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Racing Forward

Dec 19, 2018

Cal Poly Racing

Cal Poly Racing is the largest student chapter of  the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International in California. More than125 students from various majors contribute to designing, manufacturing and testing three innovative racing vehicles. Months of hard work culminate at SAE’s Collegiate Design Series (CDS) competitions at the end of the school year. The competitions give students an understanding of industry standards while challenging them to apply skills and concepts learned in the classroom. Cal Poly Racing is the only California team to field vehicles in all of the major CDS competitions including Formula SAE, Formula SAE Electric and Baja SAE. The teams spend approximately six months designing and manufacturing the vehicles to prepare for testing and competition in the spring and summer.

This summer, the Formula SAE team competed in Lincoln, Neb., and took third in the design challenge for their combustion vehicle. Both the combustion and electric vehicles placed 13th overall. The Baja SAE competed in Oregon and placed third in maneuverability and fifth place overall. 

This year’s Baja team is aiming to make their vehicle’s weight 15 pounds lighter, move the vehicle’s weight distribution into the 44-46 percent forward range and establish a testing standard for every critical part. The team added a  crew chief to oversee driver training, freshmen retention and competition preparedness. The Formula team is hoping to place in the top three of the upcoming competition in the combustion and electric categories.

Jessalyn Bernick

Jessalyn Bernick

Baja Technical Lead
Sixth Year, Mechanical Engineering

“Our leads have been working hard this year on testing and validation. This is the most thoughtfully designed car our Baja team has yet to produce, and it will pay off both in vehicle performance and in the design competition.”

Upcoming Competitions

Baja SAE
Gorman, California
May 16, 2019

Baja SAE
New York City
June 6, 2019

Formula SAE Electric
Lincoln, Nebraska
June 19-22, 2019

Continue reading Racing Forward...
Zachary Dworaczyk

Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) 2018

Dec 19, 2018

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program is a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to engage in hands-on research while using critical thinking, collaboration and entrepreneurial skills to help solve major societal challenges.

Zachary Dworaczyk

Intelligent Mobility Course Development

Zachary DworaczykZachary Dworaczyk is a graduate mechanical engineering student with a general concentration. Dworaczyk worked with Professor Charles Birdsong to develop the mechanical design of the chassis on a small-scale autonomous vehicle. Originally, the chassis, which holds all the electronic components including the suspension and steering, was designed 


and manufactured out of a nylon polymer.Originally, the chassis, which holds all the electronic components including the suspension and steering, was designed and manufactured out of a nylon polymer. Because of the vibrations in the vehicle from motors and rotating parts, the chassis was beginning to chip and fail. Dworaczyk’s goal for the summer was to investigate the effect of chassis stiffness and consider other materials and designs to increase the reliability and function of the existing nylon polymer chassis. Dworaczyk compared a variety of materials and designs to optimize performance, cost and ease of manufacturing. 

The end goal for this autonomous vehicle project is to be part of the first undergraduate course in intelligent mobility. 


Zachary Wilson

Boundary Layer Data System

Zachary WilsonZachary Wilson is a senior mechanical engineering student concentrating in mechatronics and will be starting the blended mechanical engineering graduate program in the winter 2019 quarter. Wilson worked with Professor Russell Westphal to design the first-ever Boundary Layer Data System instrument that can acquire non-flow measurements.


The prototype that he designed can acquire mechanical strain and acceleration measurements for static and dynamic structural data during in-flight testing of an aircraft. Wilson served as the lead designer and also was tasked with the software design, hardware selection and implementation, and testing of the prototype. Through this project, Wilson learned the C++ programming language, how to design a printed circuit board and gained experience in operating a wind tunnel. 

MAC Competition Winners

Cal Poly Hosts First MAC Competition

Dec 19, 2018

MAC Winners

Cal Poly’s first MAC Competition took place Oct. 6-7. The industry-sponsored event was a collaboration between professionals and the student chapters of the Mechanical Contractors Association and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning. Four teams of 19 students from mechanical engineering, bioresource and agricultural engineering (BRAE) and construction management, competed for $3,000 in prizes.

The competition simulated real problems that engineers could experience when designing HVAC systems. The teams were tasked with designing a duct size and location, choosing an Air Handling Unit (AHU) based on cooling load calculations, doing an economic analysis, completing a crane lift plan for installation, constructing safety plans, designing a schedule for installation and coming up with a final cost for the entire project. 

