Giant Manta rays sway and electric eels power a rock ‘n‘roll party on the ocean floor celebrating Cal Poly universities’ 75th entry in the Pasadena Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 2024.
Led by a 16-foot purple manta ray gliding over a colorful coral reef, 55-foot-long float “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current,” depicts a rocking swim party. A trio of eels provide their current to electric guitars, a keyboard and turntable, honoring the 2024 Rose Parade theme “Celebrating the World of Music.”
Designed and built by students, the Cal Poly universities Rose Float is a joint effort of student teams at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Since their first entry in 1949, the combined team has won 61 awards, most recently the 2023 Extraordinaire Trophy.
This year’s entry features a 27-foot vibrant yellow eel powering a Gibson Flying V guitar while his eel friends bob to the beat and two enormous manta rays glide over a colorful coral reef studded with sea stars, anemones, sea urchins and a super-sized clam. A piano keyboard wraps around the back half, adding to the music ensemble.
Designing and building the float is almost a year-long process for the team and includes building, adjusting and fine-tuning the mechanical, drive and animation systems; welding the structural supports and shaping the design elements; testing decorative material; sheeting and foaming before the students can begin adding final design elements.
Both Cal Poly universities place an emphasis on learning by doing, for which the Rose Float team provides numerous opportunities. This year, the students are excited about creating a new animation system to control the movements of creatures and other elements on the float.
“Revamping the system that electronically controls our float mechanisms will improve the ease of programming and give us more opportunities to improve our animations,” explained Brooke Handschin, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and the Cal Poly Pomona construction chair. “If we are successful with the new system, we have the possibility of synching our animations to the music on our float.”
Cal Poly Pomona traditionally builds the front half of the float base, while students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo build the back. Design elements are shaped by both teams, who join the two halves in Pomona later in October. When complete, the float will be 55 feet long, 23 feet high and 20 feet wide. Students will continue to build the float through the fall semester while balancing their studies. The efforts culminate in a huge push after finals until the floats are judged the day before the parade.
Each campus has a core team of about 30 students who lead the planning, construction, design, and decoration of the massive project.
“As we’ve developed this float,” said Quinn Akemon, president of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Rose Float team, “we’ve really continued to lean into Cal Poly’s learn by doing spirit and tried to make this float bigger and more exciting than ever before. Between interesting mechanism development, exciting decorations materials, and larger-than-life eels, rays, and instruments, this will definitely be a float to remember.” Akemon is a senior in plant sciences from Agoura Hills.
The 2024 parade theme, “Celebrating the World of Music,” was selected by Alex Aghajanian, this year’s Tournament of Roses president. “In a world of different cultures, beliefs, hopes, and dreams, one language unites us all — music,” he said earlier this year.
In a happy coincidence, Aghajanian is an alumnus of Cal Poly Pomona (’79 business administration). A volunteer with the parade since 1988, he is an attorney with the Law Offices of Alex P. Aghajanian. He and his wife, Paula, co-founded the Dream With Me Foundation, which supports vocal and instrumental arts in Southern California.