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History of the College: Six Decades of Success

From Post-War Origins to 21st Century Leader

The CAED was created at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1946-47 to help meet the growing state of California’s post war needs to prepare more of its best and brightest to enter the built environment professions.  It has retained its original commitment to a hands on learning education rooted in synthesizing the art and the craft of the built environment professions.

For over 60 years, from its first class of 8 to its current population of over 1,900 students, the CAED programs and our 10,000 alumni have been a major, positive influence shaping the planning, design and construction worlds.  While the majority of our student some from California, our students also come from around the world, our American students have opportunities to study around the world, and our graduates are increasingly working in firms and on projects on all continents.

Cal Poly is the only predominantly technical university within the 23-campus California State University system, and enjoys a national reputation. U.S. News & World Report has consistently rated Cal Poly the best public, largely undergraduate university in the West.

Currently more than 70 percent of Cal Poly students are enrolled in professional programs provided primarily through five of its five colleges: the CAED, the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences, the Orfaela College of Business, and the College of Science and Math.   

The colleges of Science and Math and Liberal Arts contain programs in those respective areas for about 30% of Cal Poly majors, and provide the majority of the general education courses for all Cal Poly majors.
All five colleges at Cal Poly share a common mandate that all student applicants select their major prior to being admitted, and every program requires completion of a senior project for graduation.

Our Defining Elements

As a fully professional college within a highly regarded polytechnic university, the CAED maintains a commitment to project based learning and the studio format as a central feature of all five majors.  All five also embrace an educational progression through increasingly complex individual and team based work, and active engagement with practitioners and real communities.  Skills, knowledge, and perspectives gained through seminars, lectures, tutorials, field trips, and specialized instructional laboratories are fully integrated.

Additionally, as part of a rich tradition and graduation requirement for Cal Poly, all five majors feature a culminating senior project requirement, undertaken in a variety of forms ranging from individual or group independent study, to rigorous theses organized under these matched to faculty with special expertise in the thesis subjects.

Our location in California, the largest and most diverse state, allows us to expose our students to a wide array of issues, trends, models, and innovators. California serves us well as a springboard for international perspectives and a window into emerging trends and technologies, as much of the current global practice in our professions is undertaken by firms active in California and the western US.   

There are many ways in which we strive to bring the world to our students, and immerse our students in the world.  In partnership with local agencies, and supporters throughout California and the West, CAED faculty and students have a long established record of undertaking real community based projects as part of their studio learning, from as close as our own neighborhood to as far away as Montana, Tanzania, and Honduras.  A strong tradition of students entering regional and national competitions is embedded in all majors, yielding a long list of honors and awards.  Dozens of visiting lecturers and practitioner faculty, international faculty exchanges, and a handsomely endowed Hearst Lecture series bring creative and dynamic outsiders to the campus every quarter to augment our excellent full time faculty.

Off campus programs in California and around the world, extended field trips, and special student tours also contribute to our investment in supporting a connection between Cal Poly and the world.

The high educational benefit of the programs is dependent on a low student-to-professor ratio, high quality technological and support, and well-equipped instructional spaces, for which the college is continually making investments.

Our Unique Features

The programs also benefit from some unique facilities that augment classroom learning including:

  1. Poly Canyon: 12-acre outdoor experimental construction laboratory.
  2. Hays Multimedia Resource Center: Our own library and resource center for printed and digital resources, and a special building materials section.
  3. Photo lab: Darkroom, digital, and video production support with a full time professional staff and assistants, the photographic presentation facility; specialized computing facilities; computer rendering and graphics laboratory; materials testing laboratories; and construction methods laboratory.
  4. Support Shop: Indoor and outdoor space with equipment, tools, and supplies for student projects using wood, metals, plastics, concrete, and polymers.
  5. Skytherm House: Nationally recognized experimental solar heated home in Atascadero designed by innovator Harold Hay and constructed by college faculty and students is used as a case study house and for workshops and research.
  6. Solar Decathlon: National award winning 800 s.f. experimental solar home designed and constructed by CAED and CENG faculty and students and used for faculty and student research and meetings of clubs and organizations committed to sustainability and alternative energy.

Serving the Next Generations

Admission to the programs is highly competitive and student GPAs and test scores are comparable to those in the top University of California schools and leading national private and public Universities.  As a state supported institution approximately 81% of the admissions are to current California residents, and 15% are from other states in the US and other countries.

The University and the CAED have an ongoing commitment to diversity of people and perspectives in order to build a strong and effective learning environment and prepare students for a wide range of professional practice opportunities.  The faculty represents an effective mix of significant professional practice and research experience. They are dedicated to preparing future leaders who take responsibility for improving the built environment.  Despite very high admissions standards, about 25% of the successful applicants to the CAED and the University are the first in their family to ever attend college.  Between 20-30% of admissions are of transfer students from community colleges whose programs are recognized by the CAED as meeting our standards.

Tuition at Cal Poly is remarkable low when considering the high caliber and faculty intensive nature of its professional programs. Private donor support to augment state funding has been a growing component of how we are able to offer such high quality, lower cost programs as student tuitions pay less than 1/3rd of the cost of the actual program operations. The outstanding accomplishments of Cal Poly and CAED graduates when they enter their respective professions has inspired Cal Poly alumni and firms that hire our students to help keep the “Cal Poly dream” attainable for successive generations of students. Additionally, in recognition that even with relatively low tuitions and fees many students need scholarship support to cover their combined housing, food, transportation, and educational costs, both the University and the College have established a combination of needs based scholarships, merit scholarships, work study internships, and campus employment opportunities.

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