool experience. Being a part of that is once in a lifetime, and I got to luckily do it four times.”
ROSE FLOAT LOVE AND HISTORY
Paula Kemp (Elementary Education, ‘65) was a student volunteer for Rose Float from 1962-65. Growing up in Pasadena, Kemp’s love for the Tournament of Roses parade started at a young age. The Car Barns where Deco Week takes place was an easy commute from her childhood home.
“My favorite memory was that first year, seeing the evolution of painted carcass to fully decorated float,” said Kemp. While she doesn’t stay in close contact with fellow Cal Poly Rose Float alums, one notable exception was her husband of 53 years, Malcom Kemp (Electrical Engineering, ‘65). “The last year I worked alongside my fiancée, Malcom Kemp, who was Student Body President, and we got some attention because of that.”
“The Rose Float Legacy is so important to the culture of Cal Poly. It is the perfect example of various disciplines in engineering, landscape architecture, student-led design and production coming together to produce an award-winning entry year after year.”
SKILLS TO LAST A LIFETIME
Walter Trygstad (Manufacturing Engineering, ‘21) joined Rose Float in the fall of 2016 as a participant, eventually serving as Construction Chair for the 2020 parade. “I was looking for something to do on the weekends, and by pure chance, I ended up in the lab on the last weekend in SLO,” Trygstad said. He ended up heading to Pomona with the team the following weekend, and the rest is history.
“Right now I basically live in the equivalent of design and deco week constantly. I’m an automation controls engineer, and we do a lot of the same stuff in terms of processes. I’ve definitely been able to leverage Rose Float a lot in terms of my career path,” Trygstad said about how Rose Float has impacted his life and career post-graduation.
“To me, Rose Float always felt like a smaller, more personal thing. I think it’s a key portion of all of our college experiences. I always just had fun. Everyone in that group is generally very happy to be there, and very welcoming. We always prided ourselves on being very freshmen orientated. It’s a great place to learn and work with things you may not have had prior experience with.”
full circle moment 46 years later
When Catherine Homer (History, ‘81) submitted her application to Cal Poly, she knew her first initiative on campus was to join the Cal Poly Rose Float. Inspired specifically by the 1977 float, she made sure to visit the Rose Float booth during Club Showcase night of WOW Week in the fall of 1977.
When asked to recall how the skills she learned in Rose Float carried over to her personal and professional life, Homer had a very specific full-circle moment in recent years. “Three years ago, the Mayflower Society had a float in the Rose Parade. My husband’s a member so we went and worked on the float. They asked if anyone had ever done this before and I said ‘Yeah, I used to work on Cal Poly’s float!’ They gave the two of us a project without even looking back – they don’t do that with just any volunteer. It just felt good to know that they had that much respect for the quality of work that Cal Poly puts into their floats.”
Homer has continued to visit and volunteer her help at Deco Week when she can and plans on attending the Tournament of Roses parade in January 2024 for the 75th anniversary to reminisce and celebrate this milestone.
LEAVING A LASTING MARK
Philippe Napaa (Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering, ‘17) was a freshman participant who officially got involved in Rose Float leadership during his second year, eventually becoming president of the Cal Poly team.
Part of his path included becoming Flower Field Coordinator. “When I took over the flower field program, we had major weed issues. I had a background in landscape design, and I suggested a change to drip irrigation. From there, I worked with Rain Bird to get equipment donated and worked with the Cal Poly Agriculture department to help us plow the field, and we put in a drip irrigation system. I think they still use that to this day,” said Napaa of his lasting mark on Rose Float.
The biggest impact Rose Float had on Napaa was when he joined the Navy in 2019, becoming one of the few Rose Float alumni to go into the armed forces. “I took the experiences and motivation, plus the pride in wanting to serve, and decided to join the Navy. I’m the assistant engineer on a nuclear submarine at Pearl Harbor. Even on a submarine, I still use some of my leadership experiences when leading divisions of personnel or going to all the coordination meetings between our squadron,” said Napaa.
ROSE FLOAT SWEETHEARTS
Eric Flodine (Landscape Architecture, ‘96) and Lourdes “Lulu” Rivera Flodine (Psychology ‘95) were high school sweethearts who ended up at Cal Poly together. They worked on three Cal Poly floats together during their time, with Eric becoming Design Chair and Lulu becoming Decorations Chair for their final float in 1994, "A Novel Adventure."
“The bond that is created by working on the floats lasts well beyond graduation,” said Flodine. “Several of us keep in touch regularly. One of them was a bridesmaid and another was a groomsman at our wedding.”
Eric and Lulu have two children together, both Cal Poly students, and he hopes they will one day join Cal Poly Rose Float and follow in their footsteps. “Rose Float’s legacy is so important as a visual representation of Cal Poly’s motto as the parade is viewed by over 40 million people each year. On campus, it provides an opportunity for a diverse group of students from many backgrounds and majors to join a team and work hard towards a common exciting goal.”
Learn more about the Cal Poly Rose Float and their plans for the 75th anniversary in January 2024 on their website. You can also support the Crowdfunding campaign at crowdfund.calpoly.edu and ensure more students have the chance to participate in this amazing club.