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Cougars & Mustangs 

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When a lover of science fiction encounters college department names such as BioResearch and Agricultural Engineering, he often begins to fantasize about modern day Jurassic Park exhibits stomping merrily along the grounds of Poly Canyon. What is sometimes lost amid that fantasy, when compared with what members of such a department actually do, is that the accomplishments of nonfictional characters can be really darn impressive if you take a moment to consider them.

Recently, for example, the building housing that department became a physical, hands-on, (fine, I’ll say it) Learn-By-Doing assignment for some of its students, when they were tasked with designing and installing a grid-tie solar-electric system. The project was part of a new BRAE course, Solar Photovoltaic System Engineering, and the materials were provided by a generous donation of more than 1,000 solar panels to Cal Poly by SunPower, and donations of solar installation components and supplies by SnapNRack, Sunrun, and Quaglino Roofing. The project itself was completed in 10 weeks, and boy, was there a lot to do! After all, the 41 students involved in this project also completed two other solar installations to low-income houses in collaboration with the Central Coast regional office of the GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit solar company providing job training in the solar company for volunteers.

All aspects of residential solar installation were taken care of by the students, including electrical and mechanical design, site planning, getting regulatory approval and permits, and much more. As for the campus installations, the estimated savings by use of solar are $1,600 a year. But something else that’s really cool is that, especially as far as projects like this are concerned, those students who collaborated to complete the project came from various majors and areas of study, not just one.

What’s important to remember is that what a person learns, what his/her special talents are, don’t just apply to the obvious areas. To make progress in this world, creating new things or even just accomplishing something important again, there is so much that can be considered “expertise” and the next great idea, or that little push needed to get something done, may arrive from the place least expected. You may end up majoring in one thing but having a career somewhere else, yet you know that what you learned in the original field has impacted you in profound, important ways. Congrats to these talented students, and thanks to those who helped them achieve all of this.

Intern Chris White-Sanborn now knows that it’s not only sugary drinks that unleash the power of the sun. Send collegiate news to

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