At Cal Poly, having facilities where students could fabricate and test their projects is a school tradition. They have been a part of campus life longer than the football team, the Poly Rose Float, and even Poly Royal.
In fact, project fabrication labs–shops, as they have been traditionally called–were envisioned by the founders of this school, and a student shop was apart of the first building built on campus in 1903. BY 1908, stand-alone carpentry, machine, and forge shops had been built, expressly for students to use for their coursework and projects. The students and faculty literally built the school–students used the Carpentry Shop to build tables, desks, and chairs for the early campus buildings as part of their classroom education.
Cal Poly was a vocational school back then, born out of the Progressive Era of education, and inspired by innovative programs being developed on the East Coast. The idea was to eliminate the barriers between theory and application, between book-learning and professional practice. The concept was called Learn-by-Doing.
From these humble beginnings, the curricula grew and evolved, and by 1940 Cal Poly was offering Bachelor’s degrees in engineering. These programs retained the strong emphasis on hands-on education and the mission to prepare students for professional practice. Today, prototyping and fabrication facilities are more important than ever, helping students and clubs throughout campus, and serving as the center of activity for senior projects. Alumni–some who have gained notoriety as inventors, CEOs, and even astronauts–recall their days in “the shop” as being among their fondest memories of college.