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Student Affairs

A Cherished Cal Poly Tradition that Spans Generations

Student working on rose float
Written By Jayan Kalathil

The Cal Poly Rose Float is one of the university’s most enduring and cherished traditions and arguably the university’s most high-profile example of Learn by Doing. Every year a dedicated group of Cal Poly student volunteers work feverishly with their counterparts at Cal Poly Pomona to design, build, finance and decorate an intricate float made of flowers, wood and metal. This float is then showcased in Pasadena for 750,000 people at the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and televised to countless millions more across the world on New Year’s Day.

“I like to say that I manage a leadership development program that happens to build a float for the Rose Parade,” explained Josh D’Acquisto, Cal Poly staff coordinator for the Rose Float team. “These students are working year-round, and they are putting in massive hours per day during the month of December to make this happen.”

This year marks the milestone 75th float built by Cal Poly, and it continues to be the only student-built float in the parade with a winning record that includes a total of 61 awards and trophies –representing wins in about 83% of all participating years. Cal Poly is one of the oldest floats in the parade, just behind the cities of Pasadena and Burbank.

To mark this momentous 75th float, Cal Poly is hosting a crowdfunding effort during November and December with the goal of raising significant funds to help offset costs and allow for more students to participate in the program in the future. Like many other Learn by Doing efforts across campus, the team relies on the generosity of donors and supporters to make each year a success.

All gifts go directly toward supporting students such as Quinn Akemon, a fifth-year plant sciences major who serves as president of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Rose Float team this year. “Through this program, I’ve been able to become such a leader within it and also outside of it,” she said. “I’m responsible for the health, the safety, the attitude and the experience of the team as a whole.”

The Rose Float team is especially in need of support to cover transportation, lodging and meals. From Oct. 15 through late February, students travel to Pomona weekly, as all the final float work occurs on the Cal Poly Pomona campus. Additionally, the materials, equipment and tools needed for the construction and building process can be expensive, from the cost of welding materials such as flame-retardant coveralls and the structural steel used in the frame, to the wood used for the artistic design elements and the crew compartment fabrication.

Student working on rose float

There are also the costs associated with the joint lab days, which are held 20 times a year with students from both campuses, as well as the cost of meals for more than 150 students and volunteers who work to complete the float during Decorations Week, Dec.26 – Jan. 1. Increased funding and support would help address these fixed costs while also allowing more students the opportunity to participate.

“We have more students who are interested and would like to be a part of the Rose Float program than we can accommodate,” D’Acquisto said. “Right now, we have the demand, we get the sign ups, but we have to limit how many students can participate.”

While the big event happens every New Year's Day, the process and preparation for each float takes place over the entire year. “Most people do not realize that it’s a 14-month process,” D’Acquisto explained. “This is not just something that a group of students does over their holiday break.”

From student recruitment and drafting concepts for the next year’s theme, to construction and flower planting and harvesting, the entire process is a multidisciplinary effort that takes place during every month of the year. It’s a true example of Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing spirit in action.

Akemon noted, “Our float is entirely designed and built by students. We are welding the float together. We are the ones communicating with flower farms and flower growers across California and across the nation. It is our responsibility to take it from words and drawings on paper and make it into something in real life. It is that complete step-by-step A-to-Z kind of experience that makes this so special in Learn by Doing.”

Make your gift in support of the Cal Poly Rose Float at and be a part of the success of one of the longest and most enduring Learn by Doing traditions at Cal Poly.

“The Cal Poly Rose Float shows the world what we’re capable of and what Learn by Doing looks like,” Akemon said.”

Support the Cal Poly Rose Float