On the morning of the first day, teams were given the design problem. The students had until  5 p.m. – less than nine hours – to analyze the problem, solve it and deliver the the supporting documents to the judges. 

Midway through the competition the teams were given a surprise; equipment was being delayed by two weeks, but the project end date remained the same. The students had to change crane plans and calculate the impact on the project schedule and budget. 

The next day, each team gave a 25-minute presentation on their design solutions. Judging was based on the submitted documentation and the presentation. The winners of the competition were Soojin Park (fourth-year BRAE), Tae Hun Kwak (second-year construction management), Eric Ramos (second-year mechanical engineering), Emily Gavrilenko (first-year mechanical engineering) and Daisy An (fourth-year mechanical engineering).  

“It was rewarding to be part of this competition, and I could tell the underclassmen learned a lot from participating,” said An, team project manager. 

Lauren Cooper

New Faculty

Dec 19, 2018

Lauren Cooper

Assistant Professor

Lauren Cooper

Lauren Cooper joined the department this fall as an associate professor. She has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, master’s in building systems and doctorate in mechanical engineering with a research emphasis in engineering education. Cooper has industry experience in renewable energy and residential energy efficiency. She started her teaching career as a middle school teacher before returning to receive a Ph.D.


As an educator, Cooper hopes her students take away three things: confidence, personal responsibility and sense of caring. She aims to build confidence in students by creating hands-on design projects that challenge them to learn and apply real-world skills like creativity, brainstorming, ingenuity, prototyping fabrication, team work and project communication. Cooper encourages personal responsibility in students by engaging in active learning and using the flipped classroom approach. 

“I see my role not as the deliverer of knowledge but as a facilitator who engages students in activities and experiences that give them opportunities to grow and learn,” she said.


Benjamin Lutz

Assistant Professor

Ben LutzBenjamin Lutz joined the department this fall as an associate professor. He has a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering, master’s in mechanical engineering and doctorate in engineering education. Lutz is a qualitative researcher, and his work typically focuses on student voices and perceptions to better understand how to motivate and enhance learning and cognition. 


As an educator, Lutz has 
three main goals:

  • Enhance students’ engineering mindset and approach to problem-solving. 
  • Increase students’ capacity for teamwork and communication across diverse groups.
  • Critically engage with course content in ways that produce social consciousness and ethical reasoning.

Lutz recently won the best paper award at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference. Lutz worked with Marie Paretti, an associate professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, to document the lives of 12 recent mechanical engineering graduates through the initial stages of their jobs, exploring their significant challenges, accomplishments and realizations as they navigated their new roles. 

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Shaping A Leader

Dec 19, 2018

Kyra SchmidtKyra Schmidt shares how her leadership in the machine shop has enhanced her Cal Poly experience

Since the 1980s, the shop technician experience has been an important facet of the Mechanical Engineering Department. Being a shop technician provides a unique opportunity for Cal Poly undergraduates to Learn by Doing and develop their skills as engineers. 

Kyra Schmidt is a fourth-year mechanical engineering major concentrating in manufacturing. Schmidt became a machine shop technician her sophomore year and is now a maintenance supervisor for Mustang ‘60. Being a shop technician provides unique hands-on learning opportunities to put into practice that they learn through lectures, labs and reading.
“You can learn about concepts in class and go through the calculations and draw these parts on paper but having actually rebuilt these machines and seeing these components is much more rewarding,” she said. 

Schmidt came to Cal Poly without any prior machine shop or hands-on engineering experience and has gained a wealth of knowledge on the job. Working with the different machines and observing how other students accomplish similar tasks or designs has enriched Schmidt’s engineering education.

“Over time, I started to develop an intuition for best practices in engineering and then was able to come to class to understand the math behind these concepts,” said Schmidt.

As a maintenance supervisor for Mustang ‘60, she is responsible for ensuring the shops are running safely and efficiently. She manages maintenance shifts, trains rookies, keeps machines leveled and identifies preventative solutions in the machine shop. At one point, Schmidt noticed long lines at the mill in Mustang ‘60 during busy times of the quarter and searched for a solution. She discovered a second mill that had been broken for some time and took it upon herself to fix it. Over the span of a month, she tore apart the mill and fixed almost every part including the clutches and high/low gears. This true Learn by Doing experience was her first time completely rebuilding a machine like this. 

“Sometimes my job is frustrating, but once I finish a project and see students using the machine I rebuilt, it makes it all worth it,” said Schmidt.


