Brooke Handschin was walking around a club fair on campus in fall 2021, looking for ways to get involved after spending her freshman year in online classes, when she came across the Cal Poly Rose Float team’s booth.
It reminded of her parents’ love for watching the Tournament of Roses Parade every year.
Her parents are both long-time Rose Parade fans and Cal Poly Pomona alumni themselves. However, they didn’t know about their opportunity to work on the float when they were students until they graduated, so they encouraged Handschin, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, to join the Cal Poly Rose Float team when she decided to attend CPP.
After hearing the spiel from Cal Poly Rose Float representatives at the club fair about how the experience could greatly benefit her engineering career, and with her parents’ encouragement, Handschin decided to join the team.
The first Cal Poly Rose Float she worked on was the 2022 “Stargrazers” float when she was a decorator. Next, she transitioned into a hydraulics lead for the 2023 “Road to Reclamation” float, and then, she rose to her current position on the executive board as a construction chair for the 2024 “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current” float.
As construction chair, Handschin has the honor of driving the 2024 Cal Poly Rose Float.
“I won’t be the only one on the float when driving,” said Handschin. “I’ll be there with four other teammates including our observer, drive engine operator, and two animation operators, all whom I have formed close friendships with. Getting to drive is already a fun experience, but getting to share this experience with my friends and share headsets together during the parade is even more exciting.”
The Glendora native is also excited to drive by the Cal Poly section of the stands, where her other Cal Poly Rose Float friends will be cheering for their whole team and all their hard work.
“I’ll be on the side of the float that is furthest away from the stands, but I know that even if I won’t be able to see all my friends, I’ll be able to hear them,” said Handschin.
Since 1949, when Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students first teamed up to make the joint Cal Poly Rose Float, it has been a tradition for the construction chairs at CPP and CPSLO to alternate each year between driving the float and being the observer, whose job is to stay in contact with Tournament of Roses authorities and communicate with the driver regarding when to speed up, slow down, and stop.
Last year, CPSLO’s construction chair drove the Road to Reclamation float, so it’s Handschin’s turn.
She notes that driving the float is a unique experience because she only has the ability to drive –steering, accelerating, and reversing – but not the ability to turn on the engine. That’s the job of the drive engine operator and the observer, who are also in charge of handling the emergency brake.
“I’d say the hardest part about driving the float is using the joystick, which is super sensitive,” said Handschin. “If I want to move slow, I’d have to go really, really slow because if I just press it, the float is just going to jolt forward. Another difficult part is figuring out when to turn, but that’s what my navigator does, so it takes the load off me.”
Some skills Handschin has gained through being part of the team are technological knowledge like how to fabricate as well as use various machinery and hand tools. She also developed soft skills, including leadership and working in a team to complete tasks in a timely manner.
“The float is going out Jan. 1 no matter what, so we have a busy schedule and a lot of hard deadlines,” Handschin said. “On top of that, we work with teammates who are 200 miles away in SLO. There’s a lot of Zoom calls, especially in our planning stage during the spring semesters. When mid-October arrives, we actually start working on our float, and our SLO teammates start coming down to our lab here in Pomona every Saturday. It gets easier working together because we get to see them every week.”
Working on the float is not just professional experience for Handschin though. It’s also an opportunity to socialize and have fun.
Her favorite Rose Float memories are working during Deco Week, which takes place every Dec. 26-31, when the entire team heads over to Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena, near where the float viewing on New Year’s Day takes place. They spend early mornings to late nights each day during the last week of the year decorating the float as well as staying at a hotel in the area overnight.
“Getting to spend so much time with this team is my favorite thing to do,” said Handschin. “You basically get to do work and then have sleepovers with your friends. Also, I just love decorating. I know it’s contradictory because I’m a construction chair, but decorating is just so fun.”
After “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current,” Handschin plans to participate in one last Cal Poly Rose Float before graduating in fall 2024. After graduating, she strives to work in the hydraulics field and design fluid power systems, which she gained experience in while working on the floats as well as during her summer 2023 internship at Zemarc Corporation, a hydraulic equipment supplier located in Commerce.