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College of Engineering

Dathe Family Student Project Center Expands Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing Legacy Beyond the Hangar

Dathe Family Student Project Center
Written By Emily Slater

Two alumni, deeply committed to the hands-on education they experienced at Cal Poly, are backing an initiative that enables more students to embrace the Learn by Doing ethos in a dynamic outdoor workspace next to the historic Hangar.

Bob and Carlotta Dathe
Cal Poly alumni Bob and Carlotta Dathe, having already pledged $300,000 to the Dathe Family Student Project Center, are bolstering their commitment with an additional $35,000 donation. They are hopeful that other donors will join them in matching this contribution during the Poly Gives fundraising campaign from April 11 to 13.

The Dathe Family Student Project Center, named in honor of Bob and Carlotta Dathe, features a custom-designed shade sail spanning a paved area for team-based activities. Shipping containers will be repurposed into clubhouses serving dual purposes: encouraging collaboration and offering storage solutions.

Given the limited space in the Hangar’s project shop, the Dathe Family Student Project Center will offer clubs such as Cal Poly Racing, Hyperloop and Supermileage expanded physical workspace and increase storage capacity as early as April.

“What drew us to the project center is its versatility, offering opportunities for various practical applications,” said Carlotta, who graduated in 1960 with a degree in home economics. “My fondest memories of Cal Poly revolve around its Learn by Doing philosophy, which equipped me with a skill set that has served me well throughout my life.”

The Dathes, having already pledged $300,000 to the center, are bolstering their commitment with an additional $35,000 donation. They are hopeful that other donors will join them in matching this contribution during the Poly Gives fundraising campaign to propel the project across the finish line.

“I’m thrilled to see how this center will directly benefit numerous students and clubs,” said Bob, a 1960 graduate in mechanical engineering. “It’s a logical fit for clubs and ongoing projects, and I’m excited to witness its impact.”

The Dathe Family Student Project Center will be a top priority for the College of Engineering during Poly Gives – a three-day digital fundraising campaign that coincides with Open House weekend from April 11 to 13. The campaign aims to attract matching funds to support the initiative.

The Dathe Family Student Project Center, featuring a custom-designed shade sail, offers a collaborative workspace on a paved area adjacent to the Hangar.
The Dathe Family Student Project Center, featuring a custom-designed shade sail, offers a collaborative workspace on a paved area adjacent to the Hangar. Regardless of weather conditions, teams and clubs will have access to the work area.

Visitors to the Hangar will see the transformation of the space, previously home to concrete test pools, into the emerging project center. A shade sail now covers the central hub, creating a welcoming area, while the shipping containers have been positioned for use by student clubs.

“This project is really great for all the clubs working on ongoing projects,” Bob said. “In real life, projects are never truly finished, so having a space to set them aside and come back to them later is essential.”

Bob’s lifelong involvement in projects began during his upbringing around his dad’s manufacturing business in the Berkeley area – a background that led him to opt for Cal Poly as his singular choice, drawn by its promise of hands-on education.

Upon his arrival at Cal Poly in 1956, the Hangar remained a functioning aircraft hangar, and the sole machine shop on campus served as a domain for individuals like Bob who felt at ease amid machinery.

At that time, with a student body of only 3,000 men and 300 women, the campus featured fewer clubs and projects than today. Nonetheless, the unwavering commitment to hands-on learning bridged the past with the present.

“Working in labs and creating together set the stage for my role in the family business,” said Bob, who ran Benda Tool & Model Works Inc. “I drew upon everything I learned at Cal Poly when I got involved.”

In 1958, Carlotta transferred from Bakersfield College to Cal Poly, becoming part of the pioneering group of women to graduate for the first time in over 25 years. In 1930, to cut costs associated with women’s dormitories and the household arts curriculum, the California government had prohibited women from enrolling at Cal Poly, rendering it an all-male institution. Women were officially welcomed back in 1956.

“Attending Cal Poly during its time of evolution was truly an adventure,” she said. “The school itself embodied the Learn by Doing philosophy, constantly adapting and growing alongside its students.”

She met Bob during her Welcome Week at Cal Poly, thanks to his fraternity brothers who introduced them at the El Corral coffeehouse on campus. Since that serendipitous meeting, the couple has remained inseparable, celebrating their 64th anniversary this year.

Two of their three children followed in their footsteps to Cal Poly, one of whom graduated with a degree in engineering technology and now runs the family business.

The couple’s support for Cal Poly shows a profound commitment to enrich the institution that has played a crucial role in their lives, ensuring it continues to serve as a nurturing ground for future generations. By backing the Dathe Family Student Project Center, they are perpetuating the tradition of hands-on learning that was instrumental in shaping their own journey.

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Student clubs and organizations that will likely use the Dathe Family Student Project Center include:

The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE)

SAMPE participates in three annual competitions, focusing on building bridges, fuselages and 3D-printed structures. Currently, without a dedicated workspace, acquiring new space would enable the team to store materials and safely perform carbon fiber wet layups.


The Hyperloop team annually takes part in the Not A Boring mini competition, where they design and manufacture a vertical boring machine aimed at enhancing speed and efficiency. A dedicated meeting and workspace, along with storage for project materials, would significantly benefit their efforts.

Formula SAE

Over nine months, Formula SAE designs, builds and tests two competitive vehicles for events in May and June. As the team shifts toward electrification and all-wheel drive hub motors, specialized space is needed for interdisciplinary collaboration to effectively implement and refine these systems. Additionally, the team would leverage extra space to drive the development and testing of electronic systems in collaboration with Baja SAE.

Baja SAE

This year, the team is working to enhance the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission on their off-road vehicle. Also, members are developing semi-active suspension, adding aerodynamic features, implementing a hydraulic clutch, advancing their composite structures and redesigning the chassis. Added space would enable more collaborative testing efforts with Formula SAE.

Cal Poly Supermilage club
To alleviate space limitations in the Hangar's machine shop, the Dathe Family Student Project Center will provide expanded workspace and additional storage for clubs like Cal Poly Supermileage.


The Supermileage team is focusing on two projects for the Shell Eco Marathon: manufacturing an Urban Concept vehicle and enhancing a prototype vehicle. Secure and accessible storage for two to three small cars, along with specialized manufacturing equipment, would aid the organization.

Performance, Automotive Communications, Engineering and Design (PACED)

PACED is engaged in designing, fabricating and installing performance modifications on a 1988 Corvette for display at SEMA. The organization aims to utilize their space as both a workshop for car enhancements and a storage area for vehicle parts, specialty equipment and promotional materials.

Endeavors to Move People Onward with Engineered Results

The EMPOWER team, dedicated to engineering assistive technologies, requires a space for storing and working on significant projects such as a mechanical lift and the Lower Limb Exoskeleton Assist Project (LLEAP). A secure and nearby storage and workspace, especially close to the Hangar, would advance these initiatives.