For more information on supporting our machine shops and ways you help continue this tradition, visit

Continue reading Shaping A Leader...
Julia Roche

Alumni Spotlights

Dec 19, 2018

Julia Roche '17

Technical Development Program Engineer, Edwards Lifesciences

Julia Roche

Julia Roche graduated in 2017 with a mechanical engineering degree and is now a technical development program engineer at Edwards Lifesciences, a medical equipment company specializing in artificial heart valves and hemodynamic monitoring.


In her current position, Roche rotates through four different facets of engineering including quality engineering, research and development, marketing and manufacturing. Roche enjoys working for a medical device company because of the direct impact she has on people’s lives. 

“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I’m a part of saving people’s lives,” she said.


Road to Sweden

ME AlumniAlec Bialek (pictured on the left) and Eric Griess traveled from Cal Poly across the globe on separate career paths only to reconnect again years later in Sweden. 

Bialek graduated in 2017 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s best known for constructing a full-size, functioning R2D2 during his undergrad. He studied abroad for six months at the Munich University of Applied Sciences and interned at BMW doing engine calibration with the inline six-cylinder group. After connecting with Griess, who was working for a company in Sweden at the time, Bialek sought to get a job there as well. Bialek is now a software integration engineer at Koenigse gg Automotive AB, a Swedish manufacturer of high-performance vehicles, headquartered in Angelholm, Sweden. Bialek is responsible for vehicle application software and ensuring they are safe to drive. 
Griess graduated from Cal Poly in 2014 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering. While at Cal Poly, Griess was a shop technician and part of Cal Poly Racing. During his master’s, Griess conducted research on FreeValve, a Swedish technology company specializing in camless engine technology. He discovered his passion for the company and sought to work for them after graduation. After many attempts, Griess finally got an interview with FreeValve and started out as a design engineer. Griess is now the chief technology officer at the firm based in Angelholm, Sweden.

Continue reading Alumni Spotlights...
Brian Self with students

Brian Self is a Good Fellow

Dec 19, 2018

Brian Self with Students
Professor Brian Self oversees ME students as they use a model Daimler semi-truck and trailer that is being used in autonomous driving research.

Brian Self, an advocate of evidence-based teaching practices whose classic dynamics textbook is used by students nationwide, was recently named a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

The ASEE, dedicated to the professional needs of engineering educators across all disciplines, says fellows are chosen by its board of directors for outstanding and extraordinary qualifications and experience in engineering or engineering technology education. Fellows raise and deliberate key issues regarding engineering education and formulate position papers, sometimes proposing courses of action for the ASEE board. Self, a mechanical engineering professor, said he has benefited much from his ASEE membership.

“In my early career, presentations at ASEE gave me a number of great ideas to improve my teaching,” he said. 

Shortly after arriving at Cal Poly in 2006, he was asked to be part of a collaborative grant because of his contacts forged through the organization.

“That grant developed a number of project-based learning assignments in mechanical engineering,” he said. 

“Our team also hired more than a dozen undergraduate students over the years and had them present at ASEE conferences.”

It was through his relationship with ASEE that he was asked to co-author a book, “Vector Mechanics for Engineers” (McGraw-Hill), which is used in classrooms nationwide and recently celebrated its 12th edition.

Self previously worked in the Air Force Research Laboratories before teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy for seven years. He has also taught at the Munich University of Applied Sciences and the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. In addition to being an ASEE member, he served as a board member from 2008-’10. The organization, he said, has provided an education as well.

“Through ASEE, I have learned a lot about evidence-based teaching practices and used it to improve my own teaching and to mentor others,” Self said. “Also, I have become much more aware of issues of inclusivity and diversity and served on the first ASEE Diversity Working Group.”

Continue reading Brian Self is a Good Fellow...
Jim Widmann, Department Chair

Fall 2018 Letter from the Chair

Dec 19, 2018

Jim Widmann

Letter from the Chair

The 2018-2019 academic year jumped off to a great start for the Mechanical Engineering Department.

This fall, we welcomed 206 academically talented freshmen and transfer students, and we remain the largest department at Cal Poly with more than 1,250 undergraduates. Because of the good work across our department, we are currently ranked as the second-best undergraduate focused mechanical engineering program in the country by U.S. News and World Report.  

With so many new and exciting things happening in the department from the formation of new design-build clubs to new personnel and research initiatives – it is hard to put this all in one newsletter! 

In this issue of News To Me we feature many of our Learn By Doing activities and how we are investing in new initiatives to enhance mechanical engineering’s hands-on approach. You will read about how Cal Poly Racing is gearing up for competitions using the redesigned machine shop spaces.  

