After spending most of 2020 operating remotely, Cal Poly Pomona had an awakening of sorts in 2021, with more people, events and activities returning to campus.
The Classes of 2020 and 2021 were able to physically cross the Commencement stage this year, albeit at an off-campus location, and family members were there to cheer them on during 20 drive-in ceremonies at the Pomona Fairplex.
Students returned to classrooms and residence halls. The community came to campus to take advantage of the vaccination hub in the spring and brought their children to enjoy the Pumpkin Fest in the fall. It also was a year of transformative gifts, Olympic hopes and Rose Float building. Here is a list of the Top 10 stories of 2021.
1. The Return to Campus
Pairs of students hovered over glass pipettes and beakers in a chemistry lab. Across campus, animal science students gathered outdoors in front of stacked hay bales to hear about expectations for the semester, with a cow mooing periodically in background.
A small group clustered in Aratani Japanese Garden, while a few students sat on benches in the Rose Garden and others strolled along the pathways near the residence halls.
While not the usual packed campus, the sights and sounds of university life returned to Cal Poly Pomona the first day of the fall semester.
2. A Transformative Gift
Philanthropist and author Mackenzie Scott gifted Cal Poly Pomona $40 million, one of 300 donations she made to organizations nationwide. In a Medium blog post about the gifts, she reiterated her commitment to supporting colleges and universities making a difference for underserved communities.
“We are attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change” Scott wrote. “In this effort, we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.”
3. Helping to Fight a Pandemic
When Kaiser Permanente and Cal Poly Pomona teamed up to launch a mass vaccination hub on campus in February, COVID-19 cases were on the rise and the effort to distribute the doses needed to slow the spread was in its early stages. In the three months that the hub was open, more than 300,000 vaccinations were provided to the public at the site.
The mass vaccination hub, run by a consortium of health organizations and led by Kaiser Permanente, gave the university an opportunity to join in the fight and deepen its budding partnership with Kaiser Permanente.
4. Mourning a Campus Icon
They called him “Mr. Cal Poly Pomona,” and for good reason.
Ron Simons’ dedication to the university began as a college freshman during the Eisenhower Administration and continued for more than 50 years as he worked for the university for 43 years and remained involved in his beloved Rose Float program long after his retirement in 2012.
Simons died Aug. 26 at age 79. His friends and colleagues shared numerous memories of his kindness, dry sense of humor, dedication to Cal Poly Pomona, and commitment to supporting students.
5. Pomp Despite Circumstance
Commencement was different — masked faces, a different venue, celebration of two classes — all thanks to an unprecedented year gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of eight ceremonies over three days, Cal Poly Pomona celebrated the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in 20 drive-in ceremonies over four days in May.
But what remained the same was the exuberant celebration of the graduates as they crossed the stage, the hugs between friends who forged bonds over several years of library study sessions, club meetings and residence hall hangouts. Family and extended family — as many as their cars, trucks and vans could hold — beamed with the usual pride.
The Class of 2021 was the largest graduating class in university history with just more than 7,400 students. The Class of 2020 had 6,153 graduates.
6. Challenge Accepted
A student team won $200,000 in the NASA Tech Leap Challenge. Students designed small satellite observation technology that can autonomously detect, locate, track and collect data on transient events either on Earth or beyond.
Their design, Bronco Ember, will be able to detect new wildfires before they grow into conflagrations and report those nascent fires to appropriate fire-fighting officials. By measuring heat wavelength and intensity on the ground, the satellite will be able to distinguish between campfires, controlled fires and new wildfires so that wildfire threats can be stopped early.
7. Pumpkin Fest Returns
A fall staple at Cal Poly Pomona, the annual Pumpkin Fest, returned in October after a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic. More than 76,000 people — children, families, friends — celebrated the season with the return of the gigantic pumpkin patch, hayrides, the corn maze, petting farm, sunflower patch and The Marketplace, a farmer’s market with campus-grown agricultural items, craft vendors and snacks.
8. Liquid Rocket Lab Construction
A 2,100-square-foot enclosure needed for building and launching liquid rockets opened in the fall. A $2.4 million federal award from the Air Force Research Laboratory funded the construction and the purchase of needed hand tools such as saws, drills, a mill lathe, a tube bender and more. The Liquid Rocket Lab hopes to make Cal Poly Pomona the one of the first — if not the first — university to send a liquid rocket lab 45,000 feet into the air in the next few years.
9. Representing His Country
Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Timothy Lam (’18, accounting) represented Team USA and participated in the Parade of Nation at the XXXII Olympic Games in Tokyo. Lam started playing badminton when he was just 6, inspired by watching his older brother and role model, Zenas Lam (’15, architecture), play and train at their local badminton club in Mountain View.
10. Rose Float Back in Gear
Hey diddle, diddle, did you ever wonder how the cow jumped over the moon? The Cal Poly Universities 2022 Rose Parade float tells the tale. It features a cow with a jetpack soaring over the moon and high above the float, aided by a cat who has put down his fiddle to manage mission control.
Students are putting together the finishing touches on their Stargrazers float, the only student-built and designed entry in the Rose Parade, which returns after Covid-19 concerns forced it to be cancelled last January. The theme of the 133rd Rose Parade celebrates education’s ability to open doors, open minds and change lives, “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”