You will meet two new tenure-track faculty, Assistant Professors Lauren Cooper and Benjamin Lutz, who bring new ideas and energy to our hands-on design activities, and offer major contributions to our efforts in diversity and inclusivity.  

We highlight the growth of our student shop technician program that has grown into an interdisciplinary crew of 55 students from across campus who keep the shops safe while gaining valuable experience that is sought after by industry.  

    You can read about how undergraduate research is playing a growing role in the experiences of our faculty and undergraduates as they break new ground in intelligent vehicle research and measuring systems for air flow on aircraft surfaces.  

    We also feature updates on three alumni and the exciting things they are doing with their Cal Poly education and how the ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, club is working with the Mechanical Contractors Association to provide real-world experience to students.

    All these activities share our common philosophy that real engineering work requires not only solid understanding of theory but also experiences and skills to finish the job.  

    I know of no other undergraduate program in the country that so effectively combines these two elements to prepare students for careers in industry and graduate school. I want to give a very heartfelt thank you to our alumni, donors and corporate partners who provide support and the financial means for our students to do amazing things.  

    Finally, I wish to extend my deep wishes for everyone to have a peaceful and relaxing holiday season filled with joy.


    Jim Widmann
    Professor and Chair

    Continue reading Fall 2018 Letter from the Chair...
    EPC Building

    Engineering Projects Center

    Oct 15, 2018

    Learn by Doing is hardwired into Cal Poly’s project-based curriculum — and a campaign is underway to bring a new epicenter for Learn by Doing to new generations of students: the Engineering Projects Center.

    The shop experience, learning ground for countless multidisciplinary clubs and project teams, fosters graduates who are renowned worldwide for their ingenuity, know-how and ability to get things done. Students learn about safety, design and fabrication in an inclusive, welcoming shop environment. These hands-on facilities nurture teamwork, problem solving and leadership skills that prepare students to be Day One ready.

    Strategically located at the northeast corner of the Engineering Quad across from Kennedy Library, the Engineering Projects Center will create a crossroads for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and liberal arts disciplines. It will create new opportunities for convergence and collaboration between students, faculty and industry. The Engineering Projects Center will be the new gateway to campus and to Cal Poly’s unparalleled Learn by Doing education.

    The new Engineering Projects Center and Bonderson Projects Center will be fully integrated to enhance synergy, efficiency and student-learning opportunities.

    Highlights of the student-operated facility include:

    • Advanced manufacturing and fabrication shops
    • A design and ideation environment
    • Flexible workspaces for clubs, project design and assembly
    • State-of-the-art technologies
    • Faculty and student research
    • 24/7 access for all students and faculty

    Be a part of the legacy and future of Learn by Doing.

    To make a gift to support the Engineering Project Center, click here.

    For information, contact the College of Engineering Advancement Office.

    Continue reading Engineering Projects Center...

    Making ME More 'Manufacturing Savvy'

    Oct 15, 2018

    In recognition of the indelible hands-on footprint made by Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation at Cal Poly, two labs were named in their honor this year: the Haas Netshape Laboratory and the Haas Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory.

    In his remarks at the dedication ceremony earlier this year, President Jeffrey D. Armstrong noted that Haas has “helped foster an environment where enterprising students are encouraged to face new challenges, develop solutions and grow into the innovative global leaders the engineering industry needs.”

    “Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation have inspired generations of graduates who are igniting a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing,” he said.

    Mechanical engineering students, in particular, are benefiting from Haas’ lab and equipment in increasing numbers.

    The two lab dedications align with the new manufacturing focus in the Mechanical Engineering Department that equips more students to incorporate manufacturing concerns into product and component design decisions.

    “Manufacturability is one of the most important criteria driving product design,” said Industrial and Manufacturing Professor Dan Waldorf.  “By completing the manufacturing concentration, more students will have the specialized skills to be a manufacturing-savvy design engineers.”

    In place for a little over a year, the manufacturing concentration sprang from the recommendations of industry representatives on both the mechanical engineering and industrial and  manufacturing engineering boards who noted that manufacturing-savvy graduates will be more sought after as employees.

    “We want to increase students’ knowledge of manufacturing methods so that they practice ‘design for manufacturing’ best practices,” said Waldorf. “The new concentration makes our graduates even more productive because they will engineer products and systems that have the highest quality and lowest cost over lifetime.